True Story: What Reality TV Says About Us

Farrar Feb. 2022. 352p. ISBN 9780374279028. $30. TV
Sociologist and reality TV fan Lindemann (Lehigh Univ.; Commuter Spouses) investigates what the genre says about modern culture—why we watch, the shows’ social impacts, and how these series reinforce stereotypes and tropes. Lindemann traces the roots of reality television back to the quiz shows of the 1950s and romance-oriented shows of the 1960s. She explains that reality programming became especially popular in the 1990s and early 2000s, due to the desire for voyeuristic pleasure, coupled with actors’ skyrocketing salaries and high production costs for mainstream scripted shows. Beginning with MTV’s The Real World, Lindemann groups programs based on the institutions and social constrictions they represent, from the “intensive mothering” of reality TV moms, to the gendered conventional expectations for love and romance in dating shows such as The Bachelor, to the intersection of reality and politics illustrated by the Oval Office meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Kardashian. Lindemann acknowledges the unhealthy aspects of reality TV but presents it in a mostly positive light—as a vehicle to showcase people who might not otherwise get a platform and as an opportunity for audiences to enjoy a shared experience.
VERDICT An insightful and thoughtful study of reality TV that fans of the genre will appreciate.
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