Episode

3/31 What Reality TV Says About Society’s Rot w/ Danielle Lindemann & Alexandra Hunt

March 31, 2022

Emma hosts Danielle Lindemann, Associate Professor of Sociology at Lehigh University, to discuss her recent book True Story: What Reality TV Says About Us. Then, Emma is joined by Alexandra Hunt, candidate for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 3rd District, to give us an update from the campaign trail! First, Professor Lindemann joins as she and Emma bond over their school rivalries and love for reality TV, diving into how these reflections of social interaction and hierarchy can provide a zany, yet very useful sociological lens. They begin by situating where and how the social juggernaut that is reality TV came to be, looking to the 2000s cultural benchmark of “Survivor” to serve as the emergence of the genre, before it took off on a wider scale amid the 2007 writers’ strike. This leads them to a discussion on how reality TV’s structure differs from typical programming, requiring drastically less overhead, from flexibility in paying talent, to lack of writers or any union staffing, and how the genre fits into the profit incentives of the industry, and thus reflects many of the economic models of our society, particularly when it comes to the gig economy. Next, Professor Lindemann dives into how she unpacks this sociological lens throughout her work, looking first at the smallest social unit of the individual, before working through what it can tell us about families and other smaller groups, leading all the way up through the larger and more abstract social structures of class, race, gender, and sexuality. Emma then gets into how, despite the largely hedonistic picture that reality TV shows paint, the majority of them still work to reinforce conservative and Christian values, showing the right ways that certain people should act and dress, as she looks to Rachel Lindsay’s discussion of being the first Bachelorette of color, and the insanely high standards she had to meet to even be a part of that world. Then, they look to American Idol as Emma and Danielle explore how reality TV is a producer’s dream in terms of its ability to be manipulated to tell a specific story, as this talent show was able to constantly spew themes of patriotism, individualism, and meritocracy. They then look to the larger themes that we can see in the genre, as it explains to us the legitimacy of the class system, from the Honey Boo Boos and Tiger Kings with their working-class buffoonery to the indulgence of the Real Housewives, and how whiteness is the standard of having your story told, all serving up an incredibly regressive picture of people under the shield of “this is just people being people.” They wrap up the interview by touching on the hold reality TV has on our culture, from forming para-social relationships in the internet age to gifting us our 45th president.

And in the Fun Half: Emma is joined by Brandon and Matt as they unpack Charlie Kirk’s obsession with kids, and letting liberation movements run wild with supporting the self-confidence and identity of our youngest generations, and the flip the right is trying to pull by portraying queer Disney employees as the “elite” while the ones actually in power, their bosses, shut down progressive pushes inside the company, and fund homophobic bills outside of it. Wren from South Oregon calls in as she unpacks the importance of decentralized currency when it comes to access to hormones amid a shutdown on trans healthcare, and IMers celebrate today’s PA-centric show. Ben Shapiro lists off lynching statistics like a baseball-obsessed pre-teen, Sean from Washington discusses political divides between union members and union leaders, and Alex from NY gives his weekly matchups, plus, your calls and IMs!

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