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The Tube Has Spoken

The Tube Has Spoken: Reality TV and History

Julie Anne Taddeo
Ken Dvorak
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 275
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  • Book Info
    The Tube Has Spoken
    Book Description:

    Featuring ordinary people, celebrities, game shows, hidden cameras, everyday situations, and humorous or dramatic situations, reality TV is one of the fastest growing and important popular culture trends of the past decade, with roots reaching back to the days of radio. The Tube Has Spoken provides an analysis of the growing phenomenon of reality TV, its evolution as a genre, and how it has been shaped by cultural history. This collection of essays looks at a wide spectrum of shows airing from the 1950s to the present, addressing some of the most popular programs including Alan Funt's Candid Camera, Big Brother, Wife Swap, Kid Nation, and The Biggest Loser. It offers both a multidisciplinary approach and a cross-cultural perspective, considering Australian, Canadian, British, and American programs. In addition, the book explores how popular culture shapes modern western values; for example, both An American Family and its British counterpart, The Family, showcase the decline of the nuclear family in response to materialistic pressures and the modern ethos of individualism. This collection highlights how reality TV has altered the tastes and values of audiences in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It analyzes how reality TV programs reflect the tensions between the individual and the community, the transformative power of technology, the creation of the celebrity, and the breakdown of public and private spheres.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-2941-9
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Deborah A. Carmichael

    Reality TV continues to grow in popularity as television programming that offers “real,” albeit edited and scripted, experiences before the handheld camera and proliferates to include children (Kid Nation) and animals (Pet Psychic). With roots in documentary film, originally used for education or persuasion, and television news, including heart-wrenching human-interest stories, reality TV has both expanded and blurred definitions of broadcast content and, some would argue, standards of acceptable conduct. Although television is an influential visual medium, much of the attraction of reality TV relies on backstory. The narratives often attract sympathy or create empathy. Room makeovers on shows like...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)
    Julie Anne Taddeo and Ken Dvorak

    As the title of this anthology suggests, reality TV is both a historical and a programming phenomenon. From Allen Funt’sCandid Cameraof the 1950s to 2007’sKid Nation,reality TV owes much of its format and techniques to the documentary genre, in particular the camera’s focus on “ordinary” citizens and the drama and humor of their day-to-day lives evoked by the fly-on-the-wall approach. Reality TV has certainly come a long way since the hidden cameras ofCandid Camera,and the breadth and variety of programming reflects the larger historical context driving content and ratings. PBS’sAn American Family,for...

  6. Part I: Reality TV as Social Experiment

    • Citizen Funt: Surveillance as Cold War Entertainment
      (pp. 11-26)
      Fred Nadis

      A New York City bus station phone operator receives a series of phone calls from an annoying customer. In the first call he asks the operator for the scheduled departures and the length of the trip. In the second call he asks if he will get a seat and if the bus drivers are good. The third call brings further questions: Do the buses ever get lost? Is Spring Valley a nice town? How many stops along the way? Can the driver make a special stop to pick him up at 114th and Broadway? When he calls the fourth time,...

    • From Social Experiment to Postmodern Joke: Big Brother and the Progressive Construction of Celebrity
      (pp. 27-46)
      Lee Barron

      According to Su Holmes, one of the significant factors to emerge from the growth of reality TV is that it “has made it impossible to escape the fact that we have seen an appreciable rise in the number of ‘ordinary’ people appearing on television” (“All you’ve got” 111). It is this process that this essay will explore, examining the reality TV programBig Brotherand especially its counterpart,Celebrity Big Brother,within the context of its transmission in the United Kingdom. Following a discussion concerning the development, nature, and critical reaction toBig Brother,I will focus on the palpable...

    • From the Kitchen to 10 Downing Street: Jamie’s School Dinners and the Politics of Reality Cooking
      (pp. 47-64)
      James Leggott and Tobias Hochscherf

      In an average week in September 2007, viewers of British television would have had difficulty avoiding programs with some kind of cooking element. On terrestrial television there were at least a dozen weekly or daily shows of this sort, including the magazine showSaturday Kitchen(BBC1, 2006–), the celebrity cookery showReady Steady Cook(BBC2, 1994–), competitive reality formats likeBritain’s Best Dish(ITV, 2007),The Restaurant(BBC2, 2007), andHell’s Kitchen(ITV, 2004–), documentary cookery shows such asThe Wild Gourmets(Channel 4, 2007), and the most recent series by the cookery superstars Nigella Lawson, Ray...

    • The Patriotic American Is a Thin American: Fatness and National Identity in The Biggest Loser
      (pp. 65-80)
      Cassandra L. Jones

      These words from the theme song of the television showThe Biggest Loserare typical of depictions of fatness in American culture. The phrases “we need a change” and a “break for freedom” are typical in that fatness is constructed as a self-imposed prison that can be “cured” through altering one’s diet or level of exercise. Joyce L. Huff’s essay “A ‘Horror of Corpulence’: Interrogating Bantingism and Mid-Nineteenth-Century Fat-Phobia” finds in the Victorian era the flowering of the understanding of body fat as sediment that prohibits the body from functioning at full capacity. It was at this cultural moment that...

  7. Part II: Class, Gender, and Reimaging of Family Life

    • Disillusionment, Divorce, and the Destruction of the American Dream: An American Family and the Rise of Reality TV
      (pp. 83-97)
      Laurie Rupert and Sayanti Ganguly Puckett

      The 1970s were a disturbing transitional period for many Americans. Decline of social institutions that formerly solidified and signified the American identity contributed to much of this turmoil. Politically, culturally, and economically the country was going through changes that were affecting it in adverse ways. Vietnam veterans were coming home from the war disillusioned and broken, the country was realizing that its political leaders were corrupt, and inflation had reached new heights. It was during these chaotic times that Craig Gilbert’sAn American Family(1973) aired on PBS. This series, the first of its kind, would later inspire the reality...

    • “The television audience cannot be expected to bear too much reality”: The Family and Reality TV
      (pp. 98-122)
      Su Holmes

      Paul Watson produced the twelve-part documentary serial,The Family(BBC1, 1974),¹ which is widely regarded as the British counterpart toAn American Family(PBS, 1973). Although speaking from his reluctant position as the “godfather of Reality TV” (Hoggart), Watson’s comments invoke familiar dismissals of the form. Reality TV, seemingly cultivating an appetite for individualized narratives within self-contained “tele-scapes” of its own devising (Nichols,Blurred31), is often seen as a regrettable popularization of the factual moving image and a further severing of the relationship between television and the public sphere. Given these negative cultural discourses, it is clear that Watson...

    • Reality TV and the American Family
      (pp. 123-144)
      Leigh H. Edwards

      Reality television shows are reframing ideas of the family in U.S. culture. The genre titillates by putting cultural anxieties about the family on display, hawking images of wife swapping, spouse shopping, and date hopping. Its TV landscape is dotted with programs about mating rituals, onscreen weddings, unions arranged by audiences, partners testing their bonds on fantasy dates with others, family switching, home and family improvement, peeks into celebrity households, parents and children marrying each other off on national television, and families pitching their lives as sitcom pilots. Though obviously not the only recurring theme pictured, family is one of the...

    • Shopping, Makeovers, and Nationhood: Reality TV and Women’s Programming in Canada
      (pp. 145-170)
      Sarah A. Matheson

      As has been the case in a number of countries, the emergence and rapid proliferation of reality TV in Canada has prompted a variety of critical responses. For some, reality TV appears to have initiated a decline in quality on television as more expensive (and seemingly more culturally valuable) domestic dramas are increasingly being replaced with cheaply produced reality shows, lifestyle programming, and celebrity news shows. For others, the arrival of “franchise” series such asCanadian Idol, Canada’s Next Top Model,andProject Runway Canadasignal a continued erosion of “distinctively” Canadian programming in favor of standardized formats that mimic...

    • Babes in BonanzaLand: Kid Nation, Commodification, and the Death of Play
      (pp. 171-194)
      Debbie Clare Olson

      On the Web site for the CBS reality showKid Nation(2007) the tagline reads: “40 kids have 40 days to build a brave new world without adults to help or hinder their efforts.” The show takes place in a New Mexico ghost town called Bonanza City, where one can just imagine Lorne Green or Michael Landon lurking somewhere offscreen. The children are charged with creating this new world on their own, a heavy responsibility for a cast ranging in age from eight to fifteen. Aside from the obvious biblical reference to Noah and the Flood, the show offers visual...

  8. Part III: Reality TV and the Living History Experiment

    • “A Storybook Every Day”: Fiction and History in the Channel 4/PBS House Series
      (pp. 197-216)
      Julie Anne Taddeo and Ken Dvorak

      When the first of the British-themed and -produced historical House series,1900 House,aired in the United States on PBS in June 2000, the network described the project as “classy voyeurism” and the place where “the sci-fi drama of time travel meets true-life drama.”¹ The success of1900 Househas since led to other Anglo-American productions, including1940s House(2000),Frontier House(2001),Manor House(2002),Colonial House(2003),Texas Ranch House(2006), and even PBS’s own version of reality dating (albeit in corsets and tights),Regency House Party(2004). Determined to distinguish the House series from other reality TV...

    • “What about giving us a real version of Australian history?”: Identity, Ethics, and Historical Understanding in Reality History TV
      (pp. 217-235)
      Michelle Arrow

      In the last few years, Australia’s colonial history has become bitterly contested terrain, picked over in public in a series of debates known as the “history wars.”¹ These debates have centered on conflicting interpretations of indigenous-European history and the violence of colonization and have been fought not just between academics, but also among politicians and neoconservative newspaper commentators. Such furious debate framed the production and reception of Australia’s first forays into reality history TV in 2005:The Colony,which screened on the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) in January,² andOutback House,produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in midyear....

    • Living History in Documentary Practice: The Making of The Colony
      (pp. 236-256)
      Aurora Scheelings

      In a television environment where potential audience ratings remain integral to any program’s success (whether news or entertainment, commercial or public broadcaster), the boundaries of the documentary’s form and practice have been undergoing significant shifts. Ten years since Renov made this statement, and ten years since the reality TV format really took hold of television schedules, the documentary’s stake remain high. This essay discusses the “edutainment” format of historical reality TV from a production perspective, looking at one Australian case, the living-history seriesThe Colony(2005).

      In offering to provide not only entertainment but information and history education, some makers...

  9. Contributors
    (pp. 257-260)
  10. Index
    (pp. 261-278)