Based on the article by Pomerance and Sakeris (2012) titled, “American Idolatry, the Practice of Democracy in the Age of Reality Television” the paper presents an argument on the prospects of democracy and participation in the political economy of North America. This paper presents a comprehension of the issue of democracy and participation through the lenses of the political landscape and the reality television show, the American Idol, which is followed by the exploration of the advancements in the entertainment industry and the variation between the participatory culture in the entertainment industry and such culture in the political landscape.
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The paper also looks at the variations between participatory culture in the entertainment industry and the aspects of democracy in the political arena. This paper agrees with the observation in the article that there is a great disconnect between the culture of participation in the entertainment industry and the embrace of the culture of participation and observance of the principles of democracy in the political and economic landscape of North America.
Understanding the culture of participation in the entertainment industry
It is clear to most people that the popular music and television receive a huge following from the public. With the huge following, the entertainment industry across the world has grown in stature and influence. However, the most interesting thing that perhaps points to the embrace of the principles of democracy in the industry is the manner in which the public is being incorporated into the industry. At this point, it is important to bring out the real picture of the most famous television reality shows like the American Idol. The American Idol attracts up to tens of millions of viewers across and even beyond the United States (Pomerance & Sakeris, 2012).
The current picture of the entertainment industry has been attained from the incremental consideration of open participation of the public in shaping up the industry. It is important to reiterate that the public is given a chance to directly participate in the show and determine the winner. For instance, in the year 2009, over 624 million votes were cast by the public in the American Idol season. About 100 million votes were cast in the final season to determine the winner of the show. The audience participates in the entire stages of the competition, thereby shaping the developments throughout the show.
Contestants on the reality show are selected from among the audience and the audience is given a chance to vet out the weaker contestants until they choose the strongest and most desirable contestants by voting them as the winners. These are just but a few of the examples that show how the culture of participation is being highly fostered in the development of the entertainment industry. However, questions are raised about the relatedness of the participatory culture that is embraced in the entertainment industry with the real participatory culture in the political scene where civic value is highly attached on the activities taking place within the political realm of the society (Brym & Lie, 2013).
Another important thing in comprehending the popping culture and the growth of the culture of participation is the issue of technology. The digital technology platform is the main tool that encourages the culture of participation in the entertainment industry. It is easy for the participants to track and follow the developments in the industry with the digital technology, thus making informed choices. The fans play the role in shaping and positioning, as well as marketing their participants long after the end of the television shows through the marketing of concerts on the digital technology platform and the purchase of authentic idol items. Therefore, the issue of responsibility also comes out here whereby the participants remain committed to the support and embrace of their favourite participants and entertainers by supporting them through the broad digital platform. The viewers are able to search for information about the contestants from the time the contestants are selected and use the information to drum support for the contestants throughout the stages of the show.
The media, through the digital platform, also offers the contestants a chance to advertise and promote themselves to the audience. Therefore, a high level of openness and support is witnessed in the entertainment industry, thus depicting the principles of democracy and democratic participation. Just as it is witnessed in the political realm, the public attaches a market value to the participants. The public then uses the value to drum and steer support for the contestants. In this case, it can be argued that the principles of democracy are exercised at an advanced stage where the quality of the participants, which is depicted in what they deliver, determines how marketable they are in the public and the resultant support for them from the public.
Also, the technology brings in the aspect of empowerment of both the participants in the entertainment industry and the contestants. The participants can enhance support for their favourite contestants on different digital media platforms. In a similar sense, the contestants can also gather support from the public by engaging them on the diverse digital media platforms that are embraced in the industry. In other words, advances in technology keep opening up the channels through which the practices and principles of democracy and participation can be attained (Pomerance & Sakeris, 2012).
Participation in the entertainment industry and the democratic practices in the political economy of North America
One of the arguments that come out in the featured book is that the developments in the entertainment industry, which largely points to the growth of the culture of participation and democracy, can be used to reflect the practices of democracy in the larger political realm of the society. This argument is based on the fact that a lot of structural changes are taking place in the larger entertainment industry. All the changes point to the increase in the production and consumption of music and television content. At this point, the question that comes into the mind concerns the variations between the nature of democratic practices that are embraced in the entertainment industry and the nature of democratic practices that are embraced in the society, where citizen participation is a key factor in determining the level at which the principles of democracy and participation are embraced in a the society.
The most important thing here is to determine whether variation exists between the culture of democracy and participation that is exhibited in the entertainment industry and the principles and practices of democracy in the society that embraces capitalism and democracy. Do the democratic and participatory practices have a spill over effect on the democratic practices that are embraced in the society? Here, society largely refers to the United States and Canada, which are the main countries of North America that are featured in the discussion. These countries embrace the principles of democracy and capitalism in political and economic governance (Pomerance & Sakeris, 2012).
The governing relations that are embraced in the modern liberal political society highly value civic participation as a key attribute of democracy. Civic participation emphasises more on the meaning of voting rather than the act of voting and what people vote for in the society. Are people possessed with the urge to vote in the entertainment industry than they are concerned with voting for the political candidates in the society?
The observation by Pomerance and Sakeris (2012) shows most people, especially the youth, are more interested in the developments taking place in the entertainment industry than they are interested in issues of democracy and governance in the society. An example that is given here is the election of the president in the United States in the 2008 elections, where only 57.1 percent of the eligible voters voted for the United States’ President. The same scenario was also replicated in the 2008 Federal Election in Canada, where only 59.1 percent of the eligible voters turned out in the elections. On the other hand, statistics denote the increase in the number of people who vote in the “Idol” competition each year.
This raises the question of whether democracy is shifting from concentrating on civic concerns to concentrating on the consumption and choices that are made by the public. Looking at it from the choices and consumption perspective, it becomes logical to conclude that there is a shift in the exercise of democracy and participation in the society where people immensely choose where and when to exercise democracy. The choice in this case is supported by the fact that most people have chosen the entertainment industry as one of their favourite industries; therefore, they show greater participation in the industry by showing total commitment in support of what they value in the industry.
The question of choice and participation within the realms of reality television and politics
It is critical to observe that the United States’ society highly values democracy and liberalism that take place within the context of capitalism. However, the aspects of democracy and participation seem to have shifted from the political landscape and concentrated on the social landscape; the entertainment industry. Therefore, it is critical to bring out the reasons why such shifts are common in the society and the level at which they affect civic concerns and the culture of participation and democracy in the political landscape. It is important to put into the consideration that the roots of democracy and participation in any political economy are often based on the level of civic concerns, which steer the development of civic knowledge and the participation of people in political governance through the exercise of their democratic rights. The exercise of inclusive and participative democracy in political governance is pegged on the number of people who show the will and participate in elections and vetting of political leaders in the society (Brym & Lie, 2013).
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Whether the digital revolution in the entertainment industry is an appositive force in the development of democracy and participation in the North American society continues to be a debatable subject. Most commentators agree with the fact that the landscape of entertainment has been largely transformed through the revolution of technology from the analogue to the digital platform. The speed and intensity with which the media content can be shared and accessed by people across the society has been broadened due to the adoption of digital technology. Networks that are established through the digital technology in the media industry have made it possible for players in the media industry to develop reality television programs that are easily aired across the society (Pomerance & Sakeris, 2012).
The idol culture is just an indicator of how the diverse pieces of elements in the media environment can be incorporated in the music and entertainment industry. With technology, it is easy for people to monitor the critical developments in the entertainment industry right from the backstage production of music to the recording and distribution of music in the society. Therefore, connections with the audiences are assured by the key players in the entertainment industry. It is critical to note that the connections are quite intense because they can be established on a variety of platforms.
Also, the consumption of the entertainment content and products can be done on a variety of platforms, thereby allowing the consumers in the industry to have tests of the products in the industry at varying levels. Advances in the telecommunication and broadcast industries also ensure ease when it comes to the development and production of content. What comes out in this observation is that there is a higher level of efficiency and effectiveness in the operation of the telecommunication and broadcast industry, a factor that highly promotes the engagement of participants in the entertainment industry (Pomerance & Sakeris, 2012).
Pomerance and Sakeris (2012) observe that marketing and commercialization are intense aspects that have been deployed in the entertainment industry and the development of the popular culture through reality television shows. For instance, identity and image play a critical role in the identification and consequent support of idols on the American Idol’s reality television show in the United States. The contestants turn into products once they are selected and start featuring on the American Idol show. The marketing exercise for the idols is largely enhanced by the audience. Choice rather than influence plays a great role in the enhancement of the marketing practices by the audience. In another perspective, the marketing exercise is widely seen as a commercial aspect rather than a process through which the winner of the contest is decided. This raises the question about the possibility of attaining democratic credibility owing to the high levels of controls that are applied by the people who oversee the show (Zittel & Fuchs, 2007).
As observed earlier, one factor that favours the development of popular culture through the reality television shows is the range of options that are offered to the public. This encourages the public to make choices. The cooperation between the telecommunication and the media industry enables the engagement of the public sphere in the social discourse. This brings out the concept of the public as not merely participants, but as consumers where all the developments revolve around the development of content that is favourable to the consumers. In the political discourse, citizens are supposed to take an active role in shaping the developments in the society.
The form of participation exhibited in the American Idol depicts an active environment in which the citizens are the key determinants of what they want to consume, contrary to the developments in the political realms that do not largely reflect citizens as consumers. This limits their choices in influencing the society. The disenfranchising of the public is something that is inevitable in the contemporary society. Perception is a key factor in civic participation. Though there have been continuous efforts in the society to improve the participatory environment in the political landscape by increasing the opportunities for citizen participation, there is still a low perception among the public about the level at which the public can influence the political discourse (Brym & Lie, 2013).
An observation of the political landscape in the society reveals the prevalence of a lot of challenges in the political environment. These challenges largely impede the process of crafting the important tools and trends that can enhance public participation and choice in the political landscape. One of the challenges that come out of the assessment of the development of a participatory and democratic environment in the political realms is the constriction of parties. Unlike the entertainment industry that is immensely commercialized, the political environment suffers from lack of commercialization and the lack of revenues to publicize and encourage wider participation of the public in decisions and outcomes. To a large extent, citizens within the political realms lack adequate incentives to influence their participation in the political discourse. This is why the scope of democracy and participation in the political environment remains constricted (Zittel & Fuchs, 2007).
From the argument presented in the paper, it is rational to conclude that democracy and the culture of participation flourish in the entertainment industry more than they do in the political landscape. The entertainment industry is more open, thus it offers a wider space of direct participation by the public and choice. This, in turn, promotes the principles of democracy. However, the political landscape is constricted in the sense that people are left with a limited space to make choices and directly influence decisions and outcomes.
Brym, R. J., & Lie, J. (2013). Sociology: Pop culture to social structure. N.S.W., Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Pomerance, M., & Sakeris, J. (2012). Popping culture, (7th edn). Boston, MA: Pearson Learning Solutions.
Zittel, T., & Fuchs, D. (2007). Participatory democracy and political participation: Can participatory engineering: bringing the citizens Back in? London, UK: Routledge.