In this one-of-a-kind essay collection, Mann explores the fruitful if fraught relationship between love and reality television. Mann is a reality TV junkie, embedded deeply in the fandom of countless franchises ... Though his essays are academic, they are also readable and heartfelt; each one includes commentary written directly to his wife, recounting episodes watched and emotions shared. Mann recounts the ways in which reality television not only reflects the culture of its viewers but also nestles its way into their hearts.
Captive Audience is at once less and more personal than its predecessor. Its first sentence suggests several of the layers on which its title works ... Mann’s structure throughout is deliberate ... The final chapter of Captive Audience was written after the election of Donald Trump, and it ends by posing more questions, both about the dangers of passivity when encountering media and about the ways in which writing about something gradually becomes an all-encompassing task. National politics may have raised the stakes for this particular work: an investigation of the permutations of nonfiction storytelling transformed into an indictment of the state of culture in the early twenty-first century. 'All I really know is how it feels — that’s the truth and that’s also the problem,' Mann writes. It’s a disquieting and contradictory note on which to end this book. But then, given the art form at its center, that seems like the truest choice he could have made.
Fundamentally, he writes, it is the manifestation of desire, especially the desire to be liked or at least watched, that evokes disgust ... No surprise, then, that Mann takes the effort to embarrass himself so much further than Feigel does, offering up his petty ambitions and insecurities in excruciating detail, sparing no undignified angle, letting no vain or histrionic thought go unshared.