Date of Award

May 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Media Studies

First Advisor

Elana Levine

Committee Members

Michael Newman, Jeremiah Favara


Forged in Fire, History Channel, Labor, Masculinity, Reality Television, White


This work considers the commercial and ideological implications of History's branding shift as exemplified by the debut of its reality programming slate in 2007. History's blue-collar infotainment, which focuses on men in rugged and traditional forms of work, represents a masculinized and conservative response to the feminized and often socially liberal-minded lifestyle-programming trend. The social, industrial, and cultural context within which these texts exist, particularly the 2008 recession and the growing emphasis on workplace and TV diversity, are foundational to History's rejuvenated brand. Themes from Ice Road Truckers, Ax Men, Swamp People, Pawn Stars, American Restoration, American Pickers, and Forged in Fire hail a nostalgic male viewer and suggest the fantasy of an authentically masculine lifestyle. Nostalgic narrative frames, homogenous casting, and the representation of labor illuminate the forms of race, gender, and bodily ability that are valorized within these series.