Elements of Drama in Reality TV

Hi there! Welcome to my blog! My name is Nicole Cross and I go to Towson University where I am studying Mass Communications. This semester I am taking a media criticism course.

Critiquing the media something that we all can do. In fact you might even do it subconsciously.

Media criticism is something that we look at to make sense of our culture and presents what social norms are being presented. This is a rigorous process analyzes media such as films, TV programs, and books. These are media texts that we experience in our day-to-day lives and with media criticism we can take a look at the symbols they present and give them meaning in our society.

Image result for hegemony in mediaWith information overload and the extreme content consumption we face in our daily lives media literacy is becoming more important. The job of media literacy is to fight the traditional hegemonic power that only represents only traditional thinking or ideologies.

For example, we are constantly begging for more TV programs that represent people of color. We have come a long way though. Not long ago we only had television shows like Leave It To Beaver, and other 50s sitcoms that featured little to no people of color. Now we have shows like Black Ish and Scandal that give a perspective of these marginalized people in society, in race and gender.

We use different approaches to analyze these media text (which can be anything from a television show to a advertisement.) We call them text-centered approaches. These three approaches are semiotics/structuralism, narrative criticism, and genre criticism.

Let’s take a closer look at narrative criticism, or narrative analysis. Narrative analysis focuses on storytelling. It allows us to take a look into the structure of a text and the cause-and-effect chain of events.

One way analyze the story through narrative criticism is through an Aristotelian approach. This approach examines the elements of drama used to understand genres by plot, character, setting and theme.

Now, I am going use the narrative analysis to compare two Reality TV shows, Survivor and Big Brother, through an Aristotelian approach to talk about how their elements of drama make up their genre.

Image result for survivor tv showSurvivor is a competition based reality show ( and family show that really appeals to audiences ages 18 to 54) that puts strangers on an island to battle for a million dollars.

The show begins with players divided into two tribes that compete in challenges. There are two types of challenges, award challenges and immunity challenges. The tribes go against each other to win these competitions. The tribe that loses the immunity challenges goes to tribal council where the players vote off one person. And they continue to do this each week. In the middle of the season they merge the tribes and players play for individual immunity. At the end, when there are only three survivors left, the players voted off make up a jury that vote for the winner.

Image result for big brotherBig Brother, another reality show based on competition, secludes a group of strangers into a house in order to win a half of a million dollars.

Like survivor, Big Brother house guests vote someone out every week. House guests play competitions to win power and save them from going home. There is a head of household (HOH) competition that has everybody in the house, except for the outgoing HOH winner, battling to win the power to put two people up for elimination. The power of veto (POV) is another competition that the players play after the HOH winner nominates two players to go home for the week. In this game the players nominated to go home can win the power of safety. At the end of the week the all the players, expect for the HOH winner and the two players nominated for elimination, vote for who they want to be evicted from the Big Brother house.

In both of these shows we see normal people, who are not actors, put into a secluded setting to battle against one another for a money prize. On Survivor these people are put on an island in another country and on Big Brother they are in a house. In both settings players are away from technology and cut off from communicating with the outside world while playing.

Image result for survivor million dollar checkWe see the same theme of what people do in order to win a money prize in both of these TV programs.

We also get to see big characters who entertain the audience.

Narrative analysis is all about exploring a story’s emplotment, which is the story told through the creator’s perspective and presentation of the “text.”

You might ask yourself: how is there a plot development in a Reality TV show? Well the answer is through editing.

In Big Brother and Survivor there is a production pretty much filming 24/7. In order to create an episode for airing, all of that film is cut down into an edited version for television. Through an editing process, a production can develop a story line and make certain people come off as villains or a heroes.

Image result for survivor heroes vs villainsThis type of editing is used to keep audiences engaged with the show. People are more likely to keep watch to see the “hero” win and to see the “villain” fail and follow a story arc.

In these shows we also see how humans behave in order to win a prize. In Survivor and Big Brother players will back-stab and lie to one another to make it to the end and win the money.

For a lot of the players the prize money is life changing and it’s what motivates them do whatever it takes to win.

Winning is a performance vehicle used in both of these programs. Winning is always rewarded in these shows and the losers suffer. In Big Brother they sometimes do a “have and have-not” competition where players compete for food. The losers of this competition are forced to eat “slop” instead of real food, sleep in an uncomfortable room, and shower in cold water.

So what? Though this genre is “reality” and not scripted there are still elements of storytelling and elements of drama that gives us insights on our culture.

We can see an ideology of success in this genre. People play with cutthroat strategy and lie in order to win that money.

(Of course now people play the game of survivor for the strategy and the show have become more than just winning the money, but becoming the sole survivor.)

Survivor and Big Brother show what humans will do to get that money because it defines success. One thing we can take away from watching competition based reality shows is the importance society puts on success.

Let me know what you think in the comments. Do you think we see the ideology of success often in media?