The Ideology of Mass Culture and Reality Television: Watching “Survivor”

By Tamar Salibian.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In this paper, I examine the Mark Burnett-produced Reality Television competition series “Survivor” as it relates to Ien Ang’s theory of the “ideology of mass culture” and Stuart Hall’s theory of “encoding/decoding” meaning in televisual texts. In fictional television programs, the producers begin by constructing a script. In Reality Television, the creative process begins from an entirely different point. The producers build a skeleton of what the program will be, but there is an inherent element of chance because of the documentary approach to the filming. It is my assertion that through the construction of this televisual text through the element of unpredictability, this particular genre exists in a realm that cannot be categorized with Ang’s classification of “good” or “bad” mass culture. The paper includes an analysis of various moments from the program’s seventh installment, “Survivor: Pearl Islands/Panama” (2000) as well as interviews with fans, skeptics, and television crew for a comprehensive analysis of the program, its popularity, and its place within a larger discussion of popular media and culture.

Keywords: Media, Television, Reality TV, Mass Culture, Ideology, Encoding, Decoding, Field Research, Ethnography, Audience Studies, Viewership

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 9, Issue 10, pp.63-70. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 751.273KB).

Tamar Salibian

Student, Media Studies PhD Program, Cultural Studies Department, Claremont Graduate University, Los Angeles, California, USA

Tamar Salibian is a Media Studies Ph.D candidate at Claremont Graduate University. She received her Bachelor’s degree in photography from Massachusetts College of Art and Design and her Master’s degree in film/video from California Institute of the Arts. Her experimental documentaries have screened in festivals internationally. In addition to her work in independent documentary films for such organizations as The Center for American Progress and National Geographic, Tamar has worked extensively in Reality Television post-production on such programs as Survivor and The Apprentice.


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