"Reality" television is generally scorned as mindless, vulgar, exploitative and contrived. So is it ever sociology, is it ever real? Yes, if it's American Idol, the FOX show that recently wrapped up its blockbuster second season. The program, for the uninitiated, pitted 12 young performers against one another for a chance at a $1 million recording contract. True, American Idol was adapted from a British series, Pop Idol, which had attracted a record 14 million voters and made an instant celebrity of a colorless boy singer. True, the program's producers were motivated by only the slickest of intentions: to manufacture a lucrative audience for a recording star before even one CD had been released.
In the 1960s, when my husband and I first traveled in
England as students, we would have starved without the Chinese. From Brighton to
Durham, from Bath to Norwich, the only inexpensive restaurants open at night were
serving sweet-and-sour pork. Even Indian food was exotic and scarce--and pub food
was inedible. A decade later, living in London on our first sabbatical from
academe, we were alarmed to hear of a bread strike. But when we rushed to the
local bakery with our hungry tots, it turned out that the stricken bread was only
the sliced white loaf, for which desperate customers were queuing. Everything
else--croissants, baguettes, rye, pita--was in plentiful but undesirable supply.
Since the beginning of the women's liberation movement in the 1960s, theorists have recognized two kinds of contemporary feminist culture: Feminism Heavy and Feminism Lite. Heavy, or high, feminism includes art exhibits, academic books, PBS, foreign films by Dutch or Belgian women directors (such as Jeanne Dielmann, Chantal Akerman's interminable saga of a housewife's interminable day), the novels of Susan Sontag and Toni Morrison, and learned journals such as Signs, Genders, or Legacy. Lite, or low, feminism includes advertising, the fiction of Anita Shreve and Terry McMillan, the plays of Wendy Wasserstein, commercial television, women's magazines, and most Hollywood movies.