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Realistically Fake: Self-Reflexive Consciousness, Ironic (Dis)Engagement with Hybrid Reality Television, and their Impact on Consumption

Research in Consumer Behavior

ISBN: 978-1-78052-116-9, eISBN: 978-1-78052-117-6

Publication date: 7 November 2011


Purpose – Hybrid reality television, a burgeoning subgenre spawning from the reality television genre, distinguishes itself from its parent genre through dramatizations that have been described as presenting a “quasi-reality” that is disorientating for the viewer (Caramanica, 2010). In addition to blurring the lines between fact and fiction, hybrid reality programs blur the lines between product placement and entertainment as products are seamlessly blended into the depicted lifestyles. This research explores how consumers negotiate hybrid reality television programs and how this process transpires in viewers' reactions to the consumption portrayals within the programs.

Methodology/approach – Insights were sought from qualitative in-depth interviews with avid viewers of an archetype of the hybrid reality subgenre, the MTV program The Hills.

Findings – The findings reveal varying degrees of self-reflexive consciousness, reflecting viewers' critical awareness of the rhetoric of the program, the artifices of the hybrid reality genre, and their role as an audience. Self-reflexive consciousness facilitates a critical response toward the text in which viewers recognize the artifices of the genre and thus regard the program as “real” and “not real” and simultaneously worth and worthless viewing at the same time, in a textual strategy, we refer to as ironic (dis)engagement.

Originality/value of the chapter – On the basis of this body of data, a typology of viewer responses to hybrid reality programs emerges with corresponding consumption strategies as viewers negotiate the consumption portrayals within The Hills. These findings suggest that viewers embrace product placement within the subgenre and that the program has pioneered and opened up new horizons for lifestyle branding practices within television programming.



Narsey, V. and Russell, C.A. (2011), "Realistically Fake: Self-Reflexive Consciousness, Ironic (Dis)Engagement with Hybrid Reality Television, and their Impact on Consumption", Belk, R.W., Grayson, K., Muñiz, A.M. and Jensen Schau, H. (Ed.) Research in Consumer Behavior (Research in Consumer Behavior, Vol. 13), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 233-247.



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