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Emotional reality check

Rosemary Overell banner

Emotional reality check

In an age in which many people snootily regard reality television as the media equivalent of junk food, a University of Otago lecturer not only studies reality TV, but also is a huge fan who watches very little else.

Dr Rosemary Overell (Film, Media and Communication) is researching the emotional responses generated in viewers by reality television programmes. She is focusing on a United States show called Intervention, available online, in which addicts believe they are taking part in a documentary, but are being set up for an intervention by family or friends and a stint in rehab.

Overell says the research arose out of the emotional effect that watching all 13 seasons of the show had on her.

“It was so emotionally raw that I couldn’t go back to watching produced dramas like Mad Men because they just seemed simulated or fake. And I wondered why the programme elicited that kind of response and was so emotionally engaging, even though I am not an addict.”

She is gauging emotional responses to the programme by checking out social media.

“I am interested in looking at how addicts respond to the programme through social media such as Tumblr to work through their own processes of recovery.”

Overell says the research is part of a wider interest in television and social media.

“I am setting out a theoretical approach to looking at not just how viewers engage with televisual media via social media networks, but how we study that engagement.”

Photo: Graham Warman