Can you say it more southern?: renewing hollywood's media colony in southern reality television
Recent reality television programming has reawakened the popular use of the American South and, specifically, working-class white southerners, for mass entertainment purposes. Nonfiction media have historically represented the South as a distinct and often inferior region of the United States, and an occasional critic has attempted to raise concerns about the disenfranchisement of a subculture of people, but scholars have yet to conduct major research on southern-themed reality shows. Using multidisciplinary approaches, this dissertation examines how nonfiction media have exploited and are currently exploiting the image of the working-class white southerner. As both southern media historian and an active practitioner in the television industry, I have a unique perspective that allows me to address this current trend and its potential problems. I begin the research by surveying prior nonfiction media dating back to the 18th century. This understanding of past publishing, journalism, films, and broadcasting helps identify specific conventions that media producers have historically applied to the mediated South. Countless stereotypes include excessive drinking, obesity, indecency, and anti-intellectualism. I then closely examine three recent reality television series, analyzing how these past conventions are transformed for modern audiences. Finally, by directly observing and participating in the production of a new, southern-themed reality program, I offer insight on how production culture can foster the perpetuation of stereotypes and serve the needs of both producers and on-screen subjects. By using cultural studies theories such as postcolonialism, I approach such exploitation as potentially harmful because it can revive regional conflict, reinforce stereotypes that affect actual people who live in working-class conditions in the South, and simultaneously allow the dominant white majority to excise or deny its own negative qualities and maintain status quo power structures. My research leads to my conclusion that “southerners” and southern culture are fundamentally discursive formations, part of what I call the “mediated” or “media South,” and that the “real” South cannot be successfully defined within the confines of a television show, despite explicit claims otherwise. The voyeurism involving these discursive constructs is not new, but the form has evolved with the reality television trend.