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Analysis of Monetizing the Public: the Production of Celebrities and Fans, Representatives and Citizens in Reality Tv

In: Film and Music

Submitted By rb1293
Words 1708
Pages 7
Ryan Brown
COM 702
3/18/2010
Final Paper

In his paper entitled Idolizing and Monetizing the Public: The Production of Celebrities and Fans, Representatives and Citizens in Reality TV, Yngvar Kjus explores audience participation theories and new media by analyzing both the Norwegian and American versions of Idol, a popular reality musical competition series. His exploration of the program via the analysis of collective participation, idolization, and production tactics ultimately unveil a well thought-out and persuasive spectacle that is not as real or grand as it comes off in societies around the globe. While Kjus does touch on theories like massive participation and voter behavior, there is certainly room in his paper for expansion on these topics as well as room for the inclusion of others. Over the course of multiple seasons of the Norwegian version of Idol, Kjus attends nine tapings and multiple production meetings in an attempt to answer his two main research questions. His questions set to find out how reality programs increase the participatory scope and empowerment of audiences and everyday people, as well as how television industries are reinventing themselves as new forms of media emerge, namely online and social media. Kjus starts the paper by presenting these research questions and then explores the history of reality TV and studio audiences, touching on game shows, talk shows, and docusoaps. He then gets into Idol, a show created by Simon Fuller, which emerged in the United States in 2001 and has since adapted into 43 other versions worldwide. He explains the show’s basic format – a Star Search esque talent competition that mocks the untalented and idolizes the musically inclined, ultimately finding a winner from the midst of thousands of everyday people – and then explains the three basic stages of the show in more detail. A typical season of the show is split up into three basic stages. Stage one is pre-taped and includes the precast and auditions. This stage leads into the next stage, which is live-taped and includes a live studio audience of approximately 100 members. In this stage, the contestants sing and the viewers can vote via telephone for their favorite contestants. In the third stage, the audience grows in size and 10-12 of the contestants perform until there are only two left. At this point, the show comes down to the ultimate live finale in front of an audience of 8,000. The winner of this episode is then named thee idol and lands a record deal. Kjus takes note on a number of important factors that he became aware of while attending live shows and production sessions and meetings. He talks a lot about how the show has evolved since it first started and how it adapts to the changing culture. He analyzes the use of the studio audience, the telephonic voting system, the idolization of contestants, and the mockery of the untalented. The theme that stands out the most in his paper, however, is that of collective participation. This papers focuses immensely on how Idol producers edit the show to mirror huge, national holidays and events that mobilize entire nations and bring countries together through massive participation. The aspect of the show that does this best is the precast. The precast is the very first stage of the show in which hundreds of thousands of hopefuls flock to stadiums and convention centers for their chance to be the next idol. The precast events are edited to evoke a sense of citizenship, pride, and engagement among millions of viewers, and they truly do just that. In truth, however, these precast events take place days before the “real” auditions before the actual judges, and only about one in every few dozen of recast attendees really get the chance to audition. This helps to demonstrate how staged and phony the sense of mass participation is in regards to this show’s persona. Kjus also touches on the show’s examples of the studio audience and telephonic voting as uses of collective participation and audience engagement tactics. As an insider and attendee of multiple tapings, Kjus discovers that producers tell the audience how to react to certain things, creating a dishonest sense of universal agreement among audience members and, ultimately, viewers at home. The telephonic voting system is also a tactic used to create a sense of collective participation and to make viewers feel like the show is in their very hands. According to Kjus, however, this process is not as democratic as it seems, as show hosts subliminally persuade them how to vote, and producers sway votes in different ways as well. In regards to Kjus’ observations on collective participation, there is still much more to be explored when it comes to Idol. For one, he focuses only on collective participation as defined as mass amounts of people engaging in the same activity and working together for the same cause. What he does not touch on, though, is the idea of not participating as a means of collective participation. In her article entitled Non-Voting as Collective Action: To Boycott or Not?, Sherry Lowrance explores the notion of voting boycotts as actually serving as a form of collective action. While it may seem counter-intuitive, in reality those who purposely do not vote are still coming together for a purpose. With the idea of boycotting as a form of collective action or collective participation in mind, aspects of Kjus’ paper could have further explored this idea. In his section on the tranformation of the telephonic voting system, Kjus mentions sites like votefortheworst.com and dialidol.com that serve to skew the voting habits and mindsets of Idol viewers. Those who partake in fulfilling votefortheworst.com’s mission may think that they are going against the norm by, in fact, voting for the worst contestants, but in reality they are partaking in the collective actions of the show’s dedicated viewers, only in a more rebellious way. Likewise, the author mentions dialidol.com, a site that tracks the activity and busy signals of different phone lines for each specific contestant, thus making predictions on he show’s outcome. Kjus could have talked about how viewers might see the predictions on this site and therefore choose not to vote, assuming that their vote would not make a difference. This could have made for a very interesting argument and take on collective action (or inaction). Instead, Kjus only casually mentions the site and its mission. There is certainly room for exploration into further topics in this paper as well, including the comparison of Idol tactics to those used in political campaigns. Really, it is quite surprising that a scholarly article like this, one that mentions a “democratic voting system,” makes no literal comparison to political campaigns and their inclusion of various communication and persuasion theories. For one, this paper could explore voting behavior theories extensively. While it may seem silly to compare electing a high-powered, well-respected political leader to that of choosing the next big pop star, many voter mindset topics could be further explored and compared using political research studies. Kjus talks a little bit about how Idol voters generally vote based on how well they connect with or relate to contestants, often voting based on their race, religion, moral values, orientation, or geographic ties. He even goes into how the producers create dramatizations and back-story documentary esque segments for each contestant, making them more relatable and likeable. What Kjus could have done, though, was compare these factors to political campaigns. Many people vote based on how much they relate to political candidates, and certainly others’ votes are swayed by political ads, which present them as ethically righteous and community service oriented, much like the Idol contestants. Lastly, Kjus focuses much of his paper on the emergence of new media and how the show has taken this form into account over recent years. While the show has not incorporated the Internet or social media sites directly into its voting system or live broadcasts, it has certainly explored the use of web interviews, blogs, chat rooms, and discussion boards on its websites. As Kjus points out, however, the content on these sites is not nearly as user-generated as it should be or as it comes off to be. In truth, the sites are watched closely by online managers and show producers as they make sure the contestants are portrayed the ways that they want them to be portrayed, even when viewers are the ones submitting the content that helps create those images. While Kjus does a good job exploring the aspect of new media and its affect on the show, there is much to be added, especially as these media forms are ever-changing. Perhaps Kjus could even tie this in with a discussion of political campaigns and political theory touching on how President Franklin D. Roosevelt took advantage of radio broadcasts, which at that time was considered a form of new media, or how now President Barack Obama utilized viral marketing and social media so successfully to influence voters. Yngvar Kjus’ paper Idolizing and Monetizing the Public: The Production of Celebrities and Fans, Representatives and Citizens in Reality TV certainly explores how a globally sensational reality program portrays a false image of massive collective participation and audience engagement. He also explores the emergence of various forms of new media and how they affect the show, as well as how the show moderates and skews the content posted to its websites. While Kjus could have included more in-depth ideas like boycotting as a form of collective action, or a comparison to political campaigns, he certainly explores Idol in ways that many theorists never have.

Works Cited

Kjus, Yngvar. "Idolizing and Monetizing the Public: The Production of Celebrities and Fans, Representatives and Citizens in Reality TV." International Journal of Communication (2009): 1-20. Print.

Lowery, Shearon A., and Melvin L. DeFleur. Milestones in Mass Communication Research: Media Effects. 3rd ed. White Plains, NY: Longman USA, 1995. Print.

Lowrance, Sherry. Non-Voting as Collective Action: To Boycott or Not? Paper Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science Association, Crowne Plaza Hotel Ravinia, Atlanta, Georgia, Jan 06, 2010. Web.…...

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