Friday, April 4, 2008

Bulging Reality?

Ok, by now you realize I'm no fan of "reality" television. I still maintain that it's "lowest common denominator" entertainment, designed to appeal to our myopic, intellectually stagnant society. (My kids watch little TV beyond PBS. But because they do watch lots of sports, they can parrot many of the commercials targeted at the middle-aged male demographic, including those silly Flomax ads showing men dashing for the restroom. And isn't it just sooooo cute to have one's 7- and 9-year-old sons singing "Viva Viagra" in a restaurant? Thankfully, they haven't yet learned what Viagra does!)

Ultimately there's little "reality" in any of these programs. From American Idol and Dancing With the Stars, to The Bachelor and Hell's Kitchen, contestants are dropped into situations far removed from the "reality" experienced by most viewers. So is it possible that we've now descended beyond FCC chairman Newton Minow's Kennedy-era proclamation that television is a "vast wasteland?" His complaint was based on the broadcast of so many westerns, police dramas, and situation comedies. Well, if we had any doubts, attributing the reality show boom to rising production costs, thinning advertising revenues, and the recent writer's strike, think again.

Yesterday I saw this advertisement for a new "reality" program on the WE network. Can this be any more insulting, both to women and the girls who will inculcate the values espoused on this program? It certainly underscores the conclusions made by my friend Naomi Wolf in her seminal work, The Beauty Myth, or Susan Douglas's excellent Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media. Women's perceptions of themselves, and our larger society's perceptions of women in general, are largely shaped by an advertising industry dominated by men.

Still, it's important to acknowledge that in the last 20 years the concepts of beauty and body image have been treated with greater sensitivity, particularly as we've become more aware of the damaging effects of bulimia and anorexia, maladies that are fed by the image that a woman must be a size 2 to be considered attractive. We now know that the average dress size for American women is 14, and some advertisers and clothing designers have accepted this reality. But "Bulging Brides" as a "reality" show?? First, none of these women should be considered "bulging" or obese. Indeed, they each look to be healthy and well within that size 14 "average," if not under. But according to the logic of this show, these women are "fat" and can't possibly have a beautiful wedding or live "happily ever after" until they've shed those extra pounds, all to squeeze into a size 2 dress designed by Vera Wang.

(One could also rant about how this show ties into pundits' complaints about how weddings in America have become stage productions worthy of a choreographer and director in an attempt to realize some exalted notion of the "perfect day" - a phrase that's repeated in the ad shown below. That subject I have neither the time nor the energy to tackle. If families want to spend $50,000 or $100,000 on a wedding, so be it. If they're lucky, their sons and daughters can end up on that other wedding-oriented "reality" show: "Bridezillas.") Photo taken on 6th Avenue at 28th St.

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Kitty said...

True, everyone shown on these shows are over the top. It's a bit much after a while.
I'm pretty selective with my reality tv show viewing. It really depends on my mood.

The wedding show sounds just plain annoying. Yknow people look heavier on film anyway. I just don't understand who would want to be on tv like that. Yeesh!

jblack designs said...

So true, so true.

As a teacher of in-coming college students, mostly 18-22, for 25+ years, I have seen the shift in body awareness and size first hand. It's been an odd trip in several ways.

In fact, I think I'll continue this conversation on my blog.

Come on over!


Hiromi said...

In defense of (some) reality shows, there's nothing wrong with harmless and brainless entertainment from time to time.

But "Bulging Brides"...that's a new low. Not only is it dysmorphia as spectacle, but it also adds in the theme of "the perfect wedding" and its considerable emotional baggage.

It's almost as if we've run out of things to consume, and are now consuming ourselves somehow. It's not enough to have a great car and home or clothes, but now we can purchase the body of our dreams, too.


Isabel said...

I read "The Beauty Myth" about 3 years ago, but I find myself going back to some of Wolf's chapters over and over again. As a parent of both a boy and a girl, I take on very seriously the job of educating and alerting both to the influences of society on the way they see themselves and the opposite sex.