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The Biggest Loser: The discursive constitution of fatness

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Located within a superficially depoliticized ‘more government’ predicated on the technocratic embedding of routines and institutions of neo-liberal governance, reality television operates as a ‘cultural technology’ concerned with the conduct of conduct, or more specifically, with the calculated direction of conduct to shape behaviour to certain ends. Focused on physical fitness and weight loss, we focus on the globally successful reality TV format, The Biggest Loser (TBL), as a highly politicized space that educates subjects and disciplines the non-compliant: part of a moral economy that differentiates between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ citizens. We read TBL as a powerful public pedagogy that circulates techniques and provides the platforms for a government of the self, a component in the neo-liberal reinvention of ‘welfare’ that promotes choice, personal accountability and self-empowerment as ethics of citizenship while, at the same time, masking social forces that position people into the dejected borderlands of consumer capitalism. Contributing to the ‘biopedagogies’ of weight, TBL classifies the obese, overweight and physically unfit as personal moral failures, immoral and irresponsible citizens, socially, morally and economically pathologized outsiders.

Keywords: abject; governance; neo-liberalism; obesity; reality television

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Bath

Publication date: September 19, 2011

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