I read an article online called "Political economy of Reali-TV" (1997), written by Chad Raphael. The article discusses the rise of reality television, or what he refers to as "Reali-TV," and the reasons Reali-TV became popular among television producers in the late 1980s. The article starts out by going through the economical advantages of reality television, or its political economy, and then wraps up by examining the way "crime-time" television shows like America's Most Wanted take advantage of participatory culture from its audience and use it as a means of surveillance. I don't think that Raphael did the best job of connecting the ideas, but they are both present nonetheless.
Raphael says that Real-TV came to the forefront because hour-long dramas were becoming increasingly expensive to produce due to above-the-line prices, and a television audience that was becoming more and more fragmented. The fragmented audience meant that advertisers were less likely to finance shows, because they needed more viewership in order to buy their products. The advertiser-driven market, or industry, is something that has been very important in our discussions in class. It is one of the reasons that very few television shows are produced for the working-class. The article touches on that idea very briefly as well. Raphael talks about how - even though it was cheap to produce - the popularity of prime-time Reali-TV was not long lasting because "...Reali-TV was not attracting enough affluent eighteen to thirty-five year olds, appealing more to pre-teens, seniors, and low-income viewers. These demographics forced the networks to sell advertising time on many Reali-TV shows at a discount compared with other programs with similar ratings and shares." Low-income viewers are not the target-market for advertisers which meant that Reali-TV was not a television genre that had much staying power on prime-time television.
The second important concept comes from Raphael's conclusion where he states that participatory culture within crime-time Reali-TV lead to a cost-effective means of surveillance for law enforcement. He says that America's Most Wanted, and other television shows like it promoted active viewership and audience participation. These shows did that by telling the audience to dial hot-lines if they sighted any fugitives that were featured on the show. Raphael goes on to say that this lead to a sort of community surveillance in real life. He quotes the executive producer of America's Most Wanted, who said, "I believe we are witnessing the birth of a new era in citizen involvement. America's Most Wanted has organized some 22 million viewers into the first nationwide neighborhood watch association." In turn, America's Most Wanted invited viewers to become tools of surveillance, or conduits for law enforcement.
This connects to Jenkins's idea of participatory culture in pop-culture, and politics as well, while also drawing on ideas from our surveillance readings. It is political because the active viewers become vessels for law enforcement, in which they become judges of others' guilt. As Raphael says, it democratizes the judicial process, but it does so in a way that keeps the dominant ideology dominant. Viewers only get one side of the story on shows such as America's Most Wanted, so while the viewers technically get to make their own decision about the fugitive's guilt, it's a very one-sided "trial." It would be like a political debate where only one side got to answer the questions, while also continually condemning his or her opponent. As our surveillance article states, surveillance leads to citizens monitoring not only their behavior, but everyone else's as well. When combined with participation with law enforcement, everyone becomes a vessel for the dominant ideology.