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Black Women in Reality Television Docusoaps

A New Form of Representation or Depictions as Usual?


Adria Y. Goldman and Damion Waymer

Black Women in Reality Television Docusoaps explores representations of Black women in one of the most powerful, popular forms of reality television – the docusoap. Viewers, critics, and researchers have taken issue with what they consider to be unflattering, one-dimensional representations. This book discusses images of Black women in reality television during the 2011 viewing year, when much criticism arose. These findings provide a context for a more recent examination of reality television portrayals during 2014, following many reality stars’ promises to offer new representations. The authors discuss the types of images shown, potential readings of such portrayals, and the implication of these reality television docusoap presentations. The book will be useful for courses examining topics such as popular culture; mass media and society; women’s studies; race and media; sex and gender; media studies; African American issues in mass communication; and gender, race and representation, as well as other graduate-level classes.
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Reality television makes a false promise to present reality to its audiences. However this medium has the power to educate its audiences on how to think and behave. Considering this potential, this project used Berger and Luckmann’s (1967) Social Construction of Reality to help assess the potential meaning and power of the images of Black women in reality television docusoaps. According to social constructionists, individuals use information from social institutions (such as mass media) to help them construct their ideas about the real world. Although media images are not the only source of information for viewers, they are used in connection with other sources (Baran & Davis, 2009; Berger & Luckmann, 1967).

Researchers have also used the Social Construction of Reality to help illustrate how reality television constructs ideas about topics such as fatherhood (Smith, 2008) and female relationships (Chittenden, 2011). This theory was used in this project to help determine what images of Black women were constructed in reality television docusoaps and the way in which this constructed reality could impact audiences’ construction of reality. While analyzing these images, research on images of Black women was also analyzed to see if stereotypical images continued to exist in docusoaps. The way in which each group ← 119 | 120 → was constructed and presented was compared to determine if Black women were presented more favorably depending on the racial make-up of the cast.

According to Berger and Luckmann (1967), individuals construct reality through their interaction and communication...

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