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Purpose – Reality TV shows that feature embodied “transformations” are popular, including Intervention, a program that depicts therapeutic recovery from addiction to “health.” The purpose of this chapter is to address the ways whiteness constitutes narratives of addiction on Intervention.

Methodology – This analysis uses a mixed methodology. I conducted a systematic analysis of nine (9) seasons of one hundred and forty-seven (147) episodes featuring one hundred and fifty-seven individual “addicts” (157) and logged details, including race and gender. For the qualitative analysis, I watched each episode more than once (some, I watched several times) and took extensive notes on each episode.

Findings – The majority of characters (87%) are white, and the audience is invited to gaze through a white lens that tells a particular kind of story about addiction. The therapeutic model valorized by Intervention rests on neoliberal regimes of self-sufficient citizenship that compel us all toward “health” and becoming “productive” citizens. Such regimes presume whiteness. Failure to comply with an intervention becomes a “tragedy” of wasted whiteness. When talk of racism erupts, producers work to re-frame it in ways that erase systemic racism.

Social implications – The whiteness embedded in Intervention serves to justify and reinforce the punitive regimes of controlling African American and Latina/o drug users through the criminal justice system while controlling white drug users through self-disciplining therapeutic regimes of rehab.

Originality – Systematic studies of media content consistently find a connection between media representations of addiction and narratives about race, yet whiteness has rarely been the critical focus of addiction.


This work was originally published in "Critical Perspectives on Addiction (Advances in Medical Sociology, Volume 14)," edited by Julie Netherland.



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