Governmentality in Makeover Reality TV

Topics: Television program, Reality television, Television Pages: 10 (2664 words) Published: December 6, 2014
Reality TV is a genre of television programming in which actual occurrences and unscripted situations are depicted, usually using a cast that is previously unknown to the audience. Since the beginning of reality TV programming, believed to be in the 1940s, it has become an increasingly popular form of television programming that ultimately achieved worldwide success in the late twentieth/early twenty first century. (OSU, 2001)

In this essay, a makeover reality TV show will be looked at with regard to its representation of governmentality. The programme that will be examined is What Not To Wear (UK), a BBC TV production that had series running through from 2001-2007. This makeover reality TV show focuses specifically on the themes beauty and appearance. The aim of this show is to take the shows contestants and transform them from “floundering individuals into successful self-managers” (Ouellette and James, 2008). What Not To Wear has proven to be a very successful programme after achieving significantly high viewer ratings on two of the UK’s most popular channels, BBC One and BBC Two.

The aim of this essay is to look at the idea that you cannot be a ‘good’ citizen unless you look good. It will focus on how techniques of governmentality are being used on makeover reality TV programming to achieve this by transforming the subjects into socially constructed idea of the ‘ideal’ citizen and ultimately achieve the desired outcome of becoming a good citizen. This will be done by first giving a brief definition on the term governmentality. This will be given in relation to the topic of discussion in order to fully understand how it is represented throughout the makeover reality TV show in question. What it means to be a ‘good’ citizen will also be looked at in order to compare how the shows contestants and the ways in which they have been changed as a result of their of their makeover with societies idea of what is right. An in-depth analysis of the structure and content of the makeover reality TV show What Not To Wear will then be given to show how governmentality is represented in this programme. Some of the representations of govermentality that will be looked at and examined will be the flow of power between individuals and also how these makeover reality TV shows promote techniques of governmentality not only to the contestants, but also to the wider audience through interactivity.

In order to discuss a makeover reality TV show with regards to its representation of governmentality, a definition should first be given on the term. Governmentality is concept developed by the French philosopher Michel Foucoult. He uses the term throughout his work to describe the ‘conduct of conduct’ or in other words, the process of government and also to describe the different sources of power that are at work within society. (Joseph, 2010) Foucoult offers many variations on the meaning of the term governmentality but focus’ mainly on two. The first meaning he offers is the traditional understanding of power as hierarchical, repressive and possessed by a particular social body or institution with the state being the most common example he gives of this exercise of power. The second meaning of the term given by Foucoult describes how individuals are now internalizing the disciplinary and governmental techniques used by the powerful social bodies and institutions mentioned above to become self-governing and to help shape and reform themselves as individuals. In terms of makeover reality TV show being discussed here, the second interpretation of governmentality as self-governance and self-help will be used when discussing the form of governmentality represented within this programme, unless stated otherwise, as this kind of reality TV primarily deals with individuals looking for guidance in remaking and improving themselves which is ultimately about their ability to be self-governing.

The idea of what it means to be a ‘good’ citizen...

Bibliography: Primary Sources
What Not To Wear, 2001. [TV programme] BBC, BBC1, 29 November 2001 20.30
Secondary Sources
Joseph, J., 2010. Governmentality and its Limits [pdf] University of Sussex. Available at: [Accessed 29 December 2013]
Oregon State University, 2001. Reality TV: A Brief History [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 December 2013]
Ouellette, L., James, H., (2008) ‘Makeover television, governmentality and the good citizen’. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 22(4): 471-484. [Available via NUIM Electronic Journals]
Weber, B.R., 2009. MAKEOVER TV: Selfhood, Citizenship, and Celebrity. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Kubic, K.N., Chory, R.M., 2007. Exposure to Television Makeover Programs and Perceptions of Self, Communications Research Reports, [e-journal] 24(4): 283-291.
Available via NUIM Library Databases [Accessed 30 December 2013]
McRobbie, A., 2005. Notes on ‘What Not To Wear’ and post-feminism symbolic violence. The Sociological Review, [online] Available at: [Accessed 03 January 2014]
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