Guilty by association: An analysis of Shaunie O'Neal's online/on-air image restoration tactics
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The growing use of social media as a source of networking has spurred a growing interest in using the medium as a tool for image repair. Broadening the application of Benoit's image repair theory, this case study looks at the image repair tactics of Shaunie O'Neal who became a celebrity during her marriage to former NBA basketball player Shaquille O'Neal, their subsequent divorce, and the creation of her VH1 show, Basketball Wives (BBW). Throughout the four seasons of BBW, O'Neal's cast members perpetuated negative stereotypes of Black women such as "the angry Black woman," "the Jezebel" and "the tragic mulatto." While O'Neal did not exhibit these characteristics on the show, she became guilty by association. To repair her tarnished image, the reality TV actress used her Facebook and Twitter feeds and episodes of Season 4 of BBW to implement various image repair tactics. Study findings indicate episodes of a reality TV show and social media may provide a viable platform for a celebrity to repair his or her tarnished image; however, tactics must be authentic and consistent. Demonstrating the dual nature of social media uses, O'Neal utilized her social media to explain and minimize her actions, while viewers used the same outlets to discuss her perceived lack of control and the show's negative stereotyping of women of color. By the end of Season 4, it was apparent that while O'Neal successfully used on-air and online platforms to disseminate positive messages, viewers did not always find her image repair tactics convincing.