Reality TV: Instilling Fear to Avoid Prison

  • Erin DiCesareEmail author


This chapter analyzes how reality television shows like Lock-Up and the Netflix original Girls Incarcerated use what Gary T. Marx notes as soft forms of control and helps to instill fear into the viewing public as a way to promote conformity to what is deemed “socially acceptable behavior.” These shows promote the heavy-handed surveillance that is prominent within our society and invokes a fear that since we are constantly under surveillance, and since we feed into this surveillance, we must conform to avoid the dangers of the prison life. Using the concept provided by the works of Brian Massumi, these shows invoke fear, much as the terror alert systems do, and force a reaction from the viewers. The utilization of the confessional forum, which was popular in shows like The Real World, gives a human face to the criminal world, making fear tangible. This confessional/interview style allows the acceptance of the surveillance within our society but also within the prison walls. Viewers conform to social expectations out of fear of encountering those in prison, not necessarily on the streets, because it is up to the viewer to behave appropriately and avoid a stint in prison.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, Philosophy, and ReligionJohnson C. Smith UniversityCharlotteUSA

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