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The Nuclear Family as Self Fulfilling Prophesy:. Representations of Kin in TV Parenting Programmes. Kin within reality TV parenting. Reality TV focuses on the nuclear family Kin, particularly grandmothers, disrupt this portrayal – they are family, but not nuclear

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The Nuclear Family as Self Fulfilling Prophesy:

Representations of Kin in TV Parenting Programmes


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Kin within reality TV parenting

  • Reality TV focuses on the nuclear family

  • Kin, particularly grandmothers, disrupt this portrayal – they are family, but not nuclear

  • They therefore disrupt and threaten messages about ‘normal’ family life

  • In response they are framed in passive terms by the programmes, neutralising and minimising their role



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The Nuclear Family and Kin

  • Sociology of kinship, structuring social relationships

  • ‘another funeralMy brother's fiancee's father has died and the funeral is tomorrow in London.As one of the only members of the family in the country I feel rather obliged to go, so I'll be catching an early train tomorrow (the kind with standing room only), and then hopefully getting back […] in time to change….’ Livejournal post 17/4/08


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The Nuclear Family and Kin

  • Sociology of ‘The Family’

  • Centrality of the Nuclear Family Household as unit of analysis

  • Imbued with moral idealism of the right- ‘should’ and ‘ought’ versus ‘is’ and ‘does’


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The Nuclear Family and Kin

  • Sociology of ‘families’

  • Challenges hegemonic norms of heterosexual married couple as only valid family form, but

  • Still reinforces rather than challenges the idea of the nuclear household as key unit of society


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Childcare advice

  • Pre-dates the printed word

  • Uses any media available in a given society

  • Nowadays thought of as books or classes

  • Reality Television c. 2004


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Childcare advice as ideology

  • Philosophical and religious tracts promote methods of raising children as part of ‘the good life’

  • Science versus mothers – the need for advice

  • Eugenics – raising a healthy nation

  • Replaced by?


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‘The end of the family’

  • The extended family is dead and buried?

  • The nuclear family is under grave threat?

  • Socialisation no longer happens in the home as it should?

  • ‘because there’s always issues there, drink, drugs, depression’ (Meeting with community health worker, 2007)


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A psychologist says…

  • ‘Historically, parents learned about child-rearing methods and strategies from their own parents or from extended family members with previous parenting experience. … Presently, parents are more likely than ever to turn to professional experts, either by purchasing self-help books or by obtaining consultation services, when they want parenting advice’. (Sommers-Flanagan)


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The Irish state says…

  • ‘In the past, most western societies could claim a normal parenting pattern whether an extended family or community or nuclear family model. Many Western societies now report that their previous family ‘norms’ have undergone dramatic change’ (Best Health for Children report)


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And a health promotion journal…

  • ‘In traditional societies, parentcraft is another of the things to be imparted in the family context, the accepted pattern being handed down from one generation to the next, but for a variety of reasons in our industrial and technological age the traditional frame has been broken without any provision, at least west of the Iron curtain, of an adequate substitute’ (Royal society for the promotion of health 1973 p11) .


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So what about the mother-in-law?

  • ‘the ones who had little enough time for their own families or who successfully mis-managed their own children and are now straining on the sidelines wanting to have a go at the next generation’. (cited in Hardyment, 2007, p322-3)


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What does ‘reality’ mean?

  • Constructed texts, heavily edited

  • Following people acting for camera in an unscripted, relatively spontaneous way

  • Major debate about use of children

  • Audience responses may be less critical, closer to hegemonic readings.



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Deviant families?

  • Criticism of sensational style

  • Featured families structure is quite ‘normal’.

  • Supernanny 21 couples from 23 families

  • Irish version differs

  • Families in Trouble 3 couples, 3 single, one co-parenting


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Additional kin featured

  • Grandmothers Evelyn and Peggy

  • Uncle Thomas


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Kin as Unimportant

  • Supporting roles to allow narrators to speak over background visuals

  • Replaceable babysitters

  • Example: Susan’s father in ‘Honey We’re Killing the Kids’


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Kin as a problem

  • Narration refers to kin as ‘problem’ even when they are not present (HTT)

  • More subtle, but still problematical, Evelyn and Peggy (transcription handout four)


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Passive Kin – obstructing and incompetent

  • Thomas and the ‘bold house’

  • Threat of young working class male symbolically ‘removed’ from family setting by camera

  • Life is ‘better’ for Carlins when Evelyn is replaced by childminder

  • Peggy’s changes ‘the hardest thing she ever did’


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Passive Kin - Victims

  • Parents ‘choose’ to have children

  • Grandparenthood (or Aunt or Uncle-hood, etc) not so actively chosen

  • Kin are presented as unfortunate to have these extra burdens lumbered on them


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Kin and fatherhood

  • Kin are less silenced when a mother parents without a father

  • Difference between grandmothers Evelyn and Peggy one example

  • Evelyn fills the ‘father void’


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So what is the father role?

  • More established in existing literature

  • Baby Entertainer, Bumbling Assistant and Line Manager (Sunderland, 2007)

  • Carefully gender neutral language reinforces presentation of parenting = mothering

  • Granny can be seen filling same space


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Audience Interpretation

  • Role of different kinship positions are not the same as that of parents, and this is a good thing

  • Grannies get most attention

  • Granny’s job is to give unconditional affection without discipline


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Granny’s Job

  • They noticed that the job of granny as presented in the programmes was not the same as their idea

  • They were not critical of this

  • They were critical of the lack of discussion in programmes of when Granny’s job is hard


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Audience Interpretation

‘It’s hard with Grannies. I have a friend, and the child came down, and the mother said, come and sit on my knee, and the granny said, no, I’ll take him, and the child ended up with the granny.

  • Because it’s hard, if your daughter is at home, you still mother her, so you mother her kids, but that’s not always right

  • They should show that more’


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Audience Interpretation

-Well I don’t watch a lot of them now, but sometimes I see them and I never seen a grandparent

-I saw one and the wan’s mother was there. She lived on her own with the children, and she was helping her out in every way that she could, now. She was very good with her.

-They generally are, [Mary]

-She would give in to the child. She had to stop doing that, you see.

-The grandparents will give in to

-The granny or the

-The granny will give in to the child

-They will try the granny, because if they don’t get something off of you, they will get soft with the granny. That’s part of being a granny.


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Other Kin

  • ‘He must have felt awful when he was told he was doing wrong. Maybe that’s why he disappeared’

  • Audiences had little to say, but noted and showed discomfort at the ‘disappearance’ of male kin


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Discussions and Conclusions

  • Kin are minimised – their role is presented as unimportant or even threatening

  • Not unique to TV, started at least by the 1950s in parenting books

  • But reality TV intensifies issue, makes it unavoidable as discourse


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Conclusion

  • Most kinship ties symbolically eradicated

  • Tolerated if mother parents alone, whereby…

    • Kin support must be female

    • Mothers may gain assistance but never share responsibility (and a power struggle may be necessary to achieve this)

  • Strong audience acceptance, but mediated with some sense of loss, sadness, frustration and even humor


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Conclusion

  • Nuclear Family as self-fulfilling prophesy in Reality Television as in Sociology


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