Publication details [#54922]

Gordon, Cynthia. 2011. Impression management on reality TV: Emotion in parental accounts. Journal of Pragmatics 43 (14) : 3551–3564.
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Parental responsibility and blame are central issues in discussions of children's health. When parents are confronted about their children's unhealthy lifestyles—as they are by a nutrition expert at the beginning of each episode of an intervention-based reality television show about improving child wellbeing, Honey We’re Killing the Kids—they must negotiate responsibility for their children's poor eating and exercise habits while simultaneously protecting their identities as competent parents. Drawing on theorizing on impression management and social accountability, I examine how 25 parents appearing on the show are depicted as responding to the expert's presentation of computer-generated projections, or visual hypothetical narratives, that show their children physically developing into overweight, unhealthy adults. In their responses to these future-oriented narratives, the parents use excuses and apologies to take responsibility in ways that attempt to save parental face and thereby repair their damaged identities. Specific linguistic and paralinguistic devices used include response cries, future-oriented non-conclusive verbs, statements of one's emotions, and emotional displays like crying. This study discusses forms and functions of parental accounting -for their children's poor eating and exercise habits- strategies on American reality TV, and in particular the role of emotion, whilst also advancing our comprehension of how identity work is realized via narrative responses.