This is a post about reality television.
Does anyone know what has happened to the losing contestants of X Factor? We know about a couple, Eoghan Quigg and of course the winner, who is having her album produced by Akon, but what of the rest? Have they returned to their normal lives? Are some of them on the dole? How can it be that people who have been on television for three months in front of twenty million people end this period signing onto Jobseekers Allowance? Surely that kind of saruation media exposure should result in a lifetime career of some description or other in public life, the media or celebrity.
The fact that many of 2008’s X Factor contestants have made no money from their fame is true of many other shows, including Big Brother and Britain’s Got Talent. What we are seeing here is instant, disposable celebrity. There people are literally taken off the streets – often with the cameras literally watching – and celebrified with hyperrreal editing and Hollywood style close ups. Once the series is over they are back on the streets again, with many hundreds of column inches having being written about them, to the considerable profit of newspapers, and no money to their name.
I think any media paradigm that makes people no money after spending three months on television in front of twenty million people is exploitative. The media industrial complex makes tens of millions of pound of members of the public across several shows on TV in precisely this way, and 80% of the people who appear on these shows make no money and have no hope of a lasting career in the media or public life. The media these days is exploiting members of the public in the same way coffee brands exploit Third World coffee producers – pay them half a penny for ten tonnes of coffee, which is sold at a profit of two milllion pounds.
According to wikipedia:
In the Marxist view, “normal” exploitation is based in three structural characteristics of capitalist society:
1) the ownership of the means of production by a small minority in society, the capitalists;
2) the inability of non-property-owners (the workers, proletarians) to survive without selling their labor-power to the capitalists (in other words, without being employed as wage laborers);
3) the state, which uses its strength to protect the unequal distribution of power and property in society.
1) refers to the media, and 2) refers to the way that many of these people, who desire to be famous, can only do so by auditioning to appear on reality TV programmes. I don’t think the state has a part to play in this debate, so let’s ignore 3) (the media is after all (purportedly) self-regulating).
The media may well argue that this is a case of caveat emptor – if you want to be famous badly enough to ausition for reality TV, you can’t complain about your terms and conditions. But exploitation is exploitation. Perhaps some day soon the current trend towards celebrifying memers of the public who have no qualities worthy of lionising other than a desire to be famous, and demeaning them on television for huge profits, will be considered unsavoury.