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Re-mediating the spaces of reality television: America's Most Wanted and the case of Vancouver's missing women

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Abstract

In this paper I speak to debates amongst geographers and media scholars about the communities that television constructs in both 'real' and 'virtual' spaces. My point of departure is Morley's work on global television audiences, which, in focusing on the fears of white suburban viewers and the social exclusions they enact, neglects the images and narratives of television itself. The focus is a new North American television genre that addresses fears of urban crime, the 'reality cop show'. In examining the genre's codes and practices and the 'reality' it creates, I try to specify the representational work which this kind of television performs. Analysis turns to a 1999 episode of Fox TV's America's Most Wanted that featured the mysterious disappearances of thirty-one women, all of whom were/are identified with the sex trade in Vancouver, Canada. As a morality tale of sex crimes and sexual dangers in the city, targeted at white North American suburban viewers, central details of the case were missing, including the fact that most of the disappeared were/are native women. The imposition of a Jack-the-Ripper "media template" displaced local and highly politicized explanations related to prostitution laws, community policing practices, and dangerous urban spaces.

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