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John, a 20-year-old Boston native with a great sense of humour: on the spectacularization of the self and the incorporation of identity in the age of reality television

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Reality television programming simultaneously narrates the conditions of the social factory and produces new forms of labour in and through them. This essay explores the nature of the labour performed by the shows' participants and argues that it involves the self-conscious development and management of public persona based on templates of the self supplied by corporate media culture. This labour of self-presentation operates simultaneously as work for the television industry and as a form of image-entrepreneurship for the individual participants. Insofar as this form of labour involves the alienation of embodied subjectivity into image commodities with recognizable market value, it constitutes a form of self-spectacularization. Reality television programming also provides templates for these spectacular selves within a distinct corporate culture, which aims to contain and control individuals' virtuosity, thus incorporating identity. The Apprentice and Joe Schmo are explored as examples of reality shows that dramatize and embody the collapse of any meaningful distinction between notions of the self and capitalist processes of production. This process of both narrating and producing a branded self enacted by the reality television might be seen as part of a broader multi-level marketing campaign we could call the corporate colonization of the real.

Keywords: corporate culture; immaterial labour; persona; reality television; the self; the social factory

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Western Ontario.

Publication date: July 1, 2006

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  • The International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics is committed to analyzing the politics of communication(s) and cultural processes. It addresses cultural politics in their local, international and global dimensions, recognizing equally the importance of issues defined by their specific cultural geography and those that traverse cultures and nations.
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