Producing \"Reality\": Branded Content, Branded Selves, Precarious Futures

September 18, 2017 | Autor: Alison Hearn | Categoria: Television Studies, Reality television, Branding, Promotional Culture, Creative Labour
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As economic conditions worsen around the globe, one in three workers are now either unemployed or poor (International Labour Organization, 2012). Youth unemployment, specifically, has reached unprecedented new levels, and over 50 percent of youth who are working are consigned to part-time, short-term-contract, and low-wage precarious employment (Estanque and Costa, 2012,p.264). As the International Labour Organization warns of a "lost generation" (Saltmarsh, 2010) of young people who have little faith in the value of traditional forms of work, young and old people alike are taking to streets and squares from Egypt to Montreal, demonstrating against political priorities and capitalist economic values that are clearly flawed and failing. In the midst of this economic and political turmoil, however, transnational media corporations and television networks in developed countries, specifically the United States, continue to accumulate record profits driven in large part by the success of reality television. CBS, home to reality television pioneer Survivor, which had its 26th cycle in the United States in 2013, posted an I percent increase in advertising sales in the first quarter of 2012 (James, 2012), rvhile Viacom's profits grew by 33 percent in 2011, propelled by MTV's breakaway "semi-scripted" hit, Jersey Shore (Chozick, 2011a). Bravo's popular Real Housewives docusoap franchise was valued at half a billion dollars as of 2012 (Hollywood Reporter,2012) and Bravo, along with sister cable company Oxygen, is credited for the financial resurrection of its parent company NBC-Universal, whose earnings rose by over 38 percent in 20i0 (Friedman, 2011). Fox's American ldol,which had its 12th season in early 2013, is routinely within the top-three-rated shows on US television and has made Fox the lumber one network among L849-year-olds for eight years in a row (Gorman, 2011); the show garners at least $800 million in advertising every season (Flint, 2010), and it made an



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Subjects of RealitY

profitall-time high of s903 million in 2009 (wyatt, 2009a). Horv is the astounding abiiity of reality television connected to the current global economic crisis? and busiThis chapter will argue that reality television's innovative production production, material and ideological ness model have made it a powerful site of and technology situated squarely at the intersection of culture, economics, politics, argue in the trventy-first century. Far more than banal or degraded television texts, I value that reality ielevision shows stand at the forefront of new modes of capitalist economic current constitute to help generatiori and, as such, both exemplifi and unionized and social crises. As reality television s mode of production bypasses required are workers actors and writers, it creates a new production model in which secuto have flexible skills, work long hours for little pay, and have no employtnent people young keen other are always rity; workers can easily be fired because there to take their place. Reality television has generated new marketing arrangements, content, intensiffing tle role of advertisers in the creation of "branded" television are exchanged and has led efforts to create new branded entertainment formats that and mobile media new across and online, on media markets around the globe, user-generated online monetize to platforms. ',Reality" has inspired new ways 'content, including"reality advertising" (Shalv, 2010), and has worked to produce a events, DVDs, wide variety of "brand extensions": goods and services, such as live go on narratives show and through in and fashion lines, developed music, boois,

to generate lucrative franchising fees. and branded Reality television not only produces branded content, show formats,

by the glittering goods and services, however; it also produces branded selves. Lured up to the cameras for themselves offer f.ornise of temporary celebrity, participants "work-free world" a in life and little remuneration, model ideal iorms of subjectivity the cash down for viewers, and produce public personas that might be traded for "monetization of being," best characterized by reality television personas

line. This forms of social such as Snooki or Kim Kardashian, is now generalized across new fodder for become have sociality media. Individuals' online self-presentation and advertisthe extraction of monetary value by Internet social rnedia entrepreneurs, capitalism's crisis ers, reputation managers, and other corporate interests. Iust as people have rnany precarious, increasingly has iniensified and work has become online and reputation and visibility sought monetary and social value by accruing

on television. from the The real story behind reality television, then, cannot be disentangled story of its political-economic origins and methods of production, and involves political the productiol urrd dispersal of Hollywood television's economic and at large' society imperatives, codes of visibility, and promotional values throughout production are all tn ihis sense, realit,v teler.ision's texts, audiences, and modes of the bound up together, effectively working to narrate, propagate' and advance while So, accumulation. and broader ltgics of conte,rporary capiralist production participants, the reality television may claim to document the lived reality of its a its proliferation effectively helps to palliate, legitimate, and produce

truth is that

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nerv reality for the West. In u,hat follorvs, I rl,ill trace and further explore these developments, focusing specificallv on the n avs reaiity television mythologizes and rnaterially enacts ihe production of branded, monetized selves.

Producing the Industry: The Genesis of "Reality Television" and Its Low-Cost Production Model In the simplest



sense, "realit), telei,ision" nafftes a sei

of cost-cutting measrires in mainstream television production enacted by management as a response to the economic Pressures faced by the television industry transnationallf in the late 1980s and 1990s. Sot-ne of these pressures included increased cornpetition ir-r media markets and growing audience fragrnentation as a result of cabie and nerv media technologl., legislative deregulation, the rveakening of public broadcasting, and, specifically in the US, spiraiing costs associated r,vith the inflated deraands of existing media celebrities (Magder, 2004; Raphael,2004). The no-brainer soiution invoived lowering production costs by producing programming "just in time" quickly, cheaply, and avoiding unionized actors and rvriters in favor of flexible, lou-paid, multitasking r.vorkers. Reality programming producers also worked to capitalize on the m),ths and fantasies of unlirnited wealth and porver akeady associated rvith celebrity culture in order to entice "reguiar people" to offer up their iabor for free as participants. This approach is in keeping n ith the broader economic processes of post-Fordist capitalism, described by David Harvey as "flexible accumulation," rvhich include permanent innovation, mobility and change, subcontracting, and just-in-time, decentralized production (Harvey, 1990). The post-Fordist mode of production is norv dominant, albeit crisis-ridden, and is heavily dependent on cornnlunication netn'orks and on lateral f-lorvs of information and production. It tends to emphasize the production and consumption o{ klowledge and symbolic products - including packaging, image design, branding, and rrarketing - over concrete material production ( Harvey, 1990; Goldman and Papson, 2006). As Harvey notes, "investment in image-building . . . becomes as irnportant as investment in ne'lv piar-rts and machinery" (Harvey, 1990, p. 288). French socioiogists Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello (2005) describe work under the netrvorked conditions of post-Fordism and flexible accumulation as increasingly precarious and unstable; jobs are marked by flexibiiity, casualization, segrnentation, intensit;., and increased competition. These processes have led to the formation of a "dual market," composed of a stable, high-waged rvorkforce of professionals and rvorkers on one side and precariously employed, underpaid, and unprotected rvorkers on the other (Boltanksi and chiappello,2005). The trends associated with processes of flexible accumulation and flexible precarious ivorkers are clearly in evidence in reality television production practices. Due to the gron ing dernand by networks and cable broadcasters for compelling, cheap, and quickly produced shon s, production cornpanies are regularly competing


Subjects ofRealitY

with, and undercutting, each other; as a former reality television editor who


It's chosen to remain anonymous states, "Everyone is pinching pennies everywhere. constant very diffrcult to score contracts with the networks, so producers are under pr.rrrrr. to deliver top-quality product under ever-shrinking budgets and delivery tim.fra-es" (personal communication, April 1, 2008). While reality television producers and marketers insist that the shows are unscripted and do not involve writers

or srory editors, in fact they rely on editors to build the story in simply renaming writers "segment or field producers" (Writers Guild of America, "apPearance west,'2007; Elisberg, 2008) and paying on-air participants a minimal segment drivers, assistants, production fee,, (Podlas, 2007,p.147). workers, such as seven days' 18-hour producers, assistani editors, and loggers, are often asked to work penduy, u week, and to go without lunch and dinner breaks, healthcare, benefits, sions, or overtime pay (Elisberg, 2008; Laist,2008). These exploitative conditions threaten the safety of all involved in the productions. For example, the nonunion (Elisberg' drivers often work l8-hour days and do not receive alcohol or drug testing the editing bay,


Nonunionized reality television workers are also forced to accept precarious short-term contracts, which can easily be terminated without cause' A former

the American ldol production assistant reports that, when he averaged his wage over that hours he was forced to work, it came to $4.50 an hour. He goes on to state "when I even mentioned the possibility of getting a raise I was threatened with losing my job, told that I was replaceable, and that I'd be blacklisted from working assiston ,riy oiher show if I spoke out" (Writers Guild of America, West, 2008). An ant editor who worked inThe Hills andhas chosen to remain anonymous describes

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In effect, the production practices of reality television function to destabilize the labor relations of the television industry as a whole by instituting a whole new bottom tier of worker who sees the industry as glamorous and is willing to put up with the abuse to get a foot in the door. As a result of strict nondisclosure agreeof ments, the lack of any traditional job protections, and a very informal economy pressure to able are job distribution based on word of mouth, executive producers

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yo.rng people into silence and simultaneousiy demand they do "whatever it time, tak"s io g", th" lob done" (Writers Guild of America, West,2008). At the same and benefits, wages, prodr."is can avoid having to provide industry-standard names simply "reality televisioni'then, appropriate working conditions. The phrase unionization and attempt avoid that practices production just-in-time irr"rpensiv", workers' possible from as to extract as much unregulated labor


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content, Business MakeoverrM: Reality Television, Branded Extensions Branded Formats, and Brand traditional business practices Reality television has also signihcantlv alteretl the rvhereby netlvorks of the television industrl, escie*'i,]g the older busir.ress .rodel collect revenue then and producers rvould pay licensing fees to iirdependent shorv (Carter, 2002; Magder' for selling spot adrrertising aro,rnd the sirorvs thev licensed r\'lark Burnett, r'ho found 2004). Fo:llo;ving the leaiof the producer of SLrrt'i,or, SponsorsfortheprogramdirectlyandsplittheprofitswithCBs,advertisersnow their product centrally buy the rights to spollsor an entire Program or to have What differentiates integrated |r the shorv itself, in addition to spot advertisements' i, the early days of tele"'isio'r the furrent sponsorship model from the one used a series - is that the sponsoring of ruu entire where a corporation ,"ould sponsor the in the narratives of the shorvs products and s.ruices ur" fui more deepiy embedded

in the stories (Manly, 2005; themselves; indeed, they often become central characters

Bauder,2ol2).Onstn.yivor,starvingContestantsendureintensecompetitionfor Dew. The friendly folks one mouth-rvatering package of Doritos or some Mountain Home Depot or Sears, to trips on Extrente Makeover: Hotie Edition take shopping Or' in the case of Jersey wlrose "reaI" employees often pla)' a part in the makeover' and a personal brand' The SituSltore, acorporate brand, Abeicrombie and Fitch' to their mutual benefit' ation, create synergistic real-rvorld news stories together to stop rvearing their Situation The Abercrombie and Fitch publicly offered to pay that read..The T-shirt a produced clothes on the p,og.u*, ..,.n as it simultaneously Fitchuation" (ilifforcl, 201 1 ). one-third the cost of scripted Due to their lorv production costs - often less than drama(Podlas,2007,p.146)-andthespeedrvithlvlrichtheycouldbeproduced, off-season replacements' reality programs lnitiatl,v made excellent and affordable fn"i. groriing poprloritt' a'd prohtability' however' succeeded in convinci,g throughout the year' *etworl borre, and producers that shows could be introduced

long, sometimes compieting Continuous programrning, \\,here shorvs debut all year of "branded two l4-rveek ".|.i.r" ,'iit ln a year, facilitates greater development product or service becaltse content,,- shorvs explicitly designed to market a specific their fiscal year" (Elliott, 2008b' broadcasters are able to "accommodate clients by producers and prodttcers to p. 1). As deregulation has allorved net'tvorks to become sirolvs, intensified forms directly solicit corporate sponsors and advertisers for their the core raison d'etre for of product integration and branded content have become reality television Production. a "rew paradigrn" Indeed, reality television business n-rodels have introduced

"multiple sources of in television production, in rvhich shorvs are deveioped with (Carter, 2002)'

includlr.g foreign production companies and advertisers" describes, networks are As former NBC Entertainment chairman Ben Silverman rvith adyerpartnership" in assets now directly dedicated to "building programming financing


and marketers are tisers (quoted in Elliott, 2008a, p. 3). Increasingly, sho$'sponsors

Subjects of ReatitY


the very beginning, often devising show on board with show development from and and developi"g concepts, sitting in the write;s'room' 1it"^tll:,::n*ttt"'tties

storylines.Inadditiontothesekindsofcoproduction,Weareseeingmoreandmore "advertiser-producedcontent"-realityshows'shortvideos'andfi1ms-developed to showcase products and services' For and produced directly Uf to'potut" brands around a reality-show titled Escape Routes built example, recently, ro,ip*#"red in Supermarket Food Network' Loblaws the Ford "Escape"

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CanadapremieredRecipestoRiches'acompetitionrecipeshowthatpromisesto 2012); and Office Max produced turn the winner into orie of its products lEiliott, for a new channel about preteens getting ready a reality show for tft" AgC fumlty have the (Story, 2006). Advertisers insist that..brands

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titled s,n.ooua potentialtobegoodcharacters"(Story'2005)'ancladvertiser-producedcontentis lnvolved; advertisers are willing to offer seen as a win-win situation for everyone control netrvorks' in return' can fllI air time and shorvs to networks fo' f'"t, and show between (Story' 2006)' This conflation their licensing and production costs more and as networks have become more design and marketing works both ways "miltargeting at successfui so MTV has been expert at marketing and advertising;


lenials,,(viewersagedbetweenl0and28)thatitrecentlylaunchedafree-standing marketingdepartment,calledMTVScratch,toworkindependentlywithcorporate


brand clients (Gelles, 2010)'


Thismovetowardbrandedandadvertiser-producedcontentandtheriseinthe *o'" generally are symptomatic of what importance of branding and marketitg Piomotion is a mode of communicaAndrew Wernick ."ffr::ir"*otional cul"ture." ..species of rhetiri.,, more notable for what it does than what it says. Protion, a


motionaldiscourseisthoroughlyinstrumental;itsfunctionistobringaboutsome (Wernick' l99l' p' 181)' Wernick argues that' form of "se1f-advantagi'g t"tf"i'ge" came to be designed less for their direct throughout the twentjeti t"t""ty' goods and and my,ths they were able to mobilize usefurness and more io, tt " *"urilrg, of the processes of promotion represent. ,.f,. mt"nJn.ation and gln"ruliraiion a "prohal produced what Wernick ( 1991) terms ..meaning,, and marketing ln ,..t"t decades..spin,,, not where what matters most is motional culture,, and an era of .- attention' emotional allegiance' and b't per se, or "truth" "r;;;;f ""i"t'i"g" and' most centtally'people are all implimarket share. Goods, services, corporatlons' (p' 192)' cated in these developments practices within a promotional Branding and bru'nds ur"'."n,rul marketing -r".ric"s with resonant cultural aJd culture. lnitially intended to link products refers to an entire


school year,

of narratives and images' a brand now meanings through ..virtual context,, for consumption; brands wo,k to conslruct a particular ambience,

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comprisingsensibilitiesandvalues'whichmaythenconditionconsumerbehavior by increasing flexibility and flux' (Arvidsson, 2005, p. 244)'In a world marked cultural meanings around work to fi-x, albeit temporarily ond t"ntaiirely, brands

consumption,producingaestheticizedmodesofjustificationforlifeundercapital property a value-generating form of (Goldman and Papson, iooe ) e brand is also the 1980s' by trademark licensing law and' since in its own right, recogJoa u'




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bycorporateaccountingpractices,rvhichconsiderthebrandasadistinct'albeit "asset. Brands generate value b,v monetizing the symbolic irrtorrgiUl., comrnerciai has come to rely *.u'rfrg-*uking activities of consumers' As flerible accumr'rlation packemphasizing products, hea,ily In the ptduction of knor{edge and slmboiic production, brarrding aging, image, desig,-,, and marketing o\'er Col.tcrete nrateria} ..i,stitutionalized method of practicallr' materializing the political has become an As stich' it is now"a core economy of signs"(Goldn-rzrn and Papson,2006' p' -118]' activity of capitiriisnr" (Holt, 2006, p' 300)' llo1r dominate reality As we have seen, the iogics of promotion and brar-rding placement and branded television production. ln udditiol} to intensilied product ibrmats "branded" - tbrms of intellectual content, manv reality shorvs are now ldol, Real Horrscrl,lr,es, and property bought ancl solcl around the globe. Big Brother, available for licensing by Tlrc x Factor are jusi a ferv of the reality formats norv program, a format cau.r include televisiolr production colrpanies. Like a recipe for a irrstrtrc. soundtracks, u p,og,u* bible, production guideiines, requisite The *-rarket in content' tions,"and graphii elernents that are then filled r'ith local zero in the 1990s to 259 television shor,v formats has gro"vn steadily frorn almost growth of globally and 445 in 2008 (Esser, 2010' p' 272)' Overull' the


2002 2004 to cut costs and avoid risk traded show formats spe;rks to the need to fincl new ways in other markets and proven in tele,ision production; formats have been tried and They serYe as a reduce the time ar-rd costs associated r,r,ith progr:am deYelopment' "canued" progralnming is not perfect schedule-fil1er rvhen original progran-rming or returns in licensing fees far its available, ancl, whel a tbrmat hits internationalll', (Esser, 2010, p. 288). \\4ri1e outstrip anything a fuil.v fleciged shon, sale might earn reality atld game-show teiet ision formats can includJ scriptecl or unscripted sho'vs, The Biggest Loser' fot formats ha'e lecl the pack in the establishment of this trelld. than 90 (Chozick, more in shown examp}e, has been proclr:ced irr 25 countries ancl 201 1b).

it has With the*creasing promotior.ral orientation of reality television, television content per se but become very clear that theiirphasis is no longer on products and services and for house on horv that content ca, firnctiln as a clearing shows thetnselves' As lvlark as a source of diverse revellue streams beyond the Bnrnett himself has stated rvith reference lo Survivor: It is as rnuch


an interest' marketing vehicle as it is a television shot'. lvly sho\vs create

ar'rdpeoplelvilllookatthem,buttheerrdgamehereissellirrgproductsinstclres_a car, deodorant,

(Sager and Burnett' 2001) running shoes' It's the futr'rre of television'

of other comIndividual shon s serve as brand portais through r,vhich any number

extended its brand across modities can be generated. A mericafi klol,for example, has to summer camps (wyatt, a plethora of products from ice cream to trading cards polver of a brand-extenzoosa). NBC,s The Biggest Loser is another example of the including cook franchises, brand its from 6jO0 million in 2009 sion model; it "u..r.d Wyatt' 2009a' (Sauer' 2009; books, fitness videos, diet drinks, and gym equipment

Subjects of RealitY



and nt

2009b).Inadditiontoproducts,realitytelevisionalsoworkstogenerate..paraor MTV's The After Show' which comment shows," such as American Idol Rewincl air previously unaired footage' The cable on and deconstruct the original shows or of the brand-extension model; it routinely network Bravo is often citeias exemplary components of previous shows' For spins new reality series from the thematic Straight Guy'wlsspun into lfverat new series' example, its first hft, a;r;; Eye for the a;o. explicitly positions itsetf as a lifestyle such as Top Chef and. iop i"ig''Bravo b'anded with its own logo (Dominus' "brand," selling .oot uooi' ut'j 'tylt guides 2008).As}amesNgo,aproducerofAmericanldol,states,it\all..abouttheproduct, (quoted in live beyond the tele,ision sho'" and the potential r", ,t" pr"arct to promomore then' is to generate Elliott, Zll2).The goal of reality programming' the form of shows' goods' or services' tional opportunities ut'i *o'* p'od'ittu in through reality televiperhaps the most lucrative revenue stream generated in and branded peoplei shows' of the sion productlon, f,o*.,"i comes in the lorm



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Producing "Selves": Reality Television and tlie Monetization of Being

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promotetheculturalvalueoficonicvisibilityandfame(Hearn,2009).Showssuch work Top Model explicitly narrate the hard as American ldol and America's Next Not What as while makeover shows such involved in becoming u ttftUtity brand' the construction of a rhetorically to wear or Ten Vrrrl vorngn tell stories about television industry and its celebrity persuasive body u.corii"gio ttt" dltt:l"t-:l'he The Hillsor Bravo's Real Housewives franchises, culrure. other shows,r"lfr ", MTV,s areportraitsofalifefreeofwork;richandprivileged,t.hestarsoftheseshows "live on teGvision'and make money doing it' effectively model what it is like to television, then, involves promoting The overarchirg ,rur.;iir. line of much reality power of the.television cametis gaze' the value of high visibility and the authorizing to war states: "I should always live as As one pleased .orr*iur,, on what Not thoughthereweretelevisioncamerasoutsidemyhouse!,,Towhichthehostsreply, "Noiu bad ideal" (quoted in Hearn' 2008)'

But,aswehave,.t','"utitytelevisiondoesnotjusttellstoriesaboutprocesses oflucrativeself-production;itmateriallyenactsprocessesofcommodificationand people' The indigoods, services' and' *t't significantly' promotion Uy *urt for "ii,tg Hills' Jersey Shore' and -Real House'wives' viduals featured o, ,ttoiJ"' ch as The "person-characters" hybrid "people" u"d'lutto""'or

,i,,,rttu,,"o"ty (Bellafante,2009).Asthey*o'ttu"at*infrontofthecameras'theirworkllives "being" is labor and

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The rvork performed b,v participants on realitv shorvs is exemplary of the nerv forms of immaterial labor no'r, common under contemporary capitalism. Autonomous Marxist critics, such as Antonio Negri, N'Iichael Hardt, and Mauricio Lazzarato, oppose economically deterministic forms of I{arxist criticism and see r,vorkers' struggles against the constraints of capitalism as the driving force of history. In their vierr, the rvorker is paramount and is "the active subject of production, the 'ivell-spring of the skilis, innovation and cooperation upon rvhich capital must drarv" (Dver-Witheford, 1994, p.89).As these critics rvork to define a "new revolutionar,v subject that might succeed the craft rvorker and the rnass rvorker" (Dyer-\Vitheford, 2001, p. 70), they argue that flexible accumulation's demand for immaterial commodities such as images, design, symbols, and knowledge has given rise to nen, forms of iabor that involve creativity, innovation, and the manipuiation of emotion and affect. This "immaterial labor" demands that the rvorker put his or her orvn life experience, communicative competency, personality, and sense of self into the job (Neilsen and Rossiter, 2005). More and rnore, for example, retail u'orkers are required to represent the brand of the store they rvork for by wearing the clothes and embodying the correct "attitude;'and service and call-center workers must follorv a set script so as to alivays offer "service rvith a smile" (see Pettinger, 2004; Dou,ling,2007). Immaterial laborers can include everyone from software designers to rvaitresses and sex-trade lvorkers to academics. Information, computer, and knorvledge rvorkers; performers and artists; technicians and service rvorkers; and even those n,l-ro do not receive a wage, such as caregivers lvithin and outside families, are immaterial laborers. Because it draws on the subjective attributes of lvorkers, in-rrnaterial labor produces distinct communities and relationships, social

itself" (Hardt and Negri, 2004, p. 109); it blurs the lines betrveen the economic, the social, the neh.r,orks, social meanings, subjectivities, "and ultimately sociai life

political, and the cultural. As the boundaries betrveen working and nonrvorking life erode due to ne\\, communication and computer technologies that rnake tts alr,vays available to work and always publicly accessible for corporations, governments, and advertisers to track, measure, and monetize, we can argue that human creative capacities and social relationsl-rips increasingly are conditioned by, and subsumed in, new modes of capitalist accurnulation (Lazzaralo, 1996; Hardt and Negri, 2000). Paolo Virno, in his book A Grammar of the Mthitude (2004), names these key components of immaterial labor, rvhich include creative, communicative, and linguistic capacities, "virtuosity." He claims that all working people are now required to be "virtuosos" in some form or other; employees are expected to represent their employer's brand, to socialize and build relationships with customers, to contribute their thoughts and insights to the workplace, and to build social networks rvith other workers. In other rvords, we are expected to perform an employer-approved version of ourselves in order to succeed at work. Under current post-Fordist conditions, then, Virno argues, "productive labor, in its totality, appropriates the special


Subjects of Reality

characteristics of the performing artist"(2004, pp. 54-55), and, in turn, the culture industries, including reality television, become centrally important - indeed, they becorne pirradigmatic of the dominant mode of production (Lazzarato , 1996, p. 142; Virno, 2004, p. 28). As more and more individuais are required to create their olvn profit-producing self-brand or purblic persona, the culture ir-rdustries provide the templates for forms of profit-generating seif-performance in all sectors of the

of Ne*, \1trl by f'ellorv fr the shorv ar l\4ost of t

or distribur come at a s1 lermented

economy. Elsewhere


I have defined the "branded self" as an entity that rvorks and, at the same time, points to itself working, striving to ernbody the values of its rvorking environment. Andrerv Wernick describes the process this lvay: "a subject tirat pro-

"break out' television p

motes itself, constructs itself for others in line with the competitive imaging needs of the market. Just like any other artificiall1, imaged cornmodity, then, the resultant construct is a persona produced for public consumption"(Wernick, 1991, p. 192). The self as commodity for sale on the labor market must also generate its orvn rhetorically persuasive packaging, its olvn promotional skin, within the confines of the don-rinant corporate imaginnry Self-branding may be considered a form of

channel El, 2004 by cr




becorne jr-rs (Har-npp, 2 producers



affective, immaterial labor that is purposefull1, r,rndertaken by individuals in order to garner trttention, reputirtion, and, potentiall1,, profit. Self-branding is a function of an image economy, where attention is monetized and notoriety, or fatne, is capital

including e half a billic

(Hearn, 2008) and reality television is ground zero for the production of lucrative branded selves. As the performance of personality and job-appropriate selfhood becotnes a forin of cornmodity labor power, immateriai rvorkers are encouraged to see themselves as inrage entrepreneurs (Heam, 2006). h-rdeed, many reality sholvs have provided previously unknorvu people u,ith rnonetizabie self-brands, rvhich they parlay into iucrative endorsement deals and branded goods and sert'ices. Every mernber of the Jersey Shore cast, for example, has nutnerous personai brand extensions and can norv demand appea]:ance fees in the tens of thousands of dollars (Galloway, 201 1). The Sittration, rvho arguably arrir.ed on lersey Slnre prebranded, notl'has nutnerous

percentase sion, then, producers, i and via bin, over their p

branded products, including rvorkout videos, diet supplen-rents, exercise eqtripnrent, a tell-all book, a rap single, a clothing line, an iPhone app, lip ba1m, a lirundrl' bag, a water bottle, flipflops, baseball caps, cooler bags, torvels, t-shirts, hand sanitizer, and lollipops, to llante only a ferv. He is estimated to have earued over $5 million in brand deals and endorsements in 2010 (Brr,tce,2010). Similarll',5,rooUt has a signature line of slippers, a best-selling tlovel, a perfttme', and a diet supple-

and lif'e stoi

ment, among 1tllli-terotls other brand extensious, and lvirs recently paid

S32 000

to give a coml-nencement speech at Rutgers Universit,v (Hedegazrrd,201l). The Kardashian tamili,, of Keeping tJp tvith tlrc Kardashinrts, is estimated tt.r have made 565 ruillion in 2010 as a result of the shou', pirid endorsements, appearance fees, and branded products. In addition, the familv l-ras ir total 13 million T\vitter follorvers (Newman ar-rd Bruce,2011), nhich enhances their monetizable influeuce, Cast members of the Renl Houseryit,es iianchise have published over a dozen books combinecl and have endorsed er.erlthing frorn jenelry to sex to)'s (Hollywood Reporter, 2012). Irrdeed, llllZarin, one of the original cast members of the Real Hottsev'ives


Realitl, t becanse eyt

required to

ing airy ir-rl themseives reveal ancl/,



foctuol arrdt

MT\,'Reall it the poterr or physical

rights to


recordings, also allorvs and any gor

or "portrai' participate noti-produ,



Producing "Reality"

of New York City, recently argued that she should get a cut of anything developed by fellorv former castmate Bethenny Frankel, because she helped bring Frankel to the shorv and, thereby, aided in the development of her self-brand (Bruce, 2012).

l€ culture ieed, ther' )6. p. i.12r

Most of these image entrepreneurs, horvever, do not fuily control the construction or distribution of their self-brand; indeed, in many cases, these personal brands come at a steep price. While in 2005 pioneer reality producer iV1ark Burnett publicly lamented the fact that he did not "have access to the future value" of The Apprentice "break out" participant Omarosa (Carter, 2005), nou', almost 10 years later, reality television producers actively rvork to cultivate mini-celebrities "in house" and lock a percentage of reality participants' future money-making potential. The cable channel El, for example, has increased its advertising revenue by 50 percent since 2004 by creilting "an alternative universe of reality-based celebrities n'ho have


their s proi'ide


of the

*rl, at the :torking ' ihat needs : resultant 1.


become just as ftrmous as the sitcom and dratna stars in netlvork prime-time" (Hampp, 2010); rhe most valuable of these are the Kardashians. Anrcrican ldol producers 19 Entertainment sign potentially valuable contestants to management contracts that entitle the producers to 1 5 percent of ali of the contestants' earnings, including endorsements and appearance fees (Wyatt, 2010). MTV generated over half a billion dollars in profits in 2010, a significant portion of which came from franchising ler-se1t 511ory merchandise, but provides cast rnen-rbers with only a srnall percentage (Bruce, 20i0). The branded selves that emerge from most reality television, ther-r, are not freely chosen or expressed btlt are strictly controlled by shorv proclucers, both in the editing room, rvhere personas and storylines are constructed, and via bincling contracts, lvhich effectively strip the participant of any legal control


.r its orvn

: ;r


lirm oi

in order = r lunction :. is


i lucrative :es a form hemselr'es

: provieled rarlar. iuto rber of the is and can tar'. 101 1 i. nLlmeroLlS


a lar-rndr',hand salied or-er SJ rlr', Snooki

iet sr-rppieid s3l00i1 1011). Thc hiite macl* rrance fees.

ttcr lbllortrence. C.r>i rcrclks coi:: -

,ri Rettr.-rirr.



over their person-character. j


Reality television contracts are notoriously difficult to track dorvn, partially because elreryone rvho rvorks on reality sholvs, from the star to the lorvly driver, is required to sign a strict nondisclosure agreement that Prohibits them from disclosing any information about the shorn, or its productiou practices. The contracts thenselves often require participants to sign au'ay control of their voices, iurages, ancl life stories. A sectior.r af an American ldol contract reads: "other parties ' . .lnay reveal andlor reiate information about me of a personal, private, intimate, surprising, defamatory, disparaging, embarrassing or unfavorable nature, that may be added). A recently leaked factttal anrl/or fction c/" (quoted in C)lsen, 2002, emphasis program "carries rvith the in MTV Real l4rorld contract stipulates that participation it the poteltial for death, serious phy5i.ol injun, extreme emotional distress, mental or physical illness or property loss"(Dodero, 20 i 1). It grants the shorv producers all rights to the participants'life stoly, voice, iurage, and likeness and to any sound recordings, photographs, emails, or web sites created in relation to the prograrn. It also aliorvs the producers access to the participant's credit history, school records, and any government forms and requires that the participant agree to be humiliated, or "portrayed in a fhlse light," during the program. Cast members are required to participate in all producer-arranged press and are forbidden from engaging in any non-producer-endorsed media, including Internet exchanges, for one year after the program airs. They are also required to take part in any assigned book or ','ideo

Subjecrs of RealitY


projectsfortwoyearsaftertheshowends,andmustbeavailableforreunionspecials a reality television participant,s for up to five years (Dodero,2011)' Ultimately, ..right to publicity,,, is considered a form of property under the public persona, or As and appropriable by others (Madow' 1993)'


law and, as such, is fully alienable urrd u, entertainment labor larrtyer Jonathan these contractual requirements shorv, none" all the reverage and the participant has Hander describes,,.th";;;;.r has

the p its w, proII

(personal communication, May 7' 2010)'


Inaddition,thelaborofrealityparticipantsisnotasfree,unfettered,or..real,'as wemightbeledtobelievebythenarrativesoftheshowsthemselves.Whilethereis nodoubtthatthelaborofrealityparticipantsiscreativeanddrawsfromtheirlife that these emotional responses and behavior energy or personality, ii *n b" argo"a

Thes, reve


inext: it car

of the television camera and the instrumental'

are also disciplined Former of the television producers and networks' aesthetic, and economic interests because show the quit Peggy Tanous Real Housewivu of Orange CountyParticipant happen


does thinkirig about all the forced drama that Audrina' from The Hills' has stated' on occasion" (Holtywood Reporter,zllz)'And things that you normally wouldr't" "because it's for TV y;; fo'n yo""tlf to do editor who has worked on (Gay, 2008, P. 46).Alother anonymous reality television influences the result ' ' ' Ithe The Hilkinsists that, insofar as "the act of observation participants]become,L*ptt'otutheshowcreatesforthem"(personalcommunication, APril 14, 2008). production, then, it is fair to argue that Given reality television,s conditions of of a task specification than "the exercise of 'personality' is closer to the futfillment to "perform iO"r, 2007 'p'320)' Reality participants learn a process of "tpr"rsi-"i are completely conditioned by the to a format"; their pttfo"rrJ"t"s of selfhood exigencies, and sponsornarrative conceits, aesthetic concerns, production

she "started getting u,,*i?'y


The realit

onlir of so


bool self t

or b. of fo and


"is the creativ-



its laws" (Aufeheben,20a6' the objective constraints of the market and

affect,emotio,,,o,p".,o,alityondisplayarrivesalreadyhighlydisciplined,anticipatingthedemandsu,,d",p".tutionsofitsproducersandaudienceandexistingin how rich a reality

can .rgi

Itiscrucialtorememberthat'asrealityparticipantsotrerl|rSirlivesupweekafter modeling to become piofitable self-brands and week to the MTV cameras, working is underlabor" "free their apparently how effective self-branding might be done, the behind exploitaiive^labor practices girded and made porriUfJ by-extremely over for in rooms for example, are often locked scenes. Assistant editors and loggers,

12hoursatatime,reviervingandloggingthousandsofhoursoftapeofthebranded shows and their so, -h".".."I the narratives of reality lives of reality p*;;;;. profit-producingperson.characterspromotethevalueofbeing..ontelevision,,,the labor-free celebritS producerr olernorrr of immaterial work, and the promise of

incr, thes

possibiliiy. So, no matter dialectical tension rvith its conditions of

participantlikeSnookimightgetfromherbrand'aslongassheisundercontract how rvhat that brand will be exactly' or to MTV ,h" i, ,r.r., "'ttitJly iI control of it will be developed or distributed'



rn".r.utive immaterial laboi of reality participants the needs of capital, tirls .reaiivity is free insofar as it has introjected p' 35)' Any

ship imperati.r"r.

ity of capital.



aPP' B :iE:

$ ,.(.




[email protected] '.::&

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ofr ther tele' and usu abo gen

the exa-

Producing cials


'the t. As

:han )ne



re is

life 'rior rtal,



extract as much labor time as possible from the workers who make the show. Reality television's branded selves and its precariously employed

production workers are inextricably bound together in a capitalist logic that actively extracts value wherever it can in rvhatever way possible. And, ironically, as the shorvt narratiyes celebrate the promise of successful self-branding by showing off the glamorous lives of its wealthy, successful participants and telling stori.l about tieir efforts at selfpromotion, show producers rely on these myths to summon into being endless numbers of young peopie wiliing to work for nothing to get closer to the dream. These practices recapitulate a rvell-established truth t"hat io u*o.r.,, of dramatic "reveals" or designer duds can change: "capital needs a class of people r,r.ho materi_ ally benefit from the daily alienation of others,, (Aufuheben,200e , p. 33).

Tler use ?en :ed,

n't" on the ca-

rat ran

rm he



;iin ty -ct

rw CI


rle 3r


ir re


Reality Television, Sociar Media, and the Reputation Economy The processes of self-branding and self-promotion entrenched and formalized by reality television have only intensified as they have been generalized across the online population with the rise of social media. Indeed, the plpularity and ubiquity

of social media seem to confirm the centrality of socialized proiuction and immateas initiating a wholesale change in the

rial labor, and have been heralded by some

nature of capitalism (e.g., see Bauwens, 2005; Benkre r, 2-006). on sites such as Face_ book, Twitter, Tumbir, and youTirbe, individuals can craft a public presentation of self that is ostensibly a reflection of their "reality" - no need ftr television netrvorks or brand sponsors - and can "monetize" themserves by working to deverop

legions of followers or subscribers. For example,youTube contributors .lun b".o-" partners and monetize their offerings via a range of advertising options.r The number of your Twitter or Tumblr followers, or Facebook o. coogl.i friends, can be tracked and aggregated and transformed into a digital reputatiJn, such as a Klout

score, by online reputation managers or social media inteiigence experts. your online Klout can then be traded for free stuff, or, eventually, a, In a world marked by increasing economic and social precariousnes urrd insecurity, it is easy to see how these opportunities to develop and invest in a potentially lucrative r.rr fruJ.orra appear enticing to many. But the rumors of a pubric sphere regenerated via social media, where everyone has a shot at fame and fortune, are greatry exaggerated. while there are any number of venues where people can communicate, jlay, create, rate, rank, and entertain themselves, the logic of accumulation we have traced in the production of reality

television also obtains here; the packaging, distribution, *"urur.*.rrt, valorization, and control of these expressions of seli remain in the hands of a very few, and usually not the "self" doing the expressing. In the wake of web 2.0, as mentioned above, a whole raft of marketing ug"rr.i"q technology firms, social media


gence experts, and other brand managers have arisen to mine and find the value in the data contained in an individualt social networks and affective expressions. For example, Mark Burnett has tearped up with a technology company to find new ways

Subjects of Reality


to monetize vie.vvers as they watch Burnett's reality shows. Viewers can interact and socialize with their friends as they watch the shows in real time, but the socializing is organized on this platform around a "host of program enhancements, line extensions, quizzes, trivia, gaming and sales experiences" (Grotticelli, 2011)- Of course, into the show as the platform works to integrate viewers and their social networks behavioral lucrative brand and its afftliated sponsors, it also tracks and generates metadata for marketers. In another example, Canadian Internet start-up Empire Avenue works as an online reputational stock exchange, where companies and individuals can track their reputations and influence and invest in the potential influence of others. The reasoning runs as follows:


online I can actually social media sites and your social capital could pay me dividends. Indeed, earn online currency for making the right investments in other people's influence or by maximizing my own share price by extending my social netn'ork, posting regularly on Twitter or Facebook, and offering comments, ratings, and feedback wherever possible in other words, by actively developing a "self-brand'"


invest in you based on the degree to which you actively participate


The eventual goal for the site's developers is to sell the data about personal influence accumulated on the site to advertisers. In yet another example, "social-media advertorial clearinghouse" Adly pairs up brands rvith celebrities on social media; Kim Kardashian receives $10000 for every promotional tweet she makes' Of course' Kardashian doesn't really compose those tweets; the role of "Kim Kardashian" on TWitter is played by a "hungry young tr,veet ghostwritet" (Piazza,2012), most likely someone working at the lower rungs of her management team' In the age of social

prorr signit also r


mark help

an in edito and







zomt Ther,





Indet gogy order valor Bu cause syster

media and perpetual publicness, celebrities outsource themselves to marketing firms who, like reality television production companies, are staffed by invisible, precariously employed, badly paid young workers. It is crucial to remember that' while the labor of the Twitter ghostrvriter or the reality television logger might be "Kim immaterial, thousands of these rvorkers are required to support every one Kardashian"; they form the exploited underbelly of the current promotional,


celebrity-fueled, crisis-ridden capitalist economy'



para( Reali

time. NCSS


So, al indee sites


Producing Reality In the 12 years since its formal arrival on the scene in North America, reality programming has remade the television industry profoundly. Once seen as a cheap, iow-rent version of television, "reality" now has its own Emmy Award category and its producers and innovators, such as Mark Burnett and Ben Silverman, have gone orrio become titans of the industry. This chapter has argued that reality television is a representational exPression, and ideological legitimation, of television's orqn economic rationalizations. lts production practices extend post-Fordist capitalism's labor desire to externalize, make fiexibilize, download, or, indeed, entirely escape its and costs, and many of its texts serYe to promote television's own codes of visibility

lSe 2Se

Arvid i







promotional values, and the dream of a rvork-free l{orld. Reality programming is a significant site of production, generating lralue not only through advertising but also via program franchises, formats, and brand extensions; reality shorvs are veritabie cyclones of synergistic marketing across commodities, platforms, and global +,









::i ,:-tl




gogy and aesthetic codes of comnercial media, technology, and social net\'t'orks in order to reassure themseh'es that they exist and are worth something - indeed, to valorize themselves. But it is also crucial Io remember that personal ir-rsecurity is a symptom not a cause; currentlv it is a highll. productive symptom upon rvhich a coliapsing capitalist system, searching zombie-like for new forms of value, feeds. Reality television and its branded content, tbrmats, products, services, and monetized self-brands are paradigrnatic ol these ns11r proc€sSes of capitalist valorization and accumulation. Reality shorvs are predicated on individuals' anxieties and insecurities at the same time as they actively rvork to exacerbate material insecurity and rvorkers'precarious-


lil ti!.. r,1l:. r.:l,i:',


via their "just-in-time" production models and endless promotional appeals. So, as large quantities of interchangeable peopie churn through realiti'television studios keeping the profits rolling, in 2012 a new social and econotlic "reality" has indeed been produced; processes of individual self-production have becorne central sites for the extraction of economic value. ness

.::)li: .'.l].",l


. ,i|.:

markets. Finaliy, via the logic of the brand extension, reality television progranrs help to generate branded "seh'es," normalizing the monetization of being, rvhereby an individuai's specific "personalit1"' is processed and standatdized by television editors, producers, and netu-orks in order to be rendered functional, transferable, and ultimately profitable. In spite of the high leveis of unemployment and precarious employment around the globe caused b,v the innumerable and opaque sins of virtual finance capital, the logics of promotionalism and ilexible accumulation continue to dominate; like zombies, the1, are "ugly, persistent and dangerous" (Harvie and Milburn,2011)' There can be little doubt that the varieties of outer-directed promotional selfhood, or self-branding, introduced bl'reality television production and generalized across social media such as Facebook and YouTube are connected to a profound, albeit inchoate, sense on tl're part of manv that processes of capital valorization are failing. Indeed, it only makes sense that individuals rvould turn to the promotional peda-







See details at



See details at





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Subjects of Reality

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seems someho\\'

more rearistic' N ew York






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