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Remodeling TV Talent: Participation and Performance in MTV's Real World Franchise

Curnutt, Hugh Phillips (2008) Remodeling TV Talent: Participation and Performance in MTV's Real World Franchise. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation performs a historical analysis of MTV's Real World programming and an ethnographic study of two of its most prominent participants. In it I examine reality TV's role in television's ongoing transformation as a technology and cultural form from the perspective of those who work in the industry as reality-talent. By adopting this perspective, I indicate some of the ways reality TV's construction of celebrity has altered the economic and performative regimes that have traditionally structured television stardom. One of the central issues this dissertation works to address is the way in which many participants are limited by the singular nature of their fame. To do this, I explore how the participant's status as on-camera talent is rooted in an ability to perform as if always off-camera. The participant's amateur image is argued to serve two critical functions. Because the participant's image appears more real than the show itself, it exists as an element within the text that lets the viewer know that what they are watching is staged. This in turn requires that the participant's performance always be restricted to the reality that his or her image represents. Recently, this has meant that participants who transition into reality-talent often rely on their status within the media industry as the basis for their performances. In the case of MTV's stable of Real World participants, continued participation in one of the longest running reality franchises indicates the repurposing potential offered by a form of talent that is typically understood to be disposable. Ultimately, this project calls attention to the new manner in which reality TV's representational logic and industrial deployment uniquely situates viewer and participant in a shared space of labor.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Curnutt, Hugh Phillipshuc7@pitt.eduHUC7
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairKrips,
Committee MemberMalin, Brentonbmalin@pitt.eduBMALIN
Committee MemberSterne,
Committee MemberFusfield, Williamfusroy@pitt.eduFUSROY
Date: 10 June 2008
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 9 November 2007
Approval Date: 10 June 2008
Submission Date: 4 April 2008
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Communication: Rhetoric and Communication
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: celebrity; Lacan; MTV; reality TV; television; television studies; The Real World
Other ID:, etd-04042008-173448
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:34
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:38


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