The construction of moral dilemma, or what Hawkins (2001) refers to as ethical crises, has emerged as the content a priori in televised infotainment. At the same time, mediated spectacles of punishment and shame penalties have, according to Kohm (2009) permeated popular culture in a diversity of ways.In the wake of this development, the proliferation of reality programs concerning excessive consumerism and lack of economic self-control provides an interesting site for exploring how shame is constructed through the coupling of emotionalism, moralism and consumerism. Shame is commonly understood as a self-conscious emotion evoked by feelings of inferiority and negative evaluation of the self, when failing to meet perceived expectations of others or the self. Since the shame experience is one of utter isolation (from the group), it resonates with the worst of our fears of abandonment. In contrast to guilt, which usually regards our actions, shame concerns our core being, our quality of the self. It also produces characteristic facial and bodily display; averting gaze, lowered (Chase & Walker 2012). The paper examines the two forms of shame, feeling shame and being shamed, in the Swedish program, Lyxfällan, (The Luxury Trap), where individuals who are struggling financially due to their lack of economic self-control encounter financial advisers who try to sort out their intimidating situation. This popular narrative about excessive consumerist behaviour, defined as self-imposed economic hardship, operates on a highly affective level, weaving powerful messages about the extent of economic mis-behaviour as solely a question of personal traits with no reference to the social-economic context. Since the inducing of shame plays a prominent role in the programs moral-economic discourse, it is placed in a context in which emotions such as shame and humiliation have emerged as an entertainment feature of today. Parting from Teresa Brennans (2004) work on the transmission of affect as a process that is social in origin but biological and physical in affect, the paper examines how the symbolic relations between feeling shame and being shamed is presented as a dynamic process that oscillates between shame as a tool of social control, a popular culture commodity and a performative act. This process evolves through different transformative phases starting with the inducing of shame (through external judgment), the internalization of shame (self-reflexivity), and the final reduction of shame (acceptance and resolved moral crisis), according to the programs temporal structure. The paper argue that the cultural meanings generated by programs such as these, display the modern liquid fear pointed out by Bauman (2006) as the prospect of exclusion from membership in civil society.
International Association for Media and Communication Research, Dublin June 25-29 2013