'The viewers have ... taken over the airwaves'? Participation, reality TV and approaching the audience-in-the-text

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Through reality TV, television has become increasingly fascinated by our power relations with the medium. As such, it pivots on the concept which has historically occupied centre stage in the study of media audiences. But the advent of interactivity has also prompted calls for a reassessment of the relations between viewer and text, production and consumption, agency and authorship. This essay suggests that this shift need not lead us away from the ‘text’ itself. Although regular viewing of reality TV may not involve participating in the interactive opportunities on offer, this does not change the fact that such programmes self-consciously dramatize a set of power relations between text and viewer as central to their textual form. Thus, in focusing on programmes such as Big Brother and Eden, this essay argues that the representation of ‘the audience’ demands analysis in its own right. As the interactive power of the audience is woven into the narrative textures of reality TV, the programmes aim to insist upon viewer agency, and a more permeable boundary between viewer and screen. Yet they also suggest (sometimes inadvertently) a more uncertain picture, offering glimpses into reality TV's genuinely precarious – and potentially subversive – play with notions of ‘power’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-31
Number of pages19
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008

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