Genealogy of Talent Time

“There were of course bonus systems in factories, but businesses strive to introducea deeper level of modulation into all wages, bringing them into a state of constant metastability punctuated by ludicrous challenges, competitions, and seminars. If the stupidest TV game shows are so successful, it’s because they’re a perfect reflection of the way businesses are run.” Deleuze, Postscript on Control Societies, Negotiations, pg 179

Young Talent Time was a show that was meant to last for 13 weeks in 1971 and went on for 18 years. (US equivalent would be something like Mickey Mouse Club.) I can’t remember if the talent was chosen after a cut and thrust gladiotorial duel like the contemporary ‘reality tv’ talent quests? Regardless, the virtuosic dimension of the ‘talent’ performance has shifted from one principally organised around a core group of young performers to one of atomistic combat. Viewers have become SMS voters. This has changed what is demanded of the ‘spectator class’. Once upon a time was ‘Be Entertained’ (so we can extract surplus value from the rent produced by way of the labour of looking). Now it is ‘Be Enthused’ (so we can extract surplus value from your performative display of your enthusiasm). The SMS vote is meant to quantify the level of enthusiasm produced in an audience. The notion of ‘talent’ has shifted from the capacity to entertain — ie the labour of performance — to the capacity to produce enthusiasm — ie the performative dimension of the labour of performance.

The producers of these shows are very aware of tapping into the contemporary spirit of precarious labour (via):

The voting aspect has been labelled by one academic as no less than a “reclaiming of popular culture” and is cited by the show’s executive producer, Stephen Peters, as a lynchpin of the show’s success. “Survivor is voting people out, Big Brother is voting people out. This is aspirational. You vote for people … to say ‘I want you to continue, I like what you do and so I’m going to vote for you.’ For people at home, that is really empowering.”

The nature of Australian Idol in particular is determined by the winner becoming a popular culture franchise so the enthusiasm produced and quantified during the ‘voting stages’ of the show can be teased out and extended (cultivated) after the ‘official’ show has ended:

Ian Dickson believes Idol will nonetheless produce a star that shines on. “The person who wins this competition is the person who has engaged the public for the longest amount of time, and has created an impression that has really fascinated the public. A significant proportion of those people will be attached enough to part with $25 for the winner’s album in November.
“Basically this is a fairytale and fairytales exist within a certain logic. You have a journey, you win, you get a No.1 single, you get a No.1 album and you get a lot of these awards and you go on and have a career. There are never any guarantees … but that’s the script we’ve written for ourselves.”
The script also includes an avalanche of merchandise: an audition songbook, a board game, a DVD of the early auditions, a chart-topping cast single (the tautological Rise Up), a finalists’ cast album, karaoke machines and more.

The ‘official’ show is only the tip of the iceberg in this day and age of media saturation, for the media representation of contemporary ‘talent’, as Craig Dixon notes:


Does any intelligent minded person really think Shannon Noll holds a candle to John Butler? But sadly, going by record sales, Noll has it completely over Butler, and just about every other Australian artist out there, and it’s completely due to media saturation. Australian Idol contestants are on television three nights a week and are hugely represented in other areas of the media such as gossip and teen magazines. 

The newspaper article also features a quote from Catharine Lumby:

Professor Catharine Lumby, director, media and communications at Sydney University, says Idol has smartly capitalised on the fact people no longer want someone else choosing and handing down pop acts. “To some extent it opens a window to bypass the taste-making and control that a very narrow group of people exercise. I think this might be where we see reality television evolving, opening the door to ordinary people, a platform for real talents.”

All due respect to Prof. Lumby, but the point isn’t giving punters a choice — that is neo-liberal ideological hogwash — but exploiting the punters for their hard earned… which of course is the goal of any capitalist enterprise, with this being merely the latest iteration…