A QUALITATIVE AND QUANTITATIVE ANALYSIS OF COUNTERNORMATIVE Kimberly Lynn Reynolds

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A QUALITATIVE AND QUANTITATIVE ANALYSIS OF COUNTERNORMATIVE
BEHAVIOR EXHIBITED IN REALITY TELEVISION PROGRAMMING
Kimberly Lynn Reynolds
B.A., California State University Sacramento, 2005
THESIS
Submitted in partial satisfaction of
the requirements for the degree of
MASTER OF ARTS
in
COMMUNICATION STUDIES
at
CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, SACRAMENTO
FALL
2010
© 2010
Kimberly Lynn Reynolds
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
ii
A QUALITATIVE AND QUANTITATIVE ANALYSIS OF COUNTERNORMATIVE
BEHAVIOR EXHIBITED IN REALITY TELEVISION PROGRAMMING
A Thesis
by
Kimberly Lynn Reynolds
Approved by:
__________________________________, Committee Chair
Carmen Stitt, PhD
__________________________________, Second Reader
Mark Williams, PhD
__________________________________, Third Reader
John Williams, PhD
____________________________
Date
iii
Student: Kimberly Lynn Reynolds
I certify that this student has met the requirements for format contained in the University
format manual, and that this thesis is suitable for shelving in the Library and credit is to
be awarded for the thesis.
__________________________, Graduate Coordinator
Michele Foss-Snowden, PhD
Department of Communication Studies
iv
___________________
Date
Abstract
of
A QUALITATIVE AND QUANTITATIVE ANALYSIS OF COUNTERNORMATIVE
BEHAVIOR EXHIBITED IN REALITY TELEVISION PROGRAMMING
by
Kimberly Lynn Reynolds
Statement of Problem
Throughout the last decade, there has been an incredible surge in research
examining the motives of television viewers. However, relatively few scholarly studies
have examined the role that theme and gender play in viewer motivations. Though
research regarding the popularity and effects of reality television are ample, no studies
have investigated the connection between misogynistic themes and female viewership
motives.
Sources of Data
This thesis utilized a mixed methodology, which included a content analysis
identifying both quantitative and qualitative data. Data were first identified by
qualitatively examining episodes in order to identify overarching themes; and then it was
quantitatively coded for specific instances of counternormative behavior present in the
television show Rock of Love Bus with Bret Michaels.
v
Conclusions Reached
This thesis has shown that there clearly are misogynistic themes that can be
identified, qualitatively and quantitatively, within the reality television show Rock of
Love Bus with Bret Michaels. Since the definition of misogyny is the hatred or intense
disliking of women, it could be reasonably assumed that females would be uninterested in
viewing a program that depicts and promotes these attributes and counternormative
behaviors. However, contrary to this reasoning, females are the key demographic for
celebrity reality dating television shows and, according to Nielson Media Research,
females make up the majority of the audience. Based on this broader view, audience
motivation theories seem to lack adequate explanation for the phenomenon of female
viewers watching reality television shows promoting counternormative behaviors with
heavy misogynistic themes.
_______________________, Committee Chair
Carmen Stitt, PhD
_______________________
Date
vi
DEDICATION
To my parents, Rachael and Raymond Cruit, I am honored to be your daughter. Through
your love, you have instilled in me the meaning and importance of hard work and
determination.
To my husband, Ian, I live for you. Without your love, unlimited patience, understanding,
and encouragement, I would not be the person I am today.
“All the world’s a stage,
and all the men and women merely players.”
~ Edward de Vere
(under the pen name, William Shakespeare)
vii
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Foremost, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to my advisor Professor
Carmen Stitt for her continuous support of the Active Cognitive Dissonance Accrual
theory and for her patience, motivation, enthusiasm, and immense knowledge. I could not
have imagined having a better advisor and mentor for my Master’s thesis.
Besides my advisor, I would also like to thank, from the bottom of my heart, the
rest of my thesis committee: Professor Mark Williams and Professor John Williams, for
their encouragement, insightful comments and hard questions.
Additionally, I would like to thank Professor Michele Foss-Snowden for believing
in me and giving me the confidence to continue working with the Active Cognitive
Dissonance Accrual theory.
Lastly, I am indebted to my many student colleagues for proving me a stimulating
and fun environment in which to learn and grow.
viii
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Page
Dedication .................................................................................................................. vii
Acknowledgments..................................................................................................... viii
List of Tables ................................................................................................................ x
Chapters
1. INTRODUCTION .................................................................................................. 1
2. LITERATURE REVIEW ....................................................................................... 4
3. ROCK OF LOVE BUS WITH BRET MICHAELS BACKGROUND
AND HISTORY .................................................................................................... 24
4.
METHODS .......................................................................................................... 29
5. QUANTITATIVE DATA ANALYSIS ................................................................ 33
6. QUALITATIVE DATA ANALYSIS ................................................................... 39
7. DISCUSSION ....................................................................................................... 52
8. LIMITATIONS AND FUTURE STUDIES ......................................................... 59
Appendix A. Quantitative Data Tables ....................................................................... 60
References ................................................................................................................... 85
ix
LIST OF TABLES
Page
1. Table 1 Contestants Exposing or Having Exposed Breasts .....................................60
2. Table 2 Contestants Exposing or Having Exposed Vaginal Area .......................... 61
3. Table 3 Contestants Exposing or Having Exposed Buttocks .................................. 62
4. Table 4 Michaels Initiating Closed Mouth Kissing with Contestants .................... 63
5. Table 5 Michaels Initiating Open Mouth Kissing with Contestants ....................... 64
6. Table 6 Michaels Initiating Sexual Discussion with Contestants ........................... 65
7. Table 7 Contestants Initiating Closed Mouth Kissing with Michaels. ................... 66
8. Table 8 Contestants Initiating Open Mouth Kissing with Michaels ....................... 67
9. Table 9 Contestants Initiating Implied Sexual Intercourse with Michaels ............. 68
10. Table 10 Contestants Initiating Sexual Discussion with Michaels ....................... 69
11. Table 11 Contestants Imitating Close Mouth Kissing with Contestants ............. 70
12. Table 12 Contestants Initiating Open Mouth Kissing with Contestants ............... 71
13. Table 13 Contestants Initiating Implied Oral Sex with Contestants ..................... 72
14. Table 14 Contestants Initiating Sexual Discussion with Contestants ................... 73
15. Table 15 Contestants or Michaels Drinking or Holding Glass of Hard
Alcohol ................................................................................................................. 74
16. Table 16 Contestants or Michaels Drinking or Holding Glass or Beer, Wine
or Champagne ..................................................................................................... 75
17. Table 17 Contestants or Michaels Appearing Drunk ............................................ 76
18. Table 18 Contestants or Michaels Appearing Hung Over or Throwing Up ......... 77
19. Table 19 Contestants or Michaels Swearing ......................................................... 78
20. Table 20 Contestants Inflicting Physical Violence on other Contestants ............. 79
21. Table 21 Contestants Destroying Personal Property of other Contestants ........... 80
22. Table 22 Contestants Being Verbally Aggressive with other Contestants ........... 81
23. Table 23 Contestants Pouring Alcohol on other Contestants ............................... 82
24. Table 24 Contestants Calling Names, Insulting or Teasing other
Contestants Face-to-Face ...................................................................................... 83
x
25. Table 25 Contestants Calling Names, Insulting or Teasing other
Contestants Behind their Back .............................................................................. 84
xi
1
Chapter 1
INTRODUCTION
Why are we instinctually driven to learn about behaviors and beliefs that are
dissimilar from our own? Why do we actively search for experiences that test our values
and why do we thirst to discover new insights about the world around us? On the surface,
these questions seem more philosophical than communication-theory based, but this
cannot be farther from the truth. The experiences we utilize to gain a greater
understanding of our attitudes are diverse and may include everything from formal
learning and traveling to far off lands, to reading books about foreign cultures, or
watching reality television programs depicting people behaving in counternormative
manners. In many aspects, television provides a forum where individuals can learn about
themselves and others outside of their society or culture (Markle, 2008).
In recent years, the popularity of reality television has surged from only seven
reality-based programs on the six United States broadcast channels in 2003 to 23 reality
programs on the same channels in 2004 (Ferris, Smith, Greenberg, & Smith, 2007). It is
not clear how the content of this genre of programs is similar to that of traditional
scripted programming. In particular, many reality programs air content that might
commonly be referred to as counternormative; yet, paradoxically, it attracts wide
audiences. This paper contends that other audience motivation theories do not adequately
explain the appeal of reality television because they cannot explain the attraction to
female viewers, despite some reality television program content being misogynistic.
2
This thesis will consist of a content analysis and a thematic analysis of Rock of
Love Bus with Brett Michaels, which will identify instances of behavior that indicating
that the program represents misogynistic attitudes. Additionally, this thesis will suggest
that a new theory, the Active Cognitive Dissonance Accrual (ACoDA) theory, may be a
potential theoretical explanation that may identify knowledge gaps left by other audience
motivation theories.
To provide a brief introduction, the Active Cognitive Dissonance Accrual
(ACoDA) theory is defined as behavior wherein a person actively seeks out media
viewing experiences that create cognitive dissonance in order to satisfy the innate drive to
learn about ideas and beliefs that are counternormative. With reality television
programming (such as the series Rock of Love with Bret Michaels) becoming more and
more mainstream, assumptions of ACoDA must be examined to determine if it is a viable
alternative to existing theories in explaining the lure of viewing counternormative
behavior.
Throughout the last decade, there has been an incredible surge in research
examining the motives of television viewers (Barton, 2009; Lundy, Ruth & Park, 2008;
Nabi, Biely, Morgan & Stitt, 2003; Reiss & Witlz, 2007; Roberti, 2007). However,
relatively few scholarly studies have examined the role that theme and gender play in
viewer motivations. Though research regarding the popularity and effects of reality
television are ample, no studies have investigated the connection between misogynistic
themes and female viewership motives. This thesis will conduct thematic analyses of
3
Rock of Love Bus with Bret Michaels to identify instances of behavior indicative of
misogyny.
Reality television programs, such as the series Rock of Love with Bret Michaels,
attract audiences by showing individuals exhibiting counternormative behaviors that are
often very salacious. An analysis will be conducted of Rock of Love Bus with Bret
Michaels identifying specific qualitative and quantitative instances of behaviors defined
as counternormative and misogynistic. Neilsen Ratings and VH1 polling have indicated
the majority of viewers watching the series Rock of Love with Bret Michaels are female.
It would appear that the female viewers of reality shows - wherein there are depictions of
norm-violating behaviors - watch these shows with full knowledge that they will be
witnessing individuals acting in socially deviant manners. One theory that may explain
the high degree of female viewers watching clearly misogynistic shows is the Active
Cognitive Dissonance Accrual (ACoDA) theory. The ACoDA theory posits that an
audience member’s motives for watching programming focused on norm violations is,
consciously or subconsciously, to satisfy their innate curiosity and to learn about deviant,
or counternormative, behaviors and beliefs.
The following research question is posed:
RQ 1: What themes of misogyny are present in Rock of Love Bus with Bret
Michaels?
4
Chapter 2
LITERATURE REVIEW
Reality Television
Reality Television programming, which emerged as a distinct genre in the late
1980s, can be operationally defined as “an unscripted program that shows real
people…active in a specific environment” (Hill & Quin, 2001; Mead, 2005, p. 139). The
popularity of reality television has surged from only seven reality-based programs on the
six United States broadcast channels in 2003 to 23 reality programs on the same channels
in 2004 (Ferris et al., 2007). The rise in popularity of reality television programming is
not purely an American phenomenon, with viewers around the world clamoring for more
and more reality-based television (Dixon, 2008).
Though reality television found its roots in talk and news magazine shows, the
genre has redefined the meaning of ‘Trash TV’. Competition is enormous, as producers
need to constantly push the proverbial envelope to ensure that audiences remain titillated
and tuned into the show (Keller, 1993). Coinciding with the rise in popularity of reality
television, there has been a steady increase of sexual content depicted on network and
cable channel programming. Seventy percent of television programs featured sexual
content during the 2004-2005 season, up from 64% in 2002 and 56% in 1998 (Kunkel,
Eyal, Finnerty, Biely & Donnerstein, 2005).
Lundy et al (2008) compared reality programming to television talk shows;
arguing similarities in that they “create audiences by breaking cultural rules, by managed
5
shocks, by shifting our conceptions of what is acceptable, by transforming that basis for
cultural judgment, by redefining deviance and appropriate reactions to it, by eroding
social barriers, inhibitions and cultural distinctions” (Abt & Seesholtz, 1994, p. 171).
Scholars have identified several key differences between reality television and
programming such as news and talk shows: non-professional actors who are filmed in
natural, unscripted environments where their actions are not completely planned (Nabi et
al., 2003).
The individuals who choose to become reality television ‘stars’ must often give
up their personal privacy for the “sake of transient fame” (Papacharissi & Mendelson,
2007, p. 355). Contestants on competition-focused reality television programs are often
placed in situations or depicted in manners that may be humiliating. Reality television
competition programs are frequently edited to give a more-than-real impression that
female contestants are behaving in ways that may seem indecent or inappropriate.
Research has shown that although female contestants are aware that their behavior and
actions will cause them to be perceived in an unflattering manner, the very idea that they
are popular and on television supersedes their apprehension (Mendible, 2004). As posited
by Mendible, humiliation “occupies a second-order of meaning in which any televised
activity—regardless of how embarrassing—is elevated in status” (pg 336).
Celebreality dating-competition shows, a specialized category of reality
television, typically feature 20-25 contestants biding for the attention of a famous (or
infamous) individual. Though the rules are clear - beat all other competitors to become
the love interest of the celebrity - the contestants often behave in a manner that is
6
counternormative to societal standards in order to achieve their objective. Since
contestants on reality television shows earn money and fame by winning contests, the
behaviors exhibited by the contestants are often extreme and they frequently resort to any
means necessary to win. The outrageous behaviors exhibited on celebrity reality dating
shows often include sexual competition, vulgar and disrespectful conduct, and violent
brawls. These significant violations of societal norms are what compel viewers to
continue watching these programs.
Reality Television Audience Motives
Unlike other forms of television programming where the aim is to learn a new
skill or practical knowledge, reality dating television programs are primarily intended to
be viewed as audience entertainment. Audience motives for watching these types of
reality television programs are complex with many factors contributing to the likelihood
of viewership. Roberti (2007) conducted a computer-mediated survey of college students
to analyze the motivations of reality dating competition viewers. Data suggested three
motives: excitability, social learning and escape. Disinhibition and thrill-and-adventure
seeking individuals found these types of programs exciting and watched more reality
television. Additionally, reality television also provided an entertainment and a
distraction (or escape) from day-to-day life (Roberti, 2007). Lastly, Roberti’s data
suggested social learning motivated some individuals to watch in order “to learn about
expectations in relationships, pick up dating tips, and learn about sexual activity” (p.
130). As such, the main motives behind watching this type of programming are selfserving. Reiss and Witlz (2004) examined reality television viewer motives and found
7
that status, followed by vengeance, were the most significant reasons for tuning in. Their
study concluded: “viewers may perceive themselves as better than the characters
portrayed, or feel that the portrayal of ordinary people in reality TV elevates their own
status” (Lundy et al., 2008, p. 211).
Lundy et al. (2008) examined the consumption patterns of reality programming
viewers and found several unique attributes of that population. Based on data gathered
from focus groups conducted at a large mid-western university, viewers often
underestimated their viewing patterns and denied watching copious amounts of reality
programming. Participants also felt that reality television allowed them to escape from
their own reality by offering a “glimpse into another world” (Lundy et al., 2008, p. 213).
Viewers have also reported that they liked reality television programming because they
“enjoyed watching [reality television] characters exposed to uncomfortable situations
outside their normal realm of experience” (Lundy et al., 2008, p. 214).
Viewers are given (edited) access to situations that are socially deemed private
such as sexual or romantic encounters and jealous fits of rage. Overall, though casual
watchers indicate that they watched reality television for entertainment, they primarily
watch the programs due to curiosity (Nabi et al., 2003).The viewership motive of
curiosity is redefining the concept of voyeurism. Originally defined as the pathological
act of watching another individual for a sexual thrill, non-pathological voyeurism is “very
similar to psychological drives (social curiosity) to learn about other individuals” (Baruh,
2009). This “normal” voyeurism is unique to reality television programming because
8
unlike scripted shows, “viewer detection skills are exercised not on celebrities but on the
‘real’ people ‘just like the viewers’” (Andrejevic, 2006, p. 401).
American culture is obsessed with individuals whose lifestyle violates society's
norms. People who are portrayed as "different" or "social outcasts" are colloquially
referred to as “train wrecks”, as in something terrible that we just cannot look away from.
A quantitative analysis of American television programming indicates that programs
focusing on people in reality situations are one of the fastest growing genres (e.g.
American Idol, The Real World, Dirty Jobs). Even faster growing are the reality
television programs specifically focusing on individuals or groups living alternative
lifestyles or violating societal norms (e.g. Bad Girls Club, The Girls Next Door, Rock of
Love with Bret Michaels). As America's thirst for reality television grows, documentary
programs are also shifting to show more and more counternormative lifestyle situations.
Similar to news shows, reality television depicts situations that allow people to be
exposed to individuals who behave in counternormative manners without the pressure of
real life, physical interaction with those individuals. Studies examining viewer
motivations for watching reality television have suggested that the majority of viewers
tune in so that they can feel like they are of a higher status than those on the show. The
motivation of higher status may be true in reality television programs that portray average
people acting in ways that make them look foolish or silly.
Barton (2009) explored different thematic types of reality television to determine
the gratifications received by the viewers. Through a series of surveys, the data suggested
that reality television viewers are motivated to watch specific reality television programs
9
because of personal utility. The authors theorized that early reality television programs
were originally geared to appeal to a wider audience but have now evolved to represent
various niche groups and subgroups. With the change in target audience, a new
gratification was developed: viewers may no longer be watching them as much for social
utility, but to obtain gratification on an individual or specialized level.
Social Norms and Violations
Communication and psychology scholars have suggested that social norms are
highly influential in determining human behavior (for review see Chekroun & Brauer,
2002; Ellikson, 1991). Social norms, which are specific to particular groups, are based on
the behavioral cues within a society that guides a group's values, beliefs, attitudes and
behavior. Social norms also dictate what actions are appropriate or inappropriate within a
group depending on generations, age groups and social classes. The appropriateness of
behaviors evolves depending on the time period and society’s response to violating the
norms (Weber, 2003). Additionally, social norms that are considered normal in one group
may be viewed as deviant behavior by another (Chekroun & Brauerm, 2002). The key
attribute of social norms is their ability to contribute to the group’s identity, to create a
feeling of belonging, and to “provide the individual with guidelines for his or her
behavior in ambiguous situations” (Chekroun & Brauerm, 2002, p. 854).
Those who have deference to their group's societal norms will be accepted,
though failure to abide by the rules will frequently cause an individual to be excluded
from the group. The process of negatively sanctioning group members who act in a
counternormative manner is called social control. More often than not, those who are cast
10
out of the group actively seek out more accepting groups and company of those who
behavior similarly (Chekroun & Brauer, 2002).
Societal norms can be enforced by the society or controlled internally (Ellickson,
1991). The structure regulating norm-breakers and norm-abiders is complex, with normabiders often policing norm-breakers. Research has shown that it is difficult for
individuals to forget a norm violation when they frequently interact with the known
violator. According to Kiesler, Kiesler, and Pallak (1967), the norm-abider can choose to
ignore the violation, make it into a joke, or attempt to change the violator’s behavior.
Though norm-abiders do police norm-breakers, “social norms must be internalized if they
are to have a significant impact of behavior”; in situations where they are not
internalized, norm-breakers must develop strategies for reducing dissonance
(Chatzidakis, Hibbert, Mitussis & Smith, 2004, p. 529).
When humans actively increase their understanding about new ideas and beliefs,
they encounter behaviors that may be foreign. By its very definition, foreign or
unfamiliar circumstances and viewpoints may dwell outside our comfort zone. While the
term “counternormative behavior” can be defined as behavior that dwells outside the
accepted societal norms, it would also follow that those situations and beliefs beyond our
personal and individual comfort zones can also be defined as counternormative.
Heterosexual Sexual Behavior
Heterosexual sexual behavior is operationally defined as “any depiction of sexual
activity, sexually suggestive behavior, or talk about sexuality or sexual activity” between
males and females (Kunkel et al, 2005, p. 14). From double entendre-filled sexual
11
dialogue to explicit sexual behaviors such as kissing, making out and intercourse, visual
and verbal references to sexual activity on television are numerous and gaining in
frequency (Ward, 1995; Kunkel, Eyal, Biely, Cope-Farrar & Donnerstein, 2003, Kunkel
et al., 2005). According to Markle (2008), appropriate sexual activities are defined by
societal norms and cultural scenarios with gender specific strategies for achieving sexual
desires.
The Script Theory posits that sexual norms for heterosexual behavior are
culturally constructed and “define what counts as sex, how to recognize sexual situations,
and what to do in relational and sexual encounters” (Kim, Sorsoli, Collins, Zylbergold,
Schooler & Tolman, 2007, p. 146). This cultural-level script acts to regulate and
normalize sexual behavior between males and females. Males are taught from an early
age that they should act on their sexual desires and their sexual hormones are
uncontrollable. In order to convince females to engage in sexual activity, Script Theory
suggests that males bestow material items and status upon females in return for sex and
affection.
Negotiating romantic and sexual heterosexual relationships is an intricate system
that is culturally scripted to define the female role as submissive to the dominant male.
The script that males maintain the power in relationships is supported by reality
television programs that depict males treating women as sexual objects and avoiding
commitment. Harris (2004) examined the role of females on two popular reality dating
competition programs, Joe Millionaire and Paradise Hotel. Harris argued that reality
dating shows that advertise themselves as advancing female autonomy are actually
12
promoting opposing attitudes designed to ridicule the contestants. Her examples include
Joe Millionaire, which assumes the contestants just want the man because he is rich; and
Average Joe, which suggests that women only want to marry a man who is attractive
according to societal norms (Harris, 2004). Though reality dating programs such as
Paradise Hotel allow "feminine sexuality [to be] freed from the responsibility and
respectability of marriage" (Fiske, 1990, p. 139), Harris maintains that there is a double
standard within the female’s role in the heterosexual patriarchy. She supports this
contention by explaining that “the very premise of women swapping partners in a hotel—
ultimately for money—implicitly invites viewers to cast the female contestants as
prostitutes” (Harris, 2004, p. 356). Females who violate social norms by exposing their
body and having many sexual partners are frequently labeled as women of easy virtue.
Our culture has designated numerous words that identify these types of females such as
hussy, slut, tart, tramp, wench and whore, to name only a few. Recently there has been a
counter movement to win back the reputation of a slut. Though the new definition is an
acronym of S.L.U.T. meaning “Sexually Liberated Urban Teenager”, females who
conduct themselves in sexually free manners are still behaving in a counternormative
manner (Beckerman, 2004).
Both Joe Millionaire and Average Joe endorse Masculine Courting Strategies and
Feminine Courting Strategies. Masculine strategies include courting the female and
making the first move within the relationship to show interest. Conversely, female
strategies include waiting to be selected by the male and encouraging the male’s attention
by “dressing provocatively, touching themselves suggestively, using playful innuendo,
13
ego-stroking, or pretending to be in need of assistance” (Kim et al., 2007, p. 148).
Analysis of television programming scripts found that the most common feminine
courting strategy (13.9%) was exposing their body and objectifying themselves to attract
the attention of a powerful male (Kim et al., 2007). Data suggested that females on
television programs are “frequently reminded that their physical appearance was more
important than their intelligence, personality, and other attributes” (Kim et al., 2007, p.
151). Reality dating competition programs encourage behaviors that violate societal
norms and advance the objectification of women by persuading female contestants to
compete by utilizing more and more sexually explicit courting strategies.
Dating on reality television competition programs is characterized as a game,
counternormative to the socially acceptable notion that individuals date with the purpose
of finding a long-term partner. Within this game, women are sexual objects and men act
as sex-driven creatures that must possess many different women. Ferris et al. (2007)
found the dominant courtship rituals portrayed on reality television were “(in order of
frequency of portrayal): kissing, hugging, asking questions to get to know the date;
drinking alcohol; going to a party, club, or bar; complimenting the date; holding hands;
and getting in a hot tub or spa, which were shown on average 49 times per hour on the
shows in the sample” (p. 506). Though these rituals may seem socially acceptable
between a single female and male, they quickly become norm violations when twentyfive women compete to kiss, hug, talk with, drink alcohol with and get into a hot tub or
spa with a single male.
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Appropriation of Female Homosexuality
Feminine Courting Strategies instruct females that they must demonstrate that
they are sexually available and responsive to the needs of males. One popular method
females use to gain male attention is Appropriation of Female Homosexuality (AFH).
Colloquially referred to as ‘bisexual chic’, AFH is characterized by females performing
“girl on girl” sexual acts with the intention of turning males on. Though
counternormative to the prevailing societal norms (only 10.6% of females aged 15-19
have had a same-sex sexual experience), those participating in this type of behavior have
termed themselves ‘heteroflexible’ (Joner, 2006). Females who identify as
‘heteroflexible’ consider themselves to be heterosexual but are flexible enough to
experiment sexually with the same sex (Denes, 2007).
Though Kim et al. (2007) found that this code was the least common script within
the sample of sitcom television programming analyzed (1.46%), reality television
programs have a higher prevalence of Appropriation of Female Homosexuality due to the
competition aspect, which is fueled by extreme alcohol usage. Female reality dating
contestants are aware that males may be aroused by the thought or sight of attractive
women touching each other in sexual ways and so these women use this to their
advantage. As with all social norms, there are limits within the ‘heteroflexible’
community. A female who simply kisses another female for attention is considered
appropriate, but females who touch each other’s breasts or genitalia are “taking it above
and beyond…now she’s a lesbian or she’s a huge slut” (Joiner, 2006, p. 4).
15
As would be expected with the prevailing societal norms, females who are labeled
‘heteroflexible’ and who engaged in sexual activity are considered to be more
promiscuous than females who simply danced together. Despite the rise in the ‘chicness’
of bisexuality, data has shown that males do not necessarily find girl on girl sexual
behavior hotter than two girls dancing together (Denes, 2007). Based on the script that
females desire monogamous relationships, heterosexual females who engage in
homoerotic behaviors for the singular goal of sexually arousing males are acting in a
counternormative manner.
Alcohol Usage
Researchers have found that viewers gather health related information from
watching television programs (Beck, Huang, Pollard & Johnson, 2004). Though some
television programs, such as shows specifically produced to give out medical advice, may
encourage beneficial well being, the majority of television programs do not depict
behaviors that are considered healthy. Largely ignored by television programs are the
statistics that within the United States, alcohol consumption is directly responsible for
1,574,000 hospital admissions (Chen, Yi, & Hilton, 2005) resulting in approximately
85,000 annual deaths attributed to excessive alcohol intake such as binge drinking
(Mokdad, Marks, Stroup & Gerberding, 2004).
Russell and Russell (2009) conducted a content analysis of an eight-week sample
of eighteen prime-time programs to examine alcoholic messages and monitor the
depictions of alcohol usage. The content analysis suggests that alcohol messages, on the
whole, tended to be correlated with negative outcomes when alcohol was central to the
16
plot and when alcohol was seen in the background of the scene it was depicted positively.
Prime-time television viewers are bombarded with mixed messages about the positive
and negative outcomes of alcohol usage. Comprehensive data supports that the negative
attributes of alcohol usage (i.e. loss of job) were only observed when it was central to the
plot, yet positive attributes of alcohol usage (i.e. drink to have fun) was more subtly
observed in the background.
Verbal Aggression and Gossip
Verbal aggression involves “attacking the self-concept of another person instead
of, or in addition to, the person’s position on a topic of communication” utilizing teasing
and threatening language that often includes expletives (Infante & Wigley, 1986, p. 61).
Occasionally a precursor to physical violence, verbal aggression typically includes
insulting an individual’s character, competence, background, or physical appearance
(Tamborini, Chory, Lachlan, Westerman & Skalski, 2008). During the 1994 primetime
season, Potter and Vaughan (1997) noted that verbal aggression averaged 27 acts per
hour. Data indicates that verbal aggressive language has surpassed acts of physical
violence on primetime television (Potter & Vaughan, 1997). Chory (2000) indicated that
the most prevalent forms of verbal aggression on sitcoms are insulting an individual’s
character and competency. With elevated rates of verbal aggression on television,
research suggests that viewers are overestimating the normative rates of aggression.
Indirect aggression includes gossiping, spreading rumors, ignoring, or destroying
someone’s property behind their back. The most common kind of indirect aggression on
reality television programs is gossiping about fellow contestants. Gossip is discourse
17
between individuals that is characterized as “sharing opinions and judgments about a
person’s behavior or physical attributes, and by doing so implicitly asserting appropriate
behavior or defining a physical norm” (Eggins & Slade, 1997, p. 276). This type of
sharing is critical for “establishing and maintaining social relations and norms within a
group” (Thornborrow & Morris, 2004, p. 248). Thornborrow and Morris (2004) analyzed
the function that gossip plays among contestants in reality television competitions.
Gossip, as a strategic instrument, has two main functions: establishing social
relationships between contestants and influencing the viewing public’s perceptions of the
contestants. The authors suggest that reality television competition contestants must
incorporate the use of positive gossip, which is designed to promote the positive
attributes of the individual and negative gossip, which is designed to “attack the position
of others” in order to advance within the competition (pg. 264).
Physical Aggression
It has been estimated that the average United States eighteen year old has viewed
at least 200,000 violent acts on television in their lifetime (Brook, Saar, & Brook, 2008).
Physical aggression is defined as any means of physically hurting or attempting to
inflicting pain on another individual out of anger or aggression. Television and media
research firms have long studied the role and impact that physical aggression plays in the
development of adolescents and the effect gender has on perceived aggression.
Researchers have so examined the role that gender has on choosing which shows to view.
Cantor and Nathanson (1997) found that males are more likely than females to watch
television that has a high incident of physical violence.
18
Data has indicated that though verbal and indirect aggressions are the most
common forms of aggression on primetime television, physical aggression is also
relatively frequent with at least one act appearing in 70% of all shows (Glascock, 2008).
Data from a content analysis of primetime television shown in 2005 supports the social
norm that males perpetrate physical violence more than females. The content analysis
indicated that females were depicted as more indirectly aggressive and both males and
females were equally verbally aggressive during the 97 hours of programming analyzed
(Glascock, 2008). High levels of physical violence, along with prolonged exposure to
seeing acts of aggression on television, have been correlated with desensitization to
aggression. Fanti, Vanman, Henrich, & Avraamides (2009) examined the impact of
repeated exposure to aggression and found that the “psychological impact of media
violence was reduced” with viewers “feeling less sympathy for violence victims
and…enjoying more the violence portrayed in the media scenes” (p. 185).
Harem
‘Harem’ is operationally defined as a group of committed women who serve as
sexual partners for one man. The concept of a harem is opposite to the prevailing norm of
a woman and man committed to one another in a monogamous relationship. Weaver and
Woollard (2008) note that although monogamy restricts both “sex and additional
relationships of erotic love”, it is still the most desirable type of relationship, and it is still
the societal norm (p. 506). Monogamy has both a personal and a social value, and when
the relationship is violated by one partner seeking erotic love outside of the union, a
personal and social violation occurs. The idea that an individual within a monogamous
19
relationship will not have erotic thoughts about an individual other than their partner is
unattainable; however a dedicated partner is careful not to act upon their thoughts
(Weaver & Wollard, 2008).
Monogamous relationships require an equal amount of dedication from both
partners, unlike the harem relationship. Relationships where multiple women share one
man are not an evenly balanced bond. Instead, the women are giving their total attention
and affection to a single man yet they only receive a small percentage of his time back.
This type of situation can cause intense jealously and competition amongst the women as
they battle for his affections. Choosing a monogamous relationship over an open one
“displays faith in the strength of the relationship” (Weaver & Woolard, 2008, p. 521).
Individuals who specifically choose to enter open relationships where multiple women
vie for the love of one man are counternormative since our culture values a committed
relationship between two individuals. Therefore, relationships depicted on reality dating
programs - where upwards of twenty-five people compete for their chance to fall in love
with one individual – are violations of prevailing social norms.
Chooser showing dominance over contestants
The purpose of reality dating competition programs such as Joe Millionaire or
Rock of Love Bus with Bret Michaels is to create a situation where twenty-five females
vie to win the attention and love of the bachelor. The bachelor, in this scenario, maintains
all control over the contestants by either choosing to bestow his affections or choosing to
20
eliminate them from the competition. The female contestants are ruled by his desires
alone (and perhaps the producer’s), and they have no choice but to bow to his needs. A
prominent feminist critical theorist notes that these types of programs “perpetuate
problematic stereotypical images of appropriate female demeanors and goals.” (GrahamBertolini, 2004, p. 341). The prize of the bachelor represents the chance at love and
marriage with a popular and powerful male. The most common method female
contestants utilize to gain the attention of their chooser is sexual behaviors that violate
societal norms such as Appropriation of Female Homosexuality and exposing body parts
or dressing scantily in public.
Yep and Camacho (2004) analyzed The Bachelor and found significant evidence
that heterogender relations were regulated via situations in which the female contestants
possessed limited power with their status in the competition being greatly controlled by
the bachelor. Heterogender relations, operationally defined as “the asymmetrical
stratification of the sexes, privileging men and exploiting women, in the institution of
patriarchal heterosexuality” (pg 338), is portrayed in The Bachelor in three manners. Yep
and Camacho contend that the show’s repeated focus on the women’s physical beauty
through the use of camera angles that focus on their breasts, buttocks and legs and by
creating situations where the women are encouraged to disrobe or show their bodies (i.e.
in pajama parties and hot tub/swimming scenes). Additionally, asymmetrical
heterogender relations are also seen between the female contestants, most female-tofemale verbal communication is centered on their feelings for the bachelor. Thirdly, the
21
reoccurrence of “fairy tale love” imagery contributes to the ideology of patriarchal
heterosexuality (Yep & Camacho, 2004).
Male Gaze
Television programs produced from the masculine perspective, or male gaze,
promote the image of women as sexual objects where males have control of them (Usher,
1997). The concept of male gaze is linked to power and domination. Mulvey (1975)
identified three attributes of male gaze: the camera represents the voyeuristic male gaze,
male characters make female characters the object of their gaze and, lastly, the viewers’
gaze is dictated by the masculine gaze of both the camera and characters. Usher (1997)
noted that the director or screenwriter could not necessarily be held responsible for this
male gaze; instead, the gaze reflects the “relative cultural and psychological positions of
‘woman’ and ‘man’ represented within the narratives” (p. 85).
The three most common stereotypes of females within mass media are “sex
object, person trying to be beautiful for men, and wife and mother” (Brandt & Carstens,
2005, p. 233). These three stereotypes control and enforce hegemonic power of males
over submissive females. Brandt and Carstens (2005) examined the role that journalists
play in the control of women in Sports Illustrated magazine. The researchers argued that
journalists, who derive power from the magazine, select which women are given voice
but insist those women “remain subordinate to the magazine, which has a mandate to
create idealized identities for them”. Strategic camera angles and distances, sexual poses
and page layout create these identities. Frequently, Sports Illustrated journalists choose to
profile women who are considered sexy and beautiful and tend to ignore women who are
22
“strong and emotionally balanced, sporting professionals” (Brandt & Carstens, 2005, p.
233). Male gaze plays a significant role in the advancement of hegemonic power, as
sports female professionals are ignored, creating “serious social and psychological
problems” for them (Brandt & Carstens, 2005, p. 233).
Misogyny via Humiliation
Misogyny, the hatred or contempt for women, is not a new phenomenon. Feminist
researchers have examined society’s patriarchal structure and determined that its role is
one that supports the view that females are lesser than males. It appears that misogyny
and purposeful degradation of women share many common characteristics. The
intentional humiliation of women on reality television may be contributing to the overall
societal norm that women who behave counternormatively deserve to be sexually
objectified via male gaze, labeled offensive names (i.e. slut) and encouraged to drink
excessively to ensure their reputation is degraded.
Mills (2004) argues that reality television creates and contributes to “the culture
of humiliation” to ensure high viewership ratings (p. 79). Programs centered on revealing
personal faults and acting foolish is not a new concept (Candied Camera, The Dating
Game) but there has been a distinct shift in acting silly and being in on the joke to being
excessively supplied with alcohol and set up in high stress competitive situations fueled
by jealousy and hostility. Instead of television programs geared to poke lighthearted fun
at participants, today’s reality television contestants “are not winners so much as losers to
whom the viewing audience can feel superior” (Mills, 2004, p. 79).
23
The female contestants on Joe Millionaire were told that they were to compete for
the affections of an individual who was very wealthy. Of course, as the viewers were
inside on the deception, the male ‘prize’ was actually a blue collar worker who lived a
life of modest means. The overarching premise of the show was to depict the female
contestants as “gold diggers who will always make themselves (sexually?) available to
rich men” (Mills, 2004, p. 80). This premise fits well into the societal norm that females
desire to marry males with financial means, with the contestants being humiliated as they
threw themselves at the male ‘prize’.
Obviously female contestants who choose to be on reality dating shows are aware
of the embarrassment they may face, yet their yearning for fame and money may be more
important than their dignity. Though the female contestants must be held accountable for
their choices, the producers who consistently push the envelope by encouraging more
extreme and counternormative behaviors should also be held responsible for the culture
of humiliation. In some cases, perhaps the producers are more liable than the female
contestants are. As will be shown in the content analysis, it appears that the contestants
chosen for celebreality dating shows may be alcoholics or suffer from acute emotional
issues. The exploitation and humiliation of females who have physical and psychological
problems for the purposes of retaining viewers could be described as misogynistic.
24
Chapter 3
ROCK OF LOVE BUS WITH BRET MICHAELS
BACKGROUND AND HISTORY
Boasting more than nine reality television programs in the 2009 spring season,
cable channel VH1 has become a cornerstone in the reality television genre. As the sister
channel to Music TV (MTV), VH1 launched in 1985 with the mission to appeal to a
slightly older demographic by focusing on more mainstream popular music. Over the
next decade, VH1 continued to readjust their objective via multiple transformations in
branding, leadership and programming. The VH1 brand, currently controlled by Viacom,
has branched into specialized channels (i.e., VH1 Classic, VH1 Megahits, VH1 Soul and
VH1 Uno) both domestically and internationally. In addition to an international presence,
the cable station’s online community continues to grow as their programming gains in
popularity.
Michael Hirschorn, VH1 programming executive, simplified their program
objective saying, “the only sin is to be boring” (Associated Press, 2007). With shows
such as Flavor of Love, Charm School, I Love Money, and Rock of Love, VH1 has
selected programs that combine two of the American viewer’s fundamental interests:
famous individuals and highly outrageous, and at times embarrassing, situations which
often depict counternormative behaviors. The blending of these features form the
foundation of VH1’s “Celebreality” block, which is focused on producing television
programs that portray celebrities in situations that are lightly scripted to appear as nonscripted. Cris Abrego and Mark Cronin, partners who own the production company 51
25
Minds, perfected the celebreality program structure and, during the 2007 season alone,
produced eight series on VH1 (Associated Press, 2007).
Celebreality dating-competition shows, such a VH1’s Rock of Love with Bret
Michaels, continue to grow exponentially in popularity. Bret Michaels, the lead singer of
the glam metal band Poison, agreed to star as the bachelor only after insisting that he
would be able to sing his own music and, above all, allow the show to evolve on its own
and remain unscripted (Price, 2007). Creators Cris Abrego and Mark Cronin and VH1
executives quickly agreed to Michaels’ terms and production began in late 2006. The first
season premiered on July 15, 2007, consisting of 12 regular episodes and a clip and
reunion show. Abrego and Cronin explain that they do not have a political or exploitative
agenda, but instead Rock of Love with Bret Michaels is intended to capture the “women
attracted to heavy metal hair bands and the lunacy that ensues from that” (Associated
Press, 2007).
Similar to other celebreality dating-competition programs produced for VH1,
Rock of Love with Bret Michaels starred twenty-five women competing against each
other to win Michaels’ heart, potentially becoming his “Rock of Love”. Fueled by the
many physical and social challenges the participants must complete, tensions flared
between the contestants as the competition heated up, both in and out of the bedroom.
Midway through the season, Michaels began to focus his attention on easygoing rocker
chick, Jes Rickleff. The emotional connection seemed to grow as they spent more time
together and, on the finale, stayed together in Cabo San Lucas Mexico. In a dramatic
26
ceremony, Michaels chose Rickleff over fellow competitor Heather Chadwell to make
Rickleff his “Rock of Love”.
The second season, premiering on January 13, 2008, promised to be even more
outrageous than the first season. VH1 advertised the first episode as: “Bret Michaels…is
back looking for love, and this time he means it! Twenty more beautiful babes vie for his
love and affection. Some bare more than their souls in an attempt to grab Bret’s attention.
Only fifteen will stay after an elimination ceremony with two startling surprises”.
Clearly VH1 recognized the appeal of their hit show, audiences wanted to see
beautiful contestants resorting to actions that were salacious and indecent in order to be
victorious. In promoting the new season as one full of shocking conduct and revelations,
VH1 was exploiting their audience’s intense desire to watch counternormative behavior.
Season two of Rock of Love with Bret Michaels was designed to fulfill their audience’s
innate craving to view violations of social norms and it was guaranteed to satisfy.
The winner of the second season, Ambre Lake, seemed to be the least likely
contestant to be chosen. Michaels repeatedly expressed that this would be his last season
as he saw his future with Lake. Apparently, however, Lake did not see her future with
Michaels. Though they cuddled up for the camera at the Reunion show that aired on April
20, 2008, within a couple of months they had broken up. Michaels’ life on the road was
too busy for Lake, who had a full time career as a model and television host. Michaels,
rejected for the second time, decided that he needed to find a woman who was
comfortable with his intense tour schedule and able to put up with his groupies. Just three
27
months after the Reunion, VH1 and Michaels announced on July 16 that they had teamed
up once again to find Michaels a “Rock of Love”.
Season three, which premiered on January 4, 2009, came with a change in name
and concept. Rock of Love Bus with Bret Michaels incorporated even more of Michaels’
music by having the twenty-three contestants travel in two buses along with his concert
tour. The women traveled with Michaels all over America with stops in Kentucky,
Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Alabama and Florida. Each stop had a new
competition and tensions continued to flair, due in part to the close quarters shared by the
women on the tour bus. Rock of Love Bus with Bret Michaels made headlines during the
filming when a driver for the Bret Michaels’ tour fell asleep while driving, crashing his
truck into the SUV of two nineteen year old college students (McGahan, 2008).
The final two contestants, Mindy Hall and Laurie “Taya” Parker, both appeared to
feel a strong physical and emotional connection with Michaels. Though starting the
season as best friends, Hall and Parker grew more distant as they both came to terms with
their emotions towards Michaels. In the end, however, there can be only one “Rock of
Love”, with Parker beating Hall in the final elimination. Teasing the audience with an
engagement ring, Michaels expressed that he is only 99% in love with Parker and will
give her the ring when he feels 100% in love with her. Three months after the final
elimination, Michaels and Parker shared conflicting stories regarding the status of their
relationship. Michaels expressed that he is seeing Parker in a “fun way” and admitted to
dating other women. Parker, however, shared that they are still together and blogged on
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her MySpace “I’m definitely soooo addicted to his smile! We will see each other again
soon… I am counting down the days” (Reality Tea, 2009).
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Chapter 4
METHODS
This thesis utilized a mixed methodology, which includes a content analysis
identifying both quantitative and qualitative data. Data was first identified by
qualitatively examining episodes to identify overarching themes, and then it was
quantitatively coded for specific instances of counternormative behavior present in Rock
of Love Bus with Bret Michaels.
To ensure that conducting qualitative and quantitative content analyses utilizing
four episodes from a season of twelve episodes was adequate, a review of studies
utilizing the same method was evaluated. Several studies have examined sexual themes
on television shows and have utilized varying numbers of episodes with the intention of
gathering an accurate assessment (for review see Manganello, Franzini & Jordan, 2008).
In order to determine the ideal number of episodes needed to analyze sexual content on
television, Manganello et al. (2008) conducted a content analysis to explore previous
findings. Their review of existing literature indicated that the number of episodes utilized
fluctuates greatly and there is “no ‘gold standard’, ultimately leaving those who use
content analysis research to try to draw conclusions from previously published studies
concerning what constitutes an adequate sample size or the most efficacious sampling
techniques” (Manganello et al., 2008 p. 10). The results of their review of literature
suggest that seven episodes are needed to conduct a character-based analysis, while a
content analysis of 3-5 episodes is appropriate for an assessment of the overall sexual
content of a program’s season. Therefore, consistent with similar studies, a sample of
30
four episodes from the third season of Rock of Love Bus with Bret Michaels was deemed
adequate to determine major themes via thorough qualitative and quantitative content
analysis.
The Rock of Love Bus with Bret Michaels season used in this study was comprised
of twelve episodes and a reunion show. Every fourth episode from the third season was
analyzed in this paper; and they were : the first episode, “Hustle on the Bustle”, the fourth
episode, “Roadies”, the eighth episode, “Bikini Day Care” and the twelfth episode,
“Bret’s Rock of Love III” (Cronin & Abrego, 2009). By selecting every fourth episode
for inclusion in the study and analysis in this way, overarching themes of the whole
season can be identified and assessed.
The first 11 episodes were formatted to begin with contestants competing to win
a personal date with Michaels and ending with an elimination of one or more of the
contestants. The season finale, episode twelve, was formatted to have the final two
contestants go out on personal, individual dates with Michaels, with the final elimination
showing Michaels choosing his “Rock of Love” – the winner of the overall contest. The
week following the season finale, VHI aired a reunion show, which included contestant
interviews and an update on the relationship between Michaels and the season winner.
Two coders viewed each of the four episodes used in the study a minimum of
three times. The aim was to identify subtle nuances and evaluate veiled discourses.
Though each episode had its own subplot and featured outrageous behavior, the season as
a whole shared several common themes that highlighted the considerable
counternormative behavior displayed during the show. The first viewing of an episode
31
was designed to identify the overall counternormative content and to gain an
understanding of the roles of each contestant (i.e., the alcoholic contestant, the sex-crazed
contestant, etc.). Each episode was viewed a second time to examine the specific
counternormative behaviors portrayed during the show and to code counternormative
behavior exhibited by each contestant. The third viewing of the episode was to evaluate
the overall themes depicted within the show and to discern how they created a metatheme of misogyny via humiliation.
The coders discussed any instances that appeared to overlap categories (i.e.,
noting when counternormative behaviors occur in conjunction, such as when contestants
used swear words while passively being violent while pouring salsa in a fellow
contestant’s luggage). Intercoder reliability was established by discussing the definition
of counternormative behaviors and coming to a consensus. Though some behaviors were
quite easily identifiable (e.g., drinking alcohol or open mouth kissing another contestant),
others that were more subjective were operationally defined. For example, the behavior
of “gossip” was operationally defined as behavior wherein a contestant willfully and
maliciously talked about another contestant with the intent to damage her character.
Due to the high number of individuals featured on Rock of Love Bus with Bret
Michaels (23 contestants plus Bret Michaels) the two coders were each assigned half of
the actors to code. Specifically, each coder focused on 12 contestants during episode
one, 5 contestants on episode four, 3 contestants on episode eight and one contestant on
episode 12 (the lowering of the number of contestants was due to weekly eliminations).
To ensure that the coders were identifying the correct contestants, color photographs of
32
all twenty-three contestants were printed from the VH1 website and utilized during the
coding process. As contestants were eliminated, the photos were removed from the lineup
until there were only the final two contestants left.
After identifying eight overarching themes through a thematic analysis
(heterosexual sexual behavior, appropriation of female homosexuality, alcohol usage,
verbal aggression and gossip, physical aggression, harem, chooser showing dominance
over contestants and male gaze), several categories were divided into subcategories and
each subcategory was broken up by each contestant and by episode to conduct a
quantitative content analysis. For example, the category “Swearing” (included in the
theme of verbal aggression) was divided by twenty-four actors and then again by each of
the four episodes.
33
Chapter 5
QUANTITATIVE DATA ANALYSIS
Based on the qualitative content analysis, six categories were identified as
counternormative behavior: Nudity, Heterosexual Sexual Behavior Initiated by Bret
Michaels, Heterosexual Sexual Behavior Initiated by Female Contestants, Appropriation
of Female Homosexuality, Alcohol Usage, and Violence. Each of the six categories was
divided into more specific subcategories to gain a greater understanding of the frequency
of each counternormative behavior exhibited.
The category “Nudity” was divided into three subcategories: Exposing Breasts,
Exposing Vaginal Area, and Exposing Buttocks. The category “Heterosexual Sexual
Behavior Initiated by Bret Michaels” was divided into three subcategories: Michaels
Initiated Closed Mouth Kiss, Michaels Initiated Open Mouth Kiss, and Michaels Initiated
Sexual Discussion. The category “Heterosexual Sexual Behavior Initiated by Female
Contestants” was divided into four subcategories: Contestant Initiated Closed Mouth
Kiss, Contestant Initiated Open Mouth Kiss, Contestant Initiated Implied Sexual
Intercourse, and Contestant Initiated Sexual Discussion. The category “Appropriation of
Female Homosexuality” was divided into four subcategories: Contestant with Contestant
Initiated Closed Mouth Kiss, Contestant with Contestant Initiated Open Mouth Kiss,
Contestant with Contestant Initiated Implied Sexual Intercourse, and Contestant with
Contestant Initiated Sexual Discussion. The category “Alcohol Usage” was divided into
four subcategories: Michaels or Contestant Shown Drinking Hard Alcohol, Michaels or
34
Contestant Shown Drinking Beer/Wine/Champagne, Michaels or Contestant Appearing
Drunk, and Michaels or Contestant Appearing Hung Over or Throwing Up from
Excessive Alcohol Intake. The category “Violence” was divided into six subcategories:
Contestant Pouring Alcohol on Head of another Contestant (a frequently used act of
physical aggression), Contestant Destroying Fellow Contestant’s Property, Contestants
Name Calling / Insulting / Teasing Each Other Face-to-Face, Contestants Name Calling /
Insulting / Teasing Each Other Behind their Back, Threatening Physical Violence,
Performing Physical Violence.
From a quantitative framework, there are several specific examples of blatantly
counternormative behavior depicted by contestants on Rock of Love Bus with Bret
Michaels (for data, see Tables 1-25 for each category). The specific instance of
counternormative behavior exhibited by either one of the contestants or Michaels during
the four analyzed episodes were identified and counted. Six major quantitative themes
were identified: nudity, heterosexual sexual behavior, appropriation of female
homosexuality, passive or physical violence, and swearing.
The first theme identified quantitatively was the appearance or use of nudity of
the contestants to focus Michaels’ attention on themselves and away from the other
contestants (see Tables 1, 2, 3). Though most common in the first and fourth episodes, we
identified 25 instances that a contestant exposed their breasts or wore clothing that
exposed them (see-thru or revealing clothing which was blurred by VH1). Additionally,
in the four episodes analyzed, there were 5 instances that a contestant exposed their
vaginal area and 5 instances that they exposed their buttocks.
35
The second quantitative theme, heterosexual sexual behavior initiated by
Michaels, was identified seventy-one times during the four episodes (see Tables 4, 5, 6).
These heterosexual sexual behaviors included Michaels close mouth kissing various
contestants (27 instances), Michaels open mouth kissing contestants (23 instances), and
Michaels initiating sexual discussion with contestants (21 instances). Though the pure
amount of sexual behavior exhibited between the contestants and Michaels is high, it can
be considered truly counternormative since nearly half of all instances of heterosexual
sexual kissing occurred during the first episode when the contestants first met Michaels.
Additionally, this behavior is deemed counternormative due to Michaels kissing or
having sexual discussions with multiple contestants at a time.
Similarly, there were forty-three times when contestants exhibited
counternormative heterosexual sexual behavior during the four selected episodes (see
Tables 7, 8, 9, 10). These instances include contestants close mouth kissing Michaels (26
instances), contestants open mouth kissing Michaels (14 instances), contestants initiating
sexual discussion with Michaels (13 instances) and one instance of implied sexual
intercourse between a contestant and Michaels.
The third significant quantitative theme, appropriation of female homosexuality,
was identified 45 times during the four episodes (see Tables 11, 12, 13, 14). Though the
bulk of this behavior (27 instances) was exhibited during the first episode prior to the
elimination of any contestants, the nature of the sexual contact between the female
contestants is counternormative. The most common form of sexual contact between
36
contestants was open mouth kissing (35 instances in four episodes) with other sexual
contact including simulating oral sex, sexual grinding, and female mouth/vagina contact.
The fourth major quantitative theme, alcohol usage, was the most predominant
behavior exhibited by the contestants on Rock of Love Bus with Bret Michaels (see Tables
15, 16, 17, 18). Though an adult legally drinking alcohol isn’t counternormative, the
levels of binge drinking exhibited by the contestants violate societal norms. Over four
episodes, our coding identified 102 instances of hard alcohol being drunk (49 instances in
episode one, 33 instances in episode four, 18 instances in episode eight, 2 instances in
episode 12). In addition, the contestants were shown drinking beer, wine or champagne
110 times throughout the four episodes (57 instances in episode one, 36 instances in
episode four, 14 instances in episode eight, 3 instances in episode 12). Out of the
combined total of 207 instances of drinking alcohol, the contestants appeared to be drunk
30 times (some contestants were shown repeatedly drunk in separate instances during a
single episode). Our analysis identified 8 times when a contestant either complained of
feeling hung over or threw up because of extreme alcohol usage.
The fifth theme identified was the number of instances that the contestants spoke
to each other utilizing expletives and/or calling each other degrading names (see Table
19). There were 152 instances of swear words uttered by contestants during the four
episodes. The most common was “bitch” spoken between contestants but also included
several instances of “ass”, “fuck”, “mother fucker” and “bullshit”. Though most of these
were edited by VH1, it was usually apparent which curse word was used by examining
the context, the situation and carefully analyzing the verbal exchange between the
37
contestants. Though utilizing curse words and vulgar language is not necessarily
counternormative, the shear amount of swear words and the seeming inability to
respectfully and calmly discuss disagreements without utilizing these words hints that the
contestants are exhibiting norm violating behavior.
The sixth major theme identified as counternormative behavior was passive
aggressive gossip and physical aggression between contestants (see Tables 20, 21, 22, 23,
24, 25). Within the four episodes, there were three instances of physical aggression
between contestants. The instances included a contestant throwing crunched up chips in
another contestant’s face, a contestant throwing an object at another contestant and one
contestant restraining and choking another contestant. Additionally, there were nine
instances where contestants threw or poured alcohol on other contestants out of anger.
Verbal aggression counted for 13 instances and included threats such as “I am going to
knock you out, bitch”, “I am going to fuck your ass up”, “Get the hell out of my face”,
“Fuck you, bitch” and “I puke on your mom and she loves it”. One contestant destroyed
the personal property of another contestant by ripping up her documents and pouring a
full jar of salsa into her suitcase on top of her clothes. The most frequent forms of
aggression were name-calling and insulting or teasing either face-to-face or behind the
back of another contestant. There were 45 instances of insulting behavior face-to-face
and 28 instances of gossiping behind contestants’ back.
As supported by quantitative data (see Tables 1-25), the behaviors and attitudes
exhibited by Michaels and the contestants on the Rock of Love Bus with Bret Michaels
are counternormative. These counternormative behaviors include frequent nudity,
38
extreme alcohol usage, physical violence and multiple (and occasionally simultaneous)
sexual partnerships between Michaels and the contestants and between the contestants
themselves. The mixture of intense competition felt by the contestants to win the love of
Michaels and the constant presence of alcohol begins to paint a larger picture. By
combining the quantitative content analysis and qualitative thematic analysis, a metatheme of misogyny via humiliation can be clearly observed.
39
Chapter 6
QUALITATIVE DATA ANALYSIS
The research question sought to determine if themes of misogyny are present in
Rock of Love Bus with Bret Michaels (Cronin & Abrego, 2009). A comprehensive
content and thematic analysis of the four episodes identified eight themes: heterosexual
sexual behavior, appropriation of female homosexuality, alcohol usage, verbal aggression
and gossip, physical aggression, harem, chooser showing dominance over contestants and
male gaze. These eight themes point to a meta-theme of misogyny via the humiliation of
women.
Heterosexual Sexual Behavior
Michaels begins the season by explaining that he and season two winner, Ambre
Lake, broke up because she was unable to handle his rock and roll lifestyle. Clearly, he
believes that his career and lifestyle are more important than their relationship since he
was apparently unable to compromise with her needs. Michaels explains that he wants to
find the right woman for his life and, in saying this, disregards the woman’s feelings and
needs. He is only focused on his career aspirations and how he can fit someone into them.
His music is his main interest and he says that music has been “the reason for and the ruin
of all [his] relationships”. Supporting the male sexual script, it appears that Michaels
simply wants a woman who is sexually available to him when he wants her but does not
demand that he remain equally dedicated to the relationship. Michaels says he wants an
individual who he can come home to, be his best friend, a lover he can get “hot, nasty,
40
dirty, crazy with” and someone who will be patient with his passion for music. During
the season, it does not appear that he is able to get past the sexual chemistry with any of
the women to focus on whether or not they would be compatible as friends.
When Michaels is first meeting the women, he immediate tells them they have
“smoking hot bodies”. It appears that Michaels may have found a group of women who
are interested in purely sexual relationships, with one contestant saying that she likes
power, bondage and loves to be tied up. Another contestant says that she is everything a
man would want and that she is beautiful, admitting she is not too smart but “that’s ok”.
During an interview, one woman admits that she finds Michaels so attractive that she
could orgasm “over and over and over and over and over” again just thinking about him.
These behaviors are counternormative for the feminine sexual script, which states that
females should remain passive and virginal.
Within a few minutes after meeting the contestants, Michaels begins to take
photos of each of them for their tour backstage passes. The act of taking photos of the
women, instead of making discussion or even asking their name, immediately reduces
them to sexual objects for him to admire. Michaels says that he sees “a lot of a girl’s
personality through the lens”. Additionally, he says that the manner the women present
their body tells him a lot about how they will handle themselves out on the road.
Though the photo shoot starts out innocently enough with the women posing in
sexy poses while rolling on the floor or dancing in sultry manners, Taya, the contestant
who ultimately won the season, decides to remove her jeans to show off her buttocks.
Another woman, who will not be outdone, strips completely naked during her photo
41
shoot, in the hopes of topping Taya’s display. Each additional woman attempts to
compete to be the sexiest in the hopes of winning the affections of Michaels. One
contestant, who is clearly feeling uneasy, decides not to remove her clothing and is met
with diagetic music implying that she is doing something wrong because she is not being
overtly sexual.
After the initial meeting, a contestant speaks with Michaels and tells him that if
she loved him enough and he wanted her to become bisexual then she would be with
another woman for him. Within the same episode, a clique of four blondes who make up
the ‘Blondetourage’ share a group kiss with Michaels, hoping to leave a lasting
impression on him. In another episode, several women start a kissing contest with
Michaels to keep his attention on them. One woman straddles Michaels and clearly
simulates sex with him in front of the other women. Beverly, the tomboy, gets drunk and
angry that Michaels does not seem to be paying attention to her. She says “I can’t handle
this. He is a rock star; he had this for twenty years. Doesn’t he want something new?”.
Her question is answered with another woman yelling that Beverly isn’t paying attention
to Michaels, which Beverly retorts “No, [Michaels] isn’t paying attention to us”. Beverly
is given advice that she needs to try harder to capture Michaels’ attention, to which she
says, “What should I do? Should I hike my skirt up higher? Should I pull my shirt down
farther?”
In “Roadies”, Mindy, the southern girl next door, is concerned that she may be
eliminated quickly because “I am the normal girl with the normal job, if anyone is the
underdog it is me” (Cronin & Abrego, 2009). By the season finale, when the competition
42
is between Mindy and Taya, Mindy no longer has an issue having intercourse with
Michaels. It is implied that they have sex with each other when they sleep together in the
same room after their final date. Taya, the Penthouse Pet and ultimate winner, decides
that she does not want sleep with Michaels and does not stay the night on their final date.
Appropriation of Female Homosexuality
Denes (2007) argues that because of the growing popularity of heterosexual
females using bisexuality as a tool for attracting male attention, individuals who consider
themselves sincere bisexuals are being wrongfully stigmatized as whores. The rise in this
behavior is increasing the “beliefs that bisexual women are really heterosexual women
seeking the attention and arousal of on-looking men” (Denes, 2007, p. 44). Joiner (2006)
suggests that females use their bodies to “stage bisexuality… for material gain, like free
entry or alcohol, or to advertise that they’re sexually open and adventurous” (p. 2).
Though the females are choosing to behave in this manner, they are objectifying
themselves as merely objects for male arousal.
Sexual behaviors depicted between contestants included kissing, passionate
kissing, intimate touching and implied sexual contact of mouth and genitals. Common
sexual behaviors between some of the women include simulating oral sex and sexual
touching of breasts. Clearly eager for Michaels’ attention during his concert, two
contestants kissed and danced together in a sexual manner and at one point started to
gyrate on top of each other while on stage. They continued with their sexual behavior as
one woman dropped to her knees and simulated oral sex on the other. In her interview,
another contestant said that their actions were disgusting and that they were swapping
43
diseases and questioned the motives; were they there for Michaels or, instead, putting on
a show. One of the women who participated in the heteroflexible behavior indicated that
she thinks she becomes a lesbian when she is drunk.
During another scene at a bar, again fueled by alcohol, two women are seen
making out with each other. One hops onto the bar and spreads her legs; it is obvious that
she does not have underwear on under her dress, as her crotch is blurred out. With
Michaels and the other women watching, one contestant takes a shot of alcohol and pours
it onto the vagina of the woman seated on the bar. It is implied that she then drinks the
alcohol from the other woman’s vagina. The patrons in the bar are stunned by their
actions and, during the interview, Michaels notes that he is glad that alcohol kills 99% of
all germs. At the elimination ceremony later that evening, both of the women who
participated in this counternormative behavior are eliminated.
Alcohol Usage
The most common counternormative behavior identified through the season is
extreme alcohol usage. Nearly every scene shows at least one woman drinking either
shots of alcohol, beer, wine or Champagne. From the very first scene when Michaels
meets the women, they are given unlimited alcoholic drinks. Several women have at least
one drink in their hand or they use beer as a chaser for hard liquor. There is unlimited
alcohol in the tour busses, at the concerts, in the hotel rooms and at the many bars they
visit during the season. Though there are plenty of alcoholic drinks in every scene, there
is very little food except the occasional chip bag lying around.
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From the first thing in the morning until the last thing at night, the women
constantly have alcohol around them and they appear to be consistently drinking. Marcia,
who is clearly an alcoholic, says that she is happy to have unlimited Tequila with all the
drinks being free. One contestant notes that there is little to do except drink. Taya, the
ultimate season winner, is one of the few contestants that does not drink excessively. She
asks the other women, “By the time [Michaels] shows up, what are you going to do,
breath your liquor breath on him?”
One early morning, Marcia begins the day by drinking several shots of Tequila,
chased by more Tequila. By mid-morning, she is vomiting in the bathroom, explaining
that she has had too much to drink. However, this does not stop her and she continues to
drink into the night. Even after a physically aggressive situation between a very drunk
Marcia and Ashley, the producers do not step in and limit her alcohol intake. Another
day, Marcia is drinking and someone asks her how much she has had to drink, she tells
her that she has consumed half a bottle of Tequila. One contestant explains that it 8 a.m.
and Marcia is already drunk. Marcia says that she’s having a good time because there is
Tequila everywhere. She “looks over here and there is Tequila” and she “goes into the
bathroom and there is Tequila”.
Verbal Aggression and Gossip
Celebreality television dating contestants are constantly foraging strategic
alliances with individuals they feel can benefit them. One method of building these bonds
is by gossiping or deliberately sharing negative information about individuals that may be
seen as an obstacle to winning the ultimate prize: the love of the celebrity. The two most
45
common types of negative gossip displayed in reality television shows are “bald, onrecord insults” and “the reporting of behavior or character faults in another participant”
(Thornborrow & Morris, 2004, p. 265). Though less seen on reality television programs,
positive gossip can also be utilized to gain the acceptance of a particular group. Self
directed gossip that is personally used to promote their role or character can allow the
viewing audience to understand and value them as a stronger contestant.
Fueled by alcohol, tension and frustration, the women begin to take their feelings
out on one another by verbally assaulting each other and spreading gossip. The thematic
analysis revealed that each episode contained several acts of verbal aggression and
gossip. Though some of the rude remarks are during the interviews after the competition
has ended, the majority of the aggressive acts were face to face. One instance occurred
between Natasha, a self proclaimed aspiring madam, and Nikki, a DJ and stripper.
Natasha and Nikki got into a verbal dispute while trying to load the tour bus with
luggage. Nikki got angry with Natasha and began to yell obscenities at her, which
prompted Natasha to say that Nikki is “[expletive] nuts and needs some medication”.
Their argument continues to build until several women are yelling at each other. From
this situation, it is obvious that the women are unable to show any patience with one
another.
Another verbally aggressive encounter occurs between Beverly, the tomboy of the
group, and Ashley. While at a bar, a drunken Ashley calls Beverly a “dude” and tells her
that “Bret doesn’t want to date a dude”, which prompts Beverly to call Ashley a “Paris
Hilton-wannabe”. Tensions flair and, as their argument progresses, they yell obscenities
46
at each other calling one another inappropriate names. Fueled by alcohol, they act in this
verbally aggressive manner in front of the other women, who do little to stop the yelling
and name-calling. In an interview, one woman said that Beverly and Ashley were acting
“drunk and whore-ish”.
Talking about fellow contestants behind their backs is a common technique for
establishing friendships. Taya, Penthouse Pet and the ultimate winner of the season, and
Mindy, southern girl next door, became close friends and expressed their concern that
some of the other women are not the type of person that Michaels would bring home to
his mother or have around his children. A member of the ‘Blondetourage’ clique heard
this and determined that Taya and Mindy were speaking about them so, in retaliation,
they poured a large bottle of salsa into Mindy’s open luggage. Instead of continuing the
argument, Mindy and Taya decided to leave the room and ignore the aggressors.
Gossiping is another tactic utilized by the women in an attempt to gain some
control of their situation. After Michaels’ concert, the women go to a bar and begin to
drink heavily. During the evening, Ashley believes she sees Beverly kissing the drummer
in Michaels’ band. Realizing that this could be a way to ensure that Beverly is removed at
the next elimination, Ashley begins to yell across the room that she saw Beverly making
out with the drummer. Again, Ashley is verbally aggressive towards Beverly, calling her
a “[expletive] bitch” and a “slut”. Though when Michaels later learns about Beverly’s
transgressions, he chooses not eliminate her.
Physical Violence
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Consuming large amounts of alcohol fuels all of the physical violence between
the women of Rock of Love Bus with Bret Michaels. During the first night, after the
women have been grouped into their busses, Ashley, a tattooed stripper and mother to a
young son, begins to make fun of Marcia, a Brazilian who is an alcoholic. Ashley begins
to sing an off-key song about Marcia, singing, “you look like a beaver” and making fun
of her accent. Marcia immediately retaliates by getting into Ashley’s personal space and
pouring a bottle of beer on her head. Marcia walks away and Ashley does not escalate the
argument any further.
Another physical aggression between Ashley and Marcia that does not end as
simply is also alcohol-induced. An obviously drunk Marcia begins a fight with Ashley,
throwing a bag of chips in her face. Ashley, who took this as a threat, emptied her beer
onto Marcia’s head. Instead of walking away from the situation, Marcia pushes Ashley
onto the couch and proceeds to choke her until security arrives to break up the fight.
Marcia stumbles off drunk as Ashley yells out that she is going to press charges against
her because of the assault. Neither Marcia nor Ashley are eliminated and Michaels takes
each of them aside to make sure they were both comfortable with staying in the
competition.
Though most of the physical violence depicted on the show began with verbal
aggression, one situation appears to be accidental. At a bar after Michaels’ concert,
Beverly, the tomboy, tosses her empty beer cup on the floor, where it hits another
contestant’s foot, seemingly by accident. The other woman immediately gets angry and
believes that Beverly threw the cup at her on purpose. Instead of apologizing or
48
explaining that it was an accident, they get into an argument where each of them throws
alcohol on each other’s head and clothes.
Harem
A harem-type situation occurs when a group of women devotes their every
thought to satisfying the male harem leader. The women competing for the affections of
Michaels form a harem and they make themselves sexually available to him even though
they understand that he may be sexually attracted to another member of the group. The
producers of the show pay special attention to ensuring that the women feel like they are
a group by immediately breaking them apart into the two tour busses – the blue bus and
the pink bus. The women chose which bus they would prefer and, as luck would have it,
nearly all of the blondes chose the pink bus and the brunettes chose the blue bus. Two
separate harem-like groups emerged, one with mostly brunette women and the other with
blondes who called themselves the ‘Blondetourage’. The women take their role as
Michaels’ ‘girlfriend’ very importantly and police each other to make sure everyone is
only paying attention to Michaels’ needs. When one woman kisses another man, the
women yell at her and tell her she does not deserve to be there because she is not there
for Michaels.
To ensure that they constantly feel that they are a group and not individuals, the
girls are asked to dress alike (“Dress to impress”) and they live together in tight quarters.
Each morning, the women are woken up by security and told to line up for a roll count to
make sure everyone is accounted for within the group. They are told that wherever
49
Michaels goes, the ladies must go. Several times during the season, Michaels gives the
women similar, sexy outfits such as dresses, bikinis and shirts, ensuring that they are
dressed nearly identically. The women rarely wear pants or long skirts and nearly all
group shots have them lined up wearing short shorts, ripped low riding jeans, cleavage
bearing shirts and see-through lingerie paired with stiletto high heels.
Chooser showing dominance over contestants
Michaels, as the bachelor, always has control and dominance over the contestants.
He is given a rock star welcome when he first meets the women; they cheer, clap and cry
because they are so excited to meet him. Michaels, on the other hand, waves and says
they are all “smoking hot”. For the women, he is clearly a larger than life figure and they
feel that they are lucky to even be in his presence. From this first meeting during episode
one, it is clearly a dominant and submissive relationship structure forming.
During episode one, Michaels continues to make sure he is controlling every
aspect of their daily lives. Michaels invited the women on stage during his concert and
the women choose to act in a sexual manner and get drunk, which prompts Michaels to
reveal that he has “eyes on the back of his head” and he explains that he is keeping an eye
on the girls and their actions at all times. During episode three, Michaels explains that he
is frustrated with some of the women and says, “I give people rope, they either hang
themselves or climb up it”.
Especially during elimination, the women are powerless and completely rely on
Michaels for his approval and judgment. They are submissive as he chooses which of
them will stay and which will be removed from the competition. Their fate lies with his
50
impression of them; did they make themselves available enough? Did they impress him
with their looks? Once elimination has begun, the women have no voice to speak with
Michaels about his decision, he simply passes judgment on how they have acted and
looked. After each woman is told that she gets to stay in the competition, they hug and
kiss Michaels and thank him for choosing them. The women who are eliminated do not
get a chance to say goodbye or speak with Michaels.
Male Gaze
Though VH1 maintains that their target demographic is women aged 18-49, Rock
of Love Bus with Bret Michaels seems to have been created with the male point of view
firmly in place. There are numerous instances of the women bending down, wrestling,
kissing, dressing, undressing where the camera seems to be peaking around the corner as
if catching the scene in a voyeuristic manner. Several times the women wear outfits that
barely cover their breasts and private parts, which occasionally need to be blurred to
ensure they are not showing too much skin. During one trip to a bar, the women are told
to get on the bar and dance. The camera angle, which is from below, focuses on their legs
and the short skirts and shorts they are wearing.
During episode four, the women are asked to “dress to impress”, and they choose
to do so in low cut lingerie-like dresses and stiletto high heels. After arriving at the
concert location, the women are told that they would be dismantling a full stage with
risers and equipment. Though the producers provide the women with work boots, it is
clear that the women were tricked into wearing revealing clothing to perform heavy-duty
51
work. A contestant on the losing team remarks that “it’s a game to see how cute you look
doing it”.
During episode eight, the women are given a gift from Michaels: very tiny bikinis
that barely cover their breasts and bottoms. After getting dressed and being lead down to
a pool, the women find out that they will be babysitting a group of children and they are
dressed wearing very inappropriate clothing. Though they are allowed to take off their
stiletto high heels, they keep their bikinis on during the mini-competition.
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Chapter 7
DISCUSSION
This study utilized a content analysis and thematic analysis to identify specific
examples of counternormative behavior exhibited by contestants and Bret Michaels who
started on the celebrity reality dating television show Rock of Love Bus with Bret
Michaels. The research question posed sought to determine what misogynistic themes
were present in the reality television program Rock of Love with Bret Michaels.
The eight themes identified (heterosexual sexual behavior, appropriation of
female homosexuality, alcohol usage, verbal aggression and gossip, physical aggression,
harem, chooser showing dominance over contestants and male gaze) within Rock of Love
Bus with Bret Michaels point to a meta-theme of misogyny via humiliation of the women.
The reality television show Rock of Love Bus with Bret Michaels has misogynistic themes
because producers promote extreme alcohol usage and competition to encourage
contestants to use their bodies for purely sexual purposes and discredit them as
individuals by removing their power.
Competition for Michaels affections are the driving force behind the women’s
behaviors. Several women display heteroflexible behavior that includes sexualized
dancing, making out, kissing breasts, simulating oral sex and drinking alcohol from
another woman’s vagina. These actions, it appears, are driven by the women’s intense
need to be recognized by Michaels. Instead of being satisfied with the little attention they
receive, they are acting out in the hopes that they will be noticed. This counternormative
53
behavior, which is fueled by the ever-constant stream of alcohol, further humiliates the
women who will have to return to their normal lives once filming has ended.
The encouragement of extreme alcohol usage is geared directly at the humiliation
of the women. The producers are well aware that once the women are drunk they will
behave in overtly sexual manners, verbal and physically aggressive manners and be
generally more unpredictable. By supplying the women with a constant flow of hard
liquor, beer, wine and Champagne, the producers are ensuring that there will always be
anger and tension within the group. Frustrated women are pushed to continue drinking at
Michaels’ concerts, at bars, during breakfast, and in the bathroom to guarantee infighting,
which leads to humiliating themselves. Additionally, Cronin and Abrego, the creators,
seem to have little regard for the health of the women. Several of the contestants drink
very heavily and appear to have a problem with alcoholism. Even after one contestant
chokes another in a fight fueled by alcohol, the producers still do not remove the alcohol
from the scene.
Verbal and physical aggression is a common occurrence during the season.
Several contestants get into arguments and fights that are encouraged by the producers by
promoting competition for Michaels’ affections. The women are made to look foolish and
silly as they yell at and tease each other about ridiculous things like foreign accents and
choices of footwear. The fact that the women are segregated into two busses causes them
to form intense cliques and friendships. Like female gangs, when one female is attacked,
the whole group comes to the aid of their group member. By putting the women in
54
situations that may be unsafe (like alcohol-fueled fighting), the producers are showing a
blatant disregard for the women’s well being.
By placing the women into a harem-like situation, the women are discredited as
individuals. Michaels often gives the women presents of matching shirts, bracelets and
bikinis. The goal is to make them match Michaels’ fantasy by dressing similarly and
having the women available to respond to his sexual needs. He becomes jealous during
the season when he realizes that one contestant has kissed another contestant more than
she has kissed him. Michaels wants to be the head of the harem and ensure that all of the
women want to be with him. He strategically eliminates the women who do not make an
effort to start a sexual relationship with him and, in this way; he maintains control of his
harem.
During the elimination part of the episodes, the women are completely submissive
to Michaels as he chooses who will continue on in the competition and who will be
eliminated. Once they step on stage in the elimination ceremony, the women’s voices are
silenced. They cannot say anything to try to sway his opinion of them, unless he asks
them a specific question. They are muted as he passes judgment on them. The women he
chooses to stay are always crying and tell him thank you for keeping them. The idea that
they should be thankful that they were chosen based almost purely on their physical
attributes is humiliating. On the other hand, the women who are not chosen must stay on
the stage and cannot say goodbye to Michaels as he leaves the stage. After spending all
their energy to ensure that he is happy, catering to any need that he may have, the
eliminated women are left without any recourse or a second thought.
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The final theme found within Rock of Love Bus with Bret Michaels is the concept
of male gaze. Nearly every camera angle, music, and mini-competition is illustrated from
the masculine point of view. The women consistently wear low cut shirts, short skirts, see
through lingerie and stiletto high heels. They are tricked into wearing their most revealing
outfit when they have to work the hardest while striking a stage. From the voyeuristic
camera angles to the sexy music played while the women are stripping during the photo
shoot, this masculine point of view depicts women as a sexual object.
The women who come on this show clearly want to become celebrities and it
appears that most of the contestants sincerely want to make Michaels fall in love with
them. Unfortunately, as has been proven by the past two seasons, Michaels does not
really want to find his ‘Rock of Love’. Michaels says he wants to settle down, but broke
up with Ambre. He also says he wants someone he can come home to and be his best
friend yet he does not ask personal questions to any of the contestants. The women on
this show are being humiliated because they really never had a chance to find love – if,
indeed that was there true intention.
This study has shown that there clearly are misogynistic themes that can be
identified within the reality television show Rock of Love Bus with Bret Michaels. Since
the definition of misogyny is the hatred or intense disliking of women, it could be
reasonably assumed that females would be uninterested in viewing programs that depict
and promote these types of attributes and counternormative behaviors. However, contrary
to this reasoning, females are the key demographic for celebrity reality dating television
shows and, according to Nielson Media Research, females make up the majority of the
56
audience. Based on this broader view, audience motivation theories seems to lack
adequate explanation for the phenomena of female viewers watching reality television
shows promoting counternormative behavior and misogynistic themes.
Potential Theoretical Explanation
As identified by the qualitative and quantitative analyses of Rock of Love Bus with
Bret Michaels, counternormative behaviors and misogyny are present within the
episodes. Based on the high incident rates of female nudity, heterosexual sexual content,
appropriation of female homosexuality and male gaze, it would be a safe assumption that
the target audience and predominant demographic for this program are males. However,
scholars have indicated that reality television programming such as Rock of Love Bus
with Bret Michaels, and the Nielsen Media Research data revealed that the audience
demographic for this program is predominantly females. Therefore, there appears to be a
distinct disconnect between themes identified in reality television programming
(counternormative behavior and misogynistic attitudes) and audience demographics.
Reality television, in general, is geared toward young adults aged 18-34
(Freydkin, 2002). According to Time Warner Cable, though VH1 targets both males and
females, the celebreality dating competition programming is most likely specifically
targeting females aged 18-49 (Time Warner Cable, 2009). Demographically, the typical
VH1 viewer is 30.4 years of age, white (76.32%), and has a median individual income of
$34, 414 (Cable Television Advertising Bureau, 2008).
Though the ratings for the first season of Rock of Love with Bret Michaels were
strong, VH1 knew they had a hit celebreality dating program when the second season
57
premiered in January of 2008. Up 166% from the premier of the first season, the first
episode for the second season attracted 3.7 million viewers, with 2.9 million viewers
from the key 18-34 year old group. As a result of the high number of viewers who
watched the premier episode of Rock of Love with Bret Michaels 2, the episode “rank[ed]
among VH1's top 10 telecasts in the network's history” (Wozniak & Delhomme, 2008).
As reported in Turner Research’s Annual Review of Television Audiences, VH1’s hit
celebreality program had an overall increase of 26% in total viewers from the first season
to the second season (Wakshlag, 2008).
Additionally, weekly Nielsen Media Research indicated that season two of Rock
of Love with Bret Michaels continued to attract a high number of females in particular,
attracting 3.2 million women in the 18-34 age range. VH1 encouraged additional female
participation by promoting “blog parties”, which produced 3,100 comments on the VH1
Blog and 25,000 visits to the site between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. the night of the finale of
Rock of Love with Bret Michaels 2 (Becker, 2008). By the time the third season of the
franchise premiered, VH1 moved the contestants to a rock tour and changed the name to
Rock of Love Bus with Bret Michaels. The ratings, though not as high as season one and
two, held steady at 2.0 million viewers per episode.
Though media research has examined the reasons individuals utilize media to
obtain gratifications, no research or theory has identified the reasons females view reality
television programs that depict counternormative behavior and promote misogynistic
themes. This gap in knowledge is important to address since reality television
programming continues to grow exponentially.
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The Active Cognitive Dissonance Accrual (ACoDA) theory may offer a potential
theoretical explanation to why female viewers are motivated to view reality television
programming that focuses on counternormative behavior and misogynistic themes. The
core concepts that characterize the ACoDA theory are cognitive dissonance, models of
learning, and reality television & social norm violations.
The ACoDA theory is operationally defined as behavior wherein a person actively
seeks out experiences that create cognitive dissonance in order to satisfy the innate drive
to learn about ideas and beliefs that are counternormative via watching reality television
programming. The ACoDA theory offers a hypothesis as to why humans actively seek
out situations that create cognitive dissonance by viewing reality television depicting
counternormative behavior.
The ACoDA theory posits that a viewer’s motives for watching programming
focused on norm violations is, consciously or subconsciously, to satisfy their innate
curiosity and to learn about deviant behaviors and beliefs. Reality television shows, such
as Rock of Love Bus with Bret Michaels, attract audiences by showing individuals who
exhibit counternormative behaviors that are often salacious. It would appear that the
female viewers of reality shows that depict norm violating behaviors watch knowing full
well that they will be witnessing individuals acting in socially deviant manners.
Dissimilar to those who watch competition-type reality shows, the ACoDA theory
suggests that a viewer’s motives for watching programming focused on norm violations
is, consciously or subconsciously, to satisfy their innate curiosity and to learn about
deviant behaviors and beliefs.
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Chapter 8
LIMITATIONS AND FUTURE STUDIES
This thesis examined the counternormative behavior for celebreality dating show
Rock of Love with Bret Michaels and found strong evidence supporting an overarching
meta-theme of misogyny. Since this thematic content analysis was conducted on one
program, the findings may not be generalizable to other reality television shows depicting
counternormative behavior. Though the episodes were chosen in a strategic manner, more
powerful evidence of the misogynistic themes may be available by analyzing all twelve
episodes in the season.
Another avenue for study is to compare and contrast the level of misogynistic
themes starting with the first season for Rock of Love with Bret Michaels and continuing
to season two and three. Though this paper did not touch on the contestants’ background,
a content analysis of their background may yield significant findings to why they have
chosen to take part in a clearly misogynistic competition.
Finally, not all reality dating television programs use a male as the dominant
person selecting a mate in competitive reality programs. A content analysis of dating
programs utilizing a female to examine themes of misogyny would further strengthen the
hypothesis that misogynistic themes are central to these types of programs.
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APPENDIX A
Quantitative Data Tables
Table 1: Contestants Exposing or Having Exposed Breasts
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Table 2: Contestants Exposing or Having Exposed Vaginal Area
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Table 3: Contestants Exposing or Having Exposed Buttocks
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Table 4: Michaels Initiating Closed Mouth Kissing with Contestants
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Table 5: Michaels Initiating Open Mouth Kissing with Contestants
65
Table 6: Michaels Initiating Sexual Discussion with Contestants
66
Table 7: Contestants Initiating Closed Mouth Kissing with Michaels
67
Table 8: Contestants Initiating Open Mouth Kissing with Michaels
68
Table 9: Contestants Initiating Implied Sexual Intercourse with Michaels
69
Table 10: Contestants Initiating Sexual Discussion with Michaels
70
Table 11: Contestants Initiating Close Mouth Kissing with Contestants
71
Table 12: Contestants Initiating Open Mouth Kissing with Contestants
72
Table 13: Contestants Initiating Implied Oral Sex with Contestants
73
Table 14: Contestants Initiating Sexual Discussion with Contestants
74
Table 15: Contestants or Michaels Drinking or Holding Glass of Hard Alcohol
75
Table 16: Contestants or Michaels Drinking or Holding Glass of Beer, Wine or
Champagne
76
Table 17: Contestants or Michaels Appearing Drunk
77
Table 18: Contestants or Michaels Appearing Hung Over or Throwing Up
78
Table 19: Contestants or Michaels Swearing
79
Table 20: Contestants inflicting Physical Violence on other Contestants
80
Table 21: Contestants Destroying Personal Property of other Contestants
81
Table 22: Contestants being Verbally Aggressive with other Contestants
82
Table 23: Contestants Pouring Alcohol on other Contestants
83
Table 24: Contestants Calling Names, Insulting or Teasing other Contestants
Face-to-Face
84
Table 25: Contestants Calling Names, Insulting or Teasing other Contestants
Behind their Back
85
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