Trash Talk
Gender as an Analytic on Reality Television
brenda r. weber
The Kardashians, exactly. If you look at American tv as much as the rest of the
world does, you would think we all went around wrestling and wearing bikinis.
—US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, interviewed on
“The Hamish and Andy Show,” Australian morning radio, 2011
Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is the American version of Downton Abbey.
“The End of Western Civilization” should be one of its episode titles, but it did
do well against another reality show, the Republican National Convention.
—Peter Sagal, host, “Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!” National Public Radio, 2012
For some people, Reality tv (rtv) is a vast cultural wasteland. For others, it
is a treasure trove of entertainment and viewing pleasure. For others yet, it is
an ideological arm of state power, governing through a distance in its pedago-
gies about taste cultures, behavior, and appearance. This book considers all of
those possibilities and everything in between, thinking very specifically about
how gender as an analytic is imbricated in reality television programs as a form
of entertainment, a political ideology, and a set of interrelated cultural texts.
The epigraphs that begin this introduction offer a helpful place to start. The
first statement invokes the voice of Hillary Clinton, former US secretary of
state, bemoaning on an Australian radio program the way in which American
national character is both represented and distorted by Reality tv. Mockingly
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