March 6, 2011

Tell Snooki & Corporate Execs that We Want Media Literacy!

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , — Melanie @ 4:50 pm

Via Reality Bites Back author, Jennifer L. Pozner–>>START A NEW FB MEME: Jersey Shore’s Snooki sold approx. 9,000 copies of her book. Her costar, The Situation, sold 12,000 copies of his. If each of my FB friends and twitter followers buys one copy of Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV, for yourself and for a friend, we can beat their sales and prove that the public wants media literacy. Pass it on!

January 3, 2011

What Reality TV Taught Me About Sluts, Waifs, Douchebags and Angry Black Women

Originally posted at Ms. Magazine. Cross-posted at Adios Barbie.

Is every woman either desperate to get married (Bridezillas), a slut/bitch (Rock of Love) or a beauty-obsessed waif (America’s Next Top Model)? Is every man either a despicable douchebag (Tool Academy) or a thugged-out gangsta (again, Tool Academy)?

If we were to judge from the reality TV shows that have populated our cultural landscape over the last decade, the answer would be a resounding “yes.”

Reality TV is replete with regressive portrayals of men and women–what Jennifer Pozner, author of Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV and director of Women in Media and News, dubs the “genre’s most overused, egregious, and cliched stock characters.”

Given the ever-increasing hordes of “reality” shows and their influence on our perceptions of what is “real,” I’d say it’s high time for some lessons in media literacy.

Media literacy education has been deemed essential preparation for children and adults alike in our 21st century environment, in which hardly a moment of our life goes unmediated. Media literacy advocates aren’t stumping for censorship, or discouraging popular media consumption entirely, but rather encouraging consumption with a critical eye. As Pozner recently said on AOL’s TV Squad:

If you enjoy reality television, I’m not here to tell you to dump ‘The Bachelor’…[Media literacy is] about learning to keep your critical faculties engaged, and that’s difficult because we turn on the television seeking entertainment, and we assume that entertainment means we don’t have to think.

Pozner has some creative ways to increase media literacy. She tells Bitch:

On the Reality Bites Back website there are Reality TV Mad Libs that are designed to increase media literacy. There is also a “Deconstruction Guide” with questions that people should keep in mind when they’re watching reality shows—or when they’re engaging with any other kind of media. There are tips for parents about how you can talk with your children about media literacy and how to let the kids guide that discussion. There are a lot of how-tos that make it fun to explore media literacy, so it’s not just medicine that you take.

My favorite of Pozner’s media literacy tools is her “Reality Rehab” web show, a hilarious, SNL-like spin on “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” that borrows you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up dialogue and scenes from reality TV shows (“I would be a servant to you”). In each webisode, “Dr. Jenn” helps one of reality TV’s most persistent stock characters (“The Slutty Bitch,” “The Angry Black Woman,” “The Top Model,” “The Real Housewife”) break out of his or her stereotype. After completing a stint in Reality Rehab, which combines “media literacy therapy” with “confessional cam” monologues, the characters emerge fully-dimensional human beings once more. Here’s Douchebag Dude, webisode 6:

In the process, the characters share insights into the machinations of reality TV: how producers use casting, “Frankenbite” editing and various production tricks to turn fully dimensional beings into one-dimensional tropes. By revealing these mechanisms, Pozner aims “to get people to become more critical media consumers, especially in relation to the regressive gender, racial, class and sexuality tropes hawked within the reality TV genre.”

When I incorporated the webisodes into my own women’s studies curriculum this semester, they did just that, to judge by my students’ comments:

From explaining to the “top model” that she is never going to be a top model because she does not fit the extremely limited and one-dimensional mold that America’s Next Top Model makes their girls fit into, to telling “the bachelorette” that she should not waste her time settling for sloppy, egotistical men who have stuck their tongues down twenty-five girl’s throats, Jenn is definitely helping the “stars” and viewers make sense of this reality show world that has completely consumed them. – Andrea S., a 19 year-old Sociology major

As a reality television viewer, it is so easy to get sucked in and believe that what I am watching is real footage of people’s lives. Jennifer Pozner, and her websidodes, help to effectively use media literacy to expose how reality television warps the idea of “real” and alters it into something completely different. It was nice to get some reality rehab for myself! Chandler R., an 18 year-old Anthropology major

Indeed, everyone could use some “reality rehab.” To assume that we’re immune from the regressive tropes and values espoused by reality TV is to be ostriches with our heads buried in the sand. Whether we watch or not, everyone else does, and the lessons are insidious. It behooves all of us to sharpen our media literacy skills in order to challenge the toxic tales churned out by reality TV–and Pozner is leading the way.

Photo of The Apprentice’s Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth by Glenn Francis. Reused under Wikimedia Commons.

October 22, 2010

LA EVENT: $hit My TV Says: Revealing Gender in Reality TV & Pop Culture

Why does pop culture culture reduce women and men to such limiting stereotypes? Why are reality TV’s stock characters (The Desperate Bachelorette, The Angry Black Woman, The Douchebag Dude) so regressive? Find out in the town that creates them at the L.A. book launch for Reality Bites Back! Expect critical media commentary, revealing insights about gender in pop culture — and lots of laughs.

The authors will read from and sign their books. And after: schmoozing. What could be better? Oh, it is free.

So far, 62 people have RSVP’d to the Nov. 17th LA Launch: $h*t My TV Says: Revealing Gender in Reality TV & Pop Culture. Are you coming, LA friends?

If so, RSVP at the Facebook page.

When: Wednesday, November 17, 2010 7:30PM- 9:30PM

Where: Stories Books and Cafe @ 1716 Sunset Blvd (in Echo Park)Los Angeles, CA

This is Jennifer L. Pozner’s  sole reading in L.A. on her book tour for Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV. It’s also going to be a ton of fun because she is sharing the mic with Shira Tarrant, who will be reading from her work on masculinity in pop culture, and with moderator Morgane Veronique Richardson, who will tie everything together!

Join us. And if you’re not in LA, here’s a calendar of all Jennifer Pozner’s tour November stops in NY, Philly, Denver, San Francisco, L.A., Boston and Washington, DC.

For Jennifer Pozner’s recent interview with Maclean’s, Canada’s biggest newsweekly, click here.

For a recent write-up on Shira Tarrant and links to her most recent articles and interviews, click here.

April 11, 2010

I love me a foul-mouthed funny feminist

Filed under: Featured Feminist — Tags: , , — Melanie @ 8:42 pm

If you’ve been following Feminist Fatale as of late, you know that we’re on a continuous quest to replace the vapid, superficial and one-dimensional images of femininity with real girls and women that inspire, provoke, agitate and move us. Guest blogger, Rachel O, chose the fabulous Janeane Garofolo. I must admit, I was stoked that Rachel, who is young enough be my daughter (yeah, I can’t believe it either), chose a woman iconic to many third wavers and Gen Xers such as myself.

Unsurprisingly, I became familiar with her in 1994’s Reality Bites. I was not only smitten but I felt connected and inspired by her character (and subsequently Janeane herself). I identified with her snarky, cynical and critical ways, the ways in which she called out pop culture on its various dysfunctions. She was (and is) liberal and unapologetic. I dug it (and I still do).  It just so happened that 1994 was the same year I took my first class about women, Sociology of Women.

But I don’t hear a lot of women under the age of 35 referencing Janeane. I don’t even know if they know who she is and how insanely cool she is. Rachel knows and she’s here to tell you what she thinks.

Rachel O on Janeane Garafolo:

After watching Hilary Swank portray the famous and groundbreaking feminist, Alice Paul, in Iron Jawed Angels I intended to writing my Featured Feminist post on this brave and revolutionary woman.  It made sense. My major was set; I would pursue Women’s Studies for my BA and Alice Paul is one of the “big” names in feminist history, a woman that helped change the lives of all girls and women to follow.  However, when I started to write I realized I didn’t have much to say about Alice Paul.  Inspiring? Most definitely.  An awesome feminist who I aspire to be?  No doubt. But I found myself unable to identify – her fearlessness, and the impact she had is something I can’t entirely relate to.

So I began thinking, trying to come up with a name that I could write an entire post about.  Wikipedia’s list of current supposed feminists turns up a pretty big amount of names, but when googling a name on the list + the word “feminist” I’m pretty hard pressed to find an interview, a quote wherein the actress, director, producer, TV star, etc. is willing to declare themselves as such.  And people who I simply assumed would readily admit they’re a member of the group, proved me wrong.

So.  A couple weeks ago I watched Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion for the first time in a few years.  As I watched foul-mouthed, so-black-it’s-almost-blue haired Heather Mooney step up to the Jaguar dealership counter, I realized – Janeane Garofalo.  Janeane Garofalo is a self-proclaimed liberal, feminist, atheist.  When I watch her (even in some terrible movies), read her interviews and hear her speak, I want to run out, dye my hair black and buy some cat-eye frames.

I was surprised to learn Janeane wasn’t always a liberal or a feminist.  She was raised conservative, right wing, Republican, Catholic.  It wasn’t until she was in college that her worldview broadened, she began to read, study current issues on her own, and did a 180 on her social and political views.  She began doing stand-up in the 1980s, which eventually led her to Hollywood.  Her film career reached its peak in the 90’s – where she starred in Reality Bites, The Ben Stiller Show, The Larry Sanders Show, The Truth About Cats and Dogs, and 200 Cigarettes.  The roles she’s taken on and been offered in the past ten years have declined both in quantity and quality.  She admitted to being a sell-out in a recent interview, just to achieve the limited work she receives.

Janeane has never been one to back down or shy away from making her true feelings on social and political issues known, and admitted her outspoken behavior has cost her work.  She makes declarations that I rarely hear in Hollywood.  While doing stand-up, she proclaimed to an audience:

“Like many women in this room, I truly believe myself to be the fattest person to ever walk the face of the earth.  Alright?  And…as that holds true I do not deserve real love.  But…I’m not completely responsible for that, that’s not all my fault…the media has mindfucked me as they have mindfucked you, and when I spell fuck it’s spelled with a PH, so don’t anybody get all up in arms.  You know, when you picked up the newspaper, is it news to you about Delta Burke’s yo-yo dieting or Roseanne Barr’s weight gain?  Is that news?   Do you give a shit?  Alright, and I would keep my mouth shut, if I just read one story about Charles Durning, Ned Beatty, Brian Dennehy, Jack Nicholson, Rutger Hauer: have you seen him lately?  John Goodman, who had to lose weight to play the Babe, by the way, P.S.  Nobody seems to think that’s a big deal, alright? But if you’re a woman, oh God Forbid, okay?”

Her most recent wave of press came when she accepted a co-starring role on 24.  It was slightly controversial, she told her interviewers, because the show had been originally created by someone from the right wing, and the show itself exemplified many of the political issues she worked to fight against, such as torture.  She currently resides in New York, spending most of her time doing stand up.  She still gives interviews, and speaks about politics to a variety of platforms, everything from Real Time With Bill Maher to Fox News.

I’ve listened to Janeane complain about everything – from politics, to society’s view of women comics, to modeling and the impact it’s had on eating disorders in women.  She doesn’t fear labels, and even told an audience, while ranting about high fashion, “I will not back down on this, I don’t care how unlikeable it makes me seem to you, I hate it.”  She does it all – being a smart, informed feminist, who encourages others to educate themselves, while being a hilarious comedian, and fantastic actress.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some new frames to find, and a box of hair dye to buy.

May 13, 2009

Shout out to Jennifer Pozner…

…of Women In Media and News. We found each other on twitter (@jennpozner and @feministfatale) and she rocks! She’s working on a new book on reality shows, Reality Bites Back.

Check out her article on women on reality TV. Why do they all have to be “hot, desperate and dumb?”

Seriously, check out some of the one dimensional representations of women on Rock of Love or The Tool Academy.  I just cringe. The cultural messages about what it means to be a woman is enough to make me scream.