If you told me a year ago I’d be taking a class about Reality TV for my history requirement, I’d laugh in your face. But you know what? I just finished my screening journal of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo! The beauty of Tulane is that even as a first-year, I get to explore my interests through exciting classes my high school never would’ve offered. In Reality TV (COMM 3410), I get to spend 3+ hours discussing, learning, and analyzing Reality TV every week. And yes, we did have a lesson on the Kardashians. This so-called “trash” genre is one of my favorite pastimes. I figured that if I spend so much time watching this content, I might as well expand my mind because of it.

Dr. Krystal Cleary conducts the course as a combination of conversations, screenings, lectures, and readings: all of which push you to consider content through lenses you may not have seen before. I’ve learned about the concept of Neoliberalism and how that relates to reality TV, and I counted binge-watching a whole season of Survivor in one week as “homework.” Balance! 

So far, a favorite topic of mine has been discussing celebrity and gender roles on Food Network. Have you ever considered how Guy Fieri and Ina Garten’s success intersects with gender? In class, we analyzed different clips, one from Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and one from Barefoot Contessa. When looking at the Triple D clip, the energy was high, the music loud, the clips aggressively edited, and the narrative: a man on an adventure. Guy Fieri dumped the spices in a giant bowl, loudly announcing the names of each one. If you’ve seen an episode before, this is a constant occurrence. However, when watching Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten’s show, it is a soothing experience. Ina invites you into her bright Hamptons home adorned with hydrangeas as she takes the recipes step by step with uplifting music in the background. Instead of throwing her spices around with grandeur, she explains that the best way to flavor your dish with spices efficiently is to tie a piece of string around your sprigs of thyme and gently place them in your pan. When you are ready to serve, you delicately remove the thyme bushel. Yes, these are differentiations in recipes, however, the energies are consistent with how many male cooking show hosts carry themselves versus female cooking show hosts. 

Another topic we’ve covered is crime-centered reality TV that takes place in Louisiana, specifically surrounding the prison industrial complex’s role in the production of shows such as Louisiana Lockdown and Jailbirds: New Orleans. The latter show was filmed at a prison right in downtown New Orleans, just minutes from the French Quarter. We’ve explored the features of humiliation and shame, as well as the concept of surveillance and how that impacts the behavior of incarcerated people. While this content isn’t always everyone’s cup of tea due to the elements of exploitation that occur in this situation, it is important to consider that the genre is a real segment of reality TV. 

Additionally, in this class, we’ve had the lovely experience of being able to chat with Nini Nguyen, a New Orleans-based chef who was on Top Chef. We’ve also been able to hear from and talk to Tulane’s very own Owen Knight, who was recently a contestant on Survivor.  Of course, college is about taking classes for your major and completing requirements for whatever path you may be on, but it is also a fabulous opportunity to learn about something in a unique way that may not be a traditionally academic topic. We can learn so much from the media we consume if we pay attention. If one is not utilizing the vast array of interesting classes offered at Tulane, they might not be doing it right.

Featured image via Sophie Schweitzer.

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