COMM 2320 Media Industries 1
Assessment task #2
‘How does reality TV reflect Australian Culture?’
Zoe Annabel – s3284718
1. Salamon, W. (2010). What about me?: identity, subjectivity and reality TV participation . PhD thesis, School of Culture and Communication, The University of Melbourne.
Winnie Salamons’ thesis study What about me? : identity, subjectivity and reality TV Participation is an extremely useful and relevant piece of research which is unique to the field as it provides a distinctly Australian focus. The thesis examines first person accounts of former reality television participants who have appeared on Australian versions of Big Brother, Australian Idol and The Biggest Loser. While scholars have researched audience responses to a wide range of reality shows, little research has been conducted on the participants themselves. The research therefore touches on broader issues of identity and citizenship and questions the extent to which reality TV is beginning to shape social values via its constructions and representations.
The research finds its strength in the qualitative nature, involving 15 semi-structured one-on-one interviews with reality TV participants that attempt to address the gap in research ‘after the fact’. Salamon’s research attempts to provide readers with a well structured account of reality TV beginning with explaining it’s inception then analysing its augmentation in Australia. Ending with an engaged evaluation of the effects on actual participants gives the paper body and raises questions surrounding the politics and subjectivity of reality TV. This source is not only useful in it’s quantitative nature, but also provides us with a vehicle to begin our own intense research and a base upon which we can compare our own findings in order to explore the movement and expansion of reality based television.
It is important to note that this piece of research was conducted as part of a PHD thesis and is most likely informed by a broader spectrum of study and genuine interest. The article is therefore one that will most likely prove to be influential in the content, formatting and style of our presentation and research and reaches an emerging class of creative media academics.
2. Murray and Ouellette, Susan and Laurie (2004) Reality TV, Remaking Television Culture, New York University Press, USA.
The collection of essays provides a multilayered examination of reality TV in its manifestations and forms. The essays highlight the economic, cultural and ideological elements at work in reality TV and note the transforming television landscape. It also explores the evolving culture surrounding viewing and viewer preferences when it comes to watching television in the home. The introduction suggests that further academic research needs to be conducted in order to fully understand an increasingly complex television environment. The books date is a definite drawback of the source as it cannot take into account the huge increase in the production of different types of reality TV nor can it comment on recent trends in viewing practices, nor can it reference the recent academic research into both these areas. It is directed at generating awareness of the potential growth of reality TV in the field of television and cultural studies.Many of the essays focus on the elements of danger embedded reality TV’s construction of the ‘real’ via identifiable cultural representations and are wary of it’s potential effects on the future society. There is an emphasis on the potential influence that these representations of the ‘real’ could have on institutional and cultural developments. The essays also touch on reception strategies and practice which is by far the most useful part of the research as the modes and models it discusses are still relevant in analysing media influence and audiences today. There is a range of evaluations regarding implications of reality TV have on particular audiences.
The overall collection contributes an important argument in how reality TV can effect society’s perception of its own construction and is useful to my research as it allows me to broaden my own definition of both ‘effect’ and ‘society’ and apply it to an Australian context.
3. Emma Price (2010): Reinforcing the myth: Constructing Australian identity in ‘reality TV’, Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 24:3, 451-459
This article explores reality TV’s attempt to portray ‘real life’ as it occurs and the tensions that exist between ideas of authenticity and performance. The article has a particular focus on how Australian reality TV highlights aspects of national culture and identity and how it refers to myths in order to gain identification and affirmation in audiences. The paper finds strength through the examination of the combination of the Australian beach myth and the spectacle of ‘reality TV’, the representation of Australian identity through a constructed performance within negotiated television conventions. By first discussing the phenomenon of reality TV in the context of the Australian broadcasting landscape we are introduced to the context of the article effectively and the central concern is identified from the outset.
The paper introduces us to the conventions of reality TV succinctly by referring to both theoretical and technical examples.Perhaps the most useful aspect was the excellent use of academic research and the uncomplicated method of referencing. The essays methodology is straight forward and it appears to direct its research at particular individuals who are either interested in the field of reality TV or the role that myths play in society and how they are constructed. It was easy to follow the methods of analysis and the language was straightforward but concise. The report is particularly well structured and the findings are presented as evolving with the examination rather than as an assemblage of nominal statistics. From the outset, Price acknowledges that the article contributes to a small pool of Australian specific research on audiences and myth which could be seen as both a strength, in that it provides unique insight, or a drawback because it depicts only one opinion, however, Price speaks to an already interested audience.The paper also raises further questions of viewer reception, genre categorisations, and the relationship between the television industry and audiences. It was this that was the most useful to my research as there is a definite lack of intense analysis of current Australian reality TV. The discussion of the ‘illusionary everyday’ was extremely interesting and led me to begin thinking about reality TV as a kind of glimpse into another reality and how this can be used for political or social good. This led me to do further research on the performative role that Bondi Rescue plays in making themselves an accessible example in times such as the Cronulla Riots. The notion of ideals was also very intriguing, especially when cast in the provocative question around what constitutes an ‘ideal Australian’. I took this concept and incorporated it into my research plan which led me to a whole new kind of research which was based around the authenticity and origins of Australian myths of mateship and larrikinism.
4. Holmes, Su and Jermyn, Deborah (Ed) (2004): ‘Understanding Reality TV’, Routledge (Taylor and Francis Group), London GB.
This collection of essays responds to the rise of reality television by analysing the overall terrain of “Reality TV” and its range of economic, technological and cultural implications on society. The introduction is extremely useful as it acknowledges how contentious the actual definition of the genre is by referring to a number of different philosophies and theorists, which provides great insight into the evolution of reality television. The collection addresses the cultures surrounding television viewing and is therefore aimed to reach a broad (though largely academic) audience who are intrigued by the impact of television on peoples lifestyles and identities and how audiences can feel involved in or claim ownership of certain programs.
The individual essays are useful in their frameworks, and provide interesting vantage points on which to base my own research, but as the collection is concerned with American television, therefore a large part of the statistical information and observations on ‘society’, though interesting, were irrelevant. The essays cover Reality TV in its myriad forms, examining historical precedents, the international nature of its circulation and consumption, and exploring the key debates that Reality TV has put on our social, cultural and televisual agendas. Topics covered include surveillance, the construction of celebrity, temporality in Reality TV,the politics of representation (with case studies considering the construction of community, women, gay identity and ‘class’), audience responses and fandom.
The range of topics and references was extremely useful and the language was cohesive across all the essays, each contributing a different voice on the same topic. It was a highly engaging piece of research and contributes a depth in analysis that may have before been absent from the field. This collection perhaps marks the shift in academic research around reality TV. However, due to the previous lack of research, it is difficult to gauge how ‘sound’ the information provided is as a lot of it is based around theories that are difficult to substantiate due to the nature of the media and its degree of provable influence on the behaviour of consumers.
5. Lewis, Tania and Martin, Fran(2010) ‘Learning modernity: lifestyle advice television in Australia, Taiwan and Singapore’, Asian Journal of Communication, 20: 3, 318 — 336
Drawing upon a ‘multiple modernity’s’ approach, the article examines the pedagogical role of lifestyle TV in three different cultural contexts, foregrounding the way in which it negotiates varied global and local formations of lifestyle culture and consumption. Although this article takes a more global look at reality TV, it was useful in gaining insight into the role lifestyle advice plays in reality TV. The paper is broken up into defined sections on each country and culture which made extracting useable information simple while also making the paper accessible to larger audience.
The proposition that reality TV invites ordinary viewers into ‘the art of living’ and plays a significant role in shaping social identities, consumer practices and personal lifestyles is interesting as much of Australian reality TV is borrowed from the west. The research implies that we as Australians are becoming slowly more prone to becoming ‘Americanised’. The research characterises Australia as a neo liberal society, attributing our attachment to reality TV as owing to ‘unfulfilled’ desire for practical advice that is no longer provided by the state. This was an interesting concept to consider, and one that was unique to the field of research, as I have experienced it thus far. Dr Tania Lewis has spent a number of years researching reality TV on a global scale, focusing on the role lifestyle television plays in different contexts. This global perspective has inevitably framed her writing in as quite politically minded which is an interesting angle to take, particularly considering the postmodern context we live in. It also questions the ethics of modernity and the media and the practices surrounding consumption. Lewis’ research appeals to a wide range of cultural, social and political theorists as well as students of the media.
(The fact that Tania works out of RMIT makes her a fabulous source for information and opinion)
6. Hill, Annette (2013) Reality TV: Factual Entertainment and Television Audiences, Taylor and Frances.
Hill’s article attempts to unpack the multiple layers that make up the complexities within reality television. Her article makes the effort to re-establish the importance of the audience by allowing their voices to be heard. Rather than making assumptions about a ‘potential viewing populace’, Hill attempts to evaluate the way differing individuals make sense of the information presented to them via reality TV, maintaining that much can be learned from listening to audience discussion about the genre. This was highly relevant to our second phase of research as it cemented the idea of sifting through social media discussions and forums to uncover popular opinion and emerging debates around the form and around particular programmes. The research methodology of the piece was by far the most interesting element to the article, as it combined qualitative and quantitative research to understand how viewers categorise the reality genre, and how they judge the performance of ordinary people and the representation of authenticity within different types of reality programmes. By empowering reality TV audiences, Hill tackles the quandary over reality TV and how to ‘deal with it’ in an way which does not assume the genre is inherently negligent in conveying ideas and values.
Hill also delves into questions of education, and if the form has the ability to be critical of the form while also learning from it. She questions the role of each sub genre and how it works both independently and in time with the conventions of entertainment television and documentary, and how the hybridisation of these forms have lead to the idea that reality TV can teach unique and valuable lessons.
Annette Hill is a Professor of Media and conducts research at the Communication and Media research institute, making her perspective an informed one. Her focus on education is important as we are hoping to pull apart reality TV and see if by gathering up the ‘bits’ we can learn from, we could use reality TV as a platform which could potentially be used for social change.
7. Bartlett, Myke. A drop in the ocean ‘Leaky boat and go back to where you came from’ [online]. Screen Education, No. 64, Summer 2012: 8-17
This piece of research is closely focused on the construction and reception of the reality TV series Go Back to Where You Came From. This article was extremely useful in terms of both its chronological and narrative details as well as the insights he makes as the shows resounding successes and failures. This article is perhaps the sole piece of academic output regarding the series (aside from sporadic journalistic pieces).
Bartlett focuses on the Go Back to Where You Came From as attempting to give ordinary Australians the chance to experience the toils of being a refugee vicariously through the character they felt ‘best represented’ them in the series. This idea of voyeurism and subjectivity is one that Bartlett focuses on quite extensively. He also focuses on the purpose of the show, which was useful to my research as it gave the documentary some context in the landscape of Australian views and values. He analyses the characters in the program and the ‘transformations’ they undergo. This is an area of study I will continue to investigate and elaborate on.
He goes on to evaluate media responses to the documentary. These were less useful to my research but it was interesting to gain a glimpse into the politics surrounding the issues and the way they were translated to the television screen. Bartlett’s article is directed towards an audience who are both interested in the asylum seeker debate and who watched the show and were intrigued by both its concept and journey. The article is written in a way that tends to suggest Bartlett is sympathetic to asylum seekers, so this needs to be kept in mind particularly in sections where he makes judgements as to the ‘validity’ of a persons transformation.
8. Go Back To Where You Came From (June, 2011), Television Series, aired by Special Broadcasting Services (SBS) and produced by Cordell Jigsaw Productions, NSW Australia.
Go Back To Where You Came From provides unique and valuable insights into how reality TV could potentially function as a platform to promote social change. It takes on both the concern for social improvement usually associated with documentary as well as the technical and story elements of reality TV. Cordell Jigsaw production describes itself as an innovative and eclectic production company that prides itself on producing content for a national and international audience. As it is responsible for the production of shows such as Bondi Rescue, Dumb, Drunk and Racist and Can of Worms, it is clear the production company is committed to exploring specifically Australian social and political debates around issues such as multiculturalism and identity. This is proved to be useful in assessing the bias’ each show is embedded with and helped frame the perspective from which to analyse the program and it’s content. Go Back To Where You Came From is an interesting case study as it is quite a unique venture in the field of reality TV. It is a social experiment that is imbued with a purpose beyond simple entertainment. It aims to stimulate debate and conjure up new meanings to emerging audiences. This is perhaps the greatest strength of the text, as it takes the conventions of reality TV and applies them to a new context in an experimental and brave way. A negative component of the series was that it’s main argument was based in the assumption that most Australians are racist and uncaring in matters of persecution and migration. Although this is the element of the text that caused the most debate, it also proved to be it’s biggest foil, as many potential viewers were angered by this lingering premise and the show perhaps did not reach an entire potential audience. Go Back To Where You Came From offers great scope for understanding how reality TV can become a place to consider issues not covered in mainstream media, or even more so, to discuss issues in a different context to the mainstream media, which often presents quite a one sided position on controversial issues. In the shows technical construction via elements such as casting and plot in conjunction with representations of Australia and it’s stereotypes we hope to better understand how ideas in society can be exposed, reworked and reinterpreted by reality TV
9. Hartley, John (2004) “Kiss me Kat, Shakespeare, Big Brother, and the Taming of the Self”. In Murray, Susan & Ouellette, Laurie (Eds.)Reality TV : remaking television culture. New York University Press, United States of America, pp. 303-322.
John Harley explores the playful and performative possibilities of reality TV viewing in his chapter of Susan Murray and Laurie Ouelette’s collection. He makes an interesting and unique contribution to the collection by focusing on Australian reality TV (rather than American). He compares the reception of Big Brother to that of William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. He argues that play between mediated and unmediated reality embraced by both texts require what he coins as a ‘multiconcious engagement’ by audeinces. They know, on one hand, that the reality they are seeing is negotiated, but they are aware also that they have come to be entertained. Harley, in essence, characterises both the audiences of Elizabethan Theatre and reality TV as active and that the ‘democratisation of television’ does not in fact come authors but is in fact a result of audience based performance and practice. He thus goes on to discuss the ‘democratisation of playing’ and the performance of the self.
John Hartley is a distinguished professor at the university of Queensland, so his impressions regarding the direction of the overall landscape are vital to understanding the core elements of reality TV and how audiences receive it. He removes a lot of the complex reception theories and reduces audiences to their core human wants and needs. He has published over twenty books in the field of cultural and creative studies, media and journalism. This makes him a reliable source, and one that we can continue to refer back too when examining the Australian television landscape.
10. Bondi Rescue (February, 2006), Television Series, aired by Channel TEN and produced by Cordell Jigsaw Productions, NSW Australia.
Bondi Rescue is produced by Ben Davies, an ex lifeguard at Cronulla and the perspective of the program remains with the lifeguards as we follow them about their daily activities patrolling Bondi Beach. The mixture of high drama, characters and setting combine to make Bondi Rescue one of the most popular Australian Reality TV series of all time. It is an extremely interesting case study as it constructs representations of ‘true Aussie’ views and values via its constructions of ‘others’ and though the depictions of the lifeguards. It also sheds light on issues within Australian society such as multiculturalism, anti-social behaviour, alcohol and who ‘owns’ the beach. The beach becomes a wider symbol throughout the show as race wars such as the Cronulla riots break out and are reflected back in the content of the program. With closer analysis, we hope that Bondi Rescue will exhibit the notions of what constitutes an ‘ideal Australian’ as well as an ‘ideal lifestyle’.
Because Bondi Rescue is a television program, we must be aware of its agendas and bias’ and it’s connection to both the Network and the advertising and sponsorship it procures. As it is aimed at ‘ordinary Australians’ we must first understand the stereotypes and representations this encompasses. These are important elements that contribute to the influence of the program on certain audiences. This is an unmistakable drawback and a hurdle that will oftentimes be difficult to overcome.
11. Baudrillard Jean (2005) “Violence of the Virtual and Integral Reality.” in: Dr. Marilyn Lambert-Drache (Translator) IJBS. Volume 2, Number 2, July 2005. (English) and Baudrillard, Jean (1995). Simulacra and Simulation (The Body, In Theory: Histories of Cultural Materialism). University of Michigan Press.
The above source was one I used in order to gain a less theoretical and more philosophical perspective on the issue of ‘reality’. In a lot of the academically driven articles, reality is described in its technical construction via production elements rather than unpacked as a ‘concept’ in itself. Baudrillard imagines a world that is freed of the appearances and so called ‘truths’ and instead content with ‘integral reality’ which refers simply to the world as it is. Illusions don’t exist, which casts a question over the position of reality TV to an illusion or part of an integral reality. Baudrillard would most like most likely call reality TV a simulation or even a simulacra which he defines in his 1981 text as copies that depict things that either had no reality to begin with, or that no longer have an original.Simulation, on the other hand is the imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time. Baudrillard discusses how we can begin to believe that the copies and simulations are true reflections of reality which can then be perverted as they claim to represent something real, creating a hyper reality. At a time when television and the media in general are less and less capable of accounting for the world’s unbearable events, they rediscover daily life. Baudrillard sees this as a manifestation of his theory of banality. We are so bored with our everyday lives, that we turn to spectacle. Reality television demonstrates Baudrillard’s thesis that the obscene lies in the fact that there is ‘nothing to see’ and that the spectator, rather than desiring difference from others, desires sameness with the subjects that we witness on television. Baudrillard is an excellent source to gain philosophical insight within the frame of post-modernism and post-structuralism. He is a sociologist and cultural theorist and interested in the way the mass media works within and effects society.
The drawback of reading philosophy is it’s convoluted nature, it does not offer up its suggestions in a logically ordered form and often doesn’t provide answers to the questions it provokes. It is not directly relevant or directed to the academic field. Though I doubt I will use the source as a reference, it has definitely helped me to understand the way the insides of reality TV, how it comes to fruition and how it finds and maintains an audience.
12. Ashton, Emma (2009) Reality Ravings, weblog accessed 18th March, 2013 < http://www.realityravings.com/>
Emma Ashton has been and reading about reality TV for the last four years and is one of Australia’s leading experts in the field. Reality Ravings is Australia’s leading independent reality TV blog. Emma also currently runs Australia’s annual reality TV insights survey to keep tabs on wider industry trends on the genre. Her writings are directed at ordinary individuals who watch and engage with the social commentary surrounding reality television aired in Australia. Ashton uses informal and comic language that aims to entertain readers while also referencing the inconsistencies and hilarious mishaps the genre often presents. The strength of this source is it’s consistent, relevant updates on shows airing on television now and gives a great overall picture of the landscape as it stands. The disadvantage is that there is not a lot of theory behind the recaps or discussions of characters that could be used in an academic paper. One useful aspect of the site is the links that Ashton posts to news articles relating to the programs that we could definitely use and cite in our research. The blog could be an interesting component to analyse as part of our case studies on shows such as My Kitchen Rules as it presents an opinion on how the shows were presented and received.
The blog appears to remain fairly free of advertising so can most likely be considered as a fairly neutral platform.
By Zoe Annabel.