Proposal Title

Reality TV Reunion Seasons and Entrepreneurial Selves: Marketing MTV Nostalgia

Start Date

June 2022

End Date

June 2022

Abstract

Reunion reality TV exemplifies how streaming platforms are increasingly mining libraries of reality content that they own, profiting from the genre’s cheaper labor costs. The Paramount+ streaming series The Real World Homecoming: New York (2021) and The Challenge: All Stars (2021) reassemble the original casts and deploy MTV’s marketing of consumer lifestyles. As reunion seasons rather than reboots, they focus on castmembers enacting nostalgia for their own youth, as mediated by reality TV, providing screen surrogates for audiences. They upcycle earlier storylines and tropes focused on self-improvement, involving the neoliberal project of the self. Both target Paramount+’s broader demographic, older than MTV’s, using audience nostalgia for earlier seasons and castmembers. They reflect how streamers bank on owning more of their own content (Walker 2018, Willard 2021), nostalgia to provide built-in audiences (Pallister 2020), including nostalgia for how audiences’ own lives were when the original series aired (Sirianni 2020).

Through textual analysis and discussion of intersectionality, I demonstrate how these shows sell updated neoliberal narratives of superficial multiculturalism and gendered selves as commodified brands. Reality shows create “character narratives” for castmembers culled from fictional TV tropes (Edwards 2013). This new reunion streaming reality trend updates these narratives, amplifying the contemporary neoliberal positioning of entrepreneurial selves. Scholars have shown the gendering of reality TV (Weber 2014, Wilson 2014) and affective labor in media convergence (Ouellette and Wilson 2011), and how MTV markets the neoliberal self, including commodifying race (Klein 2021). Reunion reality shows present a new chapter in MTV’s neoliberal project.

Bio

Leigh H. Edwards is Professor of English at Florida State University. She is the author of the books Dolly Parton, Gender, and Country Music (Indiana University Press, 2018, winner of the Foreword Book of the Year Award), The Triumph of Reality TV: The Revolution in American Television (Praeger, 2013), and Johnny Cash and the Paradox of American Identity (Indiana University Press, 2009). A scholar of American literature and popular culture from the nineteenth century to the present, she focuses on intersections of gender and race in popular music, television, and new media. Her work has appeared in Feminist Media Studies, The Journal of Popular Culture, Journal of Popular Television, Film & History, Narrative, FLOW, Journal of Popular Music Studies, Global Media Journal, Journal of American Studies, and Southern Cultures. She is on the advisory board of the Institute for Bob Dylan Studies, and on the editorial boards of Journal of Popular Television and The Popular Culture Studies Journal.

https://english.fsu.edu/faculty/leigh-edwards

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Reality TV Reunion Seasons and Entrepreneurial Selves: Marketing MTV Nostalgia

Reunion reality TV exemplifies how streaming platforms are increasingly mining libraries of reality content that they own, profiting from the genre’s cheaper labor costs. The Paramount+ streaming series The Real World Homecoming: New York (2021) and The Challenge: All Stars (2021) reassemble the original casts and deploy MTV’s marketing of consumer lifestyles. As reunion seasons rather than reboots, they focus on castmembers enacting nostalgia for their own youth, as mediated by reality TV, providing screen surrogates for audiences. They upcycle earlier storylines and tropes focused on self-improvement, involving the neoliberal project of the self. Both target Paramount+’s broader demographic, older than MTV’s, using audience nostalgia for earlier seasons and castmembers. They reflect how streamers bank on owning more of their own content (Walker 2018, Willard 2021), nostalgia to provide built-in audiences (Pallister 2020), including nostalgia for how audiences’ own lives were when the original series aired (Sirianni 2020).

Through textual analysis and discussion of intersectionality, I demonstrate how these shows sell updated neoliberal narratives of superficial multiculturalism and gendered selves as commodified brands. Reality shows create “character narratives” for castmembers culled from fictional TV tropes (Edwards 2013). This new reunion streaming reality trend updates these narratives, amplifying the contemporary neoliberal positioning of entrepreneurial selves. Scholars have shown the gendering of reality TV (Weber 2014, Wilson 2014) and affective labor in media convergence (Ouellette and Wilson 2011), and how MTV markets the neoliberal self, including commodifying race (Klein 2021). Reunion reality shows present a new chapter in MTV’s neoliberal project.