University of Hertfordshire

Saints and sinners: lessons about work from daytime TV

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-164
JournalInternational Journal of Media and Cultural Politics
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2015


This article looks at the messages given by factual TV programmes to audiences about work, and, in particular, the models of working behaviour that have been presented to them during the period following the 2007-8 financial crisis. It focuses particularly, but not exclusively, on daytime TV, which has an audience made up disproportionately of people who have low incomes and are poorly educated: an audience that, it can be argued, is not only more likely than average to be dependent on welfare benefits and vulnerable to their withdrawal but also more likely to be coerced into entering low-paid insecure and casual employment.
It argues that the messages cumulatively given by ‘factual’ TV, including reality TV programmes ostensibly produced for entertainment as well as documentaries, combine to produce a particular neoliberal model of the deserving worker (counterposed to the undeserving ‘scrounger’ or ‘slacker’) highly suited to the atomised and precarious labour markets of a globalised economy. This is, however, a model in which there are considerable tensions between different forms of desired behaviour: on the one hand, a requirement for intense, individualised and ruthless competitiveness and, on the other, a requirement for unquestioning and self-sacrificing loyalty and commitment to the employer and the customer. These apparently contradictory values are, however, synthesised in a rejection, often amounting to demonisation, of collective values of fairness, entitlement and solidarity.

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