During this week’s readings, I was really appreciated the connections between reality TV and neoliberalism made by Anna McCarthy (2007) in “Reality Television: a Neoliberal Theater of Suffering.” In general, neoliberal discourse, in contemporary America, also correspond with ideas of postfeminism and colorblind/postracial ideologies, which are also recurring topics throughout this semester. In general, present-day neoliberalism is reflective of Michel Foucault’s idea of governmentality, which McCarthy (2007) describes as when “state policies synchronize with cultural practices to apply market-based individualism as a governmental rationale across the institutions and practices of everyday life” (21). The application of neoliberal ideology to governing entails a maximizing of “individual freedoms” and limiting of state aid and intervention: “governmentality finds its principle of rationality in the axiom that individuals are sovereign beings best ruled under circumstances in which they are encouraged to self-manage, taking on responsibilities for their welfare, growth, and security that might otherwise be assumed by the state” (McCarthy 2007, 25). Of course, this ultimately reflects, once again, the claim of meritocracy in the United States—that anyone can achieve wealth and “greatness” if only they tried hard enough. As McCarthy (2007) details in relation to the reality series Random 1, Bruce’s story and its aftermath are ruled by a logic of “chance” and “randomness,” aspects highly reminiscent of meritocracy and divorcing current individual situations from an overarching systemic and institutional issue.
As McCarthy (2007) details in relation to Bruce, “His story, it seems to me, offers a potent allegory for the drama of neoliberal citizenship today—a drama of randomness and its aftermath that was horrifically played out by the abandoned citizens of New Orleans in 2005, but which is felt on the level of daily subsistence by those whose job security, health care, and education are ruled by the vicissitudes of the market” (35-6). As Sean Alfano (2005) discussed for CBS News a few days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the question was raised about the relationship between the horrendously poor response to the situation in Louisiana and its relationship to the fact that “those most affected are poor” and African Americans. President George W. Bush was highly criticized for the lack of evacuation plan and “no urgent effort to rescue” those remaining in New Orleans. Additionally, Henry A. Giroux (2015) details, Hurricane Katrina and neoliberalism are complexly weaved and inseparable. As in the case of Bruce in Random 1, Hurricane Katrina demonstrated a rhetoric of private individual (as opposed to collective) challenges; in both instances those “left behind” were abandoned to “fend for themselves,” and “increasingly rendered disposable." This idea of disposable bodies in the face of free-market ideologies recalls McCarthy’s (2007) argument that, in relation to Bruce in Random 1, “we are left with the distinct impression that instead of receiving charity, he has in fact given it. Bruce has essentially donated his trauma to John and Andre, to help them advance their careers as philanthropist filmmakers. Trauma’s intersubjective witnessing is transformed into a property that benefits the witness most” (32). In relation to Hurricane Katrina, I wonder how this statement made by McCarthy might also apply to individuals, like Sean Penn, being highly publicized and recognized for their efforts in helping the aftermath of the disaster, as opposed to reporting on the actual issues leading up to and effecting the people in New Orleans, and how the logic of neoliberalism not only enables but cherishes/places value on these "humanitarian" behaviors.
Alfano, Sean. 2005. “Race An Issue In Katrina Response.” CBS News, 3 Sep 2005, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/race-an-issue-in-katrina-response/.
Giroux, Henry A. 2015. “Revisiting Hurricane Katrina: Racist Violence and the Politics of Disposability.” Truthout, 8 Sep 2015, http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32629-revisiting-hurricane-katrina-racist-violence-and-the-politics-of-disposability.
McCarthy, Anna. 2007. “Reality Television: a Neoliberal Theater of Suffering.” Social Text 25 (4): 17-41.