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From Being Watched to Watching: Audience’s Desire of Surveillance Essay (Research Paper Sample)


Audience’s Desire of Surveillance


From Being Watched to Watching: Audience’s Desire of Surveillance
Mass media functions more as a mirror in the society we live, and it is a source of our perceived reality. Moreover, the media contributes in setting standards in the common cultural views. The media plays an important role in portraying accepted lifestyles, beauty standards and behaviours that are acceptable in the society. In the current globalized world, the ideals and standards promoted by the mass media have crossed borders to either be denied, accepted or questioned and adapted to the new cultural settings other than their origin. Arguably, television is the most globalised media channels, hence making it easy for these ideals and standards to travel across the world through television programs. These mediated reality portrayal is re-acted and reinforced by reality television means. This is a form of program that tends to be based on real situations that involves people.
A friend of mine is a big fan of singing talent shows, with The Voice of China being his favourite one. Every week, he always updates himself on the related information and news by following up social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube and online commentaries both before and after each episode. In addition, to the views of other audience’s opinions, he also frequently puts down his perspectives about the singers, the performances, the results—and even his favorite singer’s glasses color. Usually, The Voice of China is his frequently used topic when he talking to friends and family, and songs sung by his favorite singers in this singing competition are always on his list when he goes to KTV. What has made him so appealed to the show? Besides the self-interest of anything about it, as my research topic suggests, audience’s desire of surveillance may also be one of the reasons.
In the modern world, reality television has become a popular genre of popular television programs than before, “often dominating the ratings in numerous coveted time slots” (Golewski and Elizabeth, 2010, p. 148). The Voice TV series, which is also categorized in the same genre, has caught a numerous and wide range of audience’s eyes all around the world since 2010. Originated in the Netherlands as The Voice of Holland, this popular television format now has over 45 versions in the world, such as The Voice UK, The Voice (American version) and The Voice of China, according to Talpa Media official website which incorporates John de Mol’s , the creator of The Voice series, media activities.
Speaking of reality shows, the controversial and varied definitions must be mentioned. In Biressi and Nunn’s (2005) research, they stated “the term ’reality TV’ is a broad one. (p. 10)”They refer that it used to present “a variety of ‘new’ or more often hybrid genres” in the late 1990s, and newly appeared programs in the 1980s. In the reality genres, they broadly include “video diaries, game shows (‘gamedocs’ or group-challenge shows), talk shows, talent shows, and observational documentaries. Biressi and Nunn (ibid.) also suggest the genres to contain unscripted content or spontaneous plots. Similarly, Hill (2005) mentions:
Reality TV is a catch-all category that includes a wide range of entertainment programmes about real people. Sometimes called popular factual television, reality TV is located in border territories, between information and entertainment, documentary and drama. (Hill 2005, p.2)
In addition, reality genres follow varied rules and techniques, including “non-professional actors”, “unscripted dialogue”, “surveillance footage” and “hand-held cameras”, in order to see unpredicted stories or events appearing in the camera shots (Hill 2005, p.2).m
Andrejevic (2004): “No discussion of the burgeoning reality TV trend can be complete without a consideration of its voyeuristic appeal. (173)”; in other words, they may all imply the existence of surveillance. Some important reality shows, such as The Truman Show and Big Brothers, have been frequently discussed about surveillance, most with a French theorist Michel Foucault’s (1978) famous idea—Panopticism. Panopticism is basically an idea that people are “gazed” everywhere, anytime(Foucault 1978, p. 195), and the it is inspired by both the strict control of plague in the 19th century and Jeremy Bentham, a great English philosopher and social theorist in the late 18th century, with his concept of the most secured prison design—panopticon.By the observation of the plague control, he carefully found that people were distributed and managed under a powerful monitored system, in order to prevent the disease from spread (ibid., p.199). It reminds the design of Bentham’s panopticon:
…… at the periphery, an annual building; at the centre, a tower; this tower is pierced with wide windows that open onto the inner side of the ring; the peripheric building is divided into cells, each of which extends the whole width of the building; they have two windows, one on the inside, corresponding to the windows of the tower; the other, on the outside, allows the lightto cross the cell from one end to the other. (Foucault 1978, p.200)
With a supervisor placed in the central tower, everyone and every movement in the prison will be monitored under the light, which is similar to the strict plague control. Similarly, according to Foucault’s theory, this can be applied in our daily lives as well. Besides prisoners, plague patients, everyone like a “school boy” is also watched by people around us (ibid. p. 200). A school boy is watched by peers, teachers and parents, while people in the reality shows are watched and examined by the production crew and audience.
Among all the reality genres, talent shows in these years can be considered to be the “grey areas”. By “grey areas”, I mean some more blurred, unobvious and uncertain definitions of talent shows and game shows, compared to news, documentaries or factual television shows such as Big Brother, which suggest more obvious surveillance or voyeuristic. For example, the combination of talent shows and game show, The Voice TV series, is categorized under Talent Shows in BBC, while Channel 4 considered these two formats under Entertainment (Hill 2005). Due to the blurred definitions and the obviously entertained purpose, talent shows and game shows are seldom taken serious about surveillance. However, under the entertained appearance and as categorized in reality genres, is it possible that they actually indicate more surveillance than we think?
In this essay, I will attempt to examine a TV program—The Voice— in such a grey area with Foucault’s (1978) concept of surveillance, and the version in China will be mainly focused as an example in my research. My topic “From being watched to watching” suggests that people—everyone—who are watched are also viewers themselves (Foucault 1978). “When audiences watch reality TV they are not only watching programs for entertainment, they are also engaged in critical viewing of the attitudes and behavior of ordinary people (Hill 2005, p. 9)”; in other words, audience may have the desire of surveillance when watching. Although talent shows and game shows are seldom discussed seriously with the concept of surveillance, I will try to bring out the possibilities of it. Singing competition as a type of talent shows and game shows has been more and more popular for decades. As the most popular one with a more creative format nowadays, I believe The Voice has the value to be talked about.
I will basically divide my essay into two major parts: literature review, the analysis of audience interview. First, at the beginning of the literature review, I will give a more detailed of Foucault’s Panopticism theory, and discuss how surveillance becomes relevant to reality genres. Next, I have researched about how the previous media researchers debate about the connection between reality programs and surveillance, and I have put down the discussions of three important and frequently debated reality shows: Candid, The Truman Show and Big Brother. Then, talent shows, game shows and the relations with surveillance are discussed, with an example of famous Idols TV series. Secondly, I have conducted interviews with 10 audience of The Voice of China. The result of my interview will be analyzed in details in the following, and the discussion and the proof of the indicated surveillance will be brought out. In order to get better and more accurate interview answers, all of the interviews were questioned and answered in Mandarin Chinese, and the whole content has been translated by myself.
The format of The Voice and the audience’s “gaze” will be focused in this essay. The format of this programme, especially for the first phase—the blind audition, is differently from other similar types of shows to some degree, which may suggest more clues of surveillance. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the audience are also viewers themselves. By watching and examining the show, how they watch and why they watch may play an important role of surveillance in The Voice. Only the first and the second seasons of The Voice of China will be examined, for the third season has just released after at the beginning of this August. The detailed debates of famous reality programs, an in-depth analysis of The Voice of China, and a new discussion about surveillance and reality genres are expected t...

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