I wanted to write a quick blog on the similarities between some performances of power that we see in the media. I wanted to draw from Louis Theroux’s documentaries and Keeping up with the Kardashians as productions that engage more directly with this.
I think that both programs work under these rules:
The edit is controlled by the team behind the talent but the talent act as if they have no control over the edit.
Research towards the production seems to have been done to a high level but the talent act as if they are ignorant of wider research, especially when engaging with intersectional people or topics.
The talent do not engage in acts of criticism towards others outside of themselves or their ‘group’ and will often not state a particular stance or opinion unless pushed to do so. If pushed to do so they will enact awkwardness around the statement of their opinion and may highlight that it is a singular opinion, ie. that they do not know in order to engage with their ignorance.
Talent will use accepted cultural norms and will mimic those norms when communicating with others who are from ‘outside’ the show. In the UK this often looks like performing a form of social anxiety or autism and has a relation to cripping-up. In America this often looks engaging in fun and extroverted behaviour for the ‘community'.
Each of these points has an impact on a marginalised community or someone who would engage with talent on the show, including any communication of issues that they had towards the show.
The first means that those who are critical of the show, or do not perform appropriately towards the character of the talent can be edited out. The edit can also be used to enhance the ‘character’ developed in the next few points.
The second means that those from marginalised communities or those who are representative of marginalised communities outside of those represented by the talent are responsible for informing the talent. This often leads to others in the show, and not the talent, being held accountable for the representation of different beliefs. It means that they are less able to engage with information that the community around their identity might engage with and are therefore less able to focus on important topics for their community. It also places them into an image of power, which is reduced by their lack of control over the edit, and is therefore a false depiction of power.
The third point means that the talent cannot easily be criticised. Once an opinion has been stated, the level of true knowledge of a person can be contended with.
In the UK we seem to sometimes use a cripping-up of disabled identities. This works potentially to lower the status of the talent. It can read as if the talent may misunderstand or miscommunicate with others as a part of their intersectional identity when this is not the case; and when people with those disabilities often do not engage in this form of behaviour. In America this often means that those are meeting the talent will have to engage in fun entertainment and exercises in order to support the wider group as opposed to highlight their concerns.