Race and Reality…TV

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by: L. S. Kim / University of California, Santa Cruz; UCLA

A prime-time line-up without reality television programming seems a lifetime ago. But it has only been three seasons since the last of the major broadcast networks added its first reality series. Just a few years of proliferation has splintered the form into subgenres, showering viewers with nightly lineups of alternate realities. But the more reality changes, the more it stays the same.

America’s historical love of self-help guidebooks and self-invention stories – the touchstones of the American Dream – have materialized in shows like Extreme Makeover, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Trading Spaces, Trading Spouses, Renovate My Family, and mentioning the unmentionable, The Swan. Horatio Alger tales are retold through as seemingly diverse fare as The Apprentice, American Idol, and even America’s Next Top Model. The trend began as contests of social politics leading to a cash prize (for the survivor of Survivor, one million dollars). New prizes include a job, a recording contract, a spouse. What the prize – and the moral of the story – really is, though, is personal transformation.

Top Model Logo

America’s Next Top Model logo

Personal transformation – whether from ugly duckling to “swan” or from poor country-bumpkin to rich, sophisticated entrepreneur – is integral to the grand American myths of race. It lies at the heart of how immigrants and their children are expected to assimilate. It also animates the expectations of those who believe in a “color-blind” approach to racial minorities, particularly African-Americans. It is telling, then, that reality television contains more characters of color than any other genre of primetime program. Furthermore, Reality TV is the only place in primetime where one can regularly watch integrated casts.

In stark contrast to the segregated nature of sitcoms, reality programs almost universally begin with a mixed cast of contestants. First, let’s deal with some terms here, like “contestant.” Certainly these shows are contests, but they are dramas, too. Stories are narrativized. Through the magic of editing, contestants are transformed into characters in what can best be described as an “ensemble cast.” The misnomer “reality” in “Reality TV” is a paper topic unto itself, but it suffices to say that from the viewer’s perspective, the participants on reality television programs are not mere contestants in a game show but well-developed characters in an unfolding story, rendered all the more dramatic by the fact that they are “real” people. The distinction is important. The color of a contestant on a classic game show like Wheel of Fortune may be irrelevant to the country’s racial discourse, for culturally-informed personality traits are of little import to the outcome of the game. Those traits are at the heart, however, of the social politics forming the contests on “reality shows.” Furthermore, producers shape our perception of these individuals. Editing, promo teasers, even the very unreality of the set-ups (e.g., fourteen beautiful women living together in a castle trying to woo a millionaire, or a man they think is a millionaire) mean that the personas we see depicted on our screens may or may not be accurate facsimiles of the contestants in real life.

Not only are characters of color present in reality television series, sometimes they even win. Vecepia Towery on Survivor: Marquesas, Jun Song on Big Brother 4, Ruben Studdard on American Idol, Harlemm Lee on Fame, and Dat Phan on Last Comic Standing are some recent examples. Winners are not determined objectively (another departure from the game show model), but by judges, by the voting television audience, or sometimes by fellow contestants, always based on subjective evaluations.

Indeed, the structure of the genre relies on the absence of objective standards of victory. For reality programs, the selection of the winner generally follows certain unspoken rules:

1) Show of Gratitude. A successful or compelling player must be grateful for the text, e.g., by praising and thanking the show (or God) for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see his/her dreams come true. Those receiving makeovers must give heartfelt thanks to “the dream team” of doctors, dentists, trainers, and stylists for giving them (and by extension, their families) a new life. Bachelorettes must repeat their appreciation of the experience of being on the show and emphasize that they believe in “the process.” If you treat the show as a joke you won’t win, no matter how talented you are. You will be perceived as disrespectful. But of what, exactly? Reality TV? The audience? Or the myths that underlay the genre?

2) Sympathetic Back-Story. A Reality TV contestant may be popular, talented, and winsome, but s/he must have a good pre-existing story, one that follows a Horatio Alger and/or immigrant tale. Viewers love to see a rags-to-riches story, so if a contestant is poor, the odds are improved that s/he will make it past the preliminary rounds and into the finals. Both Ruben Studdard and Adrianne Curry lived in cars with their single mothers (in the South and Midwest, respectively) before becoming the dramatic winners (in Hollywood and New York City, respectively) on American Idol and America’s Next Top Model. On the other hand, “having it all” (intelligence, talent, good looks, and having been born into privilege) is almost inevitably a losing hand. Perhaps this is the most unreal aspect of Reality TV.

Top Models

Top Models

3) Good Work Ethic. The winner of a reality television story must work hard. The opening theme song for Fame, a singing-dancing-acting talent contest, had the contestants sing: “We’re here to work-work-work!” Survivor contestants work and starve. Fear Factor contestants work and eat terrible things. Even if the work itself is contrived and meaningless, American viewers must see these people exerting energy and emotion in order to be worthy of becoming the winner or hero of a reality television text.

With these unspoken standards for achieving victory, Reality TV gives us heroes who uphold, reflect, and affirm core American values of equal opportunity for social and economic mobility in a democratic capitalist society through hard work, chutzpah, and a little talent, too. The talent may be the gift of being able to belt out a pop song, the skill to manipulate others to get them to achieve your aims, an ability to seduce a millionaire (bachelor) or impress a billionaire (bachelor) with your business acumen. Americans take comfort knowing (and seeing) that in Reality TVland, if not in real life, race is of no consequence with regard to possessing such skills and achieving such goals.

The very artifice of the “realities” created on the shows, together with the youthfulness of the genre, allow for multi-cultural casts that play out these myths. In contrast, from the birth of television, situation comedies have been set primarily within families, whether actual nuclear families or familial cohorts like Friends. The very structure of the sitcom genre was – and remains – inevitably segregated. Workplace dramas have offered greater opportunities for integrated casts and storylines, but the preponderance of police series risks the reinforcement of negative stereotypes of minorities. Because Reality TV is a relatively new invention (though of course it has its antecedents), Reality TV doesn’t have the same historical constraints and audience expectations of those other genres. In fact, notions of race and ethnicity actually play to the genre’s underpinnings – what better example can there be of self-reinvention with Gratitude, Backstory and Hard Work than that of a talented yet unthreatening member of a “model minority”?

William Hung on American Idol

William Hung on American Idol

Of course, not all reality series are alike and even the same program can be contradictory in its racial politics. While being open and possibly innovative in negotiating racial discourse, there are still racial tropes that capitulate to the lowest common denominator. Glaring examples include William Hung, the ‘Asian geek’ whose dance moves (and virginity) were exactly what we would expect them to be, or the derogatory character type of ‘the black –itch’ embodied (and edited!) so well in Omarosa.

But because Reality TV literally mixes up the usual television order-of-things, there is a bit more latitude in the ways in which characters of color can emerge. One can complain that the starting casts of reality shows seem too neatly to be “rainbow coalitions” of mere tokens, but there is no denying that in a largely segregated television universe, Reality TV proffers racially integrated casts. Mimi White brought up the idea of liking and disliking the same program at the same time. Likewise, can a viewer (and television scholar) praise and critique a television program or genre simultaneously? Admire its inclusiveness of race, class, gender, and sexual difference, but boo its conventional range of ideological values? I believe we can be both pessimistic and optimistic about television. This mode is in some ways, the very mode of television criticism. Reality television as hybridized and intertextual does not invoke simple viewing or simple pleasures, and it demonstrates that “getting real” (the tagline for The Real World) with racial difference is not such The Simple Life.

Links:
Home page for Fox’s The Swan
Home page for Fox’s American Idol
Home page for CBS’s Survivor
Home page for NBC’s Fear Factor

Image Credits:

1. America’s Next Top Model logo

2. Top Models

3. William Hung on American Idol

Please feel free to comment.

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50 comments

  • Kim’s analysis of race and Reality TV asks us to (re)evaluate many of our assumptions about Reality TV and invites some interesting questions: Is the greater racial equality of Reality TV in comparison with narrative programming a value that redeems it somewhat from its sensationalist and lowest-common-denominator qualities? Does it inspire and give hope to minorities? Do Reality TV’s representations of minorities and the American dream reflect true reality? Is its diversity a trend that could actually have a positive impact on narrative TV programming? Kim’s analysis begs us to consider the possible long-term implications of Reality TV and the love-hate relationship so many Americans have with it.

  • American Dream, Minority, and the Unreal

    I definitely agree with several of the claims that Kim says in her Race and Reality TV article. First, I agree that reality TV is one way to reinforce the idea of the “American Dream”. Reality TV show like The Apprentice, Extreme Makeover, and American Idol all affirm to the means of the American Dream: success, wealth, fame, and beauty. Subsequently, reality TV provides more characters of color than popular sitcom but not always in positive representation. For instance, Kim provides two example from her article. One is of William Hung, an Asian contestant from American Idol. Everything about Hung is a joke. All of the jokes merely come from the fact that he is an ugly, virgin Asian geek who also can’t sing or dance. Another example is Omarosa, an African American woman from The Apprentice. The show obviously represented Omarosa as a “black -itch” who also appears bossy and controlling. And finally, I agree that reality TV is unreal. Although the contestants are in fact real people, however, they are easily become “well-developed characters” all through the “magic of editing”. Kim also claims that the producer of the show often shape the audience’s perception about each of the contestants/characters. Even the environments in which the contestants are in are obviously set-up by the show. And so we should always question ourselves with three question: What exactly is the American Dream? Are minorities equally represented in reality TV? How real is reality TV?

  • Truth in Reality

    The above article certainly brings up an interesting and rarely discussed facet of reality television. Sometimes it seems as if the novelty of a genre precludes in depth examinations of said programs along racial lines. Kim’s analysis is refreshing albiet destined to remain incomplete. While the artifice inherent in the reality television genre may have led the way for likewise artificially multicultural casts, it has done so in a regressive fashion. If the appeal of these shows lies in their adherence to American ideologies, then at least some of this appeal also lies in their underlying message of equality as a similar idealization, never to be found or even sought after in the so-called “real world.”

  • I just wanted to say that reality television is just a huge farce. I believe that producers put on people of diverse racial backgrounds just to attract different groups of people to watch a particular show. Television is nothing more than a business. If a reality show has a diverse audience, then it can bring that diverse audience to the advertiser. During the first season of The Apprentice America knew that Kwame was not going to win. Although he may have been talented, Kwame was up against a white contestant. Even in this day and age, I still do not think that America is ready to see many African Americans succeed.

  • One point that I was glad to see Kim touch on was that it is okay to be optimistic and pessimistic about TV at the same time. I have felt this way for awhile, but I always felt like I had to pick one side or the other. For example, as Kim pointed out, reality TV is breaking some boundaries, but at the same time it has a long way to go with many problems that could be fixed. Like some comments stated above, reality TV does, in many ways, reinforce the accessibility of the “American Dream” for minorities and average Joes. But, like pointed out, TV is a business and producers have to attract advertisers some way. This leads to Reality TV being not very objective in many ways.

  • reality television

    Integration of “races” on reality television is a two sided issue. I believe that it can be a very positive image to the younger viewer who turns on the television and sees a mixture of different ethnic groups together and working with one another. But to the older viewer it can be seen as a negative thing because of the producers underlying motive. They are not casting multiethnic shows to promote a pluralistic society, but rather to drive ratings. Like Noble said, television is a business and casting different ethnic groups gives the show a chance to grab a large and diverse audience. Both the stations and advertisers love this. Another reason that I believe producers of reality television shows put different ethnicities together is to cause controversy. Most reality shows like to get their casts made at each other and cause drama. They see the best way to do this is to put people from different cultures and with different cultures together in the same room and to do this usually constitutes getting a racially diverse cast.

  • How I feel about Reality TV

    Kim brings up an interesting issue, because I’ve never really thought about Reality TV being more integrated than other TV genres. However, I do agree that it’s probably just producers trying to pull in as much audience as they can. Another thing is that Reality shows would get accused of being racist if all the contestants on the shows were one race. I also agree with the person above me saying that they get people of different ethnicities and backgrounds to cause drama between the contestants to further increase ratings, and that’s one of the reasons why I detest a vast majority of Reality TV. Kim is right when asserting that Reality TV shows shape real people into “well-developed characters in an unfolding story”, but these are REAL people participating in these shows, not fictional characters we read about in novels or see in movies, and fixing up scenarios to deliberately cause turmoil, angst, and drama to REAL people for the sake of ratings is just wrong.

  • race and the real world

    This article made me think about “The Real World” and how MTV makes it pretty obvious that they are purposefully casting a “rainbow coalition.” In every season, there is someone of a different race or sexual orientation, that people are just waiting to see clash with the others. I think they try to bring pertenant issues up with a younger, more naive audience, but it seems to be forced and set-up. I am reminded of a “Saturday Night Live” episode where they spoofed “The Real World” where everyone was using their unique backgrounds to fight the the other housemates. Mike Myers just keep repeating “listen to me, I’m from Dublin,” everything is about him being from Dublin.

  • Race and Reality Marriage

    If you want race relations in America just take a gander at the various “Who wants to sleep with A *** Hot Guy/Girl for a Million Dollars and pretend to be married for a week” shows the contestants are predominantly white with the token ethnic thrown in and a black guy. The black guy/girl is always voted off the 1st week. Because the producers and more importantly the advertisers know the audience will not accept a black man marrying a white woman for money. There is only so much reality middle america can take.

  • Minorities on “Reality Television”

    I really found Dr.Kim’s article interesting. As an African American myself reality tv has its advantages and disadvantages. Yes, I agree with Kim when she stated that Reality TV maybe a little bit more intergated then other genres. African Americans are scarcely represented on television period and when we are represented its in a sterotypical manner. Reality TV gives a view of African Americans in a new light with shows such as American Idol and Americans Next Top Model. But in these shows we continue to see what ideologies the producer holds and wants to convey to their viewers. Americans Next Top Model always has at least one black female and she is either evil or has a bad attitude or over weight (wow!!). I believe that some type of representation is better than none at all but the roles that we see African Americans accompanying in this genre and others are still negative and continue to see very few positive roles. The roles that are positive are on the same channel back to back (UPN). So, either way Television whether reality or another genre has come along way as far as minority represenation but has a long way to go before I see minorities (including other ethinic group) as being equally and truly represented.

  • Race and Reality…TV

    I sincerely agree with the three “unspoken rules” of Dr. Kim’s article. Participants (and definitely winners) in a reality TV show usually exhibit all three characteristics, which again prompts us to examine the ideology of American television. American entertainment generally reinforces capitalist ideology, strong work ethic, and who could forget- the American Dream. This is really apparent in most television, and reality TV is not excluded. Certainly, people of different ethnicities are often typecast to fit a particular mold, like the Real World, for example. And this unfortunate problem is true across the board with reality TV, as Dr. Kim mentioned some other instances in her article.

  • Race and “Real”ity TV

    I agree that producers like to have a wide range of ethnicities when choosing their contestants for ratings purposes. Underportrayed ethnicities such as Asians and Hispanics now have an “equal” chance to achieve the same goals as everyone else. Ofcourse, I never believed that the voting system on any of the shows were actually legit, because the producers wouldn’t let their cash cow get kicked off if they had the power to overide the actual votes. My final statement is that even though it’s refreshing to see a mix of ethnicities on television competing for a certain prize, the string pulling behind the scenes is really what determines who will be the one on top.

  • How often are racial politics downplayed for the sake of the greater American good? And what is the American good? It seems that, not unlike the simultaneous American obsession with Paris Hilton and banning homosexual marriage, Americans hold Horatio Alger’s ideals as tokens. This isn’t unlike the same, predominately white audience’s perception of the token, “unthreatening,” minority who shows an audience a bright smile reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Here, Alger’s ideology gives way to televisuality—the idea that TV has become a “stylizing performance: an exhibition that utilizes many different looks” (Caldwell, John Thornton. “Excessive Style.” Television: The Critical View. Ed. Horace Newcomb. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). Does this mean, then, that the performance of reciting American ideals transcends race in reality programming?

  • reality agenda

    Perhaps the idea of having a more racially integrated cast in reality television should not be looked at as a social agenda of equal and fair representation, but a reach for a larger segment of the market. Kim argues that representation of minorities at all in reality television stands in “stark contrast to the segregated nature of sitcoms.” Perhaps the fact that reality television is a produced show without the use of writers makes it a more feasible channel to feature more ethnic backgrounds in it’s cast. The reason for this being that there may also be discrepancy in ethnic representation among the writers for TV sitcoms. The burden on the writer then becomes the authenticity of the characters, when often writing from the perspective of a different ethnicity. Reality television allows “real” people to be “narrativized” by the use of editing rather than writing and from a cultural standpoint can bring more authenticity to the character. Though characters in reality TV can be framed in negative stereotype, the argument can be made that these are not fictional representations of biased writers but rather honest depictions of “real” people.

  • invisible prejudice

    I agree with several of the above comments that the ensemble casts on reality TV are integrated to appeal to the broadest demographic possible. It’s no mere coincidence that almost every reality show includes token characters such as a gay guy, a bossy African American woman, an irresponsible white frat boy, and a Asian “model minority.” While it is nice to see different races, genders, and sexualities living amongst each other, I think it ultimately gives this country a false sense of achievement; that we are doing so well and are so accepting of others different from us that racism, sexism, and heterosexism no longer exist. For example, out of three American Idols, two are black. While this is a great accomplishment, many may see their success as an indicator of whether or not racism still exists, and undeniably it still does. If we believe that prejudice and hatred no longer exist, we will no longer fight to eradicate it. And therein lies the danger.

  • Agreeing with the Article

    I agree with a lot of the comments in this article and Ms. Haarsager’s. It’s almost a fact that television creators cast characters that represent most races and minorities. They are trying to find that demographic and literally reach every American there is. This is not a bad idea (in fact, it’s a great idea). But having the same exact people, like Ms. Haarsager commented on with the “gay guy” and “frat boy,” really does become repetive and almost too predictable. Reality shows are becoming less and less real, whether or not they have a broad demographic. I also agree with Mr. Allen’s comment that it is good for younger viewers to perceive all races on reality shows.

  • Diversity is good!

    The motives of the TV execs who cast these shows are neither here nor there. Of course they cast the group who they think will give them the best ratings. That should be blindingly obvious to everyone. However, no matter why the y cast certain people, seeing shows with a diverse cast over and over again, no matter how repetitive the story lines get, is good for the cause of diversity in America. The more people see people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds together in a show, the less unusual that state will become. After a while people will stop even noticing it, stop thinking about how weird it is to have a fully integrated cast and simply take it for granted. And that is some sort of progress. In another note, I don’t see how the “Good Work Ethic” characteristic applies to cast members of shows like The Real World or Laguna Beach that don’t involve a contest per se. The people in those shows don’t do jack. I think the way the American Dream is represented in those shows is that the ultimate pinnacle of the American dream is to be able to sit around in a big house and do nothing. Anyway,Good night everybody! You’ve been a great audience! And in conclusion I would just like to say, San Dimas High School Football rules!

  • Reality is supposed to spontaneous and unpredictable, but the formula of reality television defeats its own purpose. Before a reality TV series begins, the viewing knows whats kind of person will win the contest or what kind of person will be helped out by the network. As certain actors are typecasted in movies, people of different race and sexual orientation are typecasted in reality TV. I believe that Reality TV as we know it, do to its predicatbility and repitition, will eventually vanish and be replaced by a much racier, truer to real-life programs which may or may not have the fairy-tale feel that has been associated with genre. The good, the bad, and the ugly will all be exposed.

  • Reality TV enforcing American free trade and status quo

    L.S. Kim’s points about the 3 “rules” needed to win on an American Reality T.V. show are also values that the gigantic conglomerates that run T.V. would like to reinforce upon American people and the rest of the world. Starting off with number 1, which states that the winning contestant must be grateful fro the chance to be on a fake show to see their dreams come true. They must appreciate the experience and believe in the process. This can be seen in terms of worldwide free trade that all these conglomerates support so much, where very few people become very successful and anyone who is in the system regardless of how much money they make should be grateful for being given the chance to become successful. Reality T.V. would never support a contestant that denounces the whole system, just like the U.S. doesn’t support a country that does not allow complete free trade (Cuba for example). Rule number two says that Reality T.V. loves the rags-to-riches story. They will be hard pressed not to pick a minority who has come through trials and tribulations and proven them selves worthy of acceptance into the “successful” world. The people who run T.V. do not want to tell the masses the truth, which is most rich, white people who were born to successful parents will generally be able to be more successful than most rag-to-riches stories. Rags-to-riches stories are also not as common as T.V. makes them appear. This is all by design though as America wants its citizens to think that they can go from rags to riches with enough hard work, even though most can not. The third rule is that the winner must have worked hard and poured their heart into winning the reality show no matter how stupid it is. This also reiterates the same old mentality that if you work hard you will eventually become wealthy. In reality the hardest working people are the people in the poorest countries in the world working for chump change in the sweatshops run by multinational conglomerates. If Reality T.V. wanted to reflect the true American Ideology, it would be which character is the most cruel and ruthless to those less fortunate.

  • reply to article + last few replies

    While conventional logic might, at first, lead us to believe that the racially diverse cast of the reality television shows is a step towards a harmoniously integrated society, I’m not so quick to leave it at that. I’ll answer an emphatic “yes” to Kim’s question posed at the end of the article: it is possible to find both something praiseworthy and problematic in virtually all television. This diversity is, in some ways, praiseworthy but also deserves a critical assessment.

    Sure, there are the rags to riches stories featuring people of color winning reality television show contests but we have to ask ourselves on whose terms are they winning? The American dream is open to people of any race and socioeconomic status, just as long as those involved are willing to assimilate to mannerisms, dialect, and aesthetics that are marketable to the targeted audience (i.e. those with expendable income, i.e. the dominant class). Take for instance, two of the most successful movies about Native Americans from recent history: Last of the Mohicans and Dances with Wolves. Both are acceptable because they center around white men taken in by natives. (See also: The Last Samurai.)

    The fact that Reality television is so formulaic is hardly surprising. If you were gambling with millions, wouldn’t you place your bet on the horse that just keeps winning round after round? The actual content of the program, more than anything else, is simply a byproduct of this pragmatic decision making.

  • I found this article very interesting and I completely agree with reality TV being very structured having an objective persona shaped for each character. Time and time again I notice the racial stucture of such reality television shows as the Real World, having a token black guy who in most cases seems to be extremely difficult to get along with everyone in the house, and I never really had a problem with it. But this article got me wondering…why are there no successful interracial sitcoms? It would be nice to see an (American) sitcom with a mixture of blacks, whites, Asians, Indians, and Hispanics all as part of the principle cast. Why wouldn’t that formula sustain an audience? One would think that by now we (Americans) would be comfortable enough to see and enjoy such a thing on our television sets. I’m just throwing that question out there. If anyone has a theory as to why this is, I would very much like to know your take on the matter.

  • New Racism

    This article is a prime example of what is termed the New Racism. A group of people is compiled, splashed with different colors and backgrounds. This compilation of different races interacting harmoniously is supposed to prove that racism as we know it has died. Yet, this idea only further perpetuates a division of race. If the racial minority contestants are doomed to fail in the show, then all that is accomplished from this racial spectrum is a display of our own fears about racial acceptance while clearly displaying that the division still exists and that racial tensions still occur. It is ubsurd to think that America is not progressive enough to accept that interracial relationships exist and that they are not the “products of sin.” These Reality Shows feign a reality that is whitewashed and unREAListic, and America is more than happy to accept it. Now the ideals of America are displayed through the knife of the plastic surgeon and the beauty chasing the money.

  • Reality TV has in fact always been an illusion. It’s not a documentary, it’s entertainment, but in truth it is merely a reflection of ourselves. Viewers are the ones who give their vote of approval or disproval for the approach of any show, and if a show gets the viewers you can expect to see the same thing many times over after it’s over. This isn’t to say that all of these viewers are wrong but they just don’t seem to care. They in fact want to see a false depiction of someone being plucked “out of nowhere” and overcoming trials to “earn” their money or whatever prize it may be, because on a level it’s comforting to reinforce the idea that anyone can gain some amount of fame and/or wealth simply by working hard. While the format may be significantly different, these shows’ formula for success seems somewhat similar to your average feel-good family-problems-getting-solved television show. At the end of the day the viewer must either feel good about the conclusion, or be upset; either way they’ll be watching the next incarnation.

  • I agree with opinion that the reality shows today are quite fake and unrealistic. Watching reality tv used to be fun and interesting, but now I just pity those who are on shows like the Bachelorette and other dating shows. I see the people on those shows as desperate for a relationship and I think it’s just sad and pathetic. It also surprises me how superficial a lot of people are in the reality shows today. That also makes me feel more disrespect for them because of their shallowness. Why would anyone want to present himself or herself so superficially and shallow, especially if it’s scripted? The viewers don’t know exactly what is scripted and what isn’t because we aren’t told of those details. I feel that this reality tv craze is just becoming way too overdone of the originals.

  • priestly and prophetic roles of television

    LS Kim makes a great point about the changes we see reflected in reality television. it reminds me of how we sometimes interpret things in sociology as priestly (supporting the staus quo) and prophetic (challenging the status quo). Seems like reality TV acts in both ways if we keep it in context. could this multiracial cast have happened 50 years ago? absolutely not. so in a sense we’ve seen the status quo shift over the years such that diversity is a somewhat preferred model. somewhat. as several folks have pointed out, we should bear in mind what still needs has yet to occur: interracial relationships. i don’t watch a lot of these shows but it seems like interracial marriage seems taboo as evidenced by the absence of mixed race pairings.

    we can think of it this way too: maybe these shows tell us what we as a society hold up as the ideal? whether “reality” lines up with this ideal is less important than the symbol of what ought to be.

    on another note, it’s obvious that there’s no blatant pedagogy from the media moguls that run this schtick. There is one simple motive: profit. Profit = high sponsorship. high sponsorship = high ratings. therefore aim for high ratings that promote greater sponsorship if one wants greater profit. to a certain degree the real question is: what do sponsors think would bring in the most ratings at the lowest cost to them? a multiracial reality show is a safe bet and the sponsors know this because MTV started it and look at how it’s lasted with the “real world”! what i find striking is the implicit message that “competition is color-blind” in these shows. as faar as i know all of these shows always barrel down to “everyone for him or herself”. so if we’re talkin about racial diversity, notice that it’s always in the frame of competition. and what is goal of the competition: money. the only exception is the bachelor shows, and it seems like racial groups don’t really end up together. so if these pieces all add up to something, the message is: all racial groups should compete against each other for money and victory is color-blind (or maybe green). But all racial groups can compete against each other for relationships but victory is not color-blind.

  • This article had some really great points that I had never pondered before. I always immediately denounced reality tv but now that I think about it it one of the only types of shows on tv that is racially inclusive. I think that says a lot for America, which even still in this day in age can be very racist. Reality tv will lead us to freedom!

  • Manuel Perez-Tejada

    contestant/characters as docile bodies?

    Kim’s article is extremely interesting and, as you readers can see, it can stir a fascinating debate. I agree with some of those who have mentioned that television is a business, but I also agree with Kim that contestants become characters. If I combined these two ideas, are contestants letting themselves being manipulated by the producers/writers of these shows? Perhaps I am more interested, in general, about how participants in reality TV embrace their search for the American dream: by doing whatever they are told to do. If they are working, are they getting paid? Are their paychecks good enough in comparison to the ratings and money they are bringing to the networks’ accounting books and producers’ pockets? Are those prices so good as to accept to be manipulated by the editor’s choices? Are the benefits that great to accept, in many cases, embarrassment and humiliation (Fear Factor, but many other shows too)? Can we find a parallel of master-slave relationship with that of producer-contestant in these shows? How much are we watching a certain discipline being imposed over docile bodies in prime time television? Is this the American dream?

  • This article brings up an interesting point. I had never considered that the obvious intergration of minorities in reality shows, as opposed to today’s popular sitcoms, could be America’s way of commenting on race relations in America. It is true that if a minority is featured on a reality program and “America” votes for him/her as the ultimate victor, the general public can then proceed feeling justified in their assumption that America if free of race issues. I have noticed that reality shows seem to be the most ethnically varied form of television programming. However, this does not mean that these portrayals effect race representations on television in a positive and progressive way. It seems that most of these “ethnically diverse” representations resort to tokenism. Take series like “The Real World” for example. There is a monolithic representation of every race, sexuality,and ethnicity presented. These often stereotypical and narrow representations do not provide a venue for a polyphony of portrayals. Each character or “real” person is boxed in. There is potential for a broader,progressive, and positive use of the reality show medium. The imense popularity of the reality show can go either way at this point. Either, it could continue to repeat itself and stick to the superficial limits it has been setting for itself, or it could venture into new experimental territory that will do something socially positive.

  • Follow-up Response

    Many of these responses, like Kim’s article, raise some very important issues, both about race and about Reality TV. Kim and many of the response contributors are obviously making an effort not to completely dismiss Reality TV, as so many critics have done. It is often difficult to imagine that Reality TV could have a major, positive impact on television as a whole, but Kim’s observations certainly make room for this possibility.

    As many responders have noted, there are still many underlying problems within the television system impeding true racial diversity on narrative TV programs, but hopefully Reality TV programs like the ones Kim discusses can help break down some of the remaining barriers to permit a truer representation of the American people and American ideals in visual culture. Perhaps more equitable racial representations on Reality TV will lead to advertisers realizing that the TV audience is not monolithic, to more diverse representations of race on sitcoms (across the channel spectrum), to representations of interracial relationships on TV, to representations of race beyond stereotypes, and ultimately to a richer and more diverse representation of American values. It sounds unrealistically optimistic, but then, I never would have guessed that I could see merit in Reality TV either.

  • From the author: Thank you for participating in the forum

    In reading all of your responses, there are some key points and questions we have formulated together that extend the discussion on race and television culture generally, and speak to genre studies and critical race theory specifically.

    One of the overarching comments shared was about the question of motive: why would or should American television represent race in a way that promotes a plural and diverse society? Many seem somewhat cynical or at least suspicious about programs or networks that do this, and have (accurately) observed that often difference is represented to “cause drama.” But why *are* our expectations so low? People have varying opinions (or hopes) about what Hollywood’s social responsibility is since its primary goal is to turn a profit. (Is business fundamentally amoral?) Ultimately, we still must ponder what the role of television is in society, intentional or unintentional.

    Through the postings, I also begin to see that we are simply not sure where the power of decision-making (in regards to racial characters) is located — with producers? writers? advertisers? casting directors? executives? what about the participants/castmembers themselve? And what about audience involvement — how responsible are we, especially when we are the ones literally voting (or text messaging our votes) about who is worthy of being our AMERICAN IDOL. The extent of ‘interactivity’ raised in Sharon Strover’s discussion has some relevance here.

    Finally, one of the important sentiments expressed in our forum is that while showing viewers (especially young viewers) that integration is natural and good, for other viewers (adults, the general public, mass culture) there is a kind of false consciousness about witnessing “color-blind competition.” That is, many of you picked up on the idea that the ideological framework of most reality television programs (based on the ‘American Dream’) serves as a metaphor for an American society which is nearly-free of prejudice based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation. There will be scenes of “drama” (i.e., fights), but television shows that people learn, understand, and yes, we can-all-just-get-along.

    Why can’t we just believe this? I wonder if it is because racial integration doesn’t happen in “reality,” or because reality television can only take racial discourse so far. Many of you raised the distinct idea (and reality) of interracial relationships, which in 2004 still appears to be taboo! This is one example of a racial discourse that can be tracked/traced in television studies. In future columns — and forums — I look forward to seeing continued insertions of questions about race and television from your perspectives as fans, haters, scholars, and viewer-citizens.

  • What can you say to a claim of this nature. The article is so nuetral that it is difficult to take a stance. I definately agree about her statements. These are all elements that run rampant on reality programming, but for good reason. They are after all, at least many, competitions; so shouldn’t the best guy/ or girl win. This is seemingly self evident. On american television the individual who best represents the ideal American ideologies and ethics should win. This is after all our society. As far as the race representation, I beleive reality programming is doing a fair job. They cast poeple of all different colors, and many different types of contestants win. What more can you say about that.

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  • Benjamin Messer

    Racial diversity in RealityTV still exists within a specific social context

    Kim’s article opened many new insights into RealityTV for me. I happen to agree with most of what Kim is saying about race and RealityTV. On a positive note, the diversity of race in RealityTV can perhaps serve as an example for other TV genres to follow; I think it would be great to see more racial diversity across many different genres. This leads me to a negative aspect of diversity on Reality TV. Besides casting racial stereotypes, as pointed out above, RealityTV places this racial diversity within specific social contexts. This can be problem when the social context is centered upon American ideals and values of competition. For example, RealityTV shows may pose different racial/ethnic groups working together but only as a means to an end: to compete to win a prize. In shows where group work is not a part, individuals from different racial and cultural backgrounds compete for a prize within a social context that defines how each person approaches winning a particular prize. This could have the effect, for example, of providing viewers with the idea that racial diversity is good so long as there is a prize to win. To return to my positive note, having different genres include racial diversity in their shows will provide more and different social contexts through which to view racial diversity. That is, instead of seeing racial diversity only in the context of compeition (RealityTV) maybe other genres can provide a different social context under which to view this diversity, such as in a context similar to that of “Friends” or “CSI”. This will, I think, allow people to internalize and value a view of race that is multi-contextual much in the same way our lives our in this reality. In other words, I don’t think it would be fair to include racial diversity on TV only within a show that posed that diversity in the context of competition — it would be nice to also see racial diversity in the context of a soap opera or sitcom where competition is not the most dominant value.

  • Why are there racially diverse casts?

    While the article touches on a number of important topics, I don’t think it was sufficiently thorough in its discussion of those topics. I would like to see Kim follow up with her analysis of why the racial makeup of reality TV exists as it does. I would say that, although reality TV is more racially integrated than “traditional” television programs like sitcoms and dramas, it still suffers from the same crutch of all television: ratings. Reality TV functions by having cast “characters” that fulfill certain stereotypes; the characters are overly polarized so as to offer the audience an aggressive clash of opposing forces. While early seasons of “The Real World” may have offered up homosexuality in a more positive light than in the past with the token gay housemate, he/she was cast specifically because he/she was gay and the producers knew it would provide ratings. So, while reality television may offer a more racially accurate picture of the US, its motives must always be questioned.

  • …cont’d…

    It occurs to me that the example of the token gay, although perhaps the most obvious, may not be altogether the best choice. Dat Phan on “Last Comic Standing” and Omarosa on “The Apprentice” may work better in the context on my comment, filling the roles of “rice-patty Asian immigrant” and “angry black woman”.

  • Gender Race and the Racial representation on Reality TV

    There is little doubt that the casts of American Reality TV create a sort of dream world that is constructed so that the audience has some positive uplifting feeling after watching the show. This is constructed by the producers of Reality TV to deflect the fact that in the majority of TV shows there is nothing that includes the minority population except BET or UPN. The casts that are taken on reality TV are nothing more that thinly veiled attempts to defect the blame from the real fact that the producers will not air a prime time show like a sit come with several minority characters. The fact remains that not only so the different producers edit the tapes that are collected to great characters that they want to represent. The very show Americas next top model took great pains to take out the part of the show where a model had to get drunk after doing a shot with a snake on her back. This carefully scripted creation of the characters that are portrayed goes to show the politically correct nature of the TV industry after the Super Bowl half time breast baring event. The reactionary hold that dominates this regulation form is something that is still perpetuating the all white casts that are present in past and present primetime shows like Sex and the City or Desperate housewives. When a minority figure is introduced in a non traditional role the audience of reactionaries reacts with outrage over the shameless TV stunt. As to my evidence need I say more than the name Terrell Owens and Nicollete Sheridan. This dream world that is cooked up however does have the power to one day change the way that the children who watch the shows, with or without mom and dads approval, will think about the future. This can in the future change the types of shows that are considered normal and what they will choose to watch or consume in the future. This is the power of TV to change the current lagging view of racial relations in America is perhaps the only thing that reality TV has the potential to due in a positive sense. The new makeup of the reality shows of women who are flaunting their sexuality shows the great shift from the shows of the 50’s. The result is that sometime in the future the sitcoms will be influenced by the changing culture that can be seen outside of TV and a more diverse cast in all shows including those that air in primetime will become the norm rather than the exception. The time that the shows casts will not be segregated to either all white or all black depending on what channel is on but rather all of the channels will have a more natural cast rather than a seemingly forced fit of minority characters into certain shows. While reality TV circumvents this problem it constructs a dream world in the process that is at best unrealistic. But Reality TV’s influence will become an undeniable force that will be hopefully in the future create a more representative cast of sitcoms in primetime. If this is the case while I hate the actual plot lines of reality TV it will have had a successful legacy.

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  • DarknSuccessful

    WHAT?? Grow up! is Voice Over even safe??

    A DIVERSITY STATISTIC/ACTOR SPEAKS OUT AGAINST EMPHASIS ON DIVERSITY

    Just drop it!! Or else monotone voice over will be the only safe media where one can’t destinguish a race or stereotype.. believe me, white play black and vice versa to the extreme in Voice over. Ohh its crazy, girls play boys.. ohh if diversity only knew they’d be busy for a while catagorizing voices to un-needed visual stats. Its equality in work that we search for, and isn’t that what is right? Not exploiting or polarizing by race/sex/clothes/shoes/bald… pick ur handicap there are several for each one of us.

    YES, TV has its trends and favorites but only creating tv shows/sitcoms/dramas/movies should be a choice, right now it is manditory to have five black (women), 3 hispanics (sex/sexuality negotiable), and the ever growing fight/tie between “asian” and “disabled people” for the 1/3 of a role taking up the last 1/3 of a character left to fill a series.. is stupid and racist/ignorant.

    There is nothing diverse about over-populating one specific .. anything on tv or chosing to cast a sitcom based on a diversity variable over talent and quality.

    For everyone’s information… most casting calls these days are ONLY for peolple of color and to a lesser extent of other diverse qualities (which is shallow and an equally invalid inverse of the said ‘problem’)

    I personally benefit from diversity casting because I fall into a diverse group and still encourage anyone who doesn’t fit my particular diverse label to TRY ANYWAY for my role anyway!!!!, you are diverse as you are, screw producers, if they like you, they like you. Win them with talent the old fashion way. The movie star way, earn it. If not you don’t belong on TV!!!!!

    While it is a great tool for network television to lower pay rates of on-camera talent through !FAKE!-“reality” tv and diversity casting based foundations. It is impartial. Thats TV. So GET OVER IT. TV isn’t real, so don’t base life around it. And no life imitating art jokes after this or I’ll sue you for disagreeing with a minority!! :)

    IMPORTANT: “borders stand strongest when they are focused on and only blend/crumble when we let go and accept (or not acceept) a person/dog/tree/paper cup for the person/d/t/pc that it is and not because our handbook at work says we must accept ___ this many.

    Again, I will reinstate that I am within the diversity requirement. Although it gives me the upper hand at work, it isn’t exactly fair:

    So called minorities have an unjustified stronghold on media/politics and when a minority is over represented or favored, that isn’t accurate, and technically they aren’t a minority.

    Besides the unfair legally established and plentiful organizations such as: BET, BlackHBO,BSTARS, NOSOTROS, NAACP, LATINOHBO…u name it, there is no counter for anyone else.., no WHITEETV, no ESKIMOHBO etc..for un-ethnic (besides the fact that everyone is ethnic, not just us darker folk, yup even slack-jawed-yokels have an ethnicity.. wowie..) but as i was saying, a white organization would never stand the chance of opening a station that was only WHITE ONLY TV (RE: BET) and probably shouldn’t for the sake of ..hmm.. i guess.. its a tonal value that gives no incite as to what is on the channel..

    NBC, FoodNetwork, PBS..and other generic un-categorized-by-superficial-image channels do not, cannot, wouldn’t think of, excluding PEOPLE in their Description of their network let alone thier programming and content. That is unfair.. let alone the fact that non-“black” people in Hollywood have to fight for the two available pilots writen for them this year.. its funny to watch, but funny odd as in:

    Why can’t people with less melanin in their skin or a different gene or physical ability have the same job opportunities as the melanin rich (..etc..) in any job, through interview/auditions based on ability to do the job?

    If you hear me or hate me stand up for yourself, yourself. Boycott TV until you get the blind equality of voice-over or a sitcom shot in the dark.. so we can’t count how many people are ‘misrepresented’ on a forum originally designed to entertain, not to descriminate or segregate. All races have mixed at least once somewhere, open your eyes.. and as far as me es concerned,,,,,, Im happy being an unhyphenated American, because, I was born here.. I cannot take credit for, nor dispell what a forefather was or is before me, i am not them and therefore would not say I’m African-American. Neither were most forefathers, yep, born here too, so unless you are just visiting… you are american, and if you just moved here and are hyphen addicted get dual citizenship or inflict self damage don’t force it unto the adjusted population that can see past an INDIVIDUAL’s Pro’s and Con’s without having to subcategorize or prejudge.

    MY ending note may be hard to swallow to some.. but as an individual, im glad:

    This is a quote from an known actor whom I won’t give you statistics on-“Due to the lack of pale skinned casting calls in hollywood… casting directors may want to do a smudge test for spray on tanning. I know some good actors losing work based on the “whiteness” of their skin.” -WM

    And I’d also like to say that if we are just trying to sort out the minorities and….what?… make them majorities.. the current PC standard for selecting one’s ethnicity isn’t applicable.. ‘Black’ people are.. get this.. from everyplace in the world.. not just Africa, even ‘white’ people come from Africa, so they are African-American’s but would get beat up for putting that down even if they were born in africa, moved to america, making them african-american more than most ‘black’ people… I feel it isn’t fair to condense the diversity of Europe into one single race, WHITE, when each country and town and family that they have come from is as different and similar as is australia from austria, and south africa from south america. So please give it a rest and maybe it will wake up less impartial and ignorant.

    So be selfish worry about yourself and call urself what ever color you feel like being the next time some questionaire asks for your “ethnicity”… or put the location of where your feet are standing in that moment.. cuz thats where and what you are.. Open ur eyezOpen ur eyezOpen your eyes.

    Sincerely,A multi-diversified-professional who believes that my personal genetic and socio-personal stats shouldn’t give me the job of head of security while the actually qualified, so called non minority individual watches helplessly as the security is slaughtered by my unqualified booty.

    PEACE TO EVERYONE AND DON’T LET ANYONE CONVINCE YOU THAT YOU’RE A MINORITY, ever, BECAUSE EVEN ONE PERSON ( one person being the smallest minority they have segregatted to date) CAN MAKE THE MAJORITY OF A DIFFERENCE- LET THERE BE CASUAL CASTING AGAIN!!!

  • Erica Wittliff

    Buzz Word of the Year: Diversity

    Some people would say that reality television shows have an aspect that most sitcoms do not—that aspect being diversity. The nature of reality television is to throw people from different backgrounds together that the casting directors know will not get along. Reality TV includes a mixture of different races, ages, class, etc. It pulls of all of these things for its success.

    If the people were not “diverse” then there would be no arguments, no fighting, and certainly no entertainment. Why are sitcoms still entertaining if they do not have this “diversity?” I believe that it is because they are carefully and meticulously scripted by the directors and producers whereas reality television is not scripted. Well, at least that is what the networks tell their audiences. Although some situations are obviously rigged for certain kinds of action, based on faith in the goodness of television, we must assume that, for the most part, reality television is not fully scripted. Because of this inherent factor, the makers of reality television must create conflict since they cannot script it. They do so by casting a “diverse” group of people that would obviously never be seen together otherwise. The ensemble cast becomes a hodgepodge of random people with random backgrounds.

    Sometimes it even appears that certain people were picked for the television show solely on the basis of their race and not their potential talent. For example, on American Idol 2 Ruben Studdard, a slightly overweight African-American male, ends up winning the title of American Idol in the final round against Clay Aiken a Caucasian male. To some viewers, it might seem that the creators of American Idol rigged the competition in such a way to put white versus black on the screen. Although not scripted, the makers of reality television still have nearly complete control of the final product through casting, editing, and marketing.

    Because of reality television’s intrinsic attribute of a “diverse” cast, pairs of characters/people are formed with seemingly radically different backgrounds against one another in competition making for an ultimate source of constant entertainment. “Diversity” seems to be the buzz word of the year—especially here at the University of Texas at Austin. Everyone knows it is important even if we do not know exactly what it encompasses. Throughout this response I have put the words “diverse” and “diversity” in quotes because is reality television truly reflecting a diverse set of people, or are the creators simply making it appear that way? What truly makes up “diversity?” Is reality “diverse” or do we just wish it to be? Maybe we should not be questioning what appears on television to be diversity, but really what is diversity in our everyday lives. Until we recognize that, we cannot even begin to comprehend its representations within our media-saturated society.

  • Controlling Reality

    Sure, reality TV offers what seems to be more diverse casts; however, that “reality” is so calculated that it ceases to be real. Many of the American Dreams that people are working towards in such shows as The Apprentice, Extreme Makeover, American Idol, etc. are ultimately an assimilation to whiteness – a game in which anybody can participate. Perhaps even the less white you are, the better you may do. Furthermore, not only are the [predominately white] executives selecting the cast for the show, they also carefully select how the show is edited and how the “characters” are portrayed. This is not a new realization, but it is problematic nonetheless. Reality shows that include minorities may only do so on their [producers] own terms, from their own perspectives, and in some cases eliminating any “real” minority voice or representation and promoting stereotypes, as Kim points out the portrayal of Omarosa as the “black bitch”. Certainly Omarosa must have acted this way at times, but how else did she act? What humanistic qualities were cut in favor of the “black bitch” stereotype that would get the ratings?

  • I agree with Professor Kim’s idea that reality programs give people feel the sense of equal opportunity and upward mobility. She says television could be seen optimistically and pessimistically. I still feel that minorities are illustrated in stereotyped way when casts are “narrativized’’ in reality programs. When reality TV continues to show minority people in that way, it gives continuous hegemony ideologies to the viewers. She mentions that reality TV casts more minorities than other TV programs. Because of it, reality programs have to be responsible for the representation of minorities. People who make these programs also have to be more integrated to take off the stereotyped images about minorities. Some problems exist about the representation of minorities, and they need to be fixed.

  • Response – TRUTH

    Your biased nature in mentioning “African Americans” is a farce and tells of your inteligence. There are onyl a handheld of people living in the United States that have dual citizenship to Africa and the U.S., further Africa is comprised of non black or negro people. Remember the whites? Americans don’t care how many different skin color people are on shows at all. You refer to people of color… white, my friend, is the combination of all colors, whereas black is the absence of color. Get your scientific facts straight. Besides, if you were to get a job application and assuming you were a white person from Africa, put African American down? You probably would. Blacks in this country have a long stick up their ass these days where they feel compelled to have everyone kiss their ass. When these slaves, who were sold by their own people as well, were released from captivity in the U.S., the Declaration Proclamation gave them free passage back to Africa and bounty. If they stayed here, they were given bounty and land rights. That game was over a long time ago and settled. Perhaps you haven’t noticed but our government isn’t giving out cash to every negro who claims they were descendants from slaves? As well, your poiting out blacks in reality tv shows how much you want to have a ‘brother’ in the spotlight. Here’s a spotlight… 75% of our prison are filled with freed negros in 2006. Negros make up a small minority in America. Hmmm… The FBI Crime Report shows per capita (look that one up if you don’t know the meaning) that negros lead the way in EVERY category of crime, including white collar crime, arson, and extortion. The only one they fail to lead the way in is DUI. This is primarily because the DUI charges are dropped when they find out the car was stolen. Whites are arrested 1 out of 20, whereas blacks are arrested 1 out of every 2.74. Hmmm… Blacks are 7 times more likely to commit murder. Hmmm… If you don’t like it here, go back to Africa, take off your clothes and run your naked black ass around the jungle with your sagging nipples and a lug wrench pierced through your nose and ears yelling chants to the monkeys in the trees. They would be more than happy to take you back. We already gave Liberia to the blacks and it has since been in utter chaos and dismay. Your ‘homeland’ of Africa boasts the highest crime rate in the world. We’re not talking pick-pocketing, we’re talking brutal, violent crimes. Oh yes, we gave Africa back to the blacks too. So, no racism there, you run your own hell hole. You cant rant and rave black this and black that, eat your steaks because kind white people’s taxes gave you some food stamps, live in the projects under Section 8 for $8 a month, drive your old beat up Cadillac’s, sell your drugs and wear your pimpin’ fake jewelry that goes ‘clang’, but, at the end of the day you are still black. You always will be and that is enough satisfaction for the rest of us. Shut up and get a job.

  • Bob, shut your hole

    It’s clear Bob is a puny-minded little racist. ‘Negro’ in your posts? Just who on earth do you think you are?

    White people are crap creatures too you know!

  • Reality and TV

    Reality TV is a world made up of stereotypes and false identities. The big networks cast people who they envision to be good for the show. Even though they may be real people who are cast they make sure that they fit into their framework for the television show. For example “Real World” which is a group of strangers living in a house. In all of the seasons they consistently had characters, which resembled each other from the seasons prior. There seems to be a trend of characters that they cast for the show. Meaning there is always a gay guy, a black guy, and the rest are heterosexual and usually white. The way that race play into “Real World” is so false that it becomes predictable. The reason why they cast people from different racial backgrounds and sexual preferences is to create conflict. The audiences love to see fights breakout with people screaming and yelling. The fact is, on every show there has been an incident, which occurs when the cast members lose there, cool and the whole world sees them go crazy on national television.

  • Yvette C Pimentel

    I believe reality television is succeeding in brainwashing us. It feeds us these myths and false realities but since we so badly wish these realities to be true we are consumed by the myth. One such myth is one you successfully pointed out “the most unreal aspect of reality television is that “having it all” is the losing hand and having a sympathetic back-story gives the contestants the upper hand.” This myth is fed to us in order to give us, the viewers, this false hope that we can all achieve the American Dream which is more of a version intended for minorities and that is that one can go from rags to riches. This reminds me of the way Jon Kraszewski argued that MTV actively constructs what reality and racism are and then mediates it by setting up a situations in which the lesson to be learned is how people can overcome and discard their own racisms, which was done through the Real World.* This isn’t the case at all. A persons racism can not go away through one experience let alone one that was fabricated, this probably wouldn’t have occurred in the real world both you and I live in.

    Another myth would be that those that “have it all” don’t always win. After taking your course I find this hard to believe. We are far from a society that doesn’t give the upper hand to those that are white or at least look white. I completely agree that reality television has found a way for the audience to idealize heroes that are indeed “model minorities” and of course they must be unthreatening, God forbid that a minority should dominate and succeed on television. This isn’t seen because the big shots in charge are most definitely afraid of minorities running the show. If it were up to us reality television would actually be a reality.

    Sources: Kraszewski, Jon. Country Hicks and Urban Cliques: Mediating Race, Reality, and Liberalism on MTV’s The Real World.

  • The Good in the Bad and the Ugly

    Kim presents a very important and equally interesting point regarding the positive and negative qualities of Reality TV. She contradicts the typical notion believed by most so-called intelligent people, that Reality TV is the lowest of the low in story and fair representation standards. Instead, she argues that Reality TV is, in fact, a breakthrough, ahead of all other genres, in race representation. Because of its structure relying in the idea of mashing random people from different backgrounds together to see what will happen, Reality TV is the perfect medium for equally representing all types of people together on one show. Kim also explains that most of the time it is the “contestants” coming from poor backgrounds that win over those who are already well off. This is because America appreciates a “rags to riches story.” Kim’s observations are interesting because I am sure many people, myself included, have never noticed this good aspect of Reality TV. Instead we are keener to ridicule it as a tasteless form of entertainment. Now-a-days it is so a la mode to hate on Reality TV shows that most of us stop looking and thinking for ourselves. We simply agree with those intelligent people who frown on Reality TV and trust their word. Kim, on the other hand, illustrates a bold point that many of us viewers would have never thought to consider because of Reality TV’s other flaws that emphasize hegemonic principles through degrading myths. Kim’s point is important to understand because it teaches us to live our lives comfortably in a heightened sense of critique of what we see around us. She says we should resist culture while participating in it, analyzing it while you enjoy it. If one does this, it allows one to enjoy watching even the lowest standard of entertainment while understanding that he/she is being shown myths. If everyone did this, as I’m sure Kim does, then maybe we all would be aware of Reality TV’s strong points and weaknesses, instead of solely casting it aside as a form of low entertainment.

  • Reality television is very prolific in today’s culture. It is on every network, and is too abundant to miss. Though each new reality show appears to have a new spin on the typical format, it inevitably comes out looking like a show that was already made. L.S. Kim talks about how all the prizes really are about transforming oneself, which is completely true. People go on these shows to become someone they are not. They want the reward of getting a high paying job, as seen in the Apprentice, or America’s New Top Model, getting a new house, (Extreme Home Makeover), or just becoming filthy rich, as seen in Survivor, Road Rules etc. Kim also brings up a great point about how reality TV is the only place where society can actually see race represented in a “close to correct manner“. Reality TV is where the most integrated casts are found, which is interesting because America is an integrated place, and reality TV represents that the best. But even though it depicts race in a close to realistic margin of how the numbers are in real life, the representations of the people the are usually nothing close to who they actually are in real life. It was interesting to realize how the TV companies develop the winners and participants on their shows. Because the winner normally come out to be someone whom most of America will side with and love. Even though the winner is sometimes picked by audience voting, it is normally someone that both the TV producers and society will agree with. They must be someone that is deserving to win a grand amount of money and make the population overjoyed to see their life changed. L.S. Kim brings up a lot of great points in her article about stereotypes and casting for reality shows. It is interesting that the cast picked out usually resembles a “rainbow,” in that there has to be someone from every race represented, which will pull in the most audience viewers. This was an interesting article to read, with a good standpoint from the author.

  • Bob Branson, this is for you,to shut the hell up because you sound ignorant and most likely are. You are such a closed-minded individual with no sense of direction, we can all tell that just by reading your nonsense opinions. “I think if anyone needs to get the stick out their ass, more than likely it should be you LOL. I have no idea where you get such a negative approach about blacks because there are many of us that are successful and own our own business. Let’s take Oprah winfrey, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, as far as the music industry, we have puff daddy, Jay-z, and many more of our young black population whom are extremely intelligent and run their own shit may I add. Then let me hit you with a personal experience, There’s my mother a strong black phenomonal
    woman just like Maya Angelou, whom is very strong with her Master’s in Nursing and my sister 27 yrs old is on her way on getting a dual master’s in education, maybe she needs to educate you on life. Just to let you know most of the black men in my family young and old own their own business. If not their own business, on their way of finishing their degree, Bachelor’s or Master’s. I just want to add that were all from the “ghetto” highly educated blacks, so chew on that. For your information I have came across alot of caucasian people who are poor and are using the system, whom I help with my tax dollars. I don’t mind at all because I am open to helping everyone no matter what color you are. OooooHh yeah Iam a black woman 24 years of age, who has her bachelor’s in social work, counseling drug addicts, whom are mostly white individual that came from abused and broken families. Open your mind, because just like you said, YOU CAN”T GET RID OF US NEGROS, we are here to stay.

  • Kim’s article on Race and Realty TV is interesting as it examines the colorful side of the TV business in terms of its targeted audience and genre. Noble Brown commented above that “producers put on people of diverse racial backgrounds” to attract a larger, different group of viewers. In essence, it really does all come down to ratings.

    The reality TV shows, America’s Next Top Model and American Idol are two examples that bring together contestants from different backgrounds and ethnicities in order to build up a fan base of viewers. The shows are supposedly about the “American Dream.” Contestants work hard and battle it out (talent-wise) in the hopes of becoming America’s Next Superstars. Viewers connect with the contestants and immediately pick their favorites, hoping (and watching every week) that they will make it through. Producers, thus, want to produce a star that produces the most profit. William Hung is one case in point. Hung, who is far from being talented got tremendous exposure due to being an “Asian geek.” One may conclude that Hung won performatively, but lost narratively in American Idol. People would tune in just to laugh at him—a message contrary to living the “American Dream.” How much of Reality TV is really reality? Reality TV seems more like a stunt to create steady revenues of ratings and profits.

    Kim also mentions that “we can be both pessimistic and optimistic about television.” I agree with this remarkable point because of its real and reflective of American culture. With so much variety (diversity) and choices offered in America, we literally can have it all—the ability to admire the “inclusiveness of race, class, gender, and sexual difference, but boo its conventional range of ideological values.”

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