Gender Roles in Media Narratives

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UCR (dis)junctions

n Defense of Reality TV Criticism: Cinderella Mythic Narratives and Alternative Gender Roles in The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.

Since Big Brother hit Pacific shores in 2000, America has been in the grips of a socio-cultural phenomenon, and there's no sign of it slowing down. Two of the most popular reality shows to date draw more viewers than presidential elections, consistently season after season, setting unprecedented records in television history. Yet widespread opinion hails The Bachelor and The Bachelorette as escapist, trashy 'train-wreck' TV that perpetuates outdated, traditional ideas about gender roles in love and marriage. If this were true, how do these reality TV texts, to cite two of many (like Survivor, American Idol and Dancing with the Stars) garner viewing popularity the likes of which America has never seen before?
Most critics focus purely on the negative attributes of reality TV and overlook its positive attributes. Shockingly, their invectives fly without cognizance of opposing or diverse opinions, perhaps underlain by a dangerous assumption there is only one way to interpret reality, their way. With such myopic, uninformed arrogance, naysayers continue to attack this popular cultural artifact with their one-dimensional rages, dismissing it as 'lowbrow' culture and therefore an unworthy object of study. What a big mistake!
In answer to these questions my paper will defend The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, as illustrative texts of reality TV in its exploration of this culturally ambivalent attitude. Contrary to mainstream criticism, I will argue that these shows harness the Cinderella myth, one is even a feminist revision of this myth, and through their narratives portrayals of alternative (non-traditional) gender roles also emerge, which serve to question, challenge or subvert outdated traditional ideas of love and marriage. I also assert that these alternative gender role portrayals rupture the mythic narratives at times, further challenging viewers' ideas of the American cultural myth of love and marriage.
Thus, these representative texts, and by extension (if one can generalize) all reality TV texts should be considered not one but multi-dimensional: an interesting blend of both negative and positive attributes. In addition, I urge that an acknowledgement be made about the facts of polysemy: in their engagement with a text, viewers draw a wide range of multiple and sometimes conflicting meanings from reality TV texts, including the opportunity to reevaluate or modify the Cinderella myth or whatever cultural myth the reality show is based upon. Only then can we move towards a more comprehensive, balanced debate on reality TV, and a deeper, truer understanding of this socio-cultural phenomenon and our place in it.

The theme of 21st annual (dis)junctions conference, hosted by UC Riverside, is "irreverent readings," featuring keynote speakers Virginia Jackson (UC Irvine) and Constance Pendley (UC Santa Barbara). Abstracts of 250 to 300 words should be submitted via the form at by February 10th, 2014.