When I was a kid, I loooooved reality TV, all my favorite shows were reality TV shows like Survivor, American Idol and Top Model, although I mostly watched the Swedish versions. Friday evenings together with my family revolved around watching Survivor, and then afterwards I’d call my grandmother and we would talk about what had happened, it was a big deal back in the early 2000’s! Today I don’t watch reality TV at all, only on rare occasions when I am at a place with a TV, because at the moment I don’t own one myself, and all the shows I watch, I watch online. So for this little analysis, I decided to watch one of the latest episodes of Survivor (my old fav!), Party Down South and The Real Housewives of Atlanta. I wasn’t sure what to expect honestly, and I was prepared for the worst.
Survivor was a lot like I remember it; people scheming on each other, lying and making pacts for “survival.” However, the women on the show schemes and lied just as much as the guys, the women weren’t portrayed as more conniving than the men as I thought they would be. In this episode particularly (or what do I know, maybe it’s like this every week?) focused on the men and their plans to outvote this guy or that guy, the women pretty much stayed in the background; the real threats were men, acting as if women couldn’t really be a threat to winning the game. As we know, our society is patriarchal and androcentric, and this show once again proved that the most important, powerful, feared people to watch out for were men, just like in the real world; women don’t have what it takes basically, men rule!
Watching the first episode of the second season of Party Down South was a completely different story; there was no story. Four pretty, young southern girls were paired up with four, descent looking (not too bright) guys for a summer of partying together! The girls of course immediately started to set their eyes onto the hottest guy, and after the first night two of the girls had already decided on that the other one was a bitch or a whore – all because they were fighting over a guy they’d just met. All this does is reinforcing the stereotype that the main goal of a woman’s life is to find a man, that her world revolves around men basically. The women in this show didn’t really fit into traditional tropes, but still, no matter where they came from or what they were doing with their lives, their goal on the show seemed to be to sleep around with the guys. I’m a bit ashamed to admit though that after the episode was done, I was very compelled to see the next one! This is a show with a very loose premise, featuring women who don’t represent or relate to me at all, but still I got engaged in it, and this is coming from me, I thought I was done with reality TV by now, apparently I’m not!
The last show I watched was The Real Housewives of Atlanta, just because I could find the latest episode on YouTube. It was the first reality show I saw that was completely women-centered, but it was by far the least compelling show I watched. Rich, black women, housewives with nothing of real importance to do during their days, again, I couldn’t really find a story beneath it all. The women talked about each other all the time, what she had said, what she had done, what she though this other woman had meant with this, what this woman should do – it was all just a lot of talking and no action! In this show, women appear to be sly, sassy, bitchy, scheming and out to get what they want for any cost. In the end, the women all met up for a dinner where one of them, Nene Lakes who I recognized from Glee, basically just screamed at her “friend.” From what I saw on this show though, women are not capable of being friends with each other because all they do is backstabbing and talking shit about each other; reinforcing yet another stereotype that female friendship/sisterhood just isn’t worth it.
The episodes I watched from these three very different shows are all reflections of today’s society and its view of women. Survivor has been on air for almost 15 years now, RHOA is at it’s seventh season, and Party Down South resembles Paradise Hotel and other party-shows. They are not exceptions, they are a small sample of what reality show are like, and if most shows are like these, it’s crucial to examine them. Reality shows are everywhere, just the mere fact that Survivor has been going on for 29 seasons and the numerous versions of “the real housewife of….” all feature the same kind of premise (rich women with nothing better to do than fight with their “friends”) proves that we cannot ignore it. People watch these shows because they are everywhere, not because they are particularly good or engaging. Who knows how many more seasons we’re gonna have to endure of Survivor and housewives, and so we better know what kind of influence and impact they have on us and our views of women.
(Originally posted on 2014/12/11 for Melanie Klein’s class blog “Women and Popular Culture”)