The Politics of Reality Television: Global Perspectives

By Marwan M. Kraidy; Katherine Sender | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Real worlds
Migrating genres, travelling participants,
shifting theories

Katherine Sender

In March 2009 two reality television stories hit the British press: one described the successes and conflicts surrounding Afghan Star, a regional version of the UK’s Pop Idol;1 the other the death of Jade Goody. Goody was a young British woman who achieved fame (or notoriety) on the British Big Brother series and went on to convert her designated fifteen minutes into a sustained celebrity only enhanced by her death from cervical cancer.2 Together, these items exemplify many of the themes collected in this book: the global circulation and local adaptation of reality TV formats and franchises; the production of fame and celebrity around hitherto “ordinary” people; the fierce loyalties to local representatives; the imagined communities bonding across regional and ethnic divides; and the struggle over the meanings and values of reality TV across a range of national, regional, gendered, classed, and religious contexts. Both examples demand, if in different ways, that we think through the global migrations of reality TV from a variety of perspectives and in the context of highly mobile media, politics, and publics. The Politics of Reality Television: Global Perspectives presents new research that comes to grips with this protean genre.

The case of Afghan Star, a local adaptation – or rip-off – of the singing competition formula, highlights the increasing ease with which formats and participants travel across national boundaries. While sharing the Western focus on pop music of its precursors, Afghan Star competitors nonetheless inflect their performances with Afghan musical motifs and styles, dress more modestly than Pop Idol viewers are used to seeing, and decline to dance. For all its local adaptations, Afghan Star exemplifies the migration of a genre from its European beginnings, as well as the movement of personnel across borders: the show’s star presenter, Daoud Sidiqi, refused to return to Afghanistan after travelling to the US to promote a documentary about the show,3 and has been replaced as host by a part-time Afghan flight attendant.

Coverage of Afghan Star and Sidiqi’s defection says as much about Western perspectives on the meeting of globalized media and Muslim cultures as it does about the details of the show itself – perspectives on reality television that The Politics of Reality Television is intended to complicate. Journalist Simon Broughton described Afghans as a music-loving people in recovery from the years of

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