Media, Culture and Neoliberalism

Laurie Oullette argues that ‘television is increasingly pivotal to neoliberal approaches to government and the citizen subjectivities on which they depend’ (2009: 227). Apply and discuss this argument, with reference to a television show of your choice

Eight outgoing individuals enjoy an all-inclusive summer holiday looking for love, only to have the party crashed by their vengeful ex-partners. Such predicament could only call for a parade of confrontations, arguments and fist fights. All of which are carefully documented and edited for your entertainment by MTV and presented under a suggestive title – Ex On The Beach.


 Reality TV is described by Couldry as “secret theatre of neoliberalism” (Couldry, 2008:3), the main secrecy of which is the playful reversal which hides the industry environment normalized under neoliberalism. Ex on the beach participants provide emotional labour of authentic emotions, through alcohol ingestion and emotional stress of orchestrated sitations they are driven to the edge creating the highest rated viewing material of reality television – extreme behaviour. The audience expects trashy, unruly conduct, quite opposite to the notion of “pret behaviour” in which a barista is expected to fake an ‘authentic’ emotion of cheeriness.

In the video below a participant spectating the fight, eggs on the confrontations, acting as an additional narrator for a climactic moment.

Often confused and misunderstood, neoliberalism has been described by Brown as a “peculiar form of reason”(Brown, 2015:17) rather than an ideology. She argues, the contemporary tendency to monetize all aspects of life and treat individuals as investment opportunities has become a natural way of thinking and constructions of ones life priorities. An individual must strive to increase present capital value and be constantly conscious of future opportunities to increase value, “through practices of entrepreneurialism, self-investment, and/or attracting investors” (Brown, 2015:22) Ex On The Beach promotes unhealthy relationship habits and arguably acts as propaganda of distorted ideas about femininity and encourages competition for the attention of men.

Couldry understands neoliberalism as “a system of cruelty” (Couldry, 2008:3) requiring a sustained discipline of our behaviours and reactions, a system that is naturalized through ritualistic representation of specific qualities in media texts. The confrontations and arguments on Ex On The Beach are always resolved through tearful ‘hear-to-heart’ conversations, or another form of emotional punishment, symbolising that violence doesn’t go without repercussion.  People in contemporary society are constrained and surveilled by the system (and by themselves see:Foucault Panopticon) leading them to search for adrenaline in other people out-lashing within their personal relationships, to then judge them and feel better about their mundane existence. We resonate and identify with the people we watch being surveilled, because that is us in our lives and we want to watch someone riot and rebel.


Brown, W. (2015) ‘Undoing democracy: neoliberalism’s remaking of state and subject’, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. New York: Zone Books.

Couldry, N. (2008) ‘Reality TV, or the secret theatre of neoliberalism’, Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies 30(1): 3-18.


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