First Advisor

Nathan Gies

Term of Graduation

Summer 2023

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Political Science


Political Science




affect, democratic decline, marriage, neoliberalism, parasocial relationships, reality television



Physical Description

1 online resource (iv, 103 pages)


This thesis uses reality television and the parasocial relationships it cultivates as a microcosm to better understand the current form of neoliberalism as well as the implications it has for democracy. I extend the preexisting scholarship surrounding neoliberalism and reality television by emphasizing the importance of social media in understanding that link. By conducting a case study of Netflix's Love is Blind, I demonstrate how both reality television content and the reality-television-participant-to-influencer pipeline serve to reinforce neoliberal values by constructing powerful cultural imaginaries such as a model of care and self-sufficiency that centers marriage and the household. I argue that the pandemic increased the commercial and social value of affective bonds as well as the role reality television has in producing them. Despite the anti-democratic and exploitative nature of formal reality television production, an active and critical viewing practice by viewers has the potential to foster non-statist democratic cultures and creative modes of affective resistance. These paradoxical possibilities demonstrate the powerful contradictions and double binds that define neoliberalism post-pandemic.


© 2023 Sophia Aepfelbacher

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Persistent Identifier

Available for download on Saturday, August 24, 2024