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(Weddings * 4) + Audience = ∞ Surveillance

by Ethan Tussey

by G.E. Philage for IN MEDIA RES

Panopticism within reality-based wedding TV shows, such as the international series Four Weddings, on TLC in the U.S, acts as enforcement of the feminine hetero-normative. From a Foucauldian perspective this genre operates as a technology of power and panoptic surveillance. Foucault’s exploration of Bentham’s panopticon envisions the ability to surviel and punish beyond any physical structure. It is within the creation of these reality shows that a televised panoptic structure is realized. 

These shows honor the feminine hetero-normative achievement of marriage, as do the numerous reality-based dating shows. Few of the ‘other’ outside of this norm is visible within this space. Rather, Four Weddings, and its peers, continue the engendering of feminine hetero-normative standards. Just another television show is just another means to disseminate these norms amongst the masses eager to consume it, further legitimizing and normalizing the knowledge. The commercialization of marriage acts as a distraction from the failings of the historically linked patriarchal ritual. Imbued in male-dominated power, combined with the urge to consume beyond one’s means, the dominant discourse continues the commodity of woman as wife, and mother, and engendering girls early into this identity, as noted in the video clip.

In Four Weddings women are pitted against each other competing for the best wedding, and awarded with a luxury honeymoon. The meaning of the couple’s union is not dissected; a hetero-normative couple is entitled privacy. In opposition to this privacy, the commercial trappings, from a bare church to sneakers and silk flowers, and additional exceptions to the norms are available for scrutiny.

The first visible layer of surveillance starts within the workings of the show construction and production. It is from here the gaze, normalizing or punishing, weaves its way throughout the participants, watching and assessing one another’s acceptability. Upon broadcast, the floodgates are opened and the contest is proffered to the public for their assessment. And via the interconnectivity of media the discussion and monitoring of one another spills into the blogosphere and network websites, and yes, even this post. Existing in this recursive process is an invisible self-monitoring of all actions. The growth of these surveillance technologies exponentially duplicates the normalizing gaze and surveillance of the self aided by the infiltration of the consumer culture in media. Are viewers unwittingly recruited in this, actively purchasing into this discourse, or existing in a false consciousness of one’s participation in this process?

Four Weddings

clip from reality show

from Four Weddings (2010)
Creator: TLC
Distributor: TLC
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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