Sex, Gender, and Reality TV

April 26, 2013

ok_magcover007IU Bloomington media specialist Tracy James blogs about an upcoming conference hosted by Brenda Weber, associate professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of Gender Studies at IU Bloomington. Weber has organized Reality Gendervision, a conference focused on “sexuality and gender on reality TV” that is drawing researchers from as far away as New Zealand and Germany. We may (pretend to) disdain reality TV, but with hundreds of cable channels and 24-7 viewing habits, it’s here to stay. And prime for studying, Weber says.

“Because reality TV tends to get denigrated as a trash genre, some people talk about it as the decline of Western civilization, lowest common denominator TV, and as a result, people often don’t pay critical attention to it because they think it doesn’t have ideological or aesthetic elements,” Weber said. “From a scholarly viewpoint, you have to take for granted that it’s doing important cultural and aesthetic work — sometimes this is problematic and sometimes it’s progressive.

The various shows are full of morality tales and show viewers how to behave – and not to behave. Viewers can learn how to dress better, be more telegenic, parent better.

Shows like ‘Jersey Shore’ and ‘Hoarders’ often are about violating norms,” Weber said. “We’re supposed to laugh at it, but it’s always instructional.”

Weber is author of Makeover TV: Selfhood, Citizenship, and Celebrity. Read more about Weber and her work in this article from Research & Creative Activity magazine.