Confession, Contrition, and the Rhetoric of Tears: Medievalism and Reality Television

  • Angela Jane Weisl
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


When Anna McCraney, the winner of Bravo television’s first season of The Fashion Show, was asked why she was so surprised by her victory, she said, “Well, I don’t really have a TV Personality.” Isaac Mizrahi, the show’s host and lead judge, turned to her in surprise and said, “Wait, you don’t have a TV personality? You cry every five minutes.”1 Equally pointedly, Judge Lisa Ann Walter, on Oxygen television’s original season of Dance Your Ass Off, exclaimed in the final episode, “I’m going to need a big box of tissues. I plan on crying early and often.”2 Both statements demonstrate what even the casual viewer knows—that reality television, far more than real life, is a locus for excessive weeping. The definition of a reality “television personality” as “someone who cries every five minutes,” which itself makes tears seem an authentic reaction, balances against Walter’s decision to “cry early and often” as if this is one of the rewards, or at least, expectations of reality show behavior, even for a judge, an ostensibly impartial observer. Unlike courtroom judges who provide objective interpretations of the law, reality show judges seem to function as surrogates for the audience, providing a model of affective weeping that influences the public’s response. This judicial weeping helps to determine the favored, the valuable, the meaningful—whether those concepts rest in an individual or in a specific performance.


Discussion Forum Reality Television Television Personality Impartial Observer Reality Show 
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Copyright information

© Gail Ashton and Daniel T. Kline 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Angela Jane Weisl

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