90 Day Fiancé: Adjustment of Status

90 Day Fiancé: Adjustment of Status comes from my own experience as a marriage-based immigrant and an avid “hate-watcher” of the 90 Day Fiancé franchise. As many reality television viewers, I did not feel my issues accurately portrayed. Admittedly I was not a K-1 filer, and have not met one personally — but in my adjustment of status experience, and of other marriage-based immigrants I have commiserated with, the stress and anxiety of the filing process was greater than any cultural or social challenges. My viewing experience had to be negotiated: I could enjoy the entertainment value of the show while fundamentally disagreeing with the way they framed the immigration process. 

This is a common tension in the reality television genre, and one of the topics I explored in my midterm essay. Reality shows about non-mainstream lifestyles have to acknowledge differences without gawking at or mocking them — a challenging and delicate balance which TLC, the channel behind the 90 Day Fiancé franchise, has often been criticized for fumbling. My essay also delved into Orientalism and immigration dialectics, exploring how the dominant immigration narratives in the US depend on otherizing the immigrant figure. In the case of 90 Day Fiancé, I argued that by devoting too much unchallenged time to US citizens questioning the motivations and intentions of immigrants, the franchise perpetuates these xenophobic narratives. My concluding questions revolved around the challenge of undermining these narratives: how could the franchise shed a light on these harmful assumptions, especially for audiences who do not have personal experiences with immigration? Could an accurate (bureaucratic) portrayal of immigration even exist within the salacious genre norms of reality television? 

I set out to create a parody of a 90 Day Fiancé show that highlighted the unglamourous drama I have personally felt plagued by in my immigration process. I cast three couples who would introduce themselves as former K-1 visa filers now in the process of adjusting their status to become permanent residents — a crucial part of the process that the franchise conveniently glosses over. In order to craft an authentic script, I went on VisaJourney, a large immigration online community, and found forum comments detailing paperwork challenges: medical certificates, social security documentation, and change of address processing issues. Each couple selected the problem they liked best, and fabricated a backstory about how they met internationally. I then edited the footage, trying to maintain a close fidelity to the franchise’s editing style. In this process, I hoped to create some dissonance: do these problems feel fitting to this kind of show, or are they too small? Would it make good television? If not, why? The stakes are high — even minor filing issues can have dire consequences for the people involved. Could these boring problems possibly be more relatable to audiences? Could they paint immigrants in a more ordinary light? Would couples seem more unified, less different, when they tackle a problem together, instead of having immigration come between them? On the other hand, is relatability even the goal when it comes to reality television? Or is it just spectacle?

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