Fandom and Spectatorial Investment
I'm sure being a Top Chef fan myself has something to do with it, but I liked this post from Tim Burke:
What Top Chef viewers are saying back to the producers is that they’re not content to watch the show in a deeply ironic, postmodern fashion, knowing that it’s-just-a-reality-show and that whatever they’re seeing is simply the storyline that the producers have decided to show them. Instead, they’re claiming that at least some past competitions have had the virtue of authenticity, that the people and the food and the emotions have been real, and the reputational stakes have had genuine meaning in the careers and lives of the contestants.
If I didn't know better, I would think Burke was seeking a grand unified theory to reconcile British cultural studies and Screen spectatorship theory.
This reminds me of an article I read on Television Without Pity forums (Mark Andrejevic, "Watching Television Without Pity: The Productivity of Online Fans" Television & New Media 9, no. 1 (January 2008): 24-46.), which was a good example of a cultural studies reading of fandom as participatory and productive. And while the Andrejevic isn't completely utopian about fan participation (he sees it as potentially abetting marketing needs of the networks), I have a slightly different take on TVwP: namely, that forum discussion can show both the media savvy of a certain set of viewers then in the next breath be unable to critique the shows as texts. For instance, the posters on the Top Chef board make clever references to the Magical Elves, while the posters on the Barefoot Contessa board talk about the recipes they like and which of Ina's friends they don't like.