Big Brother

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BBB 21, the (de)construction of social struggles and self-activism

Are you the Jewish Popular Front?
Go to hell! We are the Jewish People's Front!
There's only one thing we hate more than the Romans: the damned Jewish Popular Front!
And the Popular Front of the Jewish People.
And the Jewish People's Front!
But we are the Jewish People's Front!
Weren't we the People's Front?

(Monty Python, Brian's life)

This year, the traditional dose of voyeurism Brazilian television was hailed as a revolutionary in the history of the small screen: the Big Brother Brazil, a program in which the viewer satisfies his desire to feel like a deity with power over the destinies of a group of people who play “real roles” to please him and capture a significant cash prize, in addition to commercial contracts, interviews in the media and fees for events, brought to its 21st edition a cast composed of proto-famous and unknown people with a high participation of activists of social, ethnic, gender, LGBTQIA+ and similar causes.

If this fact is observed in itself, as it was by many at first, it can really sound like a great advance in issues of representativeness of groups outside the majority standard to occupy space and visibility in an audience champion of all means of communication. communication, on e offline. However, in practice, the theory is different. The spectacle of abuse, intrigue and psychological aggression between the members of the edition, which culminated in the abrupt withdrawal of one of them after – the final straw – being questioned for a display of affection, is not just the live materialization of the vale-tudo on behalf of the audience that populates Brazilian television, but it is the best finished example of two categories of analysis that I propose here[I] to understand contemporary neoliberal subjectivity: commodity-subjects and self-activism.

From self-entrepreneur to self-commodity

According to Dardot and Laval (2014), if the subjects of Modernity were characterized by a porous segmentation between instances, such as religious, political and work/market, the neoliberal subject subsumes all divisions to the single imperative of production. The subject in perpetual mutation does not only change in one thing: the obligation to change, to be more effective and adaptable. Corporate rationality unites all power relations (social and personal) in a single discourse, placing the company as a general model that must be imitated and stimulated.

The identity of the “entrepreneur or self-entrepreneur” emerges, which – in addition to the idea of government ou take care of yourself, which also have serious problems when applied to the community – it operates in a double flow as it supports a sociability in which the entrepreneur mentality and maximum performance are present and operative in all fields of life (teaching, work, personal relationships and social, sexuality, health, etc.) and in which society itself boils down to a company formed by a group of companies (individuals).

Such individuals, as companies, compete between themselves and produce something beyond your own physical exploitation (if a company has bosses and employees, being your own boss means being your own proletarian): the goals you set for yourself can only be achieved by exploiting yourself – more work, more performance , added value obtained from his own effort, absorbing and normalizing the physical and psychological exploitation that he undergoes and performs on himself. In neoliberal subjectivity, the only social relation is the universal principle of competition of all against all. The market becomes equivalent to society.

To win in the market, everything a company produces, be it a car, a app or an idea, needs to be distributed and consumed. To be a company is to be an instance and loci of production. What is produced in a company itself? Identities. What is the raw material of this production process? The desire, directed, benefited and packaged to interact in the market of subjectivities. The I as a product is invested with surplus value by the asynchrony between the “use” value, or existence in itself, and the “exchange” value, personal and professional performance, influence, visibility and image. From people-products, we arrive at subject-commodities formed by a package of speeches, actions and reactions. This brings us a new interpretation to Marx's famous phrase: society is really formed by a gigantic collection of goods – ourselves.

The person-product and the like worth more than money

It is not necessary to recall in detail the process of fetishization described in The capital, just remember that the properties of this fetish, according to Marx, “are not natural properties. They are social. They constitute real forces, not controlled by human beings and which, in fact, exert control over them”. (MARX, 2013, p. 148). That is, even though these powers subject people to the process of capital and function as a mask for social relations, the appearances that mystify and distort the spontaneous perception of the capitalist order produce effects in reality: they are objective social forms, which are determined by the relations underlying and obscure them, acting on the personality (Psyche) of the person or persons who imbued the commodity with such powers.

This first movement of the fetish dialectic is easily applicable in social relations mediated by the product, such as the identification between users of a certain brand of clothing, car or cell phone. But if the product is ourselves, a tension is established between the sensitive dimension of this process of production, distribution and consumption of the product-subject and its suprasensible or, in this case, psychological dimension.

The production of subjectivity begins in the bourgeois family, the family business that owns the means of production and formatting the being that imposes both rigid categories such as Oedipus or the traditional mold of the good citizen, as well as contributing to the creation of subjectivities that are seen as projects of themselves and who seek the line of flight of the model seen as molar or majority. The fabrication manual of the neoliberal subject is ideological, with often conservative moral elements, based on the exacerbation of individualism, and vocabulary borrowed from the managerial literature of the 80s, such as coaching, Work in progress e women empowerment.

The person-product is offered in distribution channels for better insertion in the social market. If in the past, presentation to society took place at bizarre parties such as debutante and graduation balls, in the network society, the incessant production and dissemination of information by individuals themselves goes hand in hand with a need to be seen, to be noticed by the social market. An unbridled competition opens up among the members of the system to find the best way of selling themselves.

Today, social networks, and their fantastic capacity for engagement and psychosocial remuneration via likes, recognition, praise and “sealing” operate as ideal sales channels for projected subjectivities, which are what followers expect to see on that profile. The more followers, the more market such person conquest, the better: the more “successful” one is – the more psychological and/or commercial reward one gets at each interaction – in the political economy of the like.

Bubbles and the activist himself

If neoliberalism transformed subjectivity into a commodity and loci society is defined by the competition of all against all, the principle of segmentation and market niche dominates social relations. And such logic is very visible in what is conventionally called the progressive field.

Let's leave aside the messianic vocation of the groups that see themselves as harbingers of a foolproof morality and remember Adorno's reflection on the ability of the Cultural Industry to make difference an extremely effective way of reinforcing unity and integration into the system: “for everyone, something is foreseen; so that no one escapes, the differences are accentuated and disseminated” (ADORNO, 1985, p. 116). This segmentation logic operates both for defenders and critics of the social system, in a logic of switched signals in which capture by the gear of capital is sold as autonomy in relation to it.

As commodity-subjects only have themselves as a guide, since institutions have lost their referential function, the dominant belief is that it is in the individual that ultimately lies the capacity to win in neoliberalism or to symbolically destroy it. However, each fracture in the system generates the automatic conditions for its absorption by the whole.

The desire to stand out and also belong to something becomes a castrated movement of criticism: it is simpler to silence competitors in the market (of privileges or struggles) than to assume that the rationality of neoliberal capitalism requires a high level of inequality and exclusion to its operation. A higher order is not necessary for the individual to become the repressor of others: at the same time that the being is included, he excludes those who may threaten the incessant enjoyment he covets.

The self-referentiality of the neoliberal subject, the subject-commodity that becomes the fetish of itself, is also visible in the very contestation of the system, because when living immersed within its (ir)rationality, one ends up reproducing its language[ii], mannerisms and manners. The self-entrepreneur, or the commodity subject, is transmuted, in this specific market, into the self-activist[iii], or in the militant commodity. A political individual who pours out affections in self-directed speech, who perpetuates the logic of competition by somehow silencing or making other individuals or social groups invisible.

As the dialectical debate is seen with bad eyes, the objective of each action (be it text, post or dialogue) is the so-called “lacration”, the confirmation of the belief beforehand of the self-activist who forbids debate and denies the other any possibility of dialogue or reviewing concepts. The Adornian idea that the oppressed and the oppressor are social positions, not intrinsic characteristics of certain subjects or social models, is fundamental to understanding the process.

Contrary to the discourse that every individual expression is accepted as authentic, without imposing standards or labels, there is a rigid hierarchy in the so-called “deconstruction” process, or replacement of an inoperative standard in current rationality (the Enlightenment subject) by an absence of a standard that works, in practice, as a new modulating standard, in which the rationality of the competitive society is better expressed.

As success or failure in neoliberal society is the sole responsibility of the individual or group of individuals, the production of engagement is simultaneously denial and confirmation of the process: the fetish of being heard and respected as an opinion maker in a tsunami of uncontrolled opinions and data, from the flow of the Internet to the shack on the TV show. The competition to find out who is allowed to say what it means to be deconstructed, tearful or militant. The ideology of success as the center of ideologies that have historically positioned themselves against success at any price.

Simpler than seeking the material conditions to change the real is to execute the discursive change on oneself and prescriptive on others, centered on a set of values ​​that assumes as true only the pre-existing beliefs of the individual and the group to which he belongs. The logic of competition in neoliberalism is identifiable in the competition between struggles for acceptance among peers or by society as a whole. The self-activist is the mirror image of the self-company, like fetish and narcissus, desirous of success and in the fight for recognition.

The real-life “tragic soap opera”

But what would all this have to do with yet another ratings champion? Now, perhaps nothing is more symbolic and that affirms the relevance of the categories presented in this text more than thinking that what is shown on TV screens, cell phones and computers today are people competing against each other in search of a value in money that, for some, means social triumph and the rise to a new level of class; for others, the possibility of warming up their careers and promoting the distribution and consumption of their “personal goods” by their public. It is not necessary to mention names, as what is important are the functions of each element in the dynamics of the ritual of validation and interdiction of speeches, people and actions, guided by solipsism, self-reference and personal experience placed as a determinant of the judgment: if I am X, ONLY I can say whether YOU are or are not X or Y – an imposition of identity (or representation) on differences and multiplicities.

The psychological immolation of one of the participants (performing the ritual indicated by Silvia Viana), including the imposition of intrinsic normativity to the participants' view of deconstruction, the most evident demonstration of self-activism – or the transformation and capitulation of flags of social struggle as market differentials (in addition to common appropriations, such as the use of minorities to sell products in TV commercials, films romanticizing the mythical pasts of continents that suffer from poverty and disease and other illusions that the Cultural Industry offers us in abundance) – he says without a shadow of a doubt that the bet, if any, of production on the diversity of participants served to show that the logic of merchandise is not exclusive to a political or psychosocial field, having become a majority practice in society, including among those, in theory, less would belong in the standard models.

*Benito Eduardo Maeso is a professor at IFPR, post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Philosophy at FFLCH/USP. author of Differences in common: Deleuze, Marx and the now (Appris).



ADORNO, Theodor; HORKHEIMER, Max. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar Editor, 1985

DARDOT, Pierre; LAVAL, Christian. The New Reason of the World: essay on neoliberal society. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2016

FRASER, Nancy. Feminism, capitalism and the cunning of history. Mediações Magazine (UEL). v. 14, no. 2, 2009

HAN, Byung-Chul. The tired society. São Paulo, Voices: 2015.

HAN, Byung-Chul. Psychopolitics. Madrid: Herder, 2013

MAESO, Benito. Differences in Common: Deleuze, Marx and the Now. Foreword: Marilena Chauí. Curitiba : Appris, 2020.

MARX, Carl. Capital, Vol. 1. The Capital Production Process. Foreword: Jacob Gorender and Louis Althusser. Afterword Francisco de Oliveira. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2013

VIANA, Silvia. Rituals of Suffering. State of Site Collection. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2013.


[I] And that I take the liberty of indicating my recent book (As Diferenças em Comum) for a deeper understanding of the theme.

[ii] The use of terms like women empowerment – empowerment – ​​in social struggles, far from being a subversion of business language, it can be understood as a reinforcement of the competitive ideology that the word carries

[iii] Nancy Fraser's work on the co-option of certain segments of feminist struggles by the logic of the company, a co-option that begins to reduce a complex problem such as the oppression of patriarchy in society to just a struggle for equal wages, that is, for consumer power and equal satisfaction with the male, shows that the abstract equivalence operated by money and the circulation and presentation of goods in the social field can never fail to be the object of serious social criticism. This appropriation and training of social struggles, in the format denounced by the author, reproduces the idea of ​​measuring the value of the person in its equivalence in commodity-money. The self-fetish is also how much you are “worth”, the price of your product-self on the market. The more expensive it is, the more the individual desires it.

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