“A Fan Crashing the Party” Exploring Reality-celebrity in MTV’s  Real World Franchise

by Hugh Curnutt (Montclair State University)

Reality TV’s (re)emergence at the turn of the century necessitates a reconsideration
of what it means to work in television as on-camera talent. Through a study of reality
actor Susie Meister, the author examines a new kind of television-based celebrity
created in the wake of the longest-running U.S. reality series, The Real World
(1992–). This form of celebrity, which I call “reality-celebrity,” diverges from other
modes of televisual fame by encoding its participants as off-camera texts cast to
perform their “ordinariness” within the confines of a reality persona. Different from
other types of television personalities (e.g., talk show hosts, news anchors), MTV’s
reality-celebrities must continually act as if they are off camera. The “behind-
the-scenes” quality of Meister’s fame is explored to trace some of the ways in which
MTV’s construction of celebrity challenges past notions of televisual fame. Ultimately,
this article considers the implications of reality TV’s blurring of the distinction
between participant and performer.(download)