The Politics of Reality Television: Global Perspectives

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

Chapter 3
When reality TV is a job

François Jost

This text is based on the argument that the success of reality TV arises from the considerable malleability of the genre.1 Of course, the success of reality TV has multiple causes which are to be found in the intense distrust of citizens at the beginning of the 2000s towards media and politicians. Both the one and the other are blamed, not only in France I believe, but all over the world, for their lack of transparency and, above all, for their incapacity to represent the citizens’ daily preoccupations. This atmosphere is a sort of compost on which some programs take root, claiming to remedy the defects imputed to politics and to media. And they succeed particularly well, since it led to this paradoxical situation in May, 2002: 37 percent of ages 18–24 abstained in the first round of votes for the French presidential elections, convinced that it would change nothing in their lives, but they voted massively to decide on the fate of contestants of a constructed reality, Loft Story, the French version of Big Brother. The result was that the French extreme right leader took part in the second tour.

But, if the revolt of Little People against Big People, and its particular shape that is TV populism, is the context in which so-called “téléréalité” was born, my paper aims to show that it has grown thanks to the perfectly protean character of its genre and of its formats. To understand this fluctuating nature, I shall start with the clarification of the concept of identity by Paul Ricœur. The philosopher shows that this term refers to two very different things: the first is the sameness. It designates a numerical identity, a permanence through the passing time of a system’s organization, what Ricœur summarizes with the notion of “character,” understood “as the ensemble of distinctive features which allow to re-identify an individual human as being the same.”2 In this occurrence, identity is seen from the outside and represents the not-voluntary and not-necessarily aware part of personal identity. “The character encloses at the same time the numerical identity, the qualitative identity, the uninterrupted continuity in change and finally the permanence of passing time.”3 The second sense of identity is selfhood, summarized by the question “who am I?” Beyond the changes which we undergo, it translates, from a subjective point of view, the feeling of one’s personal authenticity, one’s unity and one’s continuity, of which Ricœur sees the illustration in two models: the kept word, the promise, which supposes a “preservation of

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