GEND 2056 – February

Scroll down for webnotes from earlier in the month

February 23 2016
Judge Judy: Neoliberalism and becoming “good citizens”

Key concepts: theories of power—Liberal, Marxist (expanded beyond class to include sex, gender, race and other social differences), Foucauldian (post-modern / discursive); neoliberalism; panopticon; governmentality

Midterms Due in Class Today

Look for examples of how the video (below) supports and / or challenges Ouellette’s argument. Ouellette characterizes Judge Judy as demeaning (largely) working class or poor people who have minimal access to education and privilege, all-the-while framing these issues as personal and never systemic failures.

As academics we need to keep in mind that we are not analyzing / critiquing Judge Judy as a person, but rather analyzing how the series, the television celebrity and author reflect a particular political and moral perspective.

How does Judge Judy reflect and / or challenge Ouellette’s argument?

“I think I’m a good fact finder. They keep me in this job because I’m smart… If you’re 22 years old and if I say to you ‘On what day were you arrested?’ And you say to me ‘Which time?’ That is not a good thing.” Why exactly is that “not a good thing”?

Ouellette writes, “employment history, marital and parental status, income, drug habits, sexual practices, incarceration record, and past or present ‘dependency’ on public welfare … transcends formal evidence” (229).

Ouellette asserts that Judge Judy doesn’t speak highly about state-run courts and that the series implicitly suggests that her private court runs much more efficiently. In the clip, how does she characterize state-funded public courts?

Within neoliberalism the state should not provide services like healthcare, courts, prisons and garbage collection. Within a neoliberal logic, who would run these services better?

According to Ouellette, Judge Judy favours the nuclear family, but she is opposed to women being financially dependent on their husbands within those families. She endorses a dual-income nuclear family. How might her views be seen as in line with neoliberal economics?

Ouellette writes, on Judge Judy women need to “‘take care of themselves’ so that the state doesn’t have to” (238).

When is it okay to be an unemployed adult on Judge Judy?

What is “the American Dream”?

Ouellette quotes one of Judge Judy’s books Beauty Fades, Dumb is Forever: “Victims are self-made. They aren’t born. They aren’t created by circumstances. There are many, many poor, disadvantaged people who had terrible parents and suffered great hardships who do just fine. Some even rise to the level of greatness. You are responsible for nurturing your roots, for blooming. No one can take that away from you. If you decide to be a victim, the destruction of your life will be by your own hand” (236).

What does Ouellette say about this quotation?

What do you think about the idea that everyone has a choice about whether they become a victim?

Can anyone—especially the upper year students—identify which theory of power is reflected in these kinds of statements?

What characterizes this theory of power?

As Ouellette outlines on page 225, a neoliberal worldview favours: capitalism and the free market; lower taxes for individuals and corporations; cuts to public services; privatization of state-run services or institutions “usually in the name of efficiency” (225); deregulation (including media deregulation discussed a few weeks prior) because it is believed that the free market will regulate itself; and “eliminating the concept of the public good and community and replacing it with individual responsibility” (225).

What characterizes a Marxist theory of power?

So far we see traces of each of these theories of power in the readings. By in large, the readings suggest that television promotes and naturalizes the liberal theory of power, and the authors argue that television hides social inequalities and blames individuals for their poverty, or lack of success, or victimization.

Relate these theories back to Ouellette’s argument.

Relate these theories back to Kraszewski’s argument.

Bell’s definition of oppression from last week recognizes the importance of the individual in social inequality, as well as the importance of structural inequalities and social / cultural ideas.

Which theory of power does the author below reflect?

“If you can dream it, you can do it.” Attributed to Walt Disney

“The living standard of Aboriginal peoples in Canada falls far short of those of non-Aboriginals, and they, along with other racial minorities, continue to encounter barriers in gaining equality. Aboriginal life expectancy is lower; they have fewer high school graduates, higher unemployment, almost twice as many infant deaths and spend more time in jail. They have lower incomes, enjoy fewer promotions in the workplace and remain, as a group, the poorest in Canada. In Canada, ”suffering clearly continues to be related to the politics of race.”

“The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it, as long as you really believe 100 percent.” Attributed to Arnold Schwarzenegger

Oullette introduces us to yet another theory of power. Does anyone know what I am referring to?

How is power understood and defined within this theory?

Foucault says that power operates through knowledge to create “discourse.” Within postmodernism “discourse” is a dialogue in society. Discourse is what can be said about a given topic, who is saying it, and what cannot be said about the topic.

What is being said about x? Who is saying it? And what is not / cannot be said about x?

Foucault observes that knowledge that has little power and effect is that which cannot be said or is unpopular to say, and that which is held as common sense is the most powerful knowledge. Power is exercised most effectively through knowledge that is taken as true and self-evident.

“Repressive power” is what we would normally think of when discussing power. This is the power of the state through the police, the army and the courts. It is the power that the state has if we all stopped self-regulating and became unruly subjects; The state would exert repressive power. Foucault is more interested in “productive power” or “discursive power”–this is the power of discourse or power / knowledge to push us in certain directions.

Example: Students making out in class—yes or no; How do you know?

Compared to repressive power (where someone is watching us and telling us what to do or not do), productive / discursive power is much more subtle, personal and internalized.

Briefly, what are some of the power relations in this room right now?

Power is diffuse and everywhere. “It is not held by authorities and institutions; rather it is held by no one but exercised by practically everyone” (Wilchins, 2004, 63).

Wilchins, R. (2004). Foucault and the disciplinary society. In Queer theory, gender theory: An instant primer (pp. 59-70). Los Angeles, CA: Alyson Publications.

What is the panopticon? 

How might the panopticon relate to reality TV?

In Foucault’s theory of power, knowledge creates categories and rules which are then enacted through systems / disciplines such as medicine, law, justice, education, and so on. In turn we learn these ideas, we internalize them (as in the panopticon), and then we come to engage in what Foucault called “technologies of the self” through which we subject ourselves to scrutiny, regulation and discipline.

Ouellette utilizes Foucault’s notion of “governmentality” which is often translated as “the conduct of conduct.”

Ouellette quotes James Hay, who writes “[b]ecause a ‘neoliberal form of governance assumes that social subjects are not and should not be subject to direct forms of state control, it therefore relies on mechanisms for governing at a distance,’ through the guiding and shaping of ‘self-disciplining subjects’” (226).

In what ways do you think reality TV has a “panoptical quality”?

Ouellette uses Foucault’s theory of power to say that Judge Judy “attempts to shape and guide the conduct and choices of lower-income women in particular” (224). Judge Judy is the guard in the tower who directly disciplines them but the goal is that they (and the viewers) will become self-sufficient, self-disciplined, responsible, risk averting individuals.

Ouellette suggests that the imagined viewer is also instructed on “the rules of self-government spelled out on the program” (227).

If time allows, we will watch a case on Judge Judy. Find examples of how the series reflects or challenges these three theories of power and Ouellette’s argument.

The comments below the video are worth noting as well.

February 9 2016
The Real World and Big Brother: Casting and narrative construction

Comments on the content of the readings?

In merging production and “reality” this soundstage set up to look like a home has 52 cameras and 95 microphones (often just dangling from the ceiling);

blinding lights;

“knick knacks glued to ikea furniture;”

production staff asking questions in the “diary rooms,”

and if a contestant says anything about production, what happens?

Why is it important to the network that the contestants not talk about production?

I want to start today with Kraszewski and his overall argument about the representation of racism on The Real World in 1992. Then move on to Fox’s more recent experiences on Big Brother in 2010.

Kraszewski is interested in how The Real World represents racism and how that representation is geared toward the MTV brand, specifically the viewer they want to attract. He uses textual analysis and political economy.

Introducing Julie… How is she depicted? How is her father represented? How is the southern accent often presented on television?

How is Julie represented in relation to the other housemates?

According to Kraszewski, how does MTV characterize its viewers?

What does “liberal” mean in this context?

Kraszewski tells us that originally MTV refused to play videos by Black artists when the network started up in because they claimed their “white middle-class audience lacked interest in black artists” (209). “Through a combination of artist, audience, and record company protests, MTV eventually decided to air black videos, fearing that their refusal to do so would hurt the channel’s economic wellbeing” (209). 

Is Julie from Birmingham, Alabama depicted as youthful, liberal, with an “urban feel”?

Introducing racism…

Kraszewski asks, why does the series kick off with this depiction associating a white, “rural,” southerner as (potentially) racist for their urban liberal audience. They could start this series in million different ways, so why begin with Julie the “fish out of water” and then lead right into this controversy about racism?

Kraszewski says that this set-up is key to how The Real World chooses to represent racism to its viewers.

Kraszewski favours an understanding of racism that reflects the theoretical foundations of social justice. Within social justice theory, contemporary racism is understood as “systemic, subconscious and inferential” (221).

Some fundamental assumptions of this theory (excerpted from):

Bell, L.A. (1997). Theoretical foundations for social justice education. In Adams, M., Bell, L.A. & Griffin, P. (Eds). Teaching for diversity and social justice: A sourcebook (pp. 1-14). New York, NY: Routledge.

Oppression is regarded as a system that maintains advantage and disadvantage based on social identity categories such as race, sex, gender, religion, sexuality, class, ability and age.

Oppression operates on individual, institutional and social / cultural levels.

Oppression results in disadvantages for targeted groups and privileges for advantaged groups.

Oppression operates intersectionally. We all have complex identities that are privileged in some respects and penalized in others.

Privilege refers to unearned, unasked for, often invisible benefits and advantages not available to members of targeted groups.

Systemic: Oppression is not just about individual beliefs and actions, but also operates at institutional and social / cultural levels. Social injustice can operate through institutional policy, practice and norms, as well as cultural assumptions, norms and practices (intentionally or unintentionally).

Subconscious / internalized: Oppressive beliefs are internalized by targeted and privileged groups. Targeted groups internalize their own subordination, while privileged groups internalize their own dominance. Within the theoretical foundations of social justice, none of us are immune to these ideas because they often pass as common sense.

Inferential racism: As a contrast to overt racism which is easy to identify as it is racism plainly claimed or articulated, inferential racism tends to be more subtle because “speakers do not necessarily intend their racism” (213). Racism is built into the statement or action, but goes unquestioned.

Questions? Comments?

These are fundamental assumptions that Jon Kraszewski is operating with. This is how he understands racism and he is then contrasting this with how The Real World represents racism. Here are some of his significant claims:

  1. The privileged viewer is freed from any implications of racism: Kraszewski argues that “The Real World suggests that racism is a phenomenon located within rural conservatives, not liberals with an urban feel” (208). What are the implications of this representation for the viewer who is thought to be youthful, liberal, with an urban feel? 

Any questions or comments about this part of his argument?  

  1. Racism is presented on The Real World as an issue of individual opinions, not institutions or widespread social / cultural beliefs: Kraszewski also says that The Real World privileges an understanding of racism as a matter of individual opinions and intentions, while overlooking “the systemic nature of racism and the way it operates in liberal urban environments” (208). What are his critiques of this understanding? 

Any questions or comments about this part of his argument?

Where social justice theorists favour an understanding of racism as systemic, subconscious, and inferential, The Real World of 1992 favours an understanding of racism as individualized, overt and / or inferential, subconscious, but limited to certain conservative and rural populations. Social justice frames racism as multifaceted and challenging to overcome, while MTV frames it as easy to overcome by bringing a young white person to the “big city.”

According to Kraszewski, Kevin, a “character” who says that racism is systemic, subconscious and inferential appears in season one, but that point of view disappears entirely after this season of The Real World.

Kraszewski argues that The Real World “encourages the audience to position themselves as liberals against racism without reflecting on how this strategy for viewing race perpetuates racism itself” (220). What does this mean?  

Kraszewski also says that Kevin is cast in one episode as violent and sexually aggressive toward Julie. He argues that this is an old racist trope that the series introduces and then implicitly suggests may be true. He says that this trope appears in later seasons as well.


I also want to point out that I’ve been putting “rural” in quotation marks. Why? 

Another point that we will continue to develop over the term, but will only touch on today is Kraszewski’s characterization of whiteness as unmarked, unspecified, universalized, neutral and ordinary.

Krawszewski also says that one of the privileges of whiteness is that white characters—by in large—are thought of as individuals, while non-white characters are more likely to be characterized as representing their race. Within social justice theory, this is another common assumption. Those in positions of dominance are more likely to be perceived as individuals while subordinated groups are more likely to be regarded as representing their group. This notion appears in Fox’s article as well.

In terms of whiteness, Kraszewski also points out that while white people are privileged in the US and Canada, there is a hierarchy within whiteness. What is he talking about?

Ragan Fox is making related points about a different “targeted” or minority group, gay men.

In terms of “production,” Fox discusses:

  1. the people responsible for producing the show, specifically “don’t speak about the group of men and women who cast big Brother, talked to us in the contestant confessional or ‘diary room,’ filmed us, and edited 168 hours a week into roughly two-and-a-half hours of network content” (191).
  1. the production of his character / himself, specifically “how the program’s producers, fans and I performatively rendered gay identity” (190). Contestants perform characters and these performances are turned into a commodity.
  1. “reception is also an act of production” (205)

He says that the structure, editing and narratives of Big Brother—production in the first sensesometimes worked against him as a gay man. What are some examples (i.e. evidence) that he provides?

He writes, “Fan-produced images display the reiterative force of gay stereotypes. I never had sex on the show, nor did I fall in love with a straight man. Some viewers, nevertheless, narratized an explicit and hypersexual story for me.”

This is where his explanation of phenomenology becomes very useful as the narratives that these fans are constructing are not narratives applied retroactively to the streamed or televised events in the Big Brother house (as per Fisher’s narrative theory), but rather “residual understandings and potential anticipations of gay subjectivity constrain and enable who gay characters on reality TV may be/come … These tropes were entrenched and reproduced, even as I actively worked to resist them” (204).

Hayden: “Ragan, you are an awesome representative of the gay community.”

Fox writes, “I, unlike Hayden, have to serve as an exemplar of a historically marginalized group and play a game known for lying and backstabbing” (205). Fox has to lie, backstab and be a “pillar of his community.”

Fox says that if the minority fails to be exemplary, “their failures and character flaws—no matter how mundane—are regularly used to justify bigoted attitudes and narratize the assumed worst elements of a gay person’s character” (205).

Comments? Thoughts?

Distribution of the midterm: The focus of the midterm is on demonstrating that you understand the articles and their structure: topic, argument, supporting claims, evidence / examples and key concepts. The next assignments will require more active engagement with the materials, but for now, i want you to understand how this kind of research works.

February 2 2016
Guilty Pleasures: Audiences watching “bad” TV

key concepts: symbolic and moral boundaries of “high” and “low” culture / notions of “good” and “bad” TV; cultural capital; Bourdieu on “distinction” in relation to cultural consumption; producing distinction through what you consume; producing distinction through how you consume; “bad” TV viewing styles employed by viewers with high degrees of cultural capital—ironic, camp sensibility, guilty pleasures and traditional

I retract what I said about this article week.

Your thoughts on the article? 

McCoy and Scarborough are trying to get us to notice ideas about class that are communicated through common assumptions about “bad” TV.

McCoy and Scarborough are asking us to think about the symbolic and moral boundaries of “high” and “low” culture. What do you think that means— “the symbolic and moral boundaries of ‘high’ and ‘low” culture”?

What distinctions are often made between “high” and “low” culture?

And why put quotation marks around “high” and “low” culture?

When Andy Warhol silk-screened Campbell’s soup cans, how did he mix high and low culture?


RECAP: If you leave this class and think: “My professor says reality TV is ‘low class,’” then you are not hearing me correctly.

What is the moral part of these valuations?

It is important to point out that high culture is not inherently better than mass or so-called “low” culture. High culture is known as “high” culture because it has historically been more readily available to people with money and has tended to exclude “the masses.” As such, wealthy people could consume “high” culture because they had the money to do so.

As the article for today suggests, people use culture to set up “symbolic boundaries” with other people, and to say things about themselves—this is who I am and this is who I’m not.

In relation to the article today, the authors McCoy and Scarborough are saying that people who consume high culture gain “cultural capital.” Cultural capital – what is it?

“Dominant classes [this can be the middle-class or those who are more affluent] use their superior ‘cultural capital’ to maintain their position of dominance. Members of the dominant class seek to demonstrate and confirm their superiority by legitimizing their own cultural tastes (e.g. opera, poetry, art), while maintaining esthetic distance from other cultural forms” (43).

McCoy and Scarborough write, “After economic capital is converted, from one generation to the next, into cultural capital, it aids in occupational procurement. This occupational advantage then allows cultural capital to be converted back into economic capital (Bennet and Silva, 2011)” (43).

The artefacts or practices within this cultural hierarchy (such as how you use a knife and fork) are all theoretically available to anyone, but they are associated with certain classes and higher classes get associated with privileged ideas such as being “dignified,” “classy,” “civilized,” and having “good taste.”

The readings are urging you to be critical of this hierarchy of value that suggests that “high” culture is better, more intellectual, more esthetically inspired and that low culture is worthless, debased and lacking in merit.

In fact, the article states that “elites” in the West have largely shifted away from the “snobby” preference for “high” culture. Wealthy people consuming only high culture is increasingly seen as a passé way of gaining cultural capital. Does anyone remember what the readings say about the shift toward “omnivore” elites?


Producing distinction through what you consume.
Producing distinction through how you consume.

McCoy and Scarborough say that viewers with cultural capital tend to make “negative esthetic and moral judgments about” Reality TV (41). Viewers who have lots of cultural capital and accept the valuation that Reality TV is “low” culture—“bad” TV—may struggle with their enjoyment of these shows. They internalize this hierarchy of “high” and “low” culture and then feel conflicted about their enjoyment of low culture. They may seek explanations and justifications.

As the authors write, “We emphasize instead how people who consume ‘bad’ television find themselves in a state of normative contradiction; they condemn the television shows they watch, yet find themselves still consuming these shows. These consumers of ‘bad’ television accept a symbolic boundary between acceptable and unacceptable television, but also transgress that boundary by consuming television that they themselves label in negative terms. We show how viewers deal with this contradiction in diverse ways” (42).

In trying to negotiate this conflict between their genuine belief that Reality TV is “bad” TV viewers take up at least four different “viewing styles.”

“As we theorize it, a viewing style is not a description of [a] particular type of viewer, but rather the manner in which a viewer consumes the cultural object. A single viewer is able to react to ‘bad’ TV using different viewing styles and transition seamlessly between them” (footnote, 42).

In this study, the viewers: consume a lot of “high” culture therefore have a lot of cultural capital; are well-educated (most have BAs); and regard the series that they are commenting on as “bad” TV.

  1. Irony – What characterizes an ironic viewing style?
  2. Camp – What characterizes the “camp” viewing style? 

Example: Sharknado

Example: The Room (2003) (not to be confused with Room)
Rooftop scene:
Flower shop:

“The television viewer employing a camp sensibility solves the contradiction between condemning and consuming by using a different evaluation system to lift the object of popular culture out of a negative category so that it can be admired and even ‘celebrated’ on its own terms. In a very real sense, the cultural product is so bad that it becomes good” (52).

  1. Guilty – What characterizes the “guilty pleasure” viewing style?

These viewers tend to offer up reasons or a diagnosis for why they watch. They have to justify it in some way (45). What are some of their justifications?

What does it mean when McCoy and Scarborough suggest that these viewers experience a “normative contradiction”? What is normative about it?

  1. Traditional – What characterizes the “traditional” viewing style?

Why do you think the authors call this “traditional”?

We may also transition between viewing styles. Example: Jersey Shore 

Did any of these resonate with your own viewing styles?

Next week, season one of The Real World

And Ragan Fox: