4 ‘I’m selling the dream really aren’t I?’ Sharing fit male bodies on social networking sites
Labouring the neoliberal body Jeremy Gilbert defines neoliberalism as distinct from other modes of capitalism. Whereas capitalism has historically denoted an economic system focused on the
accumulation of capital, neoliberalism is a political philosophy and programme which extends capitalist conditions ‘as far as possible into every domain of social life, by force if necessary’ (Gilbert, 2013, 2015). In particular, markets dominated by large and unregulated corporations are favoured. Importantly for our purposes, the neoliberal programme penetrates not only the political and economic realms but also our intimate lives, including the relationship with one’s self, one’s body, the personal relationships we have with others and the leisure pursuits in which we engage. It attempts to create competitive individualistic social relations not just in economic markets but also in all areas of social life. What we are most interested in here is the extent to which labour is inscribed within and through these social relations. This manifests itself in a number of ways: the workplace as a holistic site that centres around and nurtures ‘personal achievement’ (Rose, 1999: 104); the subject as entrepreneurial project; and social networks as strategic sites of feedback and social capital which accrue value for self-brands. Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello are two of the most significant critics to map the different ways in which labour and leisure have been conflated in post-1990s capitalism. In The New Spirit of Capitalism they explore how this happened by looking at managerial texts from the 1960s and 1990s. The discourses produced in the 1990s, with their claims to authenticity and freedom, aimed to blur the distinction between leisure and work (Boltanski and Chiapello, 2007). Prior to the period identified by Boltanski and Chiapello, Fordism had created leisure as a separate sphere to labour so that workers could be rejuvenated and more effectively contribute to the accumulation of capital. This separation of the two was criticised as ‘dehumanising’ by radicals in the 1960s. Boltanski and Chiappello point out how capitalist institutions incorporated this critique into their interests in a way that was more dehumanising than was imaginable under Fordism. The new professional mechanisms that came into place to do this ‘penetrate more deeply into people’s inner selves – people are expected to “give” themselves to their work’ (Boltanski and Chiapello, 2007: 98). Under supposedly more free working conditions, professional life has become precariously organised as a portfolio of projects and thus ‘[l]ife is conceived as a succession of projects’ (Boltanski and Chiapello, 2007: 110, emphasis added). Moreover, these projects depend on interpersonal networks that combine both friendships and professional or useful relations (Boltanski and Chiapello, 2007). Anthony Giddens and Nikolas Rose have written about the rise of the entrepreneurial subject (Giddens, 1991; Rose, 1996, 1999) in which the self is constantly worked on and where both the image of the individual at work as well as outside work are aligned ‘with the human technologies for the government of enterprise’ (Rose, 1999: 104). Consequently, citizens are made accountable for their self-regulation, in the Foucauldian sense. In particular, subjects are expected to assume a reflexive selfhood through which they must constantly invent themselves in response to the labour market. As traditional institutions are erased, so the focus shifts to the self as an entrepreneurial subject. According to
Giddens, the self is ‘made’; it is an undertaking that is continuously worked and reflected upon. The made self is produced through a reflexive understanding of one’s biography that is created, monitored and revised through sets of narratives that explain one to oneself as well as to others. We take this understanding of the self, both in the workplace as well as outside it, as a project in perpetual process. Under such conditions, the protestant work ethic has penetrated into people’s inner selves to the extent that recreational time is configured, experienced and marketed as labour. Another significant way in which neoliberal labour practices have penetrated our intimate and personal lives is through practices of self-branding (Hearn, 2008; Banet-Weiser, 2012). Banet-Weiser maintains that ‘areas of our lives that have historically been considered non-commercial and “authentic” – namely religion, creativity, politics, the self – have recently become branded spaces’. They are ‘often created and sustained using the same kind of marketing strategies that branding managers used to sell products’. Moreover, they are ‘increasingly only legible in culture through and within the logic and vocabulary of the market’ (Banet-Weiser, 2012: 14). Self-branding strategies come into play across multiple but related platforms in contemporary media convergence culture. Online and offline spaces interconnect as ‘resources for self-work’ (Ouellette and Wilson, 2011: 559). Ouellette and Wilson look at the gendered dynamics of these practices and show how women’s cultures no longer provide time out. Instead, traditional televisual cultures designed ‘to be watched in a state of distraction’ have recently transitioned to ‘purposeful, multiplatform, “on demand” domestic media’ (Ouellette and Wilson, 2011: 550): ‘women’s interactivity can be mobilized as a gendered requirement of neoliberal citizenship, an ongoing, mundane regimen of self-empowerment’ (Ouellette and Wilson, 2011: 549). Banet-Weiser extends this analysis of postfeminist digital culture where body image is maintained and controlled to argue for the harnessing of marketing strategies in order to create and sustain the self-brand. Significantly, she focuses on peer-to-peer networks which provide useful feedback and evaluation:
Self-branding, much like the branding of other products, only works if you enable other people to rank your product, which in this case is yourself. . . . Self-branding does not merely involve self-presentation but is a layered process of judging, assessment, and valuation taking place in a media economy of visibility.