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Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV Paperback – October 19, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


“A witty, original, and very smart analysis of the dark side of reality TV. Pozner expertly reveals the toxicity of what many consider to be simple lightweight entertainment and arms readers with creative ways to resist and fight back. A serious scholarly work based on years of research, Reality Bites Back is also fast-paced and fascinating. You’ll never look at these shows the same way again!”

—Jean Kilbourne, ED.D., creator, Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women film series, and author, Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel

“Jennifer Pozner’s Reality Bites Back is an extraordinary gift to critical media literature. Instead of hurling down invectives against popular culture from an insulated ivory tower, Pozner is a smart, snarky fellow traveler who offers stinging criticism and stunning insights peppered with just enough colloquial profanity to keep readers laughing and shaking our heads. Pozner reminds us that TV is never accidental, but directed to reinforce particular social lessons. This should be required reading for every American girl and woman.”

—Melissa Harris–Lacewell, Princeton University, Department of Politics and Center for African American Studies, MSNBC commentator, and columnist, The Nation

“Hooray! Here comes Pozner, ready to lay some reality on reality TV. Find out why these shows sell even when we don’t watch, and what they sell, thanks to producers who say “it’s a lot of fun to watch girls crying.” Fun, fresh and furious, Reality Bites Back is feminist media criticism at its best."

—Laura Flanders, host and founder, GRITtv, and author BUSHWOMEN

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 392 pages
  • Publisher: Seal Press (October 19, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1580052657
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580052658
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #65,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jennifer L. Pozner is founder and executive director of Women In Media & News (WIMN), a media justice group that amplifies women's presence and power in the public debate through media analysis, education and advocacy. She is also managing editor of WIMN's Voices, the popular group blog on women and the media. (See )

A widely published journalist, Pozner serves on the board of editors of In These Times magazine. Her work has appeared in corporate media outlets (eg., Newsday, Chicago Tribune, Boston Phoenix), independent magazines (eg., Ms. magazine, The American Prospect, Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture), online media (eg., AlterNet, Salon, Huffington Post), among others. She has served as an adviser for and has been featured in several documentary films, including "I Was a Teenage Feminist" and "Miss Representation."

Pozner's first book, "Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV," will be published by Seal Press on Nov. 1, 2010. For a reality TV blog, book excerpts, essays, media coverage, and media literacy resources (including reality TV drinking games, Mad Libs, and a deconstruction guide), see

Prior to writing Reality Bites Back, Pozner contributed essays to anthologies including "Catching a Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for the 21st Century," "BITCHFest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism From the Pages of Bitch Magazine," "The W Effect: Bush's War on Women," "What We Do Now," "Uncovering the Right on Campus," among others.

Pozner has appeared as a commentator on NBC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, ABC News Now, GRITtv, Democracy Now!, National Public Radio, and Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." And, because she's a sucker for punishment, she's gone head to head with some of the most blustery boys of cable news, including Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Joe Scarborough.

A noted lecturer, Pozner has spoken on women, media, politics and pop culture at more than seventy colleges across the country, on topics ranging from portrayals of women in reality television, to gender and race biases in journalistic coverage of elections, to media coverage of war, poverty and natural disasters. She conducts media literacy workshops and media trainings for women's groups, youth, and social justice organizations. (See WIMN's website if you are interested in organizing a lecture of media training, or email info[at]wimnonline[dot]org )

Prior to founding Women In Media & News, Pozner directed the Women's Desk at the media watchdog group Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (, where she wrote for Extra!, the media criticism magazine, and contributed to CounterSpin, the nationally syndicated radio show.

In 2007, Soroptimist International of NYC honored her with their "Making A Difference for Women" Award. In 2006, she was selected as one of "The Real Hot 100," a Girls In Government project honoring young women leaders making change in their communities. The "Certificate of Hotness" they gave her for media activism still makes her happy four years later.

Forbes magazine named her one of "20 Inspiring Women To Follow On Twitter," and where she regularly livetweets analysis of reality shows in relation to her book, Reality Bites Back. If you'd like to join the conversation, send questions, comments and analysis to @jennpozner.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Bongiorno on October 9, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In an attempt to shut out the worries of the world with a little mindless entertainment, my wife and I have watched the last few cycles of America's Next Top Model. A few cycles back, there was a contestant named London, a pretty girl and a capable model who happened to gain a few pounds as the season progressed. At no time did we consider her fat, but we also had no reason to doubt the show's conclusion regarding this contestant, that she was unable for whatever reason to discipline her eating as well as her competitors. London was eliminated from the show mid-season.

In Reality Bites Back, Jennifer L. Pozner fills in certain details about London - she had suffered from eating disorders throughout her life, which had become increasingly severe right before she was cast on ANTM. When her eating habits became somewhat normal during the show, her body reacted normally and she gained a few pounds. London had spoken frankly to fellow contestants about this issue, but the footage never made it to air. The show's producers knew about her issues, but allowed the judges to knowingly portray her as unprofessional due to overeating during the season.

I focus on this example because it shows perfectly how Pozner is true to the subtitle of this book - this is The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV. There is a wealth of new information about shows we've all either watched or experienced as cultural wallpaper, such as The Bachelor, Flavor of Love, and Wife Swap. And not just backstage details and descriptions of editing tricks either; the book fires sharp arrows at the networks, sleazy producers, and sponsors of these shows and explains why they are uniquely damaging to our culture and our image of ourselves and others.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Macke on January 26, 2011
Format: Paperback
In "Reality bites back" author Jennifer L. Pozner launches a timely and funny critique of reality television. She does this from a mainly feminist perspective, going after shows like "The Bachelor" and "Who wants to marry a millionaire". In these shows she says progress that has been made in the feminist movement has regressed, portraying women as hysterical and desperate with only one goal in mind-which is to marry a rich husband who they in turn can serve. Notions of independence and free thinking are not encouraged and women are placed in stereotyped roles like "the antagonizer", "the slut" and "the weeper". All the while promoting youth, thiness and whiteness.

She also discusses shows like "Americas next top model" where she critiques the programs proliferation of dangerously underweight women and the constant comments they recieve about how they must change their looks and bodies by the judges. These shows are heavily sponsored by makeup products and as she writes "thats just the kind of anxiety reality tv hopes for to inspire in female viewers. After all, as advertisers have long understood, its far easier to shill cosmetics and insecure women scared of being alone than it is to self confident people who belive that they are beautiful, loveable and capable of being happy just as they are." Another show she takes on is "Flavour of love" which she means has neo-minstrel show tendencies portraying black women as angry ghetto divas. In this way futher perpetrating black stereotypes that have long been entreched in popular culture.

To me what is most worrying though is how she ends the book. There she paints the picture of the future of television.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Sarah Stewart on November 8, 2010
Format: Paperback
I just finished the book this morning, and I'm planning to pick up at least two more copies for folks as holiday gifts.
The writing is just wonderful - the book is well written, insightful, witty, entertaining, and informative. I also really appreciate that the book isn't preachy - it's not meant to make readers feel back about viewing these shows, but just to view them with an open mind (and maybe not so much of an open wallet).
I'm also totally loving the videos! The production really rolls out like a real reality show! [...]
My only complaint, which I've seen a few others make, is that the type face in the book version is very small to read. This is especially difficult with the footnotes, which are sometimes even more fun and not to be missed nuggets of info. So, if you're eyes aren't so good, you may want to consider the Kindle version.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Hugo Schwyzer on November 18, 2010
Format: Paperback
Reality Bites Back makes a clear and compelling case that what we tend to think of as "mindless entertainment" is far more problematic than we had realized. The staggering cynicism of the reality TV industry is matched by its slavish pursuit of advertisers, meaning that healthy dollops of racism, sexism, and fat-phobia are dished up for viewers along with appeals to buy, buy, buy.

So many young people -- and not so young people -- insist that they aren't vulnerable to advertising, or that they are too smart and sophisticated to pay attention to or be influenced by commercials and in-program product placement. Pozner, writing with wit and insight, debunks that flattering myth and makes it clear we are much mores susceptible to manipulation than we had imagined.

Understanding that we're going to watch these programs anyway -- or that many of us are -- RBB offers as much in terms of guidance for how to watch and to talk about what we see as it does in terms of criticism of the programs themselves.

Accessible, well-documented, and powerful, this is the perfect gift for a young person who loves reality TV.
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