Class, gender, and the docusoap

The Only Way Is Essex

Authored by: Heather Nunn , Anita Biressi

The Routledge Companion to Media and Gender

Print publication date:  December  2013
Online publication date:  December  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415527699
eBook ISBN: 9780203066911
Adobe ISBN: 9781135076955

10.4324/9780203066911.ch24

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Abstract

The contemporary docusoap articulates a postfeminist, neoliberal social field in which relations of class and gender are renegotiated and refashioned. Docusoaps encourage individuals to participate in consumer culture and to regard makeover practices as the route to social success. This chapter explores how this is conveyed in the successful British series The Only Way Is Essex (TOWIE, ITV2). TOWIE, which began in 2010, is a semi-scripted, highly structured series which, in docusoap fashion, combines “the observation and interpretation of reality found in documentary with the continuing narrative centring on a group of characters in soap opera” (Bignell and Orlebar 2005: 112). Broadcast twice weekly and focusing on a small network of friends in neighboring towns in Essex in the south of England, it quickly became a commercial success, winning an Audience British Academy Television Award (BAFTA) in 2011 and propelling its protagonists into the media spotlight. It has been referred to as both “constructed reality” and “dramality;” both terms signal its hybrid blending of dramaturgy and non-professional performers to produce multiple ongoing “real” storylines and manufactured melodramatic situations. In terms of both content and structure, TOWIE’s deployment of regular performers and contrived narratives have helped fuel a reinvigoration of the docusoap genre, which originally dominated British TV screens in the mid- to late 1990s.

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