By Jennifer L. Pozner
WeNews guest author
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Reality TV shows from "The Anna Nicole Show" to "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" specialize in depicting women as imbeciles, Jennifer Pozner writes in this excerpt of her new book "Reality Bites Back."
(WOMENSENEWS)--Women's intellectual inferiority is among reality TV's basest notions. Time and time again, we learn that the female half of the population is cringe-inducingly stupid.
In embarrassing scenes across unscripted subgenres, women are portrayed as "the dumber sex." For women, we learn from one bridezilla, "Thinking is a waste of time. Thinking is for people who have no brains."
Before we learn a thing about their personalities, we're predisposed to deem them inane, idiotic or, at best, naive for signing up for reality TV humiliation in the first place.
Producers build on our derision by careful casting. Once selected, editors play up their every ditzy interaction, leaving any expressions of intellect or clarity to the annals of unaired tape.
When the genre's gender templates were first being created, reality TV taught us that "dumb blonds" exist for our comedic pleasure.
In 2002, E! encouraged us to snicker at addle-brained former Playboy Playmate (and former trophy wife of an 89-year-old oil billionaire) Anna Nicole Smith. The original reality TV train wreck, "The Anna Nicole Show" mocked the steady mental and physical decline of the buxom and seemingly stoned Smith, whose slurred speech and erratic behavior fueled the show's tagline, "It's not supposed to be funny. It just is."
The cover of the first-season DVD described Anna Nicole--whose eventual drug overdose and death could have been forecast by this opportunistic spectacle--as "America's Guiltiest Pleasure."
One year later, MTV introduced another reality option for those who wanted to laugh at "a clueless, rich blond bimbo" with none of "The Anna Nicole Show's" tragedy-waiting-to-happen aftertaste.
Welcome "The Newlyweds" star Jessica Simpson, who boggled our minds with how little seemed to be in hers. She told the secretary of the interior, "You've done a nice job decorating the White House."
She believed Buffalo wings were made from Buffalo meat, not chicken. Her logic was always getting fouled up by fowl. In the series' debut, the pop star picked at a meal made from a can of Chicken of the Sea and asked her hubby, Nick Lachey, "Is this chicken, what I have, or is this fish? I know it's tuna, but it--it says Chicken by the Sea." From that infamous moment on, her every confused quote became proof that, as "Dateline" put it, "Saying something really dumb was now 'pulling a Jessica.'"
Her presence on television was heralded as proof that the stereotype of the "'dumb blond' won't go away" because "maybe it's true." Her father went so far as to suggest that his daughter's queries were typical of silly broads everywhere. "Jessica represents all the questions that women across America want to ask their husbands but are afraid to," he told the Arizona Daily Star.
At the same time, Fox was unveiling their Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie vehicle "The Simple Life," which, for five seasons, reveled in the "rich bitch" heiresses' simpleminded ignorance (contrasted with their haughty elitism).
Both Hilton and Simpson have said that they were just "playing characters" on that show and "The Newlyweds." That's likely true. These media-savvy young women have intentionally played up their airhead images to heighten their fame and their already-overflowing bank accounts.
It's a time-tested bait-and-switch: smart, professionally independent women become more successful by playing the part of the silly, dependent dimwit in the media. The phenomenally accomplished "I Love Lucy" star Lucille Ball, the first woman to head a Hollywood production company, is probably the most famous TV example.
Reality producers may have cut their teeth on "dumb blonds," but they want viewers to believe female stupidity knows no racial limits.