GEND 3076 Syllabus

Reality TV and the Politics of Difference
Winter 2018
Thursdays 6:30-9:20

How did reality TV come to dominate television programming in the 21st century? What kinds of citizens are viewers encouraged to become through this genre? How are social differences represented within these programs? In this course students will be introduced to contemporary television studies and encouraged to examine the productive imprint of neoliberalism on reality TV, including: the political economy of production; techniques of the self and surveillance; and the representation of social differences including gender, race, class and sexuality. In addition, students will learn a variety of skills for interpreting television media.

Instructor: Dr. Wendy Peters
Office: A310 (above the small cafeteria)
Phone: 474-3450 ext. 4889
Winter 2018 office hours: before class or by appointment

Texts: The required readings are available online as Nipissing University Library e-books and e-journals. Weekly readings are required and should be completed before class. All materials including images, television series and film screenings are considered testable material. I have including some exceptional student essays from previous years as required reading. It is my hope that these will give you some sense of what your final paper might look like.

Marking scheme
Attendance & participation    15%
Take home midterm    30%    Due February 15 2018
Two reading responses @ 10% each = 20% .   Due between March 1-29 2018
Research essay     35%    Due April 5 2018

Late penalties will be applied in this class.  No assignment will be accepted after the due date without prior permission from the instructor. Extensions will be considered only in advance of the deadline and under truly exceptional circumstances. All assignments must be submitted at the beginning of class or they will be considered late. Any assignments submitted after the beginning of class will be penalized 10% per day, for up to 5 days, after which time assignments will not be accepted. Assignments will not be accepted by email.

All term work must be submitted by the official last day of classes, except with written permission of the Dean of Arts and Science.

Students with a range of learning styles and needs are welcome in this course. In particular, if you have a disability / health consideration that may require accommodations, please contact the Student Accessibility Services Office as soon as possible. The Student Accessibility Services staff are available by appointment to assess specific needs, provide referrals and arrange appropriate accommodations. The sooner you let us know your needs the quicker we can assist you in achieving your learning goals in this course. You can contact Student Accessibility Services at or 705-474-3450 x4362.

Students are permitted to use laptop computers only for taking notes from the lectures. Playing games, surfing the internet, checking e-mail, instant messaging, watching videos or listening to music are not permitted during class time. If you are disrupting other students with this kind of laptop activity, you will be asked to turn off your laptop.

Intellectual Property
All materials developed for this course, including, but not limited to, lectures, lecture notes and slides, assignments, examinations and syllabi, that are provided in class or online, are the intellectual property of the course instructor. Posting, providing, sharing or selling any audio, video, or textual materials from the course is prohibited. Participation in this course constitutes an agreement by all parties to respect the intellectual property rights as well as the privacy of others during and after their association with Nipissing University. The only exception to the above is formally authorized accommodation arrangements made through Student Development Services.

January 11 2018
Welcome and Introduction

In class screening: The Truman Show (1998), 103 minutes

Discussion: What parallels can be drawn between The Truman Show and reality TV?

January 18 2018
Political Economy: The emergence and economics of reality TV

Laurie Ouellette and Susan Murray (2009). Introduction. In Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture 2nd edition. New York: NYU Press: 1-13 (read up to the heading “Genre.”). Read as an e-book in the library:

Ted Magder (2009). Television 2.0: The Business of American Television in Transition. In Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture 2nd edition. New York: NYU Press: 141-164. Read in the same e-book as above:

 January 25 2018
Guilty Pleasures: Audiences watching “bad” TV

Charles Allan McCoy and Roscoe C. Scarborough (2014). Watching “Bad” television: Ironic consumption, camp, and guilty pleasures. Poetics 47: 41-59. Read online through Nipissing Library’s e-journals:

February 1 2018
The Real World and Big Brother: Casting and narrative construction

Jon Kraszewski (2009). Country hicks and urban cliques: Mediating Race, Reality, and Liberalism on MTV’s The Real World. In Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture 2nd edition. New York: NYU Press: 205-222. Read as an e-book in the library:

Ragan Fox (2013). “You are not allowed to talk about production”: Narratization on (and off) the set of CBS’s Big Brother. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 30 (3): 189-208. Read online through Nipissing Library’s e-journals:

February 8 2018
Judge Judy: Neoliberalism and becoming “good citizens”

Laurie Ouellette (2009). “Take Responsibility for Yourself:” Judge Judy and the Neoliberal citizen. In Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture 2nd edition. New York: NYU Press: 223-242. Read as an e-book in the library:

The take-home midterm will be distributed at the end of class today. 

February 15 2018
Learning to Write a Critical Media Analysis


In preparation for your final research paper, I will introduce you to the basics of writing a critical media analysis. We will also discuss the upcoming reading response assignments.

Anonymous student paper (2015). Thirty Minutes to Self-Esteem: Love, Lust or Run. Love, Lust or Run

Nicole Robitaille (2015). “Everyone’s Replaceable”: Teaching Children to be Working Individuals in Dance Moms. Student paper. Dance moms essay

Kayla Kosiak (2015). Creating a Neoliberal Millionaire. Student paper. Millionaire Matchmaker

February 22 2018 – Reading Week

March 1 2018
The Biggest Loser and What not to Wear

Katherine Sender and Margaret Sullivan (2008). Epidemics of will, failures of self-esteem: Responding to fat bodies in The Biggest Loser and What Not to Wear. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 22, (4): 573–584. DOI: 10.1080/10304310802190046 Read online through Nipissing Library’s e-journals:

In class screening: Brand New You (53 minutes) PN1995.9.B42.B73 201

Reading response 1: Drawing on Sender and Sullivan (2008) outline how What Not to Wear and The Biggest Loser emphasize surveillance, self-regulation, financial independence, and the privatized consumption of goods and services as integral to self-improvement. Be sure to connect what you have written to neoliberalism or social justice. For example, what are the limitations of only focusing inwards and / or on individuals? This assignment is due at the beginning of class today.

March 8 2018
Queer Eye for the Straight Guy

Katherine Sender (2006). Queens for a Day: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and the Neoliberal Project. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 23(2): 131-151. DOI: 10.1080/07393180600714505 Read online through Nipissing Library’s e-journals:

Reading response 2: Sender (2006) argues that heterosexual men are under increasing pressure to become “more effectively self-monitoring citizens” (141). With reference to Queer Eye for the Straight Guy how does she connect this pressure to flexible capitalism and “inadequate consumption” (140)? Include two examples from her analysis of how the “straight guys” on the series are groomed to be “better” workers and / or boyfriends / husbands. This assignment is due at the beginning of class today. 

March 15 2018
America’s Next Top Model

Amy Adele Hasinoff (2008). Fashioning Race for the Free Market on America’s Next Top Model. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 25(3): 324-343. DOI: 10.1080/15295030802192012 Read online through Nipissing Library’s e-journals:

Reading response 3: Explain how Hasinoff (2008) connects flexible capitalism to the weekly challenges on America’s Next Top Model and Danielle’s struggle to change her accent to Standard American English (SAE). Within your answer address how “[i]nstead of acknowledging the racism and classism behind the assumption that Danielle needs to speak SAE to succeed, Top Model insists that the problem is a personal issue and that her accent is easily fixable” (336). This assignment is due at the beginning of class today.

March 22 2018

Emily M. Drew (2011). Pretending to Be ”Postracial”: The Spectacularization of Race in Reality. Television & New Media, 12(4): 326-346. DOI: 10.1177/1527476410385474

Read online through Nipissing Library’s e-journals:

Reading response 4: The title of Drew’s (2011) article begins with the phrase “Pretending to be ‘Postracial.’” She observes that “[o]ne the most pronounced characteristics of ‘postracial’ logic is that it is explicitly self-contradictory” (339). Explain what she means by “pretending to be ‘postracial’” and how this relates to the season of Survivor that she analyzes. How is the postracial logic revealed to be self-contradictory when the finalists plead their cases at the final “tribal council”? Be sure to connect what you have written to social justice. This assignment is due at the beginning of class today.

March 29 2018
American Idol, paratexts and Adam Lambert

Jimmy Draper (2012). Idol Speculation: Queer Identity and a Media-Imposed Lens of Detection. Popular Communication: The International Journal of Media and Culture, 10(3): 201-216. DOI: 10.1080/15405702.2012.68293. Read online through Nipissing Library’s e-journals:

Reading response 5: Draper (2012) examines how the representation of Adam Lambert on American Idol differed from the ways that print and online paratexts depicted him. Drawing on Draper, outline how Lambert was represented as “queerly ambiguous” on the series and in personal interviews, while the paratexts asserted rhetorically that Lambert was gay and closeted. Be sure to make reference to Draper’s critique of the paratexts’ demands “that he announce his gayness” or “be seen as closeting himself” (209). This assignment is due at the beginning of class today.

April 5 2018


Attendance & participation 15%
Attendance will be taken in class each week. Late entries, as well as early exits, are disruptive, and often result in the missing of important information. Participation includes, but is not limited to, contributing one’s own insights or ideas to class. It also entails respectful listening and a commitment to involving others in the learning process. You are expected to come to class prepared to discuss the day’s readings. Verbal participation in class should be relevant and connected to the readings for the week.

Take-home midterm 30% due February 15 2018
The take-home midterm will be distributed in class on February 8 2018. It will be a combination of short answer and essay questions based on the readings prior to Reading Week, with the exception of the student papers.

Reading responses 2 x 10% = 20% due between March 1-29 2018
Between March 1-29 2018, you are required to submit two reading response papers. Each reading response should be a minimum of 500 words (about 2 pages), double-spaced and must address all aspects of the questions as listed weekly in the syllabus (below the readings). Use in-text citations as usual, but no title page or bibliography is required. These assignments are due at the beginning of class on the same day that the readings are being discussed. For example, if you are responding to the questions about Sender and Sullivan then your paper is due at the beginning of class on March 1 2018.

Evaluation criteria: understanding of the relevant course concepts; ability to employ course concepts and approaches; originality; clarity; organization; writing mechanics

Research essay 35% due April 5 2018

Students are asked to choose a reality TV program and create an original critical textual analysis that draws extensively on the course readings (minimum of four) and incorporates one academic journal article not from the course readings. I am looking for analysis, not simply description. In addition to the required textual analysis, you may research the series’ audience, ratings, history, production, marketing and scheduling.

The paper must be 2500-3000 words (8-10 pages), double-spaced, 12 point font. This minimum and maximum do not include the bibliography or a title page (optional). Please use a recognized style: APA, MLA, Turabian, Chicago.

Evaluation criteria: Originality; comprehensiveness; relevant and impressive integration of course concepts; organization; writing mechanics

Please read the important notes for written assignments, writing tips, plagiarism and grading criteria below. These tips will all help to improve your paper.

Important notes for written assignments

– On the title page please include your name and always keep a copy of your paper in print or computer file.
– All assignments must be double-spaced, in 12 point font (not a fancy font please), with1 inch margins and page numbers.
– Remember to provide a title, preferably one that highlights your thesis or central concerns.
– Avoid a lengthy, overly general introduction; state your intentions concisely and engagingly.
– Each paragraph is to be a unit of thought and should develop an idea.
– Provide transition between topics. Your essay should have continuity; it should “hang together.”
– Support or illustrate your assertions; be as specific and precise as possible.
– Quoted materials (see “plagiarism” below) belong in quotation marks and a page number should be supplied. See syllabus for references for readings in the course reader. Use a style guide for references and be consistent. Ideas or passages that are paraphrased (written in your own words) also need to be referenced.
– Avoid over-use of quoted materials. Passages that are quoted need to be contextualized and require comments that directly forward your own argument.
– You may use the word “I” in your work for this class, but your claims must be supported by peer-reviewed academic citations.
– Proofread to avoid errors of spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Academic Integrity
Plagiarism and academic dishonesty are serious offences. It is your responsibility to be familiar with Nipissing’s policies on academic dishonesty:

Any instances of students plagiarizing or cheating will be dealt with according to this policy.

Statement of what grades mean

80-100% indicates EXCEPTIONAL PERFORMANCE: comprehensive in-depth knowledge of the principles and materials treated in the course, fluency in communicating that knowledge and independence in applying material and principles.

70-79% indicates GOOD PERFORMANCE: thorough understanding of the breadth of materials and principles treated in the course and ability to apply and communicate that understanding effectively.

60-69% indicates SATISFACTORY PERFORMANCE: basic understanding of the breadth of principles and material treated in the course and an ability to apply and communicate that understanding competently.

50-59% indicates MINIMALLY COMPETENT PERFORMANCE: adequate understanding of most principles and materials treated in the course, but with significant weakness in some areas and in the ability to apply and communicate that understanding.

0- 49% indicates FAILURE: inadequate or fragmentary knowledge of the principles and materials treated in the course or a failure to complete the work required in the course”

Faculty handbook, “Final Grades:”