Race on reality TV: How the genre mediates textual construction and audience reading of race

Ji Hoon Park, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation explores the ideological potential of reality TV by examining how the genre mediates the textual construction and audience reception of race. Unlike scholarly criticism that reality TV plays an ideological role in naturalizing the myth of racial stereotype and prejudice, the close reading of selected reality shows suggests that while these shows appear to be ideologically conservative, all shows offer the progressive discourses about race that may subvert the prevailing notions about race and race relations in the United States. This dissertation argues that the reality genre has a greater potential for positive social influence in that it provides the audiences with an unconventional, honest and progressive racial discourse which they rarely receive from the mainstream media. The dissertation also discusses the possibility of the positive social influence of reality TV's progressive discourse about race in audience reading of race on reality TV. What is most salient in the audiences' reading of reality TV is their sufficient knowledge of its generic features. The dissertation claims that the audience's recognition of reality TV triggers the audience's expectation about the genre's fictional and manipulative conventions, and that their awareness of these characteristics encourages their critical reading of the ideological discourse about race. Reality TV seems to have a counter-hegemonic potential because the audience's awareness of the genre predisposes them to do an oppositional reading of the artificial devices that lead to ideologically conservative discourses about race. Within the economically competitive and culturally conservative media environment that limits the production of a progressive discourse about race, the generic characteristics of reality TV make possible a creation of an unusual discursive space in which socially important racial issues and the counter-hegemonic racial discourses are expressed and considered. Moreover, reality TV may promote an interpretative practice which encourages the audiences to become discerning consumers of the ideological discourse about race. In the contemporary cultural milieu where political correctness on race dominates, reality TV gets people to talk about race in ways that are serious, honest and progressive.^

Subject Area

Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies|Mass Communications

Recommended Citation

Park, Ji Hoon, "Race on reality TV: How the genre mediates textual construction and audience reading of race" (2006). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3246216.