Danielle J. Lindemann, True Story. What Reality TV Says About Us, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Macmillan) 2022
A sociological study of reality TV that explores its rise as a culture-dominating medium—and what the genre reveals about our attitudes toward race, gender, class, and sexuality
What do we see when we watch reality television?
In True Story: What Reality TV Says About Us, the sociologist and TV-lover Danielle J. Lindemann takes a long, hard look in the “funhouse mirror” of this genre. From the first episodes of The Real World to countless rose ceremonies to the White House, reality TV has not just remade our entertainment and cultural landscape (which it undeniably has). Reality TV, Lindemann argues, uniquely reflects our everyday experiences and social topography back to us. Applying scholarly research—including studies of inequality, culture, and deviance—to specific shows, Lindemann layers sharp insights with social theory, humor, pop cultural references, and anecdotes from her own life to show us who we really are.
By taking reality TV seriously, True Story argues, we can better understand key institutions (like families, schools, and prisons) and broad social constructs (such as gender, race, class, and sexuality). From The Bachelor to Real Housewives to COPS and more (so much more!), reality programming unveils the major circuits of power that organize our lives—and the extent to which our own realities are, in fact, socially constructed.
Whether we’re watching conniving Survivor contestants or three-year-old beauty queens, these “guilty pleasures” underscore how conservative our society remains, and how steadfastly we cling to our notions about who or what counts as legitimate or “real.” At once an entertaining chronicle of reality TV obsession and a pioneering work of sociology, True Story holds up a mirror to our society: the reflection may not always be pretty—but we can’t look away.
Podcast discussion with author. Los Angeles Review of Books.
Danielle Lindemann joins Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher to talk about her latest book, True Story: What Reality TV Says About Us. Drawing on the ideas of major thinkers in modern sociology, including Emile Durkheim, Michel Foucault, and others, the book explores how reality TV both reflects and reproduces real-world social tensions, inequities, and slippages around class, race, gender, sexuality, and other categories of being. Rather than merely trash TV — or perhaps in addition to being trash TV — Lindemann argues that our favorite shows are lenses through which we can better understand our world, our social lives, and the powerful forces that shape them and us.