Books

Review: Readers of 'Captive Audience' asked to weigh why we watch reality TV

It’s tempting to dismiss reality TV as the empty calorie choice on television’s seemingly inexhaustible buffet of options. But Lucas Mann, an alumnus of the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program, thinks shows purporting to show us something real are worthy of real consideration, and he offers just that in “Captive Audience: On Love and Reality TV.”

The love in question is his own, as the book delves into his marriage as well as an array of reality shows. The book is an amalgam of interview, scholarship, cultural criticism, and memoir — all underpinned by Mann’s own viewing habits and the shared experience of watching with his wife. Throughout the book, he addresses his wife directly:

“You don’t seem to feel that pressure to show that you are at least a bit disturbed by the lie of American bourgeois normalcy, even as you participate in it. When this schism leads to a fit, I get all worked up and righteous, thinking I’m just a more self-aware person, but I suspect I’m confusing self-awareness with self-loathing, trying to attach value, or at least a sense of action to the self-loathing. The unspoken question is whether you can still desire something as you sneer at it, or whether it’s a cop-out to try to straddle that line.”

This talk of self-awareness and self-loathing might seem self-indulgent — and indeed, it is. But this self-indulgence, rather it takes the form of watching the lives of others or the form of wishing others might watch his life with interest, is essential to the overarching structure of “Captive Audience.”

Mann is interested in what is revealed and what is concealed in a reality program; he is equally interested in those questions when it comes to a life lived without the intrusion (or perhaps the heightening) of cameras.

“Captive Audience” asks us to consider what we might be holding us captive — both on-screen and off.

Book reading

l What: Lucas Mann reads from “Captive Audience”

l When: 7 p.m. Thursday

l Where: Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City

l Cost: Free

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