by Ellen Gillingham
Susan J. Douglas, “The Rise of Enlightened Sexism”
Reality Bites, Lean and Mean, Red Carpet Mania
1.) What is this week’s readings major arguments/points?
The reading’s major arguments focus on feminism and how women are shown conflicting messages by the media and popular culture. The author examines many examples of television shows to show how women are depicted. The chapter “Reality Bites” focuses on reality television. Douglas examines he show Survivor, which became popular in 2000. She defines the bumper crop era of “reality TV” as beginning in this decade with shows such as, Big Brother, The Amazing Race, The Bachelor, The Osbournes, The Mole, Joe Millionaire, America’s Next Top Model, Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, The Apprentice, The Swan, Laguna Beach, My Super Sweet Sixteen, The Hills, and Jon and Kate Plus Eight. She criticizes many of these shows for parading women around in bikinis. Douglas’s close look at reality TV reveals enlightened sexism.
Another major argument that Douglas makes in the reading is why people watch reality TV. She indicates that watching the shows is a guilty pleasure. Additionally, people watch the shows to feel superior to the stars. It does not surprise me that women would not take pride in watching these shows because the shows use stereotypes for women such as “the slut” and “the bitch.” There is also abundance of male privilege that is unstated and taken-for-granted in the genre.
The chapter called “Red Carpet Mania” examines celebrity culture and how it moved from the margins of the mass media into the focus. It also divides women across generations because it aides girls and young women in focusing on fashion instead of politics. Another important point is how easy it is to be hooked or “merged with a celebrity” (58%*) because magazines talk to you, so you feel like the celebrity’s inner circle of friends.
2.) What are some things that you did not understand? Or, are there questions you have for Professor McCune, or the author?
I did not understand why celebrities are “not paid less than they’re worth” (57%*).
3.) What did you learn about Gender and Spectacular Consumption?
The president Ronald Regan increased celebrity culture and driven even further by the media. This is when the public realized the important of alliances in media. The media promotes their own celebrities, but with reality shows, everyday people become celebrity heroes. Most importantly, the spreading of celebrity culture everywhere has normalized both knowing about celebrities, and wanting to know about them. This is a reason that celebrazines are selling. Additionally, in 2002 a bigger and more competitive market began for candid shots of celebrities. Paparazzi firms became a very big business created a market for people becoming photographers and a bigger part of consumption. It is also important to note that successful feminity concerning being “recognized” is something that we can learn from celebrity culture. We desire the special treatment that celebrities receive. In effect, nothing is more important for females than self-regulation, which concerns monitoring your figure, face, hair, outfits, behavior, sexuality, and maternal practices. You have to be a perfect consumer!
4.) How might you apply the author’s ideas to other examples, beyond what is
presented in the essay?
Part of the reading dealt with reasons for watching reality television. The author explains the phenomenon with the shows being guilty pleasures for people to watch. People watch the shows, which make them feel superior to the actors. Reality television programs are hard to avoid, as they can be viewed on the web, are featured in magazines, and on television. Some of the shows are “water-cooler” programs this is a phrase that defines shows friends and co-workers chat about at the office. Additionally, the competitive nature of some of these shows is attractive to viewers who like to watch how contestants vie against one another. Normal people can view the shows, see people like themselves and envision that they could become celebrities by being on television. One study by Steven Reiss entitled, “Why People Watch Reality TV” found that status is the most prominent motivation in viewers to watch reality television. He describes status-motivated individuals as those who have a pressing need and desire to feel self-important. Reiss points out that reality television may appeal to these type of people in two ways. . This may help a viewer feel they have an elevated status, even as an “ordinary” person, which leads to the second way reality television is appealing to status-driven people. This idea connects to another class that I am taking called “American Humor,” in which I learned that one of the commonly accepted theories of humor is the Superiority Theory.
The superiority theory of humor is the idea is that a person laughs about misfortunes of others because these misfortunes declare the person’s superiority on the grounds of shortcomings of others. A big part of American humor is that we laugh at inferior or ugly individuals, because we feel a joy at feeling superior to them.