Reality TV in the Social Media Economy Cluster

deadline for submissions: 
October 6, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
contact email: 

Something has changed about the way we watch reality TV. For example, Selling Sunset, a show about selling luxury homes in the Hollywood Hills area, is the new platonic ideal of reality TV. It presents the glamorous, unattainable Hollywood lifestyle but is grounded by the viewers’ social media engagement with the subjects online. These viewing practices facilitate a novel method of watching reality TV. Engagement is now self-reflexive: drama on many of the shows has its roots in Instagram, TikTok, or Reddit feuds about the show, rather than actual conflicts that unfold on-camera. Other series, such as Vanderpump Rules, Indian Matchmaking, and Too Hot to Handle similarly thrive in this social media economy. Reality TV isn’t new, but it feels new. 

We’ve observed renewed popular appeal of reality TV as hinging on formal and narratorial novelty. Viewers are invested to the point of parasociality, granting them the power to influence storylines and the creation of future shows or spin-offs. Reality TV is now part of the viewer’s own reality. This cluster will challenge disciplinary boundaries between literary, media, and cinematic scholarship to create dialogue about the changing burdens on and affordances of reality TV in the social media economy. 

This cluster invites essays that analyze reality TV shows and their capacity to engage with audiences on online platforms. Possible series for analysis (besides those aforementioned) include RuPaul’s Drag Race, Tiger King, The Ultimatum, The Real Housewives, The Kardashians, Big Brother, Survivor, and Love is Blind. We are happy to accept proposals on any reality TV series, across languages and geographical space, with a bias towards recency. 

Email Cassandra Luca and Avneet Sharma (McGill University) at to submit a proposal of no more than 300 words and a short biographical statement (no more than 75 words), by Friday, October 6, 2023. Potential contributors will be notified by Friday, October 20 and they will then have to submit their essays (1500-3000 words) by Friday, December 15.