GEND 2056 media

It seems that I overloaded the GEND 2056 webnotes page with too much text, so I have had to break it up by month. Please see the individual pages below for each month’s notes:

  • — Ouellette and Murray; Madger
  • — McCoy and Scarborough; Kraszewski on The Real World; Fox on Big Brother; Ouellette on Judge Judy
  • — Sender and Sullivan on What Not To Wear and The Biggest Loser; Sender on Queer Eye For the Straight Guy; Hasinoff on ANTM; Drew on Survivor
  • — Draper on American Idol

I have created a page to help you in the essay writing process: Click here. 

Click here for a pdf of the final take-home: GEND 2056 Final Take home 2016


In terms of reality TV, these are new ways of engaging and tracking viewers. This is sometimes called “Participation TV” (Madger) or interactivity (Oullette and Murray). As Oullette and Murray write, reality TV is known for “the convergence of new technologies with programs and their promotion,” as well as the “expansion of “merchandizing tie-ins” (15).


Taking the example of American Idol, how does the series direct us to use “new technologies”? 

Product integration:

Coke partnered with American Idol for 13 seasons and was able to recapture ground it had lost to Pepsi with younger demographics, especially teens.

Madger tells us that advertisers and television networks have a special interest in viewers aged 18-49 and 18-34. These are considered the most valuable demographics. Why are these thought to be most valuable? 

Madger takes us back to television pre-2000 when networks were focused on “primetime”—this is from 7:00-10:00 on a weeknight—and this was the most valuable timeslot because there were the most viewers and therefore the most ad revenue. Pre-2000 what kinds of shows populated primetime?

Survivor and Big Brother were suddenly drawing the same ratings and ad revenue as Friends and ER. According to Madger why was the network airing the reality TV series coming out ahead financially?

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


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.

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.

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?

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?

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? 


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.

  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).


Next week, season one of The Real World

And Ragan Fox: 

Hasinoff focuses largely on the narrative of Danielle and I want to briefly introduce her to you before going into the examples of “flexibility.”

Hasinoff sees the challenges on ANTM as mirroring the flexibility that young workers are expected to show in the contemporary workforce. The contestants are expected to be able to be able to model under any conditions:

Literal and figurative: precarious labour and flexible workers

Top Model instructs the models that only in suffering though absurd modeling challenges—akin to how absurdly difficult it is to succeed in the neoliberal labor market—can they hope to win. A model neoliberal citizen must not only succeed at hanging upside down or crawling though mud, she must do so with a smile and with complete faith that the competition (and neoliberal capitalism) is fair” (339).

A more recent example from ANTM was when one of the regular cast members on ANTM—Yu Tsai—kept referring to a model from Toronto, Chantelle, as “Panda.”

“Danielle’s ‘sympathetic back story’ (Kim, 2004) is that she grew up with a single mother suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, and she makes vague but repeated references to her life of ‘hard knocks’” (332).

Similarly Keith Carlos, the winner of cycle 21 (up to 3:00 minute mark):


Another form of flexibility that Hasinoff discusses is the marketing of racial ambiguity.

“Angharad Valdivia explains that ambiguous representations of racial difference are especially sought-after in commercial media. She points out, ‘Indeed, if the representation is brown but not too brown it has the potential of appealing to all, because it could be a tanned white, everything in between, and a light black’ (2005a, p. 313)” (330).

Hasinoff provides specific examples from ANTM of how the contestants pitch their racial ambiguity as a selling featureShe writes“Latina model Leslie uses her race as a selling point in an initial interview with the judges, as she explains, ‘I could bring a lot of diversity, a lot of versatility, because I can pass for Latina, I can pass for Asian, I can pass for black’ (1). Jade and Leslie are able to embrace their ambiguous racialization and construct it as a particularly valuable commodity for the modeling industry and as content for the show” (335).

Hasinoff explains that “the special commercial appeal of the ‘ambiguity’ of mixed-race women—which, in some contexts, is most marketable if it can refer to racial difference in general but to no race in particular—encourages the creation of a ‘neutral’ brownness that allows race to be superficially visible but politically invisible” (330-331).

“The new commercial appeal of mixed-race models can facilitate the continuing erasure of darker female bodies, as marketable lighter-skinned mixed race women can be positioned to stand in for all racial differences (Beltran, 2005; Valdivia, 2005a)” (330).

Another example that Hasinoff provides is of white Brooke, cycle 6 episode 7: Brooke / “LaBrooke”


What is generally meant if a model is said to look “All-American” or like the “girl-next-door”?

What are the implications of suggesting that this look is “All American”?


As the article for last week argued, makeover series focused on women tend to talk a lot about self-esteem (essentially whether you feel good or bad about yourself), whereas makeover shows that incorporate men tend to have a slightly different approach. For example, The Biggest Loser incorporates masculinity by focusing on competition, hard work and being productive.

Clips from:

Discussion of masculinity, “grooming,” expanding markets and cultivating insecurities


“The Fab Five often present themselves as playful and childlike, disrupting domestic order, trying on clothes, and playing with kids’ toys. Camp distinguishes the straight guys’ … from the Fab Five’s joyous playfulness. As Sontag (1966) writes, ‘Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to ‘the serious.’ One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious’ (p. 288)” (147).


What is needed to “fix” the “straight guy” participants on the show?

Do you think that Queer Eye for the Straight Girl features a group of lesbians making over a straight girl? Why or why not?

Put this series into a historical context. Since when are gay men thought to be “experts” who can help straight men?

According to Sender why is there is a cultural association between gay men, wealth and concern with appearances?

Since when are straight men thought to be in need of help?


Next week, Danielle and ANTM: 



This is much more subtle on What Not to Wear:


Both series emphasize consumption as integral to “getting better.” Capitalism and neoliberalism are bolstered as spending money is represented as integral to “making good choices.” Two brief examples:

Good consumption is key to “success,” whether that is eating “well” or looking “good.”

Love, Lust or Run before and after:

What are some of the critiques of these shows levelled by some of the viewers?


How does surveillance operate in makeover shows?

What are paratexts in relation to reality TV?

For viewers, paratexts offer a way to extend and develop our knowledge of the “stars” outside of the actual television series itself. For non-viewers, paratexts may enter our lives whether we seek the information out or not.


Draper points out that while reality TV is generally very welcoming to contestants with non-heterosexual sexualities,American Idol actually went up until 2014 without featuring a contestant who was openly gay onscreen, when MK Nobilette appeared on the show.

Draper tells us that some media scholars commented that sexuality “is one of the only identity markers not plainly exploited [by the show] for its audience potential” (Meizel, 2011, 47). Draper takes issue with this claim that sexuality was not exploited on the show. Does anyone remember what he writes?

Let’s have a very quick intro to Adam Lambert:

Draper writes that Adam Lambert stood out on American Idol for a number of reasons. How was he different than many of the other performers on the series, especially the other male contestants?


You will also see below how Simon Cowell comments that the “downside” to Adam Lambert’s performance is that it skews a bit “Rocky Horror.” What do you think that means?

Rocky Horror:

American Idol:


Even after “photographs appeared online that featured [Lambert] in drag and kissing another man” […] Lambert refused to comment except to say he had ‘nothing to hide’ (Saltman, 2009)” (207). This was after Lambert was voted into the finals.

With these images further suggesting that Lambert desires men, but without a coming-out story or a denial to talk about, the media paratexts shifted toward asking whether he was gay, often in a rhetorical way. What does Draper mean by rhetorical? Here the New York Times starts their coverage like this:


The NYT (link above) goes on to suggest, “The sexuality angle is a godsend for an aging show that is in desperate need of controversy (whether or not manufactured) as well as flash. Neither of the two Davids (Archuleta and Cook) last year, who were ridiculously posed as prizefighters for their final round, had it. Mr. Lambert does, and his androgyny has a lot to do with it.”

As Draper writes, “media outlets generally found him exciting because he may have been gay” (207)[…] The media insisted Lambert’s gayness mattered not because it was a problem—many stories in fact argued American Idol was overdue for a gay winner—but because voter response to him would act, according to The Washington Post, as ‘a bellwether of America’s changing attitudes toward sexuality’ (Hicklin, 2009, p. B3). In April and May, once it became obvious Lambert might win the competition, speculation increased and more than a dozen headlines asked a variation of ‘Is America Ready for a Gay ‘Idol’?’” (208).


As Draper writes, Lambert is put in an impossibly contradictory position ‘you can’t be in [the closet], and you can’t be out of it’ (1995, p. 34)” (209).

This expectation that queer people must declare their sexuality publicly is formulaic by now:

Draper is critical of the expectation that nonstraight people have the extra burden of endlessly having to come out or and if they don’t then they are either assumed to be straight or closeted—neither of which are necessarily true. He suggests that perhaps we could do away with the assumption that everyone is straight or pretending to be straight, until they explicitly speak the words, “I’m gay.”

“Given that the media had for months not only assumed that Lambert was gay but also demanded his confirmation, with some outlets even shaming him for not declaring himself gay (e.g., Hilton, 2009; Markovitz, 2009) and others approaching him directly to request that he ‘put to rest all the speculation’ (Vary, 2009), the snide tone with which many responded to his announcement echoes Halperin’s argument that acts of self-disclosure always come ‘both too soon and too late’ […] Many media commentators thus condescendingly covered the news as if they knew the ‘truth’ about Lambert before he made it public” (210).

“ABC cancelled three of Lambert’s subsequent appearances on the network, and CBS blurred photographs of his samesex kiss during its coverage of the controversy. Ultimately, the media[…] insiste[d] that he declare his sexuality, only to mock and punish him once he did” (210).

Draper calls on Eve Sedgwick’s argument that “the space for simply existing as a gay person […] is in fact bayoneted through and through, from both sides, by the vectors of a disclosure at once compulsory and forbidden” (1990, p. 70)” (210).

In closing Draper points out that even after coming out in Rolling Stone magazine, a move that can be seen as restoring the gay / straight binary by locating himself clearly on the “gay” side, “his confession actually queerly disrupted those very notions yet again: ‘I’ve been kind of toying around with the bi thing in my head,’ he said after declaring himself gay on20/20. ‘I wouldn’t ever give myself the label ‘bisexual,’ but bi-curious? Yeah […] maybe it’ll go further someday. I don’t know’” (214). Lambert hints once again at destabilizing straight and gay.