Authors Archives: Kristel Vandenbrande

Review: Better Living through Reality TV

Self-governing through Reality TV.

Better Living through Reality TV. Television and Post-Welfare Citizenship.

Laurie Ouellette and James Hay.

Malden/Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2008.

In their book, Laurie Ouellette and James Hay draw on Michel Foucault’s and Nikolas Rose’s writings on liberalism and governmentality to situate the increase of popular non-fiction on television within strategies of liberal governance. They use the concept of liberalism as a ‘governmental rationality’ to refer to a form of governing through freedom, in which – on the one hand – rulers should minimize any intervention in the affairs of both the free market and individuals, and – on the other hand – individuals are expected to govern themselves, by choosing order over chaos and good behavior over deviance. In these continuous processes of self-governing, people rely on diverse social and cultural technologies, including television. The need for self-governing has become different and more urgent in today’s advanced or neoliberal societies (or ‘post-welfare States’ as Ouellette and Hay call them). For in these neoliberal societies, where the rationality of the ‘free’ market has expanded (resulting in a greater reliance on the privatization and personalization of welfare), citizens are increasingly obliged ‘to actualize and “maximize” themselves not through “society” or collectively, but through their choices in the privatized spheres of lifestyle, domesticity, and consumption’ (12)[1]. Ouellette and Hay argue that one has to understand (and question) the surge and popularity of reality TV from within this larger analysis of contemporary post-welfare States. The starting point of this book is the idea that reality TV has become a quintessential technology of this neoliberal citizenship, since it aligns TV viewers with a burgeoning supply of techniques for shaping and guiding themselves and their private associations with others. ‘At a time when privatization, personal responsibility, and consumer choice are promoted as the best way to govern liberal capitalist democracies, reality TV shows us how to conduct and “empower” ourselves as enterprising citizens’ (2).

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