Lessons from Reality TV

I’m currently finishing up an essay on whether reality TV can teach audiences, using as my case studies The Biggest Loser (most studies were on US and Australian series) and 16 and Pregnant/Teen Mom (US only). I was going to include Masterchef (Aus, US and UK), but this assignment is only 2000 words and there are fewer studies on it that I could find.

I have issues with reality tv research.

While participants of surveys, viewers and non-viewers, are very clear that reality TV does not teach, or at the very most, only teaches in certain genres (e.g. home makeover shows), it seems that there is some kind of learning going on – but it does not appear that media creates the behaviour/attitude, but does contribute and reinforce it. The little that I found on Masterchef said it was a celebration of unhealthy food with no nutrition, but it did affect buying patterns and promoted home cooking (Phillipov). For The Biggest Loser, there is a lot of condemnation of the mixed messages, the promotion being “yay let’s all lose weight together” and the real message transmitted is stigmatising obesity (Thomas, Hyde and Komesaroff), humiliating the contestants, and the horror of the temptation challenges where they will tempt contestants to eat (sometimes large amounts of) takeaway or unhealthy foods for prizes such as immunity, exercise machines, or even contact with family at home (Lundy, Ruth and Park, and, Sender and Sullivan). With 16 and Pregnant/Teen Mom, it was suggested that the media does inform teens on things like the reality of teen pregnancy (Lance) – not so much on the risks and responsibilities of sex and childbirth  – but each study also points out that there is a massive lack of sexual education across the US compared to other Western nations. There seems to be negatives and positives for all of them, and not just on an individual level but taken to much broader societal level.

One aspect that I could not include in my own essay, partly because of word count and partly because it was barely mentioned in the research I looked at, was the effect of the whole branding, including the show, the websites, the forums, the merchandise and advertising etc. I wonder if we are starting to use all media to our benefit. There is always a lot of talk on Twitter during shows now, some with their own Twitter tickers at the bottom. Marketers, of course, want us to go out and buy all the stuff related to the show such as replacement meal shakes from Biggest Loser, food from Coles – which sponsors Masterchef (see: The Gruen Transfer or The Checkout on ABC, Australia for more on marketing and promotion … and associated evils). All three shows have a website linked to them – I’m often found on Masterchef during the season catching up on the show or looking up recipes. 16 and Pregnant is marketed as a type of sexual health education for teens, alongside the website It’s Your Sex Life which has an ad on every episode (even on the MTV website catchup). Maybe we should be examining these shows in context with all the external stuff?

When I first decided on this topic to write about, everyone had an opinion. Reality TV is just crap and anyone who buys into anything it does is stupid. Reality TV can be good, but you need be choosey and thoughtful and actually research the things you take away from it (especially on things like how real is reality tv? I did see quite a bit of work on the scripting and editing control that changes whole stories). Images of people sitting at home with The Biggest Loser on while eating McDonald’s or other takeaway. I had my own experiences in which to build my expectations from because of my constant watching of Masterchef and my summer holidays binge on 16 and Pregnant/Teen Mom. I tried watching more The Biggest Loser for this assignment, and it literally made me feel ill (despite the protestations by my brother-in-law and his girlfriend that it was essentially a good program, and that it was great there were kids on it <.< ). Overall, all these opinions were in various studies and research done on the topic! I am quite interested to see what comes in the future, but am rather mindful of the possibilities for exploitation – one scifi series I have by Ian Irvine (Human Rites) has a short description of a future reality tv show where people must call in to bid to pay for a life-saving operation for a child, complete with obnoxious host. *shudders*


Phillipov, Michelle. “Communicating Health Risks via the Media: What Can We Learn from MasterChef Australia?” The Australasian medical journal 5.11 (2012): 593–7.

Lundy, Lisa K, Amanda M Ruth, and Travis D Park. “Simply Irresistible: Reality TV Consumption Patterns.” Communication Quarterly 56.2 (2008): 208–225

Sender, Katherine, and Margaret Sullivan. “Epidemics of Will, Failures of Self-esteem: Responding to Fat Bodies in The Biggest Loser and What Not to Wear.” Continuum 22.4 (2008): 573–584.

Lance, A. et al. “16 and Pregnant: a Content Analysis of a Reality Television Program About Unplanned Teen Pregnancy.” Contraception 86.3 (2012): 292.

Strasburger, Victor C, Amy B Jordan, and Ed Donnerstein. “Children, Adolescents, and the Media: Health Effects.” Pediatric clinics of North America 59.3 (2012): 533–587.

Thomas, Samantha, Hyde, Jim and Komesaroff, Paul. “‘Cheapening the Struggle:’ Obese People’s Attitudes Towards The Biggest Loser.” Obesity Management 3.5 (2007): 210–215.


Monsters are real


(nabbed from tumblr)

This quote was written by Stephen King in the introduction to newer editions of The Shining (e.g. This one on google books) – it wasn’t in my 1978 edition.

It also was quoted on an episode of Criminal Minds, Conflicted.

The Imprint Rant (TM)

So anyone who already follows me on Twitter will have heard this rant before, or my third year tutor read the essay I wrote, but I thought I’d post it here with the TL;DR version (still may be too long).


An imprint is like an individual brand within a larger company, allowing the company to diversify its product range and target specific markets with niche branding.

In the 1950’s the Australian market was extremely limited, with most books being imported – particularly from British houses. As the industry grew here, branches of those international companies were established here, and started taking over the smaller Australian companies who were struggling to compete. From the 1970s, with the Whitlam governments arts initiatives and more financial support helped the publishers to ‘meet the needs of Australian’s’. Throughout the 80s and 90s, lists were vastly expanded with Australian authors and content.

The majority of imprints are international companies who have absorbed smaller companies and kept their names going. The smaller companies are rarely closed down completely with the larger company taking on the reproduction of the titles and authors. Another way for an imprint to be created is for a new imprint created for a new change in direction. Publishing houses may also ‘honour’ one of their publishers with their own imprint.

There is a lot of criticism of imprints and what they accomplish, as many will argue that readers only care for the author’s brand. Some say the use of imprints diminishes the overall company’s brand. Some argue that imprints make sense – to the publisher and the bookseller only.

So where’s my rant?

I find imprints to be useful, to an extent. The most talked about imprints are the ones that are defining and targeted. Voyager is HarperCollins global speculative fiction imprint, and for years operated a successful (in terms of interaction) Australian fan forum affectionately known as ‘The Purple Zone’. Momentum is a relatively new imprint from Macmillan which is the first (I believe – feel free to correct me) Australian digital imprint. While it has a range of books from autobiography to thriller to erotica zompocalypses, its name is well known and maintained.

Flesh by Kylie Scott, a Momentum Title. Yes, the erotica in the zompocalypse one!

We get lost in imprints when there’s no distinguishing marks. From my random discussions with people in the industry on Twitter, whether reviewers, booksellers, editors, we do seem to agree that distinct identity is important. As much as I love a lot of their books, what difference is there between Orbit and Gollancz? Both are under Hachette, both focus on speculative fiction – a range of fantasy, horror, urban paranormal, sci fi. There’s issues with publisher’s perspective versus readers, where publishers will identify a book with a certain genre and imprint, but readers consider it a different genre. Due to the difference, it may not be picked up by certain specialist bookstores where readers would expect to find it. Another example is how children’s books are being taken into traditionally ‘adult’ imprints.

The sub-branding of sub-brands within a brand often gets lost in confusion and if there is any message or meaning to an imprint anymore, it becomes too messy for any consumer to attempt to unravel. It is rare that an imprint can stand out and be noticed. The connection between publisher and reader is more often seen as through a reader’s loyalty to a particular author, not the imprint to which the publisher places them.


Further Reading

Technology anxiety and why we need an apocalypse

I was just reading a fascinating article my friend linked on Facebook called ‘Where technology goes next will change us all” by Craig Simms which describes the future of technology as being like magic, that we don’t want it out for all to see, but integrated completely with our lives. He writes of the development of Project Glass by Google to be a turn to cyborgs. “Humans are the next device to plug in.” Wall-E shows a similar future, but has an adorable robot that falls in love and inspires humanity.

This interests me on so many levels, but it’s one of the comments below the article that got my attention and made me think of my dear zombies and cultural anxiety. MariaK1 wrote “I find this article incredibly depressing and if I had money I would be tempted to move to the country and avoid the whole stinking mess.”

I thought of the article completely opposite: a wide viewing of the reach of the human imagination. I thought more of Star Trek and its utopian future rather than the bleak Battlestar Galactica. This is probably due to my upbringing as a nerd.

Technology becomes scary, to me, not just when used for war, but with the unintended side effects. When robots rise up against us, when our lives have such little meaning because technology sustains us so long that we no longer seek to produce anything ourselves but become mindless consumers.

Starting to sound familiar now?

It’s very much a theme of the film Surrogates with Bruce Willis. People don’t need to go outside anymore, they just lay down, hook into a robot, and the robot goes out and does all the work for them. Imagine the muscle waste from laying down so much and doing nothing! Where most of society goes about in these robots, there is a community living in a separate area that are against the use of surrogates and that humanness is the apex of society, not the technology.

So back to zombies. It could be technology used to extend life (Cybermen are sorta zombies maybe?) or radioactive waste that infects people (Redneck Zombies!), or just in general scientific experiments to see how far human life can survive, or maybe exposure to aliens or alien substances (space dust in Fido, facehugger things in Half Life). With the zombie apocalypse, we are forced to strive to survive for any significant amount of time; we must create, build, plant, and grow as the stocks in the stores won’t last forever. Survival is not just for the next day, but for life.

The major theme/moral/etc of so many stories is that technology and its conveniences make us weak and further from nature/true goodness/godliness/whatever and prevents our evolution. That’s why we need a Wall-E, a Greer, a Zombie Apocalypse to ‘reset’ us to this natural state.

Vampire love can be nothing but tragic

We all know zombies are far superior boyfriends than vampires.  Vampires are pushing, demanding, patronising, cruel and have a very twisted idea of love. Zombies never want their loved one to lose their independence or give up their dreams because of them. Zombies don’t require the human to convert to zombiism, and don’t encourage it. Zombies love you for you!

And of all the terrible vampires to have as a boyfriend, Edward from Twilight takes the sparkle. He is straight out abusive, as is the other love interest in the series, “Shirts chafe” Jacob. There are so many academics who pick apart the Twilight series for its screwed-up-ness, and perhaps the scariest thing of all is that people see this cruel relationship rife with domestic violence and domination as a relationship to crave!

One of the things I love about the world and humanity is our insane curiosity and desire for meaning which leads us to such incredible in-depth analysis. A book is never just a book! Bordieu said something about art (which I got from an art class at uni, but can’t find the direct quote), that art styles do not develop independently but rather they develop out of particular social interests. Can anything created be separated completely from the context in which it was created (not meaning everything is a direct analogy)?

Anyway, the main thing I wanted to share was this awesome analytical piece of the Twilight series (ignoring all the horrors of the English language that take place within) about how it’s really a tragedy of the loss of who Bella is, her soul. It’s a very well done piece, and I not-so-secretly wish the author would write a whole thesis on it (I’m a geek, I know it, and I don’t care who knows it!)

Read it here on Reddit!

The cult of zombie

What is a zombie?

Irressible hunger/consumption
Without society

But most of all, the zombie is in our image. They are another form of us, an evolutionary byproduct, a mutation. That’s the scariest part of all.

Zombies have been singled out as representing a lot of issues or societal fears:

  • Aids
  • Terrorism
  • Racism
  • Consumerism
  • War
  • Disease (a bit of an obvious one)
  • Obesity in the Western World
  • Technology
  • Aliens
  • Religion
  • Capitalism
  • Politics
  • Refugees

I was discussing on twitter with a mate yesterday about what makes a zombie a zombie. Must they be undead? Must they be mindless? They definitely don’t all eat brains, actually very few do (there is Return of the Living Dead, whose zombie going ‘Braaainnns’ I have as my sms tone on my phone…because I can). Almost all are cannibalistic, and their disease is highly contagious, whether by blood or bite, but that’s not always been the case as zombis (without the e) from Haiti were sorcerer’s minions.


Away from zombies for a moment, what do zombies mean for humanity?

People must forget emotional bonds in order to survive, kill their loved ones if bitten/infected or else risk undeath themselves

People can’t afford to work against each other (which often isn’t the case in many zombie works). Trust is important as people are forced to work together if they want to survive.

People are more equalised during a zombie invasion. Of course, those who can wield a weapon or shoot are of the most important, but other’s can help to scavenge supplies or keep a look out.

Things become so petty. Money, position, power. Of course, not everyone is willing to give those things up.

George Romero has said in an interview that it’s not so much the zombies and what they represent, but what the humans do, how we react, that is what is really important. Humans don’t always do what is best for themselves, and in some cases (not that rare), are actually quite stupid. I’m one of those people who yell at the TV “Don’t do that!” or “I bet she’s going to do X…oh yeah, there she goes, screwing it up.” My sister is worse than me, although her focus is on vampire evolution (and she is the B-grade movie queen).

We can’t always think straight under pressure, and a zombie apocalypse is a lot of stress for anyone, but in a lot of cases it is the society we have at the moment that is the basis for our not surviving well in the future (near, far, wherever….). We’re too comfortable at the top of the food chain, we value that which isn’t essential (gold, money, etc), we are selfish and self-righteous. Some texts even ask: are we worth saving?