Tag Archives: Reality TV

It’s More Than Characters and a Catchy Beat: Breaking Down TV and Music

Week 2: Approaches to Media Theory, Communication, and Meaning Systems

I must preface my commentary by stating that this set of readings gave me a lot to think about and I know I’m cognitively only scratching the surface in understanding all the concepts it has to offer. Nonetheless, Professor Irvine’s breakdown of the excessively used terms media, medium, and mediation, as well as Stuart Hall’s illustration of the message exchange process intrigued me. After all, with hopes of creating a magazine devoted to subculture, it is essential to grasp the distinction between and the interactions amongst media and meaning systems.

We typically relate the word medium, as being a channel of content delivery and reception; that meta-layer between information and observation/perception/understanding. Yet as Hall examined, the role of the medium possesses greater autonomy and importance. Mediated messages via broadcast media and especially music are not just new information, characters, plots and a catchy beat. To quote Irvine’s text: “Shifting to the question of mediation as social, political, economic, and ideological processes, rather than considering the contents or material technologies themselves, allows us to convert media into interfaces to the larger social-technical-economic and political systems which they mediate.”

Let’s take a ride and examine the vehicle that is reality TV, specifically on VH1. Created in the 1980s, VH1 is a cable channel that originally catered to showing the lighter and more mature side of popular music, but has now become a lead platform for drama-filled primetime programming. Shows like Love and Hip: Atlanta, Basketball Wives, New York and Hollywood; Black Ink Crew; Mob Wives and the recently nixed show Sorority Sisters have reinforced problematic imagery of minorities and women. I’m certainly not implying that conflicts are not realistic; As Hall’s texts explains, “… within a more traditional framework, his [Philip Elliott] discussion of the way in which the audience is both the ‘source’ and the ‘receiver of the television message.” Yet, reality is compromised in place of staged confrontation when reality TV producers have reportedly instigated brawls between cast members. The visual aspects and camera practices used for these programs deliver implicit messages that slip by even the most observant of viewers. Cameras panning and zooming methods on the female body have an effect on the psyche of young girls. A study conducted by Dohnt and Tiggeman[1] found that girls “who watched more appearance focused television shows were less satisfied with the way they looked.[2]

More fights equals more buzz on social media and higher ratings, which equates to more episodes being aired and more revenue for the shows’ participants. These shows exhibit fragmented truths under extremely magnified lenses that trickle down to affect the international social fabric and solidify racial and cultural stereotypes. While the study titled “Hollywood Diversity Brief: Spotlight on Cable Television” from UCLA’s Ralph J Bunche Center for African American Studies revealed that TV shows with ethnically diverse cast members attract larger audiences, there are still disproportionately more programs with where women and minorities are underrepresented[3]. This absence of diversity sends a message in itself – which incorrectly displays the national makeup of which these programs are produced and displayed.

Consideration of the world of television awakens my interest in uncovering the motives and behind-the-scene environment of the music industry. You can certainly deblackbox the content – the instrumentation, the lyrics, the vocal notes. Yet what are the social, political and economic undertones behind the lyrics of a seemingly volatile rhymester or an aurally soothing songstress? Why does the dynamic of the beat crescendo in the middle of the song? Why does a certain artist always make “club bangers”? – Are they pressured by their label to sell fantasy and not truth? These analyses of frequently used media allow us to peel back facades and avoid distractions from the happenings of human symbolic processes and systems.

After all, it’s never just for show; there’s always a greater purpose.


[1] Dohnt, H & Tiggeman, M. “The contribution of peer and media influences to the development of body satisfaction and self-esteem in young girls: A prospective study.” Developmental Psychology. 42:5. 2006. 929-929. Web. 25 January 2015.

[2] Manwaring, Ayarza. “Reality Television and Its Impact on Women’s Body Image.” 2011. Online Theses and Dissertations. Web. 26 January 2015.

[3] Obenson, Tambay. “Programs w/ Black Leads Dominate VH1’s Top 5 Shows in 2013. Shifting Trends?” Shadow and Act | Indie Wire. Indiewire.com 28 October 2013. Web. 25 January 2015.