Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
The emergence and popularity of the so-called “blue-collar reality shows” on U.S. cable networks in the past decade provide a critical point of entry for understanding the intersecting relationships between race, gender, social class, and hegemonic constructions of individualism and “authenticity” in U.S. culture and electoral politics. These series center on white, male, heteronormative, working-class subjects whose shared structural location in a class-stratified society remains sublimated in favor of narrative frameworks that emphasize their perceived status as “real men.” These subjects are not configured as raced, gendered, and classed, but as “neutral” or “normal” in relation to these social categories.
Theoretical perspectives from across the interdisciplinary terrains of critical race studies, gender studies, and media studies inform the analysis of the following series, which are some of the most popular and longest-running within this subgenre of reality television programming: Deadliest Catch, Ax Men, Ice Road Truckers, and Gold Rush. Through applying critical discourse analysis to selected episodes, I demonstrate through an intersectional framework how the interlocking systems of white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, settler-colonialism, and capitalism remain simultaneously obscured and ideologically justified via the hegemonic myth of rugged individualism and the related “frontier” ethos in U.S. culture.
I posit that the stylized performances of white, working-class, heteronormative males, as depicted on these series, have been coopted by white male politicians and public figures from the upper classes both historically and at present to attain the symbolic capital such a performance confers. I also incorporate a critical discourse analysis of randomly selected episodes of Duck Dynasty, which exemplifies how affluent, white men take up white, rural, working-class masculine performances to acquire the symbolic capital of masculine legitimacy. I maintain that there is a line of continuity between the proliferation of the blue-collar reality programs in recent years, which are more about validating white masculinity than workers, and the rise of Donald Trump. Lastly, I conduct a critical discourse analysis of self-directed comments from viewers on independent, online discussion forums about these programs. It is through these approaches that I unmask and historicize the systems of power embedded in these seemingly benign cultural productions.
O'Sullivan, Shannon Eileen Marie, "Frontiersmen Are the “Real Men” in Trump’s America: Hegemonic Masculinity at Work on U.S. Cable’s Version of Blue-Collar Reality" (2017). Communication Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 71.