The Soft Power Potential of Tidying Up With Marie Kondo
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The contemporary global streaming environment allows for a multitude of television shows to be distributed on a global scale, with many of these shows featuring talent with cultural heritage and ethnic background not native to the production environment of the show. Academic discussions of media flows and contra-flows are revisited in this thesis to understand the nuances in these flows and the potential for occurrences of cultural exchange within this globally minded programming. Taking a close look at Netflix’s Tidying Up, starring Marie Kondo, this thesis examines reoccurring moments in each episode to deconstruct specific textual elements that are instrumental in understanding Kondo’s character construction, how her tidying ideologies and ideologies of neoliberalism are conveyed, and how this character construction and ideologies shape the show’s narratives. Using Fairclough’s critical discourse analysis as a methodology, I explore common reality television conventions like pre-taped in-studio segments, the introductory tease of the show, and homeowner tours and reactions to Kondo, leading me to argue the emergence of what I term a ‘blended contra-flow’. Largely due to the positioning of Kondo as a spiritual guru and the use of an interpreter and subtitles throughout the series, this blended-contra flow of cultural capital simultaneously flattens the Eastern cultural knowledge deriving from Kondo and also functions to promote cross-cultural understanding, all while promoting a neoliberal ideology that is commonplace in lifestyle makeover shows. While this is the first time that an American-produced reality television show featuring a non-American as the host/expert achieved mainstream success, it offers new perspectives on the flow of cultural capital and the implications of ethnic gurus in Anglo-American television.