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The Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
Edited by Andrei Codrescu
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The New Economics of Late Capitalism

Reality Television or Embedded Iconoclass Division?
by Kane X. Faucher

As Gilles Deleuze says in Negotiations: 1972-1990, "It's rather worrying that there's an enthusiastic audience that thinks it's watching some cultural activity when it sees two men competing to make a word with nine letters." O but how the televisionary bric-a-brac of information dissemination has changed since the death of this eminent philosopher and reclusive critic. We have been launched into a new era of "dynamic television" that postures itself as showcasing a representative slice of our mundane (re)public, and by devising entire television programs on the basis of our messy particulars and processes toward final products. Some might say that television has entered the golden age of bringing the quotidian struggles of the masses to the masses rather than to rely on the fantastical imagery of impossibly "beautiful" people and their "rich-people" problems that do not reach us. I, however, will argue a different point; that in fact "reality television" can bear no purchase on the real which is otherwise distilled into the reinforced stereotypical images and tropes the more sensibly dynamic and cavalier among us have come to despise. What is real about "reality television" is precisely the codification and dissemination of aseptic images meant to be embraced by the gibbering consumer public, labouring under the heinous assumption that a totality of consumers will form neatly packaged universalizable units in a global tribe of consensus for the ease of ubiquitous marketeering machines.
     To observe just how asinine this suppurating phenomenon actually is, let us return to the source of our critique: the reality television shows themselves. By plopping ourselves before the image/code-dispensing machine, suffering the ignominy of vomit-inducing reality-TV, we can discover just how low the apex of common culture actually is. For the ease of classification, we reduce the categories of reality television programming into a typology: home improvement, competitive dating, and the artificial creation of popularized idols.

Home Improvement

Shows of this stripe include the infamous "repressed neighbours manifest their deep-seated resentment for each other by a muted strategy of revenge to defile another's home décor with ridiculous and cheap interior design" and "overt therapy strategy to cure afflicted persons of collection fetishism and pack-ratism through a recrudescent Christian strategy of purging possessions toward absolute minimalism." Shows of either type usually feature sexpot organizers/narrators and hunky carpenters with rippling physiques. Personal clashes between the mainstay characters function as a means of depicting predictable sexual tensions that purposely remain unresolved to ensure audience loyalty. The candidates selected for either interior design detail or reduction of personal possessions are also of a predictably low calibre, common Joes and Janes as semi-bourgeois middle-class nobodies with very little to offer this world but mundane clerical labour. Meant to appeal to a common social denominator, the selection of candidates for these home improvement projects must have as little character as possible and their values must be conformist to the point of complete anonymity. Muting all eccentricities is essential to the continuance of these programs, for differences of character are only allowable under very limited constraints in order not to inflame the xenophobic and fickle audience that could just as easily switch to another reality television program of a similar kind. It is for this reason that said home improvement programs will not wander outside its selected demographic to broadcast from your local ghetto slum.
     What is the appeal of programs of this nature, beyond the eye-candy of the hosts and mainstay labourers? Presumably, the average audience exists in this blurred average income bracket and can relate to the travails of the candidates by way of constitutive misrecognition. Moreover, the making over of a house is a quick time slice for development-metamorphosis stories that only take an hour to bring to term; that is, these shows are always ready to recap the before and after details of the house under transformation, the audience being willing suckers for non-radical and minor consequence juxtaposition. In addition, it gives cubicle jockeys in the audience an intimate look at physical labour without the responsibility of actually performing it. This effectively assuages the guilt of getting fatter and weaker in a non-active lifestyle, and gives the slim margin of hope that one day camera crews will descend upon their modest middle-income shanties in directing them to engage in home renovation projects they themselves are not likely to do. In being directed to renovate one's neighbour's house, one is also absolved of any responsibility to improve upon one's own home, and gives one the opportunity to seize all those borrowed items never returned, or to snoop around for some dirt to be used as neighbour-to-neighbour political leverage at a later date.
In sum, it is just dandy for the audience to sit and be deluged by images of labour and vicarious neighbour revenge, as well as being the voyeur in the spectacle of watching as neighbours pretend to fawn over their new décor while seething inside. It sends the clear message that home renovation is only worthwhile under strict conditions: that it be televised, that sexy people oversee the project, and if the renovation is being done to someone else.

Competitive Dating

We all remember the scene in Merchant of Venice when Portia entertains the eligible suitors for her hand by way of a competition to choose the right casket. The only truly modern component of popular reality dating programs is that we are now televising our embarrassing failures. There are shows that purposely mismatch partners for laughs, but most of these shows operate under the tacit assumption that sex will result of a successful union, which is why these shows make it their goal to invite the participants in going on dates which involve hot-tubbing and dinners saturated in sexual innuendo. Shows of this type are concise and non-flashy versions of the multiple-partner selection by elimination dating programs. The first type is honestly very stupid, appealing to a very low brow audience, but the latter type operates by a mixture of vapid soap opera decadence, predictable nail-biting suspense through the means of prolonged camera shots of silence and close-ups on the emotional transformation of the face during the tension of elimination. There will either be an eligible prince- or princess-type, removed from their element and placed in a luxurious mansion all for the purpose of an ego-war between a kludge of competitive suitors. What is characteristically asinine about this process--apart from the completely impersonal retrograde depiction of mate selection to the dark period pre-feminism--is that the competitors are essentially the same: moderately well-to-do, conventionally attractive individuals who only differ slightly, but are all equally vacuous beasts insofar as they deign to participate in such a demeaning activity. The end result, sometimes a marriage based on very little substantive connection, is achieved by a process of negative determination, or elimination, based on a superficial selection criteria. Competitive dating is Hegelianism without the big words, brought down to the level of pure socio-biological idiocy. Of course, shows like these appeal to those who live vicariously through the characters, and whose mummies and daddies never told them they were special. Worse yet are the variations on this theme where the eligible bachelor is depicted as a millionaire, the stench of money attracting all sorts of vapid valley girl gold diggers who are willing to overlook fundamental character flaws to get at the riches. And then, in the end, the carpet of dreamy riches are pulled out, and the winner must be resigned to the prize--a pauper marketed by a lie--and then must be forced to reevaluate her priorities if the feeling of being duped is not too overpowering. Apart from depicting women in this unsavoury, submissive manner as trophy wives in training, willing to debase themselves for a life of comfort, it is just plain stupid and unentertaining to those who have even one last vestige of personal integrity. The only real function it may serve is for either Gibbonesque cultural physicians in need of finding more symptoms of social decline, or for dribbling tarts who need a replacement for their
baffling fixation on the Royal Family.

The Artificial Manufacture of Popular Idols

To what lengths would you go in debasing yourself just to be on television? The guiding principle in all reality television, to greater and lesser extent, is the price one sets on one's own integrity. Reality television has confirmed for us just how low that price actually is, and one of its creature manifestations is the competitions to determine something so paltry and ephemeral as pop star status.
     Can innate talent be discovered, manufactured, and manicured for mass production? There is solid diabolical genius behind the mandarins who invented these talent-search competitions, for who knew that televising a usually closed-door process of selection could gain such ratings? No longer just sitting and waiting for real talent to emerge, these teams of talent scouts scour every city in search for that one malleable individual with some conventional level of singing talent who can be metamorphosized into a popular phenomenon. By rifling through the hopeless wannabes, having a few laughs at the embarrassment of others who try and fail, being snippy and exhibiting low-level critical wit, shows of this kind succeed in abiding by a Frankenstein principle: from a collection of parts, we can build you. Ah, what monsters these pop icons be! Constructed by the popular demands of the mediocre music industry that creates chart-busters by the dozen only for these to be replaced in short time by the next new phenomenon, the status quo is championed yet again! Let all difference and real talent step aside! The pop-icon making machine will only admit to yet another series of repetitions guaranteed to gain popularity due to a very fascistically organized marketing machine.
After we suffered the return of the Christian choir through boy- and girl-bands, the trend has been to market single-act talent, broadly and loosely defined. Who are the usual suspects that win these monotonous contests but ethnic minorities, which reinforces a wretchedly archaic stereotype that the only means of success for these groups is through music and athletics. Muted racism equals ratings.

What has reality television taught us? Obsession with the minutiae of our very mundane existence, recast into a plasticized setting, starring the average individual who comes to represent the idealized being to be transmitted as culture-code, all culminate to form the rigid designation of icono-classes: become that sign which is sold, for what is being sold is attainable. This new strategy of appealing to the attainable ideal by narcissistically reflecting back to the masses the averageness it so desires in this post-terror media society creates new divisions. True difference is marched up to the saccharin slaughter bench of common normalcy, and made to submit under the axe of a social image blended to the point of homogeneity. Reality television succeeds where previous forms did not: in leveling the summits of individual difference, and by merging the celebrity and the average nobody into a cohesive mid-point unit--the creature that produces what it consumes, and distributes a diluted system of values under a more severe and surreptitious moral set that has its fount on the extreme right. Marketing cruel infantilism to the mores has never been more profitable as the tired old wheel of the dialectic keeps turning.




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the book of revelations and epiphanies working class sweat
the making and unmaking of person the corpse reads classics letters

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