Emotional Spectacle and Reality Television

Constructing the Authentic


  • Emily Saidel University of Michigan


Television, Spectacle, Emotion, Authenticity, Media Studies


The majority of the theory about spectacle highlights excessive visuality as its core aspect as well as the relationships between performers and spectators; between image and reality; and between spectacle and its social context. The primary learning objective of this lesson is for students to understand and challenge these definitions of spectacle as it applies to television content. A secondary learning objective is to expose students to multiple sites of research for the media object “television” and multiple theoretical lenses. Emotional spectacle broadens the discussion to consider how other senses, particularly sound, contribute to the creation of a spectacle. It also challenges students to differentiate emotional spectacle (the content mediated by the screen) from emotional effects (the experience of the viewing audience) and to clarify how authentic emotions are constructed and performed in the format of reality television. Examining reality television through emotional spectacle links media industry studies with discourses of race, gender, and class.