Reality TV and the Harmful Effects of Display

Reality TV exploded as a pop-culture phenomenon around 1999-2000 with shows like Big Brother and Survivor. Before this we had The Real World. Today, the influx in Reality TV and Reality TV Celebrities has blurred the lines between “average” person and celebrity.

In his work Reality TV: More Mirror Than Window author Richard Breyer notes the increased sense of democracy we see within the world of Reality Television. A consistent cycle of nobodies morphing into American Idols or Bachelorettes inspires similar unknown individuals. They, too, can achieve celebrity status in America! This allows audience members to connect deeper with the so-called characters they see on Reality TV shows because they feel as though there is a similar authentic connection shared.

The importance placed on authenticity can be noted in Paradox and the Consumption of Authenticity through Reality Television. Authors Randall L. Rose and Stacy L. Wood site that authenticity is what connects audiences so intimately to these reality series. Even though authenticity is desired and the companies who produce these Reality TV shows promote authenticity within their programing, consumers of Reality TV delight in the mash-up of the factitious and the spontaneous lives of these people on Reality TV series. Rose and Wood refer to this obsession as a “postmodern paradox”.

Our society is faced with a modern dilemma surrounding the reality of Reality Television.

But what of the harmful effects involved for these individuals who find their lives consistently on display in either social media or broadcast media? In the film We Live in Public created by Josh Harris,we see the harmful effects continuous surveillance has on individuals. After experimenting on strangers, Harris created We Live in Public with his girlfriend and they subjected themselves and their relationship to same digital surveillance. Their relationship crumbled in front of an online community.

Extending into the world of Reality Television, we see similar effects of surveillance on reality celebrities. After the Reality Show Newlyweds, couple Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson divorced, even after their wedding was televised publicly. Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries experienced a multimillion dollar wedding on E! Entertainment Television only to be divorced days later.

This authenticity can have a harmful effect on society’s perception concerning what is or what is not “authentically” acceptable. The infamously violent characters Sammi and Ronnie on MTV’s Reality Show, The Jersey Shore became so violent towards one another that MTV posted domestic violence PSA’s after the episodes. Regardless of the PSA’s the footage was still aired and the violence was seen. Social damage had been done.

These issues are considered feminist issues, because this authenticity affects our society simply because it is deemed “real”. On the opposite side of this spectrum, we can argue that these “real” characters on Reality TV shows have become characters of themselves and thus are not held accountable for their actions. Case and point the violence between Sammi and Ronnie. Or the feminine ideology surrounding the weddings and honeymoon bliss of bombshells Jessica Simpson and Kim Kardashian. Who’s reality is this?

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Here’s Looking at You

Social Media has undeniably changed us both individually and as a society by providing a platform for exploitation. Music sensations blossom out of YouTube posts (Justin Bieber) or MySpace homepages (Lily Allen).

Beyond the world of celebrity, social media also provides a collective space with democratizing potential. In their work, New Media and Internet Activism: From the ‘Battle of Seattle’ to Blogging, Richard Kahn and Douglas Kellner note how social media can be utilized by a diverse spectrum of people to construct new social and political relations and to further educate and inform others. For example, Iranian Pro-Feminist Blogs demonstrate just how effective social media can be in a feminist society when one is socially restricted by their body and culture.

Whether or not you consider yourself to be an exhibitionist, you are socially “off the radar” if not a member of social media society. This “spectrum of people”, although diversified, is still flawed considering the privilege that comes with social media. Not only are capable computers a privilege but so is the time and education one must have to connect through social media. Although this digital platform can serve as a form of escapism form the female body and social restrictions, it can further isolate women from society if they lack the resources to connect.

Social media is so intertwined with embodiment and visual media that we must ask whether or not we want to escape our bodies online when so much of social media culture condones exploitation. But this exploitation can have potential harmful secondary social ramifications. Think back to Rebecca Black’s “Friday” music video on YouTube.

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The extremities to which we release our personal selves through social media allows us to be at the control of everybody by everybody. Within this digital framework we are monitored by the omniopticon which, according to Nathan Jurgenson in Surveillance and Society, is “a democratization of the gaze that has come into reality with the rise of social network sites” (Jurgenson 377). Jurgenson is noting the power of surveillance witnessed in the documentary We Live in Public about the life of internet mogul Josh Harris and his how he used social media surveillance to tamper with the human condition. Harris offered free food, lodging, drink, fun (etc.) to subjects interested in partaking in his bunker experiment, but stated that the footage was his – “that we own.”

So who “owns” us in the world of social media? In their work Surveillance Creep in the Genetic Age, authors Dorothy Nelkin and Lori Andrews conceptualize the harmful effects of DNA banking and surveillance within the military. One can easily make the connection between this DNA surveillance and the surveillance of our online identities. Photos uploaded onto Facebook, are essentially owned by Facebook. Where are all those Twitter posts stored? Credit card numbers?

Can we really escape our bodies (or our mistakes) when every personal update is broadcasted and stored? Or are we reaching an age where the digital self and the physical self are so intimately intertwined that they are one in the same?

Domestic Violence and the Chris Brown Controversy

The film Defending Our Lives, is a documentary about abused women, who have fought back against their assailants, killed them, and have then gone on to serve prison sentences for these murders. The film is tough to watch. The second scene begins with a member of the organization “Battered Women Fighting Back!” as she reads the names of twenty women and how they were killed by acts of domestic violence. With each reading of a name is a minimal description of how the woman was killed. “Strangled to death.” “Shot.” “Stabbed over 40 times.” Twenty times over we hear the alarming statistics. Yes, these women has become statistics.


Recently, I saw a segment on TMZ regarding the performer Chris Brown and his controversial new tattoo. The media has swarmed around the subject because the new tattoo looks remarkably like the battered face of Brown’s ex-girlfriend, performer Rihanna, after Brown had beaten her back in 2009. The abusive relationship between Rihanna and Brown epitomizes that of Ike and Tina Turner, whose domestic abuse was chronicled in the film What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Why the Rihanna/Chris Brown relationship is so compelling is because it is an act of private domestic abuse that has been played out in the public by two public figures. Much like Ike and Tina. And like Ike and Tina, Brown and Rihanna’s domestic abuse has been somewhat glamorized and somewhat accepted in society because it has been internalized and normalized. And Brown has yet to go to jail – unless it be for his fighting with Drake at an NYC club.

When the attack initially happened, women were extremely critical not only of Chris Brown, but of Rihanna and whether or not she would choose to get back together with him. Some have even noted that the abuse boosted Brown’s image to that of “Bad Boy” status as a hip-hop music artist. Furthermore, questions arise as to whether or not Brown’s violent behavior is somewhat assumed and therefore normalized in the media.

Take for instance Brown appearance on Good Morning America. When reporter Robin Roberts interviewed Brown, asking questions surrounding his infamous incident with Rihanna, Brown diligently tried to steer the conversation back to his latest album (the reason for him being on the show in the first place). Apparently aggravated by this confrontation, Brown stormed “into his dressing room and screaming so loud, the people in hair and makeup became alarmed and called security. Brown was out of control, and one source present tells us he smashed a window in his dressing room, and the glass shattered and some shards fell onto 43rd and Broadway.  ABC security tells TMZ … the window was shattered with a chair” (TMZ).

The kid has a temper. But does this bad-boy persona justify abuse, of any kind? Absolutely not, nor is it acceptable behavior for any private or public figure. So my question is, aside from the legal system that is charging Brown for these acts of violence, is there any other form of punishment inflicted upon Brown? It is more likely that he is using these acts of unacceptable violence to his advantage.

Domestic Violence is not normal. Rather it is an epidemic that needs to be treated as such and cannot be ignored.

Sexuality and Choice

Have you ever thought of your sexuality as a choice? I’m generalizing here, but if you are a self-identified “straight” person, my guess is that you have never thought of your sexuality as a matter of choice. You probably couldn’t look back into your past and identify the moment where you proclaimed, “Yes, I’m going to be a self-identified biologically ordered woman who likes self-identified biologically ordered men” or vice versa.  But then again, have you investigated whether or not heterosexuality has been forced into your society so that you have normalize this form of sexuality?

In her work Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Existence theorist Adrienne Rich suggests that we take a closer look into what we perceive to be normal in our society. “I am suggesting that heterosexuality needs to be recognized and studied as a political institution” (Rich, 637).

Within this political institution, Rich notes violence towards women and how it is used as a form of control in a compulsory heterosexual world. Could we then go even further with this argument to suggest that violence towards women enforces heterosexuality? “I do not wish to psychologize here, but rather to identify sources of male power” (Rich, 638).

Within a compulsory heterosexual world, individuals are extremely limited with choice. Women are surrounded by heterosexual relationships: Cinderella and Prince Charming to Zack Morris and Kelly Kapowski. And often the socially explicit forms of lesbianism we see are those that are oriented with the satisfaction of men.

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Photo courtesy of arteunporro

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Photo courtesy of Foxtongue

This lifestyle, the heterosexual lifestyle, is normative and any lifestyle that exists outside of this must, therefore, be explained and justified. But does a society that is rooted in compulsory heterosexuality give leeway to acts of patriarchal terrorism and general acts of violence against women?

In her work The Sexual Politics of Murder author Jane Caputi suggests that acts of violence against women are, in fact, “sexually political murders, a form of murder rooted in a system of male supremacy in the same way that lynching is based in white supremacy. Such murder is, in short, a form of patriarchal terrorism” (Caputi, 438).

A compulsory influence on any sex to perform and embody gender differences and enlist in a form of sexuality, leaves little room for one to reflect on choice. Individuals who exist within these confines are limited and, therefore, exposed to the re-enforcement of heterosexuality.

But what about choice? If we lived in a world where individuals took a political stance with their sexuality and stated that whichever sexual orientation they chose to choose was a choice, then what would that mean for our society? We would have to be a society grounded in choice as opposed to a society grounded in providence, “natural” order and procreation, and religious conflicts. Furthermore, what would that mean for the individuals who took a political stance with their sexuality? These individuals would assume an extreme risk owning their “difference” as a choice. Whenever something is perceived to be “normal” we must investigate. For what lies behind a given might not always be natural.

Video Proposal for a Potential Feminist Health Clinic

Our focus on menstruation was initially conceptualized as a response to the second-wave feminism described in Morgen’s Into Our Own Hands. The gynecological self-awareness of Our Bodies, Ourselves and Carol Downer’s cervical self-examination movement struck us most powerfully, and we saw parallels between the ignorance of and shaming of women’s genitals in the 70s and the ignorance and shaming of menstruation today. We initially wanted our clinic to be broader in scope, providing information about birth control and counseling for eating disorders, but as we became more excited about removing the taboo on periods, the other issues fell by the wayside, to be picked up by other clinics.

Anyone who has seen “Carrie” knows how traumatic a person’s first period (menarche) can be. We wanted our information to reach children before they began menstruating. Because we have known children who began menstruating as young as nine years old, we decided to start educating eight year-olds. We could not rely on anyone that young coming to our clinic, so to educate children and preteens, we needed to design an outreach program. We also knew that we would be working with limited resources, so we limited the scope of our clinic to pubescent, who experience the most dramatic bodily changes and have not yet accepted menstruation as mundane. We selected twenty-one as the tail-end of puberty, based on how late in life we noticed puberty-related changes in our own bodies, and had our target demographic’s age. We decided to include all genders and sexes in order to choke off the ignorance and superstitions surrounding menstruation before it transformed into silencing and harassment of menstruating individuals.

What really caught our attention, as you can probably see in the video, was the unavailability of feminine hygiene products. Menstruation is a part of daily life, the products for managing it should be part of the daily landscape. However, we only ever see bathrooms with empty lack tampon dispensers or lack them entirely. Legislation seemed like the best way to unilaterally fix this problem, and we started working on the beginnings of a lobbying campaign.

The funding/payment part of the clinic was the trickiest bit. We didn’t want to be a publicly funded clinic because of the risk of being shut down. Knowing that government-funded programs are at the mercy of bureaucracy, we preferred to be funded through private donations, and being paid on a sliding scale. This would eventually lead to getting sponsored by companies that sell products related to the menstrual cycle, like Tampax, Kotex, Midol, and Always. Being privately funded we would give us a better chance of lasting longer.

“Unashamed” – A Proposed Feminist Health Clinic

No one really wants to talk about menstruation. “Bertha.” “The Curse.” “On the rag.” “Surfing the Crimson Wave.” A million other words and phrases have been employed when verbalizing experiences associated with a woman’s period.

Unfortunately, all of this side-stepping leads to negative social stigma and shame. Somehow the woman, and not the period, becomes a burden on society. Think about it: when was the last time you saw a fully functioning tampon/maxi-pad machine in a public restroom? Or even in a women’s restroom? How many times have you heard the ridiculous excuse for why we haven’t had a woman president be “once every month we would bomb a country”?

We wanted to work towards changing this negative association. We (“we” meaning myself and two of my Honors 201 Classmates – Catie Watson and Eduardo Galarza) devised a proposal for a feminist health clinic which focuses on the early stages of menstruation, concentrating on education, awareness, advocacy and outreach. Below is our proposal video for this clinic. Enjoy!

A Modern Nom de Plum

photo courtesy of austinevan
A Modern Nom de Plum

The advancement of social media and cyberspace has undoubtedly provided many one silenced individuals with a platform where their voices can be heard. In her work Wings of Freedom: Iranian Women, Identity and Cyberspace author Fereshteh Nouraie-Simone illuminates some of the ways in which Cyberspace has provided Iranian Women with a space to express themselves. “In a controlled society under theocratic rule, self-expression is a rare privilege. Cyberspace provides a public social space that allows free expression of self outside the confines of the politically manipulated physical space” (Nouraie-Simone, 62).

As Nouraie-Simone notes, yes, Cyberspace does connect women to a world that stretches beyond the confines of their own bodies. It connects women and also provides them with a means to escape the political and social oppressions that might otherwise keep them silent. A blog could be considered the new Nom De Plum, for women who do not wish to share their identities but wish to share their thoughts.

Today blogs can provide women with a “room of one’s own” theoretical space in both western and non-western cultures.

A few weeks ago, I remember NY1 doing a segment entitled the “Tangled Web” series. It focused on conflicts within the Jewish Orthodox Community in New York City and their use of the internet. Part Two of the segment caught my political eye, my feminist guts, and my human heart. It’s title read: Tangled Web, Part 2: Woman Behind Outspoken Website Addresses Sexual Abuse Among Orthodox Jews”.

The said “outspoken” website is known as Ad-Kan and it is a blog about sexual abuse in Jewish Communities all over the world. The people of Ad-Kan state: “We are a group who can no longer sit back and listen to the resounding silence from our leaders”.

The said “woman” from the Tangled Web Series is a Frum (religious) incest survivor as well as a survivor of an abusive marriage. Her blog is extremely personal and extremely powerful. She writes:

“Because of the nature of our frum communities and its Shidduchim, I will remain anonymous for the time being. I am sure all of you understand why this is necessary. I am not ashamed of what has happened to me, but I need to protect my children from people who are vicious and would be happy to destroy the truth.”

These brave individuals who created Ad-Kan, have taken grave risks in their societies, but they have done so to seek justice within the confines of an insular community. They are using the platform of Cyberspace to bring those both in and outside their world awareness and education. Because of Cyberspace, this nameless woman risking so much to advocate for truth and justice within her community, is not voiceless.