Understanding Reality Television

Article excerpt

Understanding Reality Television Su Holmes and Deborah Jermyn, Editors. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Scholarly analyses of reality television, like the entertainment genre itself, have become a prolific industry of late. Given the plethora of contemporary writing on the subject, it is refreshing to find a text that is timely and remarkable in its scope and depth. Understanding Reality Television contains 13 international perspectives on the reality TV phenomenon and reflects a diversity of theoretical viewpoints and methodological approaches.

The first two chapters offer historical examinations. Bradley Clissold traces the origins of reality television to Alien Funt's Candid Microphone and Candid Camera shows and contextualizes these precursors of Schadenfreude television within the context of Cold War America. Jennifer Gillan traces the genesis and development of the reality star sitcom from Ozzie Nelson to Ozzy Osbourne. Both Clissold and Gillan dent the popular misperception of reality TV as an innovative concept of the modern entertainment industry.

Several semiotic chapters appraise the structural dimensions and narrative conventions of reality TV shows. Su Holmes's analysis of the construction of celebrity in Big Brother notes that the genre's emphasis on the "ordinary" person further accelerates the trend that makes media exposure eo ipso, not accomplishment or talent, the litmus test for televisual fame and celebrity status. The construction of gay identity in reality TV shows is at the heart of Christopher Pullen's chapter. He concludes that gay participants in reality TV programs are welcome as long as they adhere to recognized dramatic traits associated with gay performance, such as effeminacy, sensitivity, artistic sensibility, and isolation. Therefore, while reality TV shows like The Real World arguably offer diversity, reliance on stereotypical queer performance tends to reinscribe, and reaffirm, the hegemonic heterosexual discourse of these programs. The chapter by Rebecca Stephens examines the representations of class, race, and gender in A Wedding Story and A Baby Story. …