Category Archives: T.V.

My Un-Resolution

I don’t make resolutions, at least not New Year’s ones.  I firmly believe that we retain the right to change our lives any day of the year.

That said, I always seem to be a bit more reflective around the first of the year, original, right?  I think about the things I know I should be doing but for one reason or the other never manage to do.  Take this blog for instance: I know I have it, I know I should write in it more often, and yet I can’t quite get a handle on it.  One of the things that keeps me from blogging is this nagging voice at the back of my head tauntingly jeering “you have nothing to say.”  Much to my chagrin, I usually let it get the best of me.  But not this time.  That little mean voice can go straight to hell, or wherever mean voices go.

So I’ve un-resolved to blog at least once every week.  I may not always have insightful, witty (I will always be witty) things to say, but I have promised myself I’m going to write anyway.  My partner claims that it makes one a better writer, I think that’s something good writers tell bad writers to be nice, but what do I know?  With all that said, the first blog of the new year:

Mtv’s Buckwild

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Buckwild is the latest in a long line of Mtv reality television.  It premiered the first week of January and according to Mtv’s website, “Buckwild is an authentic comedic series following an outrageous group of childhood friends from the rural foothills of West Virginia who love to dodge grown-up responsibilities and always live life with the carefree motto, “whatever happens, happens.”  To be clear, I have not yet seen this show and my opinions are based solely off of Mtv’s commercials, their history, and broader trends within reality programming.  The first time I saw a commercial for Buckwild I thought, “so it’s The Real World: Appalachia.”  The commercials stress the rural dynamic almost to the point of caricature.  The show’s participants are shown using the bed of a pick-up truck as a swimming pool, wrestling in mud, and speaking in almost unintelligible accents (indeed I’ve been told the show actually provides subtitles for some of its participants).  The argument could be made that teenagers/young twenty-somethings across the country are engaging in things like mud wrestling, pick-up truck swimming and such activities are not specific to, or reflective of, rural West Virginians.  My issue is not that Mtv is documenting the “authentic” experiences of this group of friends, but rather that it seeks to do so in a way that will serve to perpetuate classism and Othering.

Again, these are just the insights I’ve gleaned from the commercials, but it certainly does not feel as though Mtv is trying to present these people and their communities as relatable, quite the opposite, I’m afraid.  In one thirty second commercial Mtv has managed to reify almost every stereotype Americans have about rural Appalachia and its inhabitants.  Mainly, that they are regressive, unintelligent, poor, and almost alien in speech and mannerisms.

There is the chance that I am completely wrong and Mtv’s Buckwild will prove an insightful and progressive allegory about overcoming stereotypes and classism.  Though I highly doubt it, I guess I’ll have to watch.

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It Can Get Worse: Reflecting on “The Choice”

In my previous post I discussed Fox’s new dating show, The Choice, but in light of last night’s episode I would like to revisit that show. And since it’s my blog, that’s what Imma do.  For those of you unfamiliar with The Choice it’s exactly like The Voice, but it’s a dating show.  Four bachelors, or in this week’s case bachelorettes, chose a date based only on their voice. kind of. Each contestant has 30seconds to get one or more bachelor/ettes to turn their chairs around, based only on the competitors voice.

Last night’s (6/28) episode of The Choice shook things up by “reversing the roles.” Instead of four “celebrity” bachelor’s in the chairs, it was four bachelorettes. Gender role reversal, never gets old.  I was interested to see who qualified as a “celebrity bachelorette” and if the show would follow the same format as if it were men in the chairs.  I didn’t think I could get any angrier at Fox, I was wrong.

The four women included a Playboy Playmate of the year, a model/pop singer, a former Miss USA winner, and Carmen Electra.  Even though the women were purportedly the one’s holding the power they were dressed no differently than if they were the ones competing for a date.  While the show’s bachelor’s often appear casually dressed down in t-shirts and jeans, or other casual combinations, these four women were decked out in full make-up, barely there dresses, and six-inch heels.  And the discrepancies didn’t stop there.  From the time the first eligible man stepped on the stage, I knew this was a totally different show.

Usually the women competing to win a date rely solely on thinly veiled, and often cheap, sexual innuendo to get the bachelor’s to turn their chairs around.  Phrases like “I like to get dirty”, “I have six hidden tattoos, but if you turn around, I’ll show you where they are,” and my personal favorite “I’ve got a body like Jessica Rabbit” have all been uttered by female competitors.  Additionally, the audience is often informed that the competitor is a gymnast, a dancer, very flexible etc.  When women are competing for men it is inescapably clear that sex and conventional sexiness are what matter.  In order to capture a man’s interest a woman should automatically divulge intimate details, and make it painfully obvious that she is hot, and down to party.  She is not encouraged to discuss her educational pursuits, her career, her family, basically anything that would locate her within the realm of “real woman” and not “fantasy girl” should be avoided.  If she does mention something “real,” as did one competitor who stated that she was a lawyer, it must immediately be followed up by a reference to one’s hotness in order to assure the men that they need not fear her intelligence.  When men compete for celebrity bachelorettes, however, the rules change.

In general, the men do not expound on their sexual prowess or offer intimate descriptions of their physical selves.  Rather, they spend their thirty seconds discussing their careers, their advanced degrees, and how close they are to their families.  In order to capture a woman’s attention a man must firmly ground himself in the “real world,” with a “real” job, and “real” interests.  The man, whether he be competing or choosing, is constructed as a legitimate, actual, important human being.  He does not need to be validated on the basis of his conventional attractiveness because his accomplishments and other qualities matter.  In short, he matters.

The men lucky enough to make it to the second round of The Choice were spared yet another humiliation that the women normally have to endure.  When a woman is chosen to be part of the “dating pool” she is made to wear a sash (intentionally designed to resemble a pageant sash) that bears the name of the man who chose her, making it explicitly clear that she belongs to him.  The men on last night’s show wore no such sash, they were allowed to retain their individuality, they remain unbranded.

As I suggested in my previous post, the women are not the one’s holding the power, they are not even close to the power.  Even when they are the one’s in the chairs, doing the choosing, they are undermined.  It is also worth noting that all of the bachelorettes on last night’s show are famous because of their conventional hotness, not their skills or accomplishments.  We reward them because they are pretty, not because they matter.

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Defending Julia

I love New Girl. I’ve loved it since episode one. I willingly buy into Zooey Deschanel’s quirky, indie, brand because I genuinely enjoy the writing on the show.  But the most recent episode ‘Jess and Julia’ has me on the defensive.  For those of you who don’t watch the show here’s a summary of last week’s epsiode.  Basically Julia is a lawyer who’s dating Nick (one of the roommates and the one Jess will clearly end up with later this season) and Jess gets a ticket so she figures Julia can help her get out of it.  Julia doesn’t buy into Jess’s adorkable personality and the two butt heads, but all is forgiven when Julia apologizes and ends up crocheting with Jess and her girlfriends.

But I like Julia. I didn’t think she needed to apologize.

Maybe I love Julia’s sarcastic personality, or her confidence, or maybe I just love Lizzy Caplan (Janis Ian in Mean Girls), either way I enjoy Julia.  But Jess does not.  When Julia shows up at Jess’s apartment Jess offers her a blanket and deserts that she baked, and is horrified when Julia seems creeped out and declines her baked goods stating she is “not a desert person”.  Cut to Jess and her friends sitting around the kitchen counter hating on Julia because she’s “not a desert person”.  Julia’s skepticism of Jess continues when Julia tries to get Jess out of a traffic ticket that she got because she had to “break for a bird” that was in the intersection.  Jess finally loses her cool and goes on a rant decrying Julia’s “pantsuits” and lack of whimsy.  The viewer is meant to identify with Jess, and is vindicated when Julia shows up to apologize.  This apology effectively ruins Julia for me.

I was rooting for Julia because I saw myself in that character.  She’s sarcastic (if not a bit cynical) but likeable (which I hope I am) and exudes the seriousness and quiet confidence of a woman secure in her perspective. And she was one character who didn’t buy into Jess’s “ribbon hats” and “feeling stick” femininity, she suggested that not all women (or men) secretly love crunchy indie charm.  I mean seriously, who covers a visitor’s lap with a blanket and shoves a cupcake in their hand just because said visitor is a girl and thus a “girlfriend”.  Julia and Nick’s relationship is free from labels (I know that’s kitschy but it’s my blog so deal) and full of witty banter, just the way I like my relationships.  Not to get overly dramatic, but Julia gave me someone to root for.  Her apology suggested that every girl really wants to crochet and be soft and whimsical, some are just more hardened than others.  And anyone who watches the show knows that Julia won’t be sticking around, Jess and Nick will inevitably be together, again enforcing the idea that Jess’s femininity is more desirable than Julia’s.

And Julia’s apology makes me feel like I should apologize too, like I’m not the “right kind” of girl.

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South Beach Diet Bars and Street Harassment

I don’t know how many of you have seen the new South Beach Diet Bar commercial, so allow me to explain it:

We see a thin, white woman walking down past a construction site where a construction worker calls to her “you’re lookin healthy”, she gives him a confused/pleasant look and continues on.  We follow this woman past an outdoor cafe’ where another white woman and her black friend sit talking and as she passes the black woman calls out “you go healthy. she look good” the woman again looks a little confused but happy.  She proceeds to the door of said cafe where a gentleman in a suit holds open the door and says “After you, healthy”.  The commercial then inserts some weird tagline about people being able to tell you’re healthy or some crap.

So here’s my problem: This commercial trivializes street harassment.

I’m sure there are those of you out there who will say “But Liz, it’s only a commercial. Get off your feminist soapbox and chill out”.  Well to you I say: no, I will.

Street harassment is unacceptable, period.  Substitute the word “healthy” with the any of the following: “honey”, “sugar”, “baby”, “hottie”, etcetc and the commercial becomes completely revolting and sexist.  The idea at play is that the woman has used South Beach Diet Bars to lose weight and should be grateful for the positive attention she is receiving, regardless of where it comes from.  It also makes light of street harassment.  You expect the construction worker to call the woman some rude name (see the above list) because it is widely accepted that most women have been in that situation.  It needs no explanation because it is a cultural fixture.  It invalidates the very real hurt caused by street harassment, and makes a joke out of it.  It panders to the false notion that we, Americans, have moved beyond sexism and can now joke about things that were once perceived to be “chauvinistic” and “sexist” because we are so enlightened.  (For more on the idea of being beyond sexism read Susan J. Douglas’ Enlightened Sexism).  It also reinforces the notion that the hyper-visible female body is open to public commentary, from anyone, at any time.  It tells us that the female body becomes public domain once it enters any space outside of the home.

I am aware that this is “just a commercial” but that doesn’t make it less real, or give it less influence over our cultural perception.  According to the A.C. Nielsen Co, the average American spends 153 hours a month glued to the television, which is around 5 hours a day.  With commercials comprising a solid amount of that 5hours, dismissing this (or any) ad as “just a commercial” only ads to the media illiteracy that currently dominates our culture.

And seriously South Beach, sending the message that “strangers will cat call you if you eat our diet bars” was the best marketing strategy you could come up with?

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“The Revolution” or You’re Perfect, If Only You Could Be Better

On January 16th ABC will add another talk show to the already crowded afternoon line up.  “The Revolution”, which replaces “All My Children”, is billed as a show about personal transformation.  According to the network, the show offers “life changing tips and essential tools” to help viewers “transform all areas of their life from the inside out,”.  Who better to offer these “life changing tips” than a panel of experts featuring: style guru Tim Gunn (who should be on Project Runway” Allstars), annoyingly perky design expert Ty Pennington, and three other people we’ve never heard of… celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak, ob/gyn Dr. Jennifer Ashton, and relationship expert Dr. Tiffanie Davis Henry.

The commercials for this show espouse ideas about helping women transform their lives, and making lasting changes while Pink’s F**kin Perfect plays in the background.

Really? They chose that song, did anyone listen to the lyrics?  Lyrics that repeatedly tell the listener that they are “perfect” and that they should never feel less than perfect would not be my first choice for a show that is all about changing who you are.

And that is really my problem with this show.  American women are currently facing a cleverly designed dichotomy that tells us that we should love our bodies as they are while simultaneously insisting that we are not our best selves.  You need not look farther than the pages of Glamour to find an example of this very trend.  Flipping through that fashion mag you are confronted by countless images of incredibly thin models, juxtaposed with articles about “The Ultimate Love Your Body Guide” and how to “Silence Your Inner Dieter”.  Susan J Douglas put it best saying, “You’re supposed to love your body as it is but only if it looks like one of their models demonstrating the exercise routine that ensures that you’ll lose forty pounds by Friday”(Douglas, Enlightened Sexism).  It is almost as though the “love your body” rhetoric is tongue in cheek, no one actually believes it but we all keep saying it to each other to avoid acknowledging the trappings of an overtly misogynistic culture.

If the commercial for ‘The Revolution’ came out and said “our goal is to make American women better: less fat and more stylish, and we’re going to do that by trotting out their emotional issues for millions of viewers to see” very few people would watch the show.  It would not be lauded as empowering and uplifting.  We would see it for what it really is: a bunch of “experts” claiming mastery over bodies that do not belong to them and repackaging their own advice as authentic transformation.  Without even seeing the show I can almost certainly guarantee that there will be a heavy handed language of authenticity: finding the “real you”, uncovering who “you really are”, emotional declarations that “this is me” and so forth and so forth.  And of course these moments of transformation will occur when a participant has just received a designer wardrobe, or lost 40pounds, or had Ty redo their house. They won’t be standing in their boring kitchen wearing sweatpants munching on some cheetos.  The logic implicit to this show, and others like it, demands that in order to be an authentic reflection of yourself, you must adhere to a model of conspicuous consumption.  Undoubtedly the show will also feature prominent branding, something both Ty and Tim Gunn have become masters of.

Here’s what it comes down to for me: I don’t want another show telling me that I’m not really happy because I don’t know how happy I could be if I just lost some weight, or got a new wardrobe, or talked out my emotional issues on national television.  As American women we have a history of having our agency stripped away from us “for our own good”, and I don’t think putting a glossy prime-time bow on it makes it any better.  I would like to see a show without experts guiding women through transformations, I would like to see a show where women show up, talk about their lives and everybody cheers.

But I guess that wouldn’t make for very good television.

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Filed under personal growth, Public shaming, style, T.V., transformation

How MTV discredits their own show

So the second episode of the new season of I Used To Be Fat aired on MTV last night, and let me assure you I will be discussing it at length at a different time.  This post concerns a commercial that was shown earlier in the day(Tues. the 18th) on MTV.  Don’t ask me why I was watching it, just accept that sometimes I have it on as background noise.

Throughout MTV’s programming day it often intersperses little commercials for what’s going to be on later that night.  I was sitting at my desk doing my research when one such commercial came on, and it went something like this:  A female voice, just a voice no body said,

“With winter approaching maybe I should have kept that weight on.  An all new ‘I Used To Be Fat’ tonight at 9”

I’m not sure what the logic behind this commercial was, but I’m willing to offer my analysis of it.

MTV is making fun of their own show, and more to the point once again making fat funny.  The flippant nature with which weight loss is addressed in this commercial makes it okay, funny even, to joke about weight.  Their show exploits the suffering and traumas of their participants, while this commercial decisively ignores those injuries.  In their attempt to be “sassy” or “cool” MTV is basically saying that they don’t actually take thier show seriously, that fat, fatness, and fat shaming are all a big fat joke to them.  This commercial also alludes to the impermanent nature of weight and weight loss.  Where their show smothers participants in the rhetoric of “changing your life” and “changing forever”, this commercial implies that such a life change is impossible, and also that weight is such an easily managed thing one should be able to take it off and put it on like a jacket.  This commercial makes a mockery out of its own show, but more importantly it delegitimizes those who appear on the show (and others like it). 

Weight is trivialized, fat is shamed and all in the name of ratings.

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‘I Used To Be Fat’: How MTV does the failed body

As tomorrow is the season 2 premiere of MTV’s hit reality show ‘I Used to Be Fat’, I thought it important to reflect on how awesome season 1 was.

For those of you unfamiliar with the show, here’s a brief summary:

MTV says, “College is all about reinvention. It’s a time in a teen’s life where they can leave behind all of the preconceived notions people had about them in high school and start fresh. Unless they’re massively overweight.” (emphasis mine)  Each episode follows one teenager from the last few weeks of their high school career through the “first crucial days of college”.  During this time MTV sends the teen a “weight loss guru” who will not only help them shed the pounds, but also help them “realize who they are, and who want to be”.  MTV ends the description of the show by stating “Some will lose the weight. Others will fail. But either way, this will be the most important summer of their lives”.  Yes, the most important. most. important.  If you’re so inclined you can watch full season 1 episodes here: http://www.mtv.com/shows/i_used_to_be_fat/series.jhtml

For the most part, the first season followed the now familiar trope of other popular weight loss shows.  We are introduced to the participant, they share painful weight related traumas, they are fat shamed by “experts”, they lose weight and invoke the rhetoric of “finding their true selves” or they fail to adhere to the program and are shamed even further.  The only notable difference is that the participants on this show are teenagers, so the stakes are portrayed as being even higher than on weight loss shows with adult participants, and mostly teenagers or younger people are watching this program.  Our cultural rhetoric of the failed body is being indoctrinated into younger and younger audiences.  Before they even have a chance to discover a fat positive space, ‘fat’ is clearly marked as bad, failed in need of fixing, and fixing that must be done before embarking on the transition to adulthood that is most commonly marked by ones entrance into higher education.

So many problems, where do I even begin?

For the sake of keeping this short, and you interested, I will limit my discussion to one problematic area.

There is something odd about naming a show ‘I Used to Be Fat’ when for 90% of each episode the participant IS ‘fat’, the past tense is only invoked at the very end when the audience gets a follow up on the participant’s continued progress.  It is a clever linguistical trick that accomplishes many things including: constructing fat as exclusively bad, creating an air of mystery and secrecy around the confession of former fatness, and setting people up to be shamed when they do not succeed in relegating their fatness to their past.  Why not call the show ‘I Am Now Thin’?  Is there something more intriguing about a show that implicitly invokes fat shaming rhetoric right from the start?  I would have to argue that the cultural anxiety over corporeal normalization is more apparent in a title that demonizes fat, as opposed to one that lauds thinness, even though thinness is our(the collective societal) goal.  It also constructs fat as a temporary, escapable, condition, a town that is driven through on the way to the ultimate destination.  No one would want to live in ‘fat’.  It is deviant, it is dangerous, and most importantly it is preventing you from being your ‘true’ self.(See Heyes ‘Self-Transformations’ for more on authenticity and weight loss) Invoking the past tense structures the show in a manner suggestive of shameful confessions.  The onus for the offending fat is placed on the individual, forcing them to claim culpability for their corporeal transgressions.  It also sets up this idea that the fat of the past should be a secret, had the participant not confessed to the viewers that they ‘used to be fat’ it is assumed that their now thin bodies would not betray this secret.

There is much more I could, and would like, to say about this show and its many issues.  However, I will leave it at this, and hope that if you tune in to the season 2 premiere tomorrow night, you do so with my comments in mind.

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