The Voice

By Chris S.

In the contemporary United States competitive television shows have received great enthusiasm. These competition shows include dancing, singing and talent shows. This essay focuses on the popular television show, NBC’s The Voice, from the lens of political economy theory and interpretive theory. The Voice is a show in which competitors perform in ‘Blind Auditions’ for judges who have their backs turned to the performer so they are only judging the voice of competitors.[1]

An anthropologist focusing on political economy would see The Voice as the exchange of values between the classes hidden behind the scenes. The main interaction in The Voice is seen in the exchange of entertainment for money. In the contemporary United States any form of talent, whether it is athleticism, vocal, artistic etc., is highly valued and there is in fact a price placed upon it. People pay their electrical and cable bills in order to receive channels such as The Voice for entertainment. Thus after receiving the money along with a large number of viewers, the producers of the show are able to continue producing more and more episodes. The second interaction is seen between the competitors themselves and the producers of the show. A competitor exchanges their time and effort by performing in order to have a chance to win the grand prize of a recording contract in return. It is in these economic exchanges that the values of U.S. society are expressed.

An interpretive anthropologist would view The Voice by looking at the deeper meanings the show brings to viewers’ attention.[2] An intriguing aspect of the show, which truly enraptures the audience, are the ‘Blind Auditions’. This means the judges who must pick a contestant have their backs to the competitors themselves. This act is meant to eliminate any form of preconceived judgments or biases a person may have, which could visually sway their decision in selecting a performer. This symbolizes the contemporary United States’ discrimination or judgment of social or biological differences an individual may or may not possess. The United States’ society is entirely focused on the image an individual portrays.  This obsession with image has been created and molded by publicity, which portray women and men in their ‘perfect’ states, as seen in; magazines, movies and news. The ‘Blind Auditions’ symbolize the need to look past social expectations and barriers in order to find the true individualistic beauty that a person possesses. By eliminating this barrier of judgment, The Voice provides an opportunity to those who have been rejected before based on bias and instead reveals the true talent a competitor may possess. The Voice expresses the contemporary United States ideals and values in the exchange of money for entertainment and the discrimination and judgment of those who differ from social expectations.

[1] “Like Us.” The Voice. McNulty Casting, Inc., n.d. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

[2] McGranahan, Carole. “Cultural Anth 2100.” Cultural Anth 2100. University of Colorado, Boulder. Lecture.

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36 Responses to The Voice

  1. Juliana says:

    I agree with the political economist perspective and believe that television shows like The Voice are solely for the financial gain. While the purpose of The Voice may appear to initially be for entertainment, most of the show is staged to be more exciting and to furthermore gain more viewers and therefore, make more money. The media is currently escalated to merely excite viewers and keep them paying.

    • Maddie Ohaus says:

      I fully agree with Juliana that these shows are just for financial gain. Sure the show is interesting due to it’s defying norms and picking people solely based on voice and not looks but looking through the winners of the seasons so far most of them are pretty aesthetically pleasing to look at. In the end it’s just another staged talent show that people pay money to see.

    • MelissaDanielle Lauro says:

      I agree with you fully. I don’t regularly watch these shows but when I do I realise just how much editing and jump cuts and sound effects are used to hype up the viewers, such as ended before a commercial break with a sort of cliff hanger so that people will stay through the commercial and watch the rest, so they earn more money. They try to make it out to be ‘offering the chance of a lifetime for someone who would never get the chance otherwise’ but how many of the winners have the general public even heard of? If the show really was trying to make gain for anyone other than themselves, perhaps their winners would have more success off of the show.

      • Amy Knutson says:

        I agree, it is interesting to think about what the true intentions of shows like this are. It is definitely interesting to see how producers and advertisers may use certain techniques to somewhat manipulate the audience (many times without them even realizing it). You said something about the cliff hanger before a commercial break and I have noticed that, too. They seem to take words out of context to make the viewer think something totally different is going to happen and usually, it is nothing too significant. Makes you reflect on they way big companies are personally manipulating your life to a degree (taking productive time out of your day for instance).

    • Cody Grenzke says:

      I’m obviously in the minority here, but everybody in this thread seems to take offense that these shows make capital gain from being successful and bringing in views from people who watch it. Is that seriously a problem for people? I personally see no issue with making capital gain as long as they’re ethical about it, which as far as I know, the show isn’t abusive or anything.

      Just wondering, how does everybody know the show is staged? Do you have proof? I know WWE is staged, since they make it blatantly obvious, but this show, I doubt it. Maybe it’s just the luck of the draw.

      This show also creates opportunities for people who participate in this show, too! For example, American Idol elected Scotty McCreery as the winner of an episode, and now he’s incredibly famous in the country music industry! Some good can come out of these shows.

      • Amy Knutson says:

        This comment definitely made me think about my initial reaction. What connotations and stereotypes do we place on companies that make lots of capital gain? Interesting how I immediately labeled them without really thinking about it. This could relate to the way we may see wealthy people as well.

  2. Logan Arlen says:

    I think The Voice is a good concept which allows artists to be discovered with out being prematurely judged, but there are artists who do not fit the typical standard of beauty in America and still have successful careers. Such as Meghan Trainor who sings “All about that bass” talks about not worrying about looking like the American standard and finds popularity in disproving American social standards.

    • Dec says:

      I agree with logan on the fact that The Voice is a good concept for not being prematurely judged. The thing is that the practice theory would be a good lens to look at it in its entirely.
      First of all the contestants are prejudged before they get on stage for the “judges.” The producers find what they think they can sell to the American public based on their life stories of past tragedies and overcoming trials and tribulations. Essentially they are vetted and once they have been ok by the producers the “judges” finally get to make their picks from a group that is already set up for success. It is interesting also that the judges already know that with the right voice anyone can become a star. So the fact that they are trying to be non judgemental before they hear them sing is an antic to spice up the audiences’ experience.

  3. Larkin says:

    I agree with your interpretive perspective, and the Blind Auditions. I think a really interesting and alluring part of the show is that fact that the contestants are being judged solely based on their talent. However, it is know that “The Voice” chooses contestants that have been successful in the past or are well on their way to success in the music or entertainment industry. Knowing this it’s quite possible that the contestants have had past experience with image and how that impacts success. I wonder if/how the show would be different if they truly had randomized Blind Auditions?

  4. Stephanie Grossart says:

    My roommate is obsessed with The Voice and to be quite honest I have no idea why. I view it exactly how a economic anthropologist would. It is the transaction of money through ad sales. It didn’t even occur to me that cable and electric bills can be associated with it as well. I happen to love the fact that the judges are not allowed to see who is auditioning at first. It really does take away the bias associated with choosing someone. It is actually pretty sad that shows need to do this in order to not discriminate against certain people.

  5. Julia Marino says:

    Before reading this essay, I had never heard of the television show The Voice so I found it not only interesting to learn more about the structure of the show but how you were able to apply the way a political anthropologist would look at this show. I did not think of the way you made the comparison of that the competitors were participating in this show for a financial gain. I think many television viewers of reality shows that are focused on a competition base who they will cheer on by finding what competitors they connect with, support, and wish to succeed. For example, I remember watching American Idol while growing up and I never thought cheering on Carrie Underwood was for her to gain some massive financial prize. I wanted her to win because I thought she a talented singer and good enough to land a record deal. I think if this paper could have been longer in length it would be really interesting to look at the transformation of reality television shows that have a competitive base and how not just money but prizes have developed and become a form of motivation for people to want to compete in reality television shows.

  6. Kirsten Jaqua says:

    An interesting analysis of the show through two different anthropological theory… but quite honestly, I don’t feel that you tied the two theories together very well for a coherent whole. They felt completely disconnected to me. The ‘economic’ aspect of The Voice, you say, expresses the values of US society. You brushed this topic in your second paragraph just enough to give me an inkling of what you mean by that, but it isn’t very clear. I’m a little puzzled by the point of that paragraph, particularly in light of the following one.

    Your second theory is much more interesting–getting into the careful construction of the show to avoid bias of any sort on the basis of appearance. Perhaps a new window of opportunity for potentially disadvantaged competitors. That’s what makes the show unique.

    The last sentence is meant to tie the two theories together… but it sort of brings up both and doesn’t draw much of a connection between them. Overall, a very interesting topic, but the theories don’t hang together for a coherent essay in my view.

  7. Alex S. says:

    This may be too far reaching, but it seems that Poststructuralism could also be applied to the concept of The Voice in the sense that a power struggle seems relevant between media and the show. While the show is immensely popular, ignoring all physical aspects of the performer other than their vocal chords negates everything media has provided for society. You may as well put this show on the radio if the physical truly doesn’t matter. The physical DOES continue to matter as the audience falls in love with the performers, both their voice and the appearance that is associated. I may not have applied poststructuralism adequately, but the point I’m trying to make I think makes some sense.

  8. Annie Birkeland says:

    I do agree with the political economist perspective notion that talent sells. I think there is an obsession in contemporary American society with major league athletes, top tier celebrities, and very famous singers. I think its interesting The Voice capitalizes on our obsession with image in a whole new way. In the Voice we get to hear their voice before we see the person, and in American idol it is the opposite. In American Idol the viewer gets to see interviews and often little features on the contestant before they sing. In both these shows they wait to reveal the person singing in front of camera in order to build up the viewer’s preconceived notion of what they are going to look/sound like and then they capitalize by picking surprising contestants that are completely different than what the audience had envisioned. I agree that a lot of The Voice’s success has been in exploiting the audience’s judgment in looks.

  9. Nayantara Nelson says:

    I agree that most of these shows are in it for profit, even the contestants hope to win so they’ll have instant fame, success, and wealth. I am not too familiar with the voice, but the way you have described it. it seems that the show is very different from other talent TV. I suppose we can commend the producers for assuring that the contestants will be judged solely on there talent, but I can also see how it is part of gimmick to attract more viewers, since they are adapting to the contemporary values, where more and more people are advocating against superficial biases, such as seeing physical beauty as being worth more than brains. I suppose looking at this through a Cultural ecology lens, we could further understand the possibility that the show is adapting to this change in the social structure which aims to illuminate bias in order to gain more revenue. Also, the possibility that this show is, in false consciousness, claiming that the “blind auditions” is in order to discover real talent, whereas the reality is it is to appeal to the consumer audience for financial gain, as a part of cultural materialism.

  10. Cody Patten says:

    Though I don’t really know anyone who watches the voice personally, I would agree that it is for financial gain. It is very interesting how they incorporate things like utilities to into this financial bill. It was also interesting looking at it through a Interpretive anthropologist perspective, and how people have to actually not face the singers. I find this to be disappointing that we have to do this so that there is no bias and people have an equal opportunity to win.

    • Cody Grenzke says:

      Well it also makes some people famous if they have the song-writing skills and know what they’re doing! That seems like another kind of goal!

      I also find it to be disappointing, too, but that’s a dark part of the human element that will never disappear for as long as our race exists.

  11. Michaela Cavanagh says:

    I agree with your interpretive theory perspective and the Blind Auditions. In comparison to American Idol where they did see the singer audition, the Voice is a nice change and give viewers anticipation for whether the judges will choose them or not. In terms of your political economy approach I think NBC is producing this show to gain its own success rather than concerned with the success of the singers auditioning.

  12. Angela Gianficaro says:

    I agree with both points you’ve made about political anthropology and interpretive theory. The music industry reels in unbelievable amounts of money, and combining music with a television show benefits this greatly. It is also interesting that you’ve combined these two theories within the same essay because, in my opinion, having “blind auditions” which go against the preconceived judgment many face in the entertainment industry is the unique twist The Voice used to boost their ratings and maintain success as a television show.

  13. Ben Sardinsky says:

    I would argue that your analysis of the Blind Auditions is more post-structural. The fact that the format bypasses the normal set of appearance based judgments seems like a crack in the normal hierarchy of appearance obsessed culture. The fact that this ‘crack’ however, is still capitalized in the entertainment industry shows how a certain degree of resistance is allowed in a system, as long as it doesn’t destabilize the system as a whole.

  14. Ian McClain says:

    This was an interesting analysis using anthropological theories. I liked how you choose to analyze The Voice from a political economy perspective. I would probably not have thought of that if I were analyzing the topic so I thought you made some interesting points. Political economy/ Marxist anthropology perspectives really can be applied to most things in life. Everything we do is somewhat influenced by money/property or some sort of exchange – even though we may not even consider it directly. It seems like most forms of entertainment in our everyday life are influenced by some sort of economic exchange. This made me think about how you can apply this anthropological theory to many areas of daily life.

  15. Camille says:

    I thought this article was very interesting. Although I have to say that, yes, through the interpretive theory we could conclude that this television show (The Voice) has definitely help break down those barriers of preconceived judgement of the performer. But it is important to keep in the mind that the entertainment industry may change our perception of what we think is going as.. to what is really going on behind the scenes of the Voice (during auditions, etc.) There is a lot more to a entertainment (television) show for their profit, than it may appear in the media’s eye. Overall, great theories introduced and a refreshing topic to discussed.

  16. Cody Grenzke says:

    Well, a lot of shows that are on television nowadays have a goal of making capital based on how many viewers watch their show. Obviously they’re providing a good product since millions of people watch it regularly and boost their ratings.

    My problem with this essay is that you make the idea of making money through shows like this seem like something that’s evil, just judging by the tone of the paragraph. So what if they want to make money? So what if they do make capital by providing a service that people are willing to pay for? That’s the beauty of Capitalism! You can do jobs like open an amateur lawn-mowing business and make money through that! Why not create a music show that people will enjoy?

    This show obviously does more than just make money. People actually become famous by participating in these shows! I doubt you’ve heard of Scotty McCreery, because he’s a country music artist and most people my age despise country, but he became quite famous by starting in American Idol, another version of this show, and has become a big star! These shows can be positive and change the lives of some people!

    • Lexi Eagle says:

      Cody, I think you misunderstood this essay (or maybe political economy). The stance that capitalism is embedded with harmful effects is part of political economic theory/Marxist analysis, not simply the tone of the essay. Yes, capitalism allows some people to make money, but it also favors certain demographics over others, exaggerating class divisions between the wealthy and poor. Effective political economic analysis of this show (and of capitalist ventures in general) require us to consider that capitalism benefits some populations while making others vulnerable, and to look critically at which populations receive which treatment.

  17. Taylor Thostenson says:

    I thought it was very clever how you tied in the Political Economy theory and how it related to the exchange of values between the classes behind the scenes. I definitely agree with that and how by the contestants doing “blind auditions” leaves no room for discrimination. It definitely is the first of its kind for tv series like this in America. I wonder if there is a different type of audience that watches this show based on the fairness and equality put forth on the show versus shows like American Idol, ultimately leading up to viewers wanting to watch Simon Cowell disrespect many young singers trying to pursue their passion. Just a thought.

  18. Lexi Eagle says:

    First, I thought this essay was really comprehensive and made important points on several aspects of this show. I think The Voice is so intriguing because of the ways it encourages participation in capitalism (a structure that privileges certain demographics) while at the same time protesting – through the “blind auditions” – traditional beauty standards. This is particularly interesting because The Voice has received a lot a praise for these blind auditions, and end up directly profiting through capitalism because of this reputation of encouraging success based on merit, not outer beauty.

  19. James Cumming says:

    I find your interpretive anthropological perspective very interesting because it brings forth a very good point of bias vs talent. It is interesting how the contest/show has altered its judgements by incorporating a non-bias aspect to the art of dance and I would agree that this represents a far deeper aspect of art within US society, especially when it is embodied by media/television. I like your point that we have obtained an obsession with ‘image’, especially toward women, and that this notion has been called to attention. On the other hand, I can imagine this ‘blind-audition’ is not all that it is cracked up to be within the actual judgement, when it comes down to it (money rules over fairness), but at the very least it acknowledges a fundamental flaw within our society; image. I gather from your essay that the Voice is going in a good direction, but I do think that this small change is more for ratings than ethics.

  20. Chris Manning says:

    I don’t watch Television very often, so the last of these competition shows that i knew of were American Idol and America’s Got Talent. Though i have heard of The Voice i literally only knew it was another singing competition. But its interesting to hear how they have evolved from the last time i had watched anything similar, and its good to hear they are at least trying to make them as equal as possible. Though of course such things are easily rigged, and its quite possible they are, its nice to know there’s at least some effort being put forth.

  21. Taylor Hill says:

    Although these type of shows aren’t my favorite, I have seen the voice a few times. It never occurred to me that by purchasing different channels, and even having cable for that matter, would financially benefit someone. I really like the point you made about how the blind auditions account for discrimination. That is one thing that I personally liked about the voice is that the judges truly do not know what the person singing looks like, it has to do with talent.

  22. This is a great point Juliana. Not only about music, but also about television and consumer behavior. I think you are totally right about the fact that the show is pretty much only for financial gain. It really points to the fact that many of our cultural norms are run strictly by money. The cultural norm of sitting with your family and watching a tv show is influenced by the fact that someone is trying to make money. In our capitalist society a lot of things about our culture are only there because of the money involved

  23. Christian Rencken says:

    I have never seen The Voice, but because of the myriad of ads about the program I know just about everything there is to it. The four judges, and a tv show revolving on a spin-off of the extremely successful American Idol is just what every American makes sure to record on their DVR. The way that our entertainment generation has been able to couple music with television and relate it to your everyday citizen has proven to be the perfect blueprint for money. This is the reason I like that you have combined The Voice with Economic Theory. This show embodies the music industry perfectly, and you nailed the comparisons.

  24. I loved the discussion here about interpretive anthropology and that it speaks to a larger bias in American culture based on image. It is so true. We are obsessed with image in this country, and in a lot of ways the fact that the judges face away from the contestants during the auditions eliminates that problem. It eliminates the problem of race or gender or sexuality or whatever, and simply allows for peoples’ talent to come through and speak for itself. I think it was interesting that you used the Voice specifically to outline American economic values in general. I think shows like the Voice and American Idol and America’s Got Talent and things like that definitely value talent, but they definitely also value money. America is all about money, after all. It would be cool to also throw American Idol in there to display a counterpoint or something like that. Good essay overall!

  25. maddysimonds says:

    I liked that this touched on positive and negative characteristics of the show The Voice. I remember the show taking off only a year or two after it aired. We cannot ignore the fact that the show was primarily created to profit financially and compete in the television world of shows with a musical carrier prize. The very famous judges and concept of singing for awards is not new nor strikingly interesting. However, the idea of hiding the appearance of a talented, mainstream person is curious. This is directly relating to the consumer by making it a “realer” achievement. Images of famous people are extremely relied on looks, and by taking away that characteristic that separates common people from famous is really attractive to viewers. Even though it may be particularly in it for the money, it is a step in the right direction in terms of values, and eliminating the ongoing perception that fame and beauty are inevitably linked.

  26. AYURU KONDO says:

    I agree about this idea, and also think it is American culture. In the article, it mention about ‘Blind Auditions’, and said the discrimination or judgment of social or biological differences an individual may or may not possess. America has many race (I mean it have many immigrant people) so became difficult problem. And also it make American culture. In my opinion, I’m from Japan and it doesn’t accept much immigrant, so almost people are Japanese. So usually Japanese people just think “insider people(Japanese)” or outsider people (foreigner). So from this part I feel strongly American culture. And also, this type of TV problem is not so common in Japan. From here, I feel in America, many people have a chance. Even if they don’t have any connection to show business, people can have a chance to become singer. I think these two part is American Culture.

  27. Howard says:

    I really found the political economy application quite interesting. I have never thought of one of these shows in such a way. Also, very relevant application of the interpretive anthropology and the deeper meanings the show brings up, mainly the fact that the judges cannot see who is singing until they select them.

  28. Alexis Bush says:

    I really liked your essay and the popular and interesting subject that you chose. I agree with the idea that blind auditions are less judgmental and focus more on the qualities and skills that are important for singing, but I do not believe that this show’s auditions are truly “blind auditions.” There are many pre-screening auditions and still, certain looks are wanted. I think that since The Voice calls them “blind auditions”, it leads to even less truth. This seems like it is more of a skill to try and attract more viewers, because the show seems like it involves “real people like us.”

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