Are actors really real in reality TV? The changing face of performativity in reality television

David Gater, Jasmine MacDonald

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Reality television (TV) has achieved broad popularity in Australia and worldwide with its ability to permeate a range of social spheres, most notably the domestic sphere. It has also blurred the lines between real people in real situations with 'manufactured' performances in worlds specifically created for narrative. There is probably no better representation of a performative culture than the one that exists in Reality TV, nor one that brings to light so vibrantly the notion of performance within society more broadly. The aim of the present paper is to deconstruct the perception of 'reality' within Reality TV by focusing on the pre-, peri-, and post-production techniques adopted. Theoretically, this deconstruction is informed by symbolic interactionism and in particular the idea that all individuals perform their characters for an audience in their day-to-day lives (Goffman, 1973). Butler's (1990) notion of performativity as central to defining identity will also be drawn upon. As such, the present paper is a discussion paper that explores performativity in Reality TV, using examples from well-known Reality TV programmes to highlight theoretical points. At the pre-production stage the present paper explores the use of audition-related terminology emphasised in the majority of Reality TV programmes, and consider the selection of contestants, which more accurately reflects a casting process. At the peri- and post-production stages, performance and narrative play a significant part in the audience engagement of these programmes, but are not always engineered by spontaneous performance. A range of industry techniques are adopted to influence the perceptions of the viewer and to enhance the sense of reality and conflict. The contribution of this paper is the joint consideration and synthesis of performativity and Reality TV production techniques. As far as the authors are aware, this nexus has not been addressed before. As such, the present paper aims to provide theoretical as well as practical insights in to the area.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalFusion Journal
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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