Document Type

Book Review

Publication Date


Publication Title

Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture






1-2 pp.


The very first thing I can say about Better Living Through Reality TV: Television and Post-Welfare Citizenship is that I cannot wait for the authors to consider adding a Canadian version – more on that later – since they include British reality shows. Admittedly, many of these last shows have been successful enough to lead to Americanized versions. In considering reality television, the Laurie Ouellette (no known relation) and James Hay seem to sacrifice one of the oldest, and currently largely underexamined as such, varieties of the reality television, the game show. This is not to say that "new" game shows such as Deal or No Deal and Who Wants to be a Millionaire are not consider, but rather that the repackaging and repurposing of older game shows – here I am thinking most pointedly about the return of Price is Right to prime-time and the repurposing of Liar's Club and To Tell the Truth – tends to be sacrificed. I mention this not so much as a criticism but as a concept worth reconsidering in light of the findings, for Ouellette and Hay do spend their time very carefully showing that the themes and categories of contemporary reality television provide ample pedagogical (and generally didactic) accompaniments to the neo-liberal politics which seem to dominate North American culture as we reach the end of the second Bush era and approach the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century. As the authors demonstrate, under Bush the system has evolved that the "government [...] not only cooperates with but also facilitates the privatization of care" (48). This entails a "downloading" of state responsibilities onto the individual. However, there also has been a concurrent development of private, for-profit enterprises which have commodified care. What really comes to the fore, then, is the idea – stressed most pointedly by makeover shows, financial rescue shows and even the Survivor-type shows – of a system which espouses the freedom of the individual while actually (and contradictorily) creating a situation in which individuals are really only free to actively govern themselves.


© Marc Ouellette. Posted with permission of the author.

Original Publication Citation

Ouellette, M. (2009). [Review of Better living through reality TV: Television and post-welfare citizenship by L. Ouellette & J. Hay]. Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture, 9(3).