Popular Culture Review 29.1 (Spring 2018) - Page 68

This article investigates UnREAL’s gender and racial discourse and imagery in order to assess its ability to promote a feminist and anti-racist agenda. It proceeds by defining essentialism generally and gender and racial essentialism specifically. Next, it illustrates the way these concepts are depicted on Season 2 of UnREAL. Third, it investigates the UnREAL’s ability to undermine static notions of gender, depict the complexity of contemporary racism, and illustrate elements of racism inherent in white feminism. Ultimately, this article argues that in Season 2 UnREAL  consciously constructs racial and gender injustices and stereotypes in a successful effort to make the audience reflect on patriarchy and racial injustice in contemporary society. Quinn, Rachel, and Chet make explicit the constructions, which the audience often implicitly deploys, and shows the viewers the injustices which follow. UnREAL successfully promotes a feminist and anti-racist agenda by undermining gender and racial stereotypes by countering essentialist assumptions of both gender and race. This ability is both confined by the constructed and manipulative mechanism of Everlasting and reality television in general and enabled by the program’s unique meta-quality. The institutional logic of the entertainment industry in general and reality TV in particular ultimately subordinates its characters’ ability to undermine patriarchy and liberate themselves from patriarchal and racist confines. However, the meta-quality of the show, a fictionalized depiction of the making of a fictional reality show, enables unique discursive capacities. Its unique space allows its characters to, at once, spew sexist and racist slurs, undermine essentialist notions, and, most successfully, illustrate the construction of gender and race in contemporary social and discursive practices. The result forces UnREAL’s audience into a provocative and self-reflective posture. The result of this analysis is that UnREAL constitutes a successful iteration of the feminist project of Lifetime’s Broad Focus initiative, one which includes a critique of liberal white feminism’s racist elements. Essentialism 101 Gender essentialism is a function of essentialism in general, which is most often inspired by the philosophy of Aristotle. Aristotelian essentialism is “the doctrine that some of the attributes of a thing (quite independent of the language in which the thing is referred to, if at all) may be essential to the thing and others accidental.” Gender essentialism is “the notion that a unitary, ‘essential’ women’s experience can be isolated and described independently of race, class, sexual orientation, and other realities of experience.” Ordinarily, essentialists hold that there is an unchanging, static core to gender, and this essence is 68