Reality TV and social media

I was excited to see that Kelefa Sanneh’s review article on Reality TV books in the New Yorker cites Mark Andrejevic, whose work I had just been reading recently. Sanneh cites Andrejevic’s book Reality TV: The Work of Being Watched (which you can find on aaaaarg.org if you are so inclined) and quotes this passage:

The Illinois housewife who agrees to move into a house where her every move can be watched by millions of strangers to compete for a cash prize exhibits more than an incidental similarity (albeit on a different scale) to the computer user who allows Yahoo to monitor her web-browsing habits in exchange for access to a free e-mail account.

This is, of course, true of social-networking sites as well. His point is that reality TV is entertainment suited for a lateral-surveillance society in which the people’s conduct in everyday life can be transformed into a valuable source of innovation and marketing data.

Work and leisure are thus no longer separable, much like reality and the fakery of mediated entertainment. Sanneh summarizes:

Similarly, the “Real Housewives” shows, despite the name, feature very few actual housewives and lots of working women (not all wives or mothers), every one of them eager to sacrifice time, not to mention privacy, for a small payment and a less small portion of notoriety. This is the opposite of leisure, and it may also be a sign of the end of leisure — the end, that is, of our ability to spend long stretches happily engaged in non-work.

We can’t avoid being conscious of how what we are doing might be rebroadcast, and that it might be valuable or damaging to our reputation in some measurable way. So must professionalize increasing amounts of our everyday life, in the sense of being reflexive about how it might be consumed by others once it’s mediated.

I thought Sanneh went astray when asserting that “There is no longer any need for surveillance,” unless the point is that we’ve become completely accustomed to living in a surveilence society and don’t need it dramatized and naturalized on TV anymore.

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