The Guilty Pleasure of Watching Like Big Brother: Privacy Attitudes, Voyeurism & Reality Programs

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Baruh, Lemi

Media commentators have offered different explanations for the rising popularity of reality television. One frequently cited hypothesis is that the rising popularity of reality programs can be attributed to their ability to accommodate television viewers' voyeuristic needs. It has also been suggested that the voyeuristic appeal of reality programs often comes at the price of privacy and dignity of their participants. However, existing literature on audience behavior and reality programming only tangentially addresses the question of how television viewers' voyeuristic orientations and their attitudes about value of privacy factor into the choices they make about consuming reality television. The primary purpose of this dissertation thesis is to fill this void by investigating these two potential drivers of reality television consumption. In order to do so, this project first utilized a crossectional survey, which asked respondents to report the frequency with which they watched 18 reality programs broadcast on major national networks. Participants also responded to a battery of questions regarding their voyeuristic orientation, attitudes about privacy, and their tendency to use television for voyeurism. In addition, a content analysis of reality programs was used to weight the findings from the survey. The findings from this study suggest that voyeurism, as a psychological orientation, is positively related to consumption of reality programs and that this relationship between voyeurism and exposure to reality programming is mediated by a tendency to use television to satisfy voyeurism. With respect to the relationship between privacy attitudes and consumption of reality programming, the findings indicate that one consistent predictor of avoidance of reality programs is the belief that one should be concerned about the privacy of other individuals even if they fail to protect their own privacy. Finally, comparison of unweighted reality television exposure measure and exposure measures weighted by content analysis results revealed that scenes taking place in private or semi-private settings, scenes containing nudity and scenes containing gossip contributed to the voyeuristic appeal of reality programs.

Oscar Gandy
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