Public debates on reality television often address the display of emotion and immoral conduct. Television scholars have recently proposed that while reality television offers its audience an opportunity to learn valuable lessons, they rarely address the issue of the morality of the genre. In this contribution, we analyze the display of emotion and immoral conduct in the Dutch reality show The Golden Cage. Reality television is viewed as constituting a ‘moral laboratory’. The question guiding our research revolved around the kind of exercise this moral laboratory provides for. A dramaturgical study of the display of actions and emotions as part of participant “projects” (Beckerman, Dynamics of drama: Theory and method of analysis, Drama Book Specialists, 1979) was used to answer this question. Results indicate that moral issues and emotions were continuously at stake, and immoral conduct appeared to be coupled with pleasurable emotions. It is concluded that the laboratory of The Golden Cage is at least equally suited for exercising autonomy and identity performance under competitive pressure as it is for the simulation of moral conflicts.
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