The Politics of Reality Television: Global Perspectives

By Marwan M. Kraidy; Katherine Sender | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Real-izing exploitation

Mark Andrejevic

Watch out for the people who insist, with the fervor of original insight, that reality TV is not really real. While attempting to take the promise of the genre all too literally, they nevertheless have not been quite literal enough: it is, after all, called reality TV – and those two letters mark an important qualification. They invoke not just the forms of editing and re-presentation that we associate with television programming as a cultural artifact but also, and of primary concern to this chapter, the redoubling of reality whereby daily life, once captured by the camera, is transformed into a commodity. It is the alchemy that this chapter seeks to explore, not so much for what it might tell us about television aesthetics, programming, or production processes, but rather for its relation to recent transformations in realities external to and broader than the televisual realm. The goal of this chapter, then, is to take reality TV as an object to think with – to explore the ways in which the monitoring process becomes productive and comes to serve as a form of exploitation of the work of being watched. At issue in such a formulation is the notion of exploitation, which this chapter will attempt to clarify by arguing that, at least in certain respects, the valorization of the work of being watched generalizes forms of exploitation stereotypically associated with aspects of women’s labor in industrial society. In this regard, reality TV and its aesthetics of voyeurism and spectacle provide a model for thinking about the generalization of exploitation in the “social factory” – a realm in which the production of surplus value isn’t restricted to the workplace proper, but extends into the realms of leisure, domesticity, and consumption.1 To put it in terms outlined by Corsani, we might describe the alchemy wrought by the redoubling of reality – its capture and repurposing in a monitoring-based economy – as contributing to the “becoming woman” of exploitation in the digital era: “The becoming-woman of labor would concern the very nature of labor, its being as an activity that produces economic value, goods and services on the basis of extra-economic human qualities such as language, relational ability, and affectivity.”2 The result, she argues, is what might be described as the generalization of forms of exploitation hitherto associated with (although clearly not limited to) the realm of women’s unwaged labor in industrial society: “precariousness, instability and atypical contractual forms will no longer be

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