Making the Most out
of 15 Minutes
Reality TV’s Dispensable Celebrity

by Sue Collins (New York University)

Reality TV invites new considerations for theorizing celebrity as a cultural commodity
whose economic value is based on potential exchange. In this article, I argue that reality
TV’s construction of a new stratum of celebrity value—ordinary people performing
“the real”—supports claims that the industry is moving toward a “flexible” model of
economic organization. The production of reality TV expands the labor stock to include
nonunionized, nonpaid or low-paid contestants playing themselves, while also displacing
unionized actors from production opportunities. Moreover, reality TV’s D-level celebrity
generates novelty out of audience self-reflexivity with minimal risk and temporal flex-
ibility. Celebrity value, as a mechanism to gather audiences, undergoes a new form of
dispensable synergy that shelters the larger system of celebrity valorization from the
dual problems of scarcity and clutter. (download)