Music-Based TV Talent Shows in China: Celebrity and Meritocracy in the Post-Reform Society

Author: Huang, Wei
Meritocracy refers to the idea that whatever our social position at birth, society should offer the means for those with the right “talent” to “rise to top.” In context of celebrity culture, it could refer to the idea that society should allow all of us to have an equal chance to become celebrities. This article argues that as a result of globalization and consumerism in the post-reform market economy, the genre of music-based TV talent shows has become one of the most popular TV genres in China and has at the same time become a vehicle of a neoliberal meritocratic ideology. The rise of the ideology of meritocracy accompanied the pace of market reform in post-1980s China and is influenced by the loss of social safety nets during China’s transition from a socialist to a market economy. By allowing celebrities created by profit-seeking industries to represent and arbitrate the “talent” that should be rewarded by society, TV talent shows normalize the neoliberal notion that all under the market system have the “equality of opportunity” to compete with one another. Thus, the cultural industries of China become dissociated from the working class to fit hegemonic models of culture and market logic. By studying the social and economic context of music-based reality TV talent shows, we can understand the changes of class and market dynamics of China in the last 30 years.
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