'We, the Judges': The Legalized Subject and Narratives of Adjudication in Reality Television

81 UMKC Law Review 1 (2012)

60 Pages Posted: 3 Jun 2012 Last revised: 11 Dec 2012

Date Written: March 30, 2012


At first a cultural oddity, reality TV is now a cultural commonplace. These quasi-documentaries proliferate on a wide range of network and cable channels, proving adaptable to any audience demographic. Across a variety of types of “reality” offerings, narratives of adjudication — replete with “judges,” “juries,” and “verdicts”— abound. Do these judgment formations simply reflect the often competitive structure or subtext of reality TV? Or is there a deeper, more constitutive connection between reality TV as a genre and narratives of law and adjudication?

This article looks beyond the many “judge shows” popular on reality TV (e.g. Judge Judy, etc.) to examine the law-like operations of the genre itself, and how legal narratives dovetail with the increasingly participatory nature of our “convergence culture.” In addition, this article examines the ideologies these shows represent regarding community, and particularly the role of the legalized subject within this community. How does the prevalence of images of judges and judging on reality TV fit into previous notions that media audiences empathize with legal processes by identifying with an “on-screen” jury, embodying shared, democratic decision-making? Do these shows play on pop cultural narratives of conflicts between judges (within the show) and juries (the viewing audience)? Finally, do such shows empower spectators by engaging them in democratic “knowledge collectives,” or instead represent a neo-liberal “technology of governmentality”? Ultimately, through its enactment of a range of adjudicatory and quasi-legal narratives, reality TV emerges as a highly regulatory space. Law is a compelling narrative for recirculation in a contemporary media culture marked by contestations of authority and community, as the interrelationships between cultural producer, text, and cultural consumer shift and are redefined.

Keywords: Law & Culture, Law & Television, Cultural Studies, Law & Society, Law & Popular Culture

Suggested Citation

Bond, Cynthia D., 'We, the Judges': The Legalized Subject and Narratives of Adjudication in Reality Television (March 30, 2012). 81 UMKC Law Review 1 (2012) , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2074298

Cynthia D. Bond (Contact Author)

UIC John Marshall Law School ( email )

300 S. State St.
Chicago, IL 60604
United States

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