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Focusing on reality TV: exploring women's participation in talent-based competition shows

Resource type
Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
Reality TV has become a source of entertainment as well as scorn for North American audiences and critics. While American reality TV and their contestants have received much attention in media studies, very little has been written about Canadian reality show participants, despite the popularity of this type of programming in Canada. Women on both sides of the border who participate on reality TV are particularly scrutinized and those with high public profiles have faced an overwhelmingly negative backlash. Using a feminist cultural studies framework, this dissertation examines Canadian women's motivations and understanding of the reality TV process, from audition to post-show life. A total of 14 women from across Canada, who competed in such shows as Canada's Next Top Model, Canadian Idol, Project Runway Canada, So You Think You Can Dance Canada, Rock Star: INXS, and Popstars: Boy Meets Girl, were interviewed using a combination of online and in-person interviews. The women’s narratives of reality TV participation reflect and extend contemporary scholarly concerns and debates about women and celebrity culture, media power, television audiences, and new media technologies. Specifically, the interviews complicate current assertions and assumptions about women’s participation as either ‘empowering’ or ‘victimizing’ by illustrating how such participation cannot be isolated from economic factors and gender dynamics at play in contemporary models of television production. While the women have little to no control over how they are represented in these shows, they find ways to assert their agency that disrupts (but does not stop) the production process, while simultaneously ‘domesticating’ the space of reality TV in order to make it a habitable and liveable place. Finally, this dissertation makes two major methodological interventions into the study of television. Firstly, using a cultural studies approach to television research, the author understands reality show contestants as a distinct category of research respondents who challenge and blur rigid divisions between audience and text, and audience and producer. Secondly, the author draws on the tradition of self-reflexivity in feminist research in order to examine and theorize to what extent the interview process may position the researcher as a ‘scholar-fan’.
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The author granted permission for the file to be printed and for the text to be copied and pasted.
Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Patton, Cindy
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etd7789_NPatterson.pdf 1.74 MB

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