Date of Award

8-2013

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Dr. Gregory J. Howard

Second Advisor

Dr. Ann Miles

Third Advisor

Dr. David J. Hartmann

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Mark P. Orbe

Abstract

Television is a major staple of daily life for those who live in the United States and reality television has persisted as a primary genre of television programming. While it is unclear just how much reality television (RTV) viewers are watching, the genre’s dominance in primetime lineups suggests that RTV is a main type of programming viewed by television audiences.

Many audience studies have focused on the primary motivations for viewing the genre of reality television converging on four: to satisfy psychological desires (voyeurism, vengeance, and status); to connect with others; to socially learn; and the “quest for authenticity.” The current study seeks to understand the experiences within the viewing process of those audience members who view reality television, specifically with regards to the “quest for authenticity,” by asking three questions: How do audience members define authenticity?; How is authenticity determined and verified in the viewing process?; and finally, What implications does the process of authenticity verification have for everyday life?

A survey was distributed to 304 undergraduate students at Western Michigan University and 20 students participated in one of eight hour-long group interview sessions. Cultural consonance was employed to reach consensus on the definition of authenticity and the deviant case of the Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries split was explored to back up findings of authenticity verification from the qualitative interview sessions.

Results from the study indicate that audience members find authenticity an important prerequisite in satisfying the other primary motivations for viewing the genre of reality television. Further, authenticity is thought to describe someone who is real, trustworthy, and credible, but is also a trait that only exists if it is capable of being proven. In verifying authenticity, audience members engage in practices of surveillance collecting pieces of information that they assess on the basis of preconceived notions of the social world and their personal experiences. Future studies regarding the implications for everyday life, notably the macro-level forces increasing motivations to view the genre, conclude the discussion.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access

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