Reality TV and the Culture Industry


I always used to watch What Not to Wear and a couple of weeks ago came across an interview with Stacy London. I saw a whole new side of her that I have never seen on the show. She talked about how her skin disorder, psoriasis, led her to fashion and loving the idea of self-transformation. Now she is in the business of transforming other people’s wardrobes and bodily transformations through the show.

The promise of reality TV shows such as What Not to Wear not only promote better clothing but also link their agenda to self-esteem, health, productivity in the dating world and relationship with family and friends. As Ouellette and Hay stated in Makeover Television, Governmentality and the Good Citizen, makeover TV functions to make “active and healthy citizens…” as part of a reinvention of the neoliberal government. The notion of being a “good citizen” is tied to the individual being responsible for their own governmentality. When the proper ‘citizenship’ is not practiced, the blame is placed on the individual. This form of policing though is framed by the surge of reality TV and other forms of media that have are part of the growing culture industry. The most commonly implied critique by the two fashion gurus of What Not to Wear was that when the nominated persons were credited for working in successful jobs or being dedicated to their family (example: mothers), their wardrobe did not present them as the good citizens that they are. This indication of failing to present and show society that you are a good citizen, even though you are a productive member of society is problematic according to the growing culture industry. So the hosts create a proposition that they will lead the participant from failure to success. This discourse continues throughout the show hoping that the end result will fulfill and complete the participant.

Reality TV shows like this also frame their solutions to the participants of these shows in a white framework. The dispersal of a What Not to Wear in India extends the role of Western media and reality TV in neoliberal reforms in the US across borders. This becomes problematic as it encourages Western hegemony in the non-West and extends the white frame-work of media gradually promoting a form of Eurocentric global governance.


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