Intelligent musings on reality TV and marriage.
Since the massively successful reality competition show Survivor debuted in 2000, there have been hundreds of articles and books about reality TV. This one, by Mann (Creative Writing/Univ. of Massachusetts Dartmouth; Lord Fear, 2015, etc.), is enlivened and distinguished by the author’s genuine appreciation for the genre’s form and content. Mann has a shrewd eye for exposing the formulaic production values inherent in these programs, and he clearly sees beneath the celebrity ambitions of the reality stars. Yet he remains a devoted fan, understanding and sometimes reveling in who is compulsively watchable, whether it’s any one of the Kardashians, NeNe Leakes from The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Jax Taylor from Vanderpump Rules, or any of the family members who inhabit the bizarre universe of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. The author ably identifies the authentic elements in these programs that make them so compelling, and he considers how these heightened dramas and extreme personalities serve as mirrors to our lives—and, more personally, to his relationship with his wife. Their enduring bond often revolves around their shared fascination (obsessions?) with the characters who inhabit these shows, and his reflections on his marriage frequently reflect the dramas that unfold. “Somewhere in here I’m telling our story, right? That’s at least part of the idea,” he writes. “But look how it has streamlined. Look at how little life there is—just sporadic emotional plot points—even as I felt I was revealing so much. Look how I focus on the loud bangs and the sulky silences…refusing to let you and me be fully realized on the page, to be human in any way beyond broad, emotive strokes.” If Mann doesn’t quite elevate reality TV to an art form—and that’s unlikely his intention—he makes a persuasive argument for readers to sit up and take notice. The cultural implications are perhaps more potent than we’d like to believe.
An immensely captivating consideration of reality TV and a moving reflection on marriage.