Intertextuality and Bravo’s “Vanderpump Rules”

Layan Jawdat

This week’s readings on dialogism and intertextuality offered thought-provoking ways to look  at various media productions and artifacts from television and movies to newspapers, magazines and books. Understanding that texts do not exist in vacuums but rather exist in relation to other texts (Chandler 4) and communication through these texts is not a simple matter of authorial intention, but rather is “‘always already positioned by semiotic systems'” (Chandler 2) can indeed change the way in which we interpret television programming, for example, which I will discuss briefly here.

Another hallmark of intertextuality, in addition to understanding the codes inherently present in identifiable genres, is the “fluidity of genre boundaries and the blurring of genres and their functions”(Chandler 5). This is related to Barthe’s reflections on authorship in “The Death of the Author” in his description of the openness and combinatorial nature of text: “we know that a text does not consist of a line of words, releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning (the ‘message of the Author-God), but is a space of many dimensions, in which are wedded and contested various kinds of writing, no one of which is original: the text is a tissue of citations , resulting from the thousand sources of culture”(Barthes 4). Vanderpump Rules, a Bravo reality-TV show documenting the lives of the waiters and bartenders at the West Hollywood restaurant SUR, owned by Lisa Vanderpump, herself a star of the Bravo reality show Real Housewives of Beverly Hills is an interesting case study for the exploration of intertextuality on popular TV shows today.

Vanderpump Rules has all the defining characteristics of a reality TV show that one might expect to see, with a decidedly “Bravo” flavor: it is dramatic, features hedonistic and attractive people, and has plenty of fights. The show highlights the work and play involved in the characters’ lives–we see them waiting tables and bartending together, and also see them going out together, taking vacations to Cabo, and acting out their personal dramas at SUR, to the chagrin of their boss, Lisa. While the show is exciting and entertaining within the conventions and codes reality shows, it seems to me to also show signs of genre blurring in that many scenes (as is the case in countless other reality TV shows) seem to be staged or acted in some ways. There may even be an element of self-reflexivity–or sly admission to the fact that not every single aspect of the show is real: in one episode, Stassi, a main character on the show explains that everyone working at SUR is trying to make it in one way or another in the entertainment industry, either as a model, singer, or actor. We see the staff modeling in the annual SUR photo shoot, and also see other characters editing their acting demo reels, performing with their bands and recording in the studio. These facts communicate to the viewer that the staff at SUR may in fact be acting at certain points on Vanderpump Rules. The degree to which the show is a planned drama versus a “real” reality show is unclear, but it is certainly engaging in blurring these lines.

Consider this clip for an example of genre-blurring on Vanderpump Rules.

Works Cited

Barthes, Roland. “The Death of the Author.” N.p.: Ubu Web, n.d. 1-6. 1967. Web. 2 Feb. 2014. <http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/theory/Barthes-Death-of-Author.pdf>.

Chandler, Daniel. “Intertextuality Semiotics for Beginners.” Semiotics for Beginners. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Feb. 2014. <http://users.aber.ac.uk/dgc/Documents/S4B/sem09.html>.