Creating careful media consumers

A new way to consume media has been introduced to Sonoma State university. Jennifer L. Pozner lectured about her book, “Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV” at the Green Music Center. 

While Pozner read quotes and statistics from her research and book, she also showed clips from reality television shows to prove her points and engage the audience. “Project Brainwash: Why Reality is Bad for Women (and Men, People of Color, the Economy, Love, Sex, and Sheer Common Sense)” was displayed on the screen during Pozner’s discussion on reality television.

Pozner is a media critic, public speaker, feminist and published journalist who has traveled to over 80 colleges around the country. Her lectures have included media portrayals of women in media and portrayals of gender and race biases and politics. 

Pozner is the founder and executive director of Women in Media & News (WIMN), a media analysis, education and advocacy group. Through this program, she led media literacy workshops and trainings to educate and spread awareness about the media industry. John Kornfeld, director of undergraduate studies at SSU, introduced Pozner to the audience and described her efforts as a media critic as “making the familiar strange.”

Pozner began her lecture by explaining how her book stressed the importance of reviewing “the complex relationships between reality television show producers, networks, contestants and viewers.”

She asked the audience to become active, critical consumers of the media and to be aware of the cultural stereotypes that the media enforces and that are culturally toxic, especially through reality television. 

Reality television can be a guilty pleasure and many people enjoy watching shows including “The Bachelor,” “America’s Next Top Model,” “The Biggest Loser,” “American Idol” and “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.” Therefore, Pozner’s goal is not to banish reality television shows, but to encourage critical media literacy, analytic practice, and activism.

Pozner said it is a common myth that reality television programs exist because of public demand. Rather the reason that reality television shows exist is because they cost 50-75 percent less to create so the media industry makes more money. Also, women only make up 25 percent of media directors, producers and writers.

Pozner also explained how advertising and product placement is another way that reality television makes money. Advertisers partner with media marketers to create reality shows that promote merchandise and encourage consumerism so that both parties make money. This is true of shows like “America’s Next Top Model,” which partners with CoverGirl to endorse makeup and products.

“Media shapes and reflects societal values, feelings, and ideas of what our space is,” said Pozner. 

Reality television constantly presents images that are “fundamentally damaging because of the power that mass media holds to deeply impact social and psychological understandings of how the audience view themselves and others.”

Mass media sends the message that society “does not care about what women think, society just cares about what women look like,” Pozner said. 

Reality television shows including “The Biggest Loser” and “America’s Next Top Model” send a false impression that thin is synonymous with healthy and that fat is synonymous with unhealthy. This message is damaging and causes body dysmorphic disorder in viewers. Studies also show that this message contributed to women and girls low self-esteem. 

Reality television shows targeted at women present an unrelenting beauty contest for them. “America’s Next Top Model” “forces contestants to measure up” to this unrealistic appearance ideal. In addition to the concept of beauty being skewed in mass media, the concept of love is also skewed.

“‘The Bachelor’ treats adult women like little girls that never outgrew their fairy tales,” said Pozner. “How would you like to be dating a man that sticks his tongue down 25 girls throats each night?” 

Pozner recognized that reality television and mass media are entertaining and can still be enjoyed but it is important to be watching actively and critically, identifying the stereotypes and commercial plugs rather than letting them wash over passively.