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Applying binary oppositions to reality television

Applying binary oppositions to reality television


1. Watch the assigned television show. 2. Read one of the following essays. 3. Read my notes. 4. Write a paper following the directions provided on this page.

Due Date:
Sept. 9 (12 noon)
Assignment 2

This week’s TV show

This week’s TV show is a television reality show, Naked and Afraid. It airs on The Discovery Channel.

Here is some background on the show:

Body parts are screened; this is a PG program.



Binary Oppositions
By Arnie Sanders

Binary Oppositions
Mahdi Shafieyan


This is a simple concept. People tend to see some things as being in conflict with each other. Here are some examples:

goodevilyoungoldattractiveunattractivejusticeinjusticesmartdumbrichpoorthinfatathleticcouch potatowhiteblackmenwomensexyunsexymasculinefeminine

Television shows usually base scripts around a binary opposition. Many situation comedies focus on male vs. female. This conflict is never resolved. Dramas tend to be good vs. evil. The script plays out the conflict and then one side of the binary opposition wins.

In the classic western film, the binary opposition in the film was good (John Wayne) versus evil. The bad guys in the black hats would beat up the good people of the town for greed, power, or sex. Wayne would reluctantly agree to do battle. John Wayne could use the methods of evil. John would beat up or kill the bad guys or be the cause of the bad guys ultimate bad end. However, unlike the bad guys, Wayne used the methods of evil for good.

In terms of the binary oppositions listed above, Wayne was good, young, attractive, just, smart, thin, athletic, white, male, sexy, and masculine. In fact, John Wayne was more of these binary oppositions than anyone else in the movie. He was the hero. As a result, the good people in the film would reward Wayne with power, the beautiful girl, and honor.

Television did not create binary oppositions. Binary opps have probably existed since the beginning of human culture, according to Vladimir ProppGenesis is filled with binary oppositions. But, television presents binary oppositions 24 hours a day on a 1000 channels.

Television teaches the audience how to resolve binary oppositions, according to the producers of the television show, by rewarding the people who demonstrate the proper behavior and punishing the improper behavior.

Thin, attractive, sexy females are rewarded in most television shows and films. However, if these females are more masculine than feminine and if they defeat males, they will be punished. Usually, the females are punished by not having love or family–see Laura Croft for example. Plus, they are beaten and threatened with sexual assault. Most women in the audience would not chose the lifestyle of the female hero.

Males are expected to be able to defeat females, be attractive, and be reasonably wealthy. They should be sexy, smart, and, most of all, masculine. Listen to the commentary on a football game. The commentators reward the males who defeat other males, i.e., the man who rushes for a touchdown is more masculine than the defenders. He BEAT them.

Even if people share different and conflicting values, they will still believe the binary oppositions should be resolved in the same way. During World War II, Hitler believed he was the good; Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill disagreed and thought they represented good. What does change are the definitions. Hitler was a hero and the definition of good for many Germans. The Allies saw Hitler was the definition of evil.

IF the television show comes from a cable network, then the binary oppositions may be changed. The Lifetime Channel presents women who overcome male victimization to defeat a man. However, the woman usually finds a new male with the proper values. She will defeat the bad male in a feminine way. The woman may slap the guy or use some form of violence, but ultimately it is the male authority of the police–or similar group–that brings the bad guy to justice. The violence is symbolic and not lethal.

In summary, one of the cultural roles for television is to teach members of the society how to resolve binary oppositions. Accordingly, one of the lessons consistently taught on television is that men are better than women and white people are better than black people. More on the issues of race and gender in future readings.

Questions asked from the perspective of binary oppositions:

What is the primary binary opposition in the story? What are the secondary binary oppositions?

How are the binary oppositions resolved? Do the resolutions reinforce the way the audience would expect the binary oppositions to be resolved?

In a reality show, sometimes the binary oppositions are not properly resolved until the final episode. In other words, in this episode did evil defeat good? Did female defeat male? Did black defeat white?

Was the resolution of the binary opposition contrived? Did good win because good was really better than evil?

Were the “reality cast members” picked or cast because those people created binary oppositions?

Was this reality television or binary opposition television?

Naked and Afraid

The binary opposition in this show are men versus women and nature versus humans.
This show is sort of a “return to Eden” premise. The abilities of males and pitted against and teamed up with the abilities of females. Their abilities are then pitted against nature. This is a show about sex/gender and sex/gender roles. More on this topic later in the semester.

The voice over at the beginning and the end assigns rewards and punishments.


Paper 2: 
Applying binary oppositions to reality television

Section 1: Summarize the plot in one paragraph, i.e., no more than half of a page. We all watched the show. 10 points

Section 2: Explain the theory. Tell me which parts of binary opposition theory (the reading and my notes) you are going to use and how you are going to apply the theory to this episode. 10 points

Section 3: Critique this episode from the perspective of its binary oppositions. You need to discuss rewards and punishments in this section. 20 points

Section 4: Your conclusion should be a logical result of what you have said in the first three sections of the paper. Specifically, what conclusions can you draw based on your critique. Pull your logic together and tell me if this was a good episode, a bad episode, or something in between. 10 points

Your conclusion should not be a personal opinion, but a logically developed conclusion based on binary opposition theory and your critique

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