Reality Squared offers a bold theoretical account of reality television and the conditions of its significance today.
In this concise but rich book, Syverson refutes the common notion that reality television is superficial or inauthentic, explaining how such criticisms fail to appreciate the way that we form social reality in the first place. By examining shows like The Hills, The Real Housewives, Vanderpump Rules, and The Bachelor alongside postmodern philosophy, feminist theory, and political economy, Syverson argues that we can confront today’s postmodern condition only by accepting it on its own terms.
To what extent does reality television mimic and shape our public and personal lives? Is reality television a dangerous, shallow decadence, or can it provide the key to understanding our postmodern moment? And above all, what does the election of Donald Trump mean for progressive fans of the genre?
Reality Squared tackles these questions head-on, arguing that reality television represents the great modern art form, and the only entertainment vehicle capable of showing what it feels like to be alive today.
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Reality Squared faces down reality TV with the curiosity and seriousness that the subject deserves and so rarely receives. In Syverson’s hands, there are no lazy cliches or easy jokes, he cuts to the heart of why and how this form carries political and cultural consequence. From Vanderpump Rules to the reality presidency we’re all forced to watch, Syverson provides a necessary theoretical framework to help us understand a phenomenon that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. ~ Lucas Mann, author of Captive Audience: On Love and Reality TV
Elegantly written, Tom Syverson’s Reality Squared is at once a love letter to reality TV and a nuanced study of one of the most pervasive forms of media in our contemporary moment. Amid debates on how leftist discourse has been making excessive use of bad faith and paranoid readings, Syverson discursively intervenes with a generosity that does not disavow a rigorous, critical assessment. ~ Kristen Cochrane, @ripannanicolesmith
In a so-called post-truth era, underwritten by the interminable logic of finance, and with a former gameshow host and professional wrestling guest star as president, Syverson invites readers to take seriously that reality television might be the paramount art form of our time. Far from obfuscating reality, its precise performativity plays back the implausibility, instability, and irrationality of our own lives in extraordinarily legible ways. Playing reality shows like The Hills, The Real Housewives, and The Bachelor against ideas from cultural theory, psychoanalysis, and critical theory, Syverson argues that reality television serves as a kind of ethical matrix and, perhaps, a way station onto a grander political consciousness. It is hard to agree with every argument, claim, or provocation but, just like its source material, it's hard to turn away either. Reality Squared plays precisely in a murky zone where one considers what happens if we really do stop being polite and start getting real. ~ Ajay Singh Chaudhary, Brooklyn Institute for Social Research
At a time when it so often feels that the truth has become stranger than fiction, Syverson’s dive into the world of reality television suggests a more uncomfortable "truth" - there is no longer a meaningful difference between the two. ~ Naomi Snider, author of Why Does Patriarchy Persist?
Reality Squared proposes a novel idea that’s achingly overdue: rather than wringing our hands over the obviously staged aspects of reality television, perhaps it’s better to think of these mechanisms as a perfect map of our increasingly fictitious world. Syverson’s dead-on understanding of cheap entertainment and its symbiotic relationship to the failures of the Left make this an invaluable read. ~ Jarett Kobek, author of Only Americans Burn in Hell and I Hate the Internet