Date of Award

5-11-2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Marian Meyers

Second Advisor

Ted Friedman

Third Advisor

Patricia Davis

Fourth Advisor

Cynthia Willette

Abstract

This project is animated by two related problems. First, there are relatively few studies of the ways that African American women are represented on reality television. Second, the current literature about representations of Black women on reality television completely ignores the Great Recession as an important contextual factor. In this study, I pair the Constant Comparative Method of textual analysis with discourse analysis to answer the question: “How does reality television represent African American women in terms of gender, race, and class in the context of the aftermath of the Great Recession?” I closely analyzed reality television programs with the highest ratings in 2012: The Voice, American Idol, Survivor, The Biggest Loser, and The Real Housewives of Atlanta. To better understand how Black women are represented on these shows, I contextualize my analysis in terms of intersectionality, post-racism, post-sexism, and neoliberalism. This analysis generated several results and conclusions. On the most popular reality television programs (all but The Real Housewives of Atlanta), African American women are uniquely subjected to the logic of neoliberalism by the hosts, judges, and coaches on the shows. Placing Black women in the logic of neoliberalism puts them in a no-win situation and explains their failure in the competition on the show, and by extension, their failure in society at large. In addition, these programs employ contemporary “controlling images” of Black women: the Black Lady, the Strong Black Woman, and the Black Bitch

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