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Media expert tackles reality show 'Bachelor Babes' and 'Bridezillas'

Thursday, May 1, 2008

For many who watch reality TV shows like "The Bachelor," or "America's Next Top Model," they may just see the shows as "harmless fluff." However, according to media critic Jennifer Pozner, the messages that are portrayed about women in the shows can be dangerous.

Pozner, executive director of Women in Media and News which she founded in 2001 in New York, spoke to a crowd at BVU, Sunday night during a ACES presentation, about how shows like these give a skewed message to viewers.

Many of the shows push plastic surgery as liberating for women, implying that beauty is the only thing women have to offer.

She showed several program clips demonstrating how the shows glamourise eating disorders, demean women's intelligence and value men only by the size of their wallets. Pozner said the skewed messages aren't just about women but men as well as other racial and ethnic groups.

Through her presentation Pozner said she hoped to help students not only debunk the myths that the shows teach but also to learn how to better analyse these shows.

"I really believe reality TV is the cultural arm of the contemporary political backlash against women's rights," said Pozner in an interview following her presentation. "I think it's dangerous that millions of people, especially young people watch these shows often uncritically, not necessarily understanding that these regressive messages about women and men, race and class, sex and more are calculated to degrade women - and all of us, for the profit of advertisers and media owners."

Pozner pointed out that the main reason for much of network programming today isn't about entertaining or informing the public but making a profit. "The key to media profit is advertising which generates approximately $70 billion annually for media companies. This massive income stream comes from not just from traditional commercials but also increasingly from product placements that are placed within the content of our favorite shows."

Pozner told attendees that reality TV shows are cheaper to produce and can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars and sometimes even millions of dollars from advertisers before even making a commercial. She said it's an easy way for companies to hit it rich, even if means producing low quality programming.

"Reality TV as a genre is built to meet advertiser's needs, not what we want, not what the public needs from our entertainment and that by nature is deeply threatening to all viewers but especially women," she said during the presentation.

Pozner said that studies have shown that the more advertising women watch, the worse they often feel about themselves, advertising saying that the woman is too skinny, too overweight, too tall or too short.

Jamii Claiborne, assistant professor of Media Studies at BVU who helped bring Pozner to campus said she felt Pozner had a good message for students who have grown up with reality television.

"I have been wanting to bring in some sort of event on media literacy to challenge the students to think critically about the media," said Claiborne. "Sure it's entertaining them but it's doing something else too."

Pozner returned to BVU Monday to hold discussions with the students in a media perspectives class more about media literacy and media criticism. Claiborne said she felt this was a good chance for the students, particularly those in media studies, to interact with someone who has made a career of media literacy and criticism and learn how to better critically analyse media.

"I'm a media studies major," said Allissa Hopkins, senior at BVU who was in attendance at the presentation and noted that she regularly watches reality shows. "It (the presentation) reinforced stuff I knew but it also showed I need to help others put up their critical filter as to what is wrong with reality TV."

Pozner also met with a small group of faculty during her visit to demonstrate ways for them to use media literacy to enhance their teaching.

Besides turning on their critical filters when watching the shows, Pozner said she hoped that everyone would also become more engaged in media literacy and media criticism.

"I hope that either they'll choose quality engaging creative scripted entertainment or that they'll watch reality TV with critical filters turned on at all times," she said.

For more information visit www.wimnonline.org The presentation was sponsored by ACES; the Women's Studies Program, ERASE, a student organization; a faculty development fund and Weekend Programming through BVU Student Services.

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