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Suffering, Neoliberalism, and Reality Competition Shows

by Philip Miller

While reading the article by Anna McCarthy, I found it fascinating that she instead explored the suffering of neoliberalism within the context of reality shows that deal with the rehabilitation of it’s subjects. I would say that this ‘theater of suffering,’ as she calls it, would instead be much more applicable towards reality competition shows where individualism is tested in the hopes for economic upward mobility. In other words, because I view reality competition shows as a perfect metaphor in explaining the intimate relationship with American meritocracy and neoliberalism, it makes it that much more interesting that she didn’t approach this route. This is further intriguing since she states “the story of personal triumph as a competition, are ways of transforming the format’s opportunistic narrative techniques into a pedagogy of the soul” (McCarthy 22). I also think these types of reality shows are a perfect example of both a combination of governmentality and trauma that she discusses. Most competition programs have set rules and ways to evaluate the contestants and the work that they present for each challenge along with certain tactics for deciding who progresses or who get eliminated. Along with the ‘drama’ that saturates such programming (as a result of this governmentality) is another element that highlights the combination of governmentality and trauma that McCarthy elaborates within the article. 

I also am intrigued by her discussion of randomness. She discusses this by saying “This affective-civic relationship, in which trauma and governmentality are unintegrated but mutually accommodating pathways for the constitution of individuals as at once subjects and citizens, is perhaps most evident in the role that randomness plays in the program” (McCarthy 33). This is quite relevant when it comes to competition programming because the entire premise and drama as a result of such show does to a certain extent rely on randomness. From the randomness of the contestants cast, to the challenges they need to accomplish, critiques from the judges, and the additional challenges of deciding who get eliminated from the program all in their own ways work to incorporate the dichotomy of governmentality and trauma reflected in neoliberalism. I’m excited to engage this relationship further with a reality competition show during my presentation entitled Dragula. 

 Work Cited 

 McCarthy, Anne. “Reality Television: a Neoliberal Theater of Suffering.” Social Text, vol. 25, no. 4, 2007, pp. 17-42.

Dragula and the Theater of Neoliberal Suffering

A clip from the Boulet Brothers reality competition show 'Dragula' from the season 2 premiere. Contestants Felony Dodger, Erika Klash, and Monikkie are up for extermination. This challenges both the contestants and audience like never before!

from Boulet Brothers DRAGULA Season Two: Episode One (2017 ) (2017 )
Creator: Boulet Brothers
Distributor: WOWPresents or OutTV
Posted by Philip Miller