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Utrecht Centre for Television in Transition


2 March 2015

Balázs Boross on Media coming out, symbolic power and the value of ‘participation’

In his presentation, Balázs Boross will discuss his research on media coming out as ritual practice, using the Dutch programme Uit de Kast as a case study.

Using the media to disclose one’s sexual identity has become a salient phenomenon in recent years. In attempting to understand why this practice is so appealing, I have conducted a study into the experiences of taking part in the Dutch television programme Uit de Kast (‘Out of the closet’), a popular format in which ‘ordinary’ youngsters come out ‘live’ to their unsuspecting peers and relatives. Despite of the international success of the show over the years, the choice of coming out in front of the cameras is often received controversially, both by the public and by the participants` immediate environment. This raises the simple but intriguing question: why is it still worth coming out with the media? How is the participation justified?

In a previous article (2014), I addressed how the practice is legitimated textually, partly by presenting coming out as a patterned and culturally meaningful performance – a contemporary rite of passage, and partly by reinforcing the programme`s indispensable role in governing the coming out process and securing a positive outcome to the disclosures. As I asserted, this justification not only serves to (re)affirm wider claims about media`s authority  to represent and change social reality, but also naturalizes the assumption that media participation is a particularly effective means to create order in everyday, ordinary lives.

This presentation aims to offer a look behind the scenes – and beyond the screen. I will  depart from the questions of the representation of coming out as a mediated ritual practice towards the examination of how media participation is actually experienced by the participants, and how the perceived authority of the media is appropriated, challenged or reproduced throughout the participants` simultaneous journey out of the closet, into the world of media production – and back to ‘ordinary’ life. To capture this process, in-depth interviews were conducted with ten protagonists of the show about their motivations for, experiences with and evaluations of joining the programme, taking therefore a de-centered, ethnographic perspective which had rarely been employed in reality television research before. Accordingly, I will also share some of the methodological, ethical and epistemological challenges I have encountered during this particular case of studying media participants.

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