Reality Television is Not So Real: Jennifer Pozner Speaks at Elizabethtown College
Glued to the television, anxiously anticipating the next move of a Kardashian—TV, today, is rampant with the notion of presenting quote-on-quote reality. However, how realistic is it for 25 women to bid for the love of one handsome “Bachelor”?
On Wednesday, November 20, Jennifer Pozner visits Elizabethtown College to talk about “Why Reality TV is Bad for Women (…and Men, People of Color, The Economy, Love, Sex and Sheer Common Sense)”. Her discussion is from 11 a.m. to noon in the College’s Leffler Chapel and Performance Center.
Not looking for love or marrying Kayne West? Don’t worry; TV covers everyone’s ‘reality’—Snooki, your average New Jersey girl chilling with her bestie, to wealthy women going about their day lives in “The Real Housewives of….anywhere”. Reality television is sure to be relatable or at least engaging, but according to Pozner, that’s the problem. The stupidity of the characters and the shallowness of the plot, draw viewers in with thoughtless delight, but what messages do the ‘reality’ representations say about the world?
Pozner also hosts a slightly different conversation from 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19. “Career Conversation,” about how she turned her unique passions into a career, takes place at Bowers Writers House.
It’s pretty remarkable that Pozner made a career out of being an anti-racist feminist.”
Dr. T. Evan Smith, chair of the Psychology Department and director of the College’s Women and Gender Studies Program, said the evening discussion features Pozner’s views on turning passions into careers. “It’s pretty remarkable that Pozner made a career out of being an anti-racist feminist,” Smith said of the difficulties of pursuing non-traditional passions.
Smith’s class for the first-year seminar, “Identity, Diversity and Social Justice,” is reading Pozner’s book “Reality Bites Back.” In her book, Smith said, Pozner does not shy away from strong claims and is “very provocative.
“You have to push buttons, to push people out of their comfort zone to make people think hard,” Smith said. “She wants us to be critical consumers of media, which is an important skill for all of us. … We generally don’t think hard about what we watch on TV and how it scopes our view of reality,” Smith said. The professor also mentioned that his students do not always agree with Pozner’s comments, but it encourages them to think.
Pozner’s strong statements and witty sense of writing can be seen on the “Reality Bites Back” website. In one line she writes “Starved women get naked for Oreos and men gloat about ‘dumb-ass girl alliances’ on “Survivor”.”
As a season-three “Survivor” contestant and 1994 alumna of Elizabethtown College, Kim Powers responded to that statement. “I think [Pozner] is painting with a broad brush to say that women have used their sexuality to get what they need,” Powers said. “Having been there, when you are hungry like you’ve never been hungry before in your life, you get creative. Would they get naked for an Oreo in their normal life? No. And who is to say Jennifer Pozner wouldn’t do the same thing if she was starving?”
In 2001 to 2002, when the season aired, Powers and the other contestants received a lot of media coverage. However, Power clarified that this was before the term “reality TV” existed. During this publicity, Powers said, she felt she was portrayed as strong, smart and quiet. “In no way did I feel the show or media regarded me in a bad way because I was a woman,” she said. However, she acknowledges that today’s reality TV scene is different. “Now it does seem (that) aesthetics and looks are very important to who is cast onto a reality TV show for both men and women,” Powers said. “I do think it is more about what a person might look like in their bikini rather than if they will be a good contestant or make for good TV.”
Pozner’s presentation is sure to stir conversation, as well as encourage her readers to think and question how they perceive reality television. Dr. Amy Milligan, visiting assistant professor of women and gender studies, heard Pozner speak last spring at the Central Pennsylvania Women’s Studies Consortium at Franklin & Marshall College. “She was engaging, witty and had lots of audience interaction. I thoroughly enjoyed her presentation and it left the audience with a lot of great conversation,” Milligan said. The professor admitted she’s not completely opposed to reality television but encouraged people to be educated viewers.
Dr. Kelly Poniatowski, assistant professor of communications, researched a similar topic, which included the representation of women in ice hockey. Commenting on the public perception of sexualizing the female image, Poniatowski asked, at her Monday, Nov. 11, presentation “In hockey, women are completely covered. Why would I want to watch that?” Sexualizing female athletes was further discussed in regard to glamorized photography of them. “Women can get more money posing for Playboy than playing their sport,” Poniatowski said. Men simply make a living from high-profile athletics.