The Politics of Reality Television: Global Perspectives

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

Chapter 5
Governing bodies

Gareth Palmer

As the most contemporary of television genres, reality television offers a bewildering variety of perspectives on modern life. But while the subjects vary wildly, reality television offers narratives which are driven by an anxiety/resolution dialectic in which always already destabilized viewers are offered temporary solutions to problems of identity and belonging. Reality television and in particular that variant known as “lifestyle” play an important part in maintaining the anxietyindustry – a complex mixture of psychological and social forces powered by the engines of consumerism. Reality television formats propose a flexible model of the self in which no stable identity can be found and whose only tenet is that change is always good. This self has two apparently distinct but actually interconnected parts: the consumer self that is endlessly re-rooted in the busy market place of identities offered by lifestyle is connected to the responsible citizen charged with self-management under changing patterns of rule. Into this flux reality television offers the salvation of hoped-for change and the comfort of belonging while also reminding us that the conditions for this momentary ease are transitory and unstable. The result is a self always ready for anxiety. The aim of this chapter is to consider documentary and in particular reality television’s role in the formation of these two models of the self and the ways in which they may impact on the body – that object at the very core of the anxiety-industry.

I begin by considering the class-related factors that inform documentary making. I then discuss the role that surveillance plays in new models of the self in reality television and in particular lifestyle television before considering how new forms of television foreground the value of discipline for work on the body. Reality television’s strategies and modes of address will be examined to see how they invite us to negotiate our identity as consumer selves and responsible citizens.


Documentary begins

In the UK what we now know as documentary began as a public-spirited enquiry into citizenship. As encoded by its founders and taken up by personnel in large broadcasting institutions, documentary was a social project which eschewed the political in its quest to discover the real nature of contemporary

-65-

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