University of Illinois at Chicago

"Money Talks, Wealth Whispers" Real Housewives’ Legacy: Class Ambivalence and Emotional Camping

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posted on 2020-05-01, 00:00 authored by Evie Psarras
Real Housewives (RH) is a global reality television franchise comprised of seven series in the United States. Dedicated to showcasing highly-feminized women, wealth, and materialism, RH gained prominence throughout the Great Recession. Since RH reached phenomenal status in popular culture at a time of economic insecurity and class resentment, I wondered what it might be communicating about class in the U.S. This research is grounded by a three-pronged approach to media, which includes textual analysis of media content, discussion of production, and audience reception (Kellner, 2011). To fulfill this methodological approach, I interviewed insiders and show producers to understand production of RH. I conducted a cross-platform analysis of RH content including: (i) a comprehensive frame analysis of all seven series across time, from the first season to the most recent, and (ii) a discourse analysis of select women’s Instagram accounts to study agency and resistance to production. To study reception, I conducted interviews with 26 fans of RH. Finally, I interviewed eight former cast members of RH, which supports triangulation of findings from the framing, discourse, and interview analysis of fans and producers. Findings show that: 1) The series frames the women to align with people’s ambivalent ideas about social class. 2) The media frames aim to resolve viewers to the status quo. 3) the women’s self-presentation online is representative of a mediatized branded-ideal, grounded in a gendered and classist neoliberalism, which works to reinforce beliefs in class advancement. 4) The women on the series engage in a particular type of labor across platforms, conceptualized here as emotional camping, which empowers them with a pathway to privacy in a highly public career. 5) Fans resist dominant ideas by creating meaningful interpretations and practices around viewing that celebrate the women of RH. The most comprehensive analysis of RH to date, this work introduces an inventive strategy for studying reality TV, and is one of the first studies to look at its long-term cultural imprint. It is also one of the first works to study the subversive class-based ideologies in the ordinary personas proliferating media since the turn of the millennium.



Papacharissi, Zizi


Papacharissi, Zizi



Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Degree name

PhD, Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Member

Bielby, William T. Massanari, Adrienne Rojecki, Andrew Bui, Diem-My

Submitted date

May 2020

Thesis type



  • en

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