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Interactivity 2

New media, politics and society- Second edition


Alec Charles

Two years is a long time in the world of new media – a world of phubbing and selfies, of cyberbullying and neknomination, of bitcoins, Prism surveillance and Google Glass. Much has occurred since the first edition of this book: from the extraordinary social media responses to the deaths of Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela and Peaches Geldof, to the Twitterstorms occasioned by allegations against a late peer of the realm, the rise of the UK Independence Party and the popularity of The Great British Bake Off. The Egyptian revolution has come undone, the Turkish government has banned YouTube, the American President has looked beyond Facebook and the British Prime Minister has started to tweet. World leaders at a 2014 summit even played an interactive nuclear war game. Emergent technologies have been held responsible for the demise of a television presenter in a snowball-related incident, the disappearance of a Pacific island and the appearance of an unfeasibly massive squid. Drawing upon developments in social networking, crowdsourcing, clicktivism, digital games and reality TV, this study asks whether the technological innovations which sponsored such absurdities might ever promote progressive modes of social interaction and political participation. Perhaps somewhat absurdly, it suggests they one day might.


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Chapter 4: Reality Television


Chapter 4 Reality Television Reality television offers interactivity to its audiences: the opportunity to immerse themselves in the ‘real’ social interactions of ‘real’ people, and very often also the experience of direct interaction through voting for their favourite or least favourite contestants. In its most popular form (in such series as Big Brother and The X Factor) reality television has become an ostentatiously interactive multimedia experience, courting audience participation online, by telephone and through the use of the interactive functions of digital broadcasting. This chapter will however contend that this sense of interactivity may be as illusory as the reality which these pro- grammes purport to reflect. One of the most insidious and exploitative aspects of purportedly interactive mass culture is, as Papacharissi (2010: 65) suggests, the way in which ‘the guise of participatory media and the promise of power’ entice audiences to produce content without ever being compensated for their work. Yet there is an illusion of compensation: the magnanimity of the process by which the medium offers to elevate and empower its partici- pants, the gift of symbolic capital which it confers upon its subjects and (both vicariously and by offering a simulacrum of democratic or creative agency) upon its audiences. But, as Pierre Bourdieu (1977: 195) has argued, this gift of symbolic agency is one which, insofar as it claims to be both free and liberating, silently binds its subject within its established power relations: ‘a gift which is not matched by a counter-gift creates a lasting...

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