“The True Story of Seven Strangers Picked to Have Their Lives Taped”: Studying Race as Constructed on Reality Television
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The present work examines the construction of race on reality television through the use of an exemplar in this genre, MTV's The Real World. By the sheer fact of its popularity and ubiquity, as The Real World is nearly two decades old and is the longest-running example of the genre, reality television programming warrants deeper academic investigation. The present work argues that as we are consuming mass media, we are also consuming specific ideas about our social world. These ideas inform audiences and are necessary to uncover in order to learn about the social structure of our racialized society. Findings reveal race and ethnicity is embedded in our culture and how this show has communicated race through its depiction and even exclusion. Further, findings reveal that racial and ethnic relations are most often depicted as a "Black versus White" issue. The current work focuses specifically on the construction of race because of the similarly ubiquitous nature of race in society. Because The Real World is a long-running series, it provides an ample database from which to sample for a discourse analysis. The show is marketed and viewed by a specific target audience such that it allows for the exploration of one of the research arguments: that we must continue to rethink and challenge our view that mass media audience members, specifically here television, are passive consumers of material. The present work seeks to extend the application of theoretical contributions of Hall, Morley, Ang, and Jenkins by applying models to a type of programming that complicates the vision of media where consumers and producers are identifiably different spheres. The field of reality television programming is unique because of its dependence on viewers to become cast members and participants in the media production process. Finally, as previous research has shown, even in fictional settings viewers have conflated the individual who plays a character and the character the actor is playing. Thus by analyzing issues of race, where the line between real and unreal is purposely blurred the impact of how race is constructed can be quite great.
Filoteo, Janie (2011). “The True Story of Seven Strangers Picked to Have Their Lives Taped”: Studying Race as Constructed on Reality Television. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from