Social Structures of Accumulation

Paul Flewers hatchet.job at
Fri Sep 7 04:02:41 MDT 2001

Jim Craven wrote: < I am interested in some applications vis-a-vis emerging
pop culture themes and the increasing
focus on "reality" programming that has a clearer and much more pronounced
focus on utilizing, portraying and celebrating rat-race individualism,
social darwinism, ultra-narcissism, homogenizing globalization etc. A whole
new game show genre has developed that goes way beyond the old-style game
shows etc of which "The Weakest Link" (openly and ruthlessly darwinian and
now on twice a week) is but one example.

< For those who haven't seen it, "The Weakest Link" features a woman playing
[and perhaps really is] a vicious and nasty shrew (sort of a dominatrix
dressed always in black) who puts down contestants who vote off "The Weakest
Link" (often those who score low in a given round of questions and/or those
who pose a threat in the final stages) and then those voted off leaving the
show with nothing which makes these kinds of shows low-cost/high profit) get
one last shot at making nasty comments about those who just voted him/her

< Well I just started to wonder how much of the content and structure and
rules of these game shows, contstituting a new genre, may represent very
conscious and planned attempts at even more explicit ideological programming
in response to crises and potential crises--and changing
base/superstructural requirements of expanded reproduction--of monopoly
capitalism, imperialism and "neo-liberal globalization (for lack of a better
term)". For example, I wonder if in Europe and Japan a rash of such type
shows is emerging and taking hold or if these types of shows are more
culture-specific to the U.S. where open rat-race individualism and naked
social darwinism is the State religion and more openly celebrated as the
desirable norm or central ethos of bourgeois ideology. >

The Weakest Link is one of those rare phenomena -- a cultural (if that's the
right word!) import from Britain to the USA. It's been infecting British
telly for a couple of years, and Jim's description of it is accurate,
although (at least its British version) it's even worse as each contestant
has to explain why he or she is voting off someone else. Despite the ritual
humiliation that is demanded, some players do show sympathy for those they
are tipping out. Strangely enough, sneaky behaviour, like picking on the
brightest player to get him or her out of the way early on, is seen as bad
form, although one might expect that any tactic in a rat race game would be
acceptable. Shades of 'British fair play', perhaps?

The host is Ann Robinson. Before the Weakest Link she was a run-of-the-mill
telly presenter, lastly seen on a consumers advice programme. It's all an
act, I guess if most telly characters were asked to put on a nasty pose as
part of a big wage -- she gets far more in a year than the total prize
money -- they would do the same. Nonetheless, act or not, there is a very
nasty edge to the programme's presentation. There have been game shows that
had an element of humiliation, such as one when I was a kid which involved
the contestant ending up turning down a sizeable sum of money to gamble on
getting a prize, which only then was revealed; it could be a nice new motor
car or (as I remember on one occasion) a revolting-looking plate of cold
Irish stew. But it was good-humoured, with no 'rat race' overtones.

The Weakest Link is part of a growing phenomenon in British telly, and isn't
by any means the worst. There are other ones where people are locked in a
building together, or are stuck on a desert island, and the whole object is
for them to turn against each other, and the viewers are encouraged to phone
in and vote off the weaklings. Sometimes the viewers vote off the most
arrogant, showing a shred of decency I guess. It would be interesting if the
contestants got together to deal with being 'marooned' in a cooperative
manner; I imagine that the sponsors/directors/etc wouldn't be happy. I've
been disturbed at the way that telly competitions go beyond the
nationalistically-inspired competitiveness of big-time sport, let alone the
normal good-natured sporting approach of, say, darts down the pub, to pit
people against each other in a most primitive, barbaric manner. Unlike the
old game show I mentioned above, there is no humour, no smiles, no sense of
an 'it doesn't matter, it's only a game' ethos; it's all so very serious. It
is the seriousness of the contestants -- which is not feigned -- that is
disturbing; the survival of the fittest in the most degrading way.

Paul F

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