: Power and the Intersectional Body in MTV’s The Challenge in the Age of Trump.

  • Laura Langlade

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis considers the significance of MTV’s longest consecutive running competition Reality TV series, The Challenge (MTV, 1998-), within the context of the Trump Era. It situates the series, which airs on a purportedly liberal network, within a hyper-conservative political administration. Using textual analysis as well as statistical analysis, this thesis interrogates how gender, race and sexuality function to mark certain bodies as inferior within the athletic environment in The Challenge, thus, contradicting MTV’s pseudo-liberal messaging as allegedly supportive of counter movements like Black Lives Matter (BLM) and #MeToo. This speaks to a larger picture where MTV posits progressive messaging as ‘cool’, but continues to air a series which privileges cis heterosexual white men. Drawing on freak discourse and sport media the thesis argues that The Challenge is a rich contextual site from which to explore the contention intersectional bodies are subjected to in spaces where differences increasingly matter. The Trump Administration gave rise to a defined bifurcation among American voters, thus this thesis critically valuates how MTV navigated these differing views in The Challenge to maintain audience numbers while at the same time claiming to support BLM, #MeToo and LGBTQIA+ rights. The value of progressive movements is communicated to viewers on MTV, however, the enforcement of these values is limited when MTV continually hires the same dangerous men who reinforce the violent misogyny, racism and homophobia within The Challenge house. Further, this thesis also briefly considers the role of capital in maintaining these gendered, racialised and sexualised power structures, questioning which bodies are allowed to accumulate capital and what this means. Ultimately, the work recognises The Challenge as a crucial point of research from which to explore the impacts of on- going social, political and economic changes in the US.
Date of Award15 Feb 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorDeborah Jermyn (Director of Studies) & Anita Biressi (Co-Supervisor)


  • Gender
  • Politics
  • Race
  • Sport
  • Trump
  • Sexuality
  • Reality TV

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