Beauty and the Bonkers

You know how themes will reoccur sometimes, maybe a name, a phrase or an image you keep coming across. I’ve been seeing this one over the last couple days: something ‘caters to the lowest common denominator’.

It even came up in a dream. This phrase seems particularly relevant when I turn on the television. Nowhere is there a more gleaming example of a system that caters to the lowest common denominator than the current television programming.

Lately there’s been a high concentration of Bravo in my t.v. viewing habits. I’m a fan of Project Runway, and they used to run West Wing reruns which got me hooked on that excellent program. The West Wing can’t be seen there anymore, instead you have ‘Real Housewives of Orange Country’; ‘The Millionaire Matchmaker’; ‘Make Me a Supermodel’ and of course, ‘Hey, Paula’.

It only takes ten minutes of watching these shows to start to feel kinda… icky. I know Bravo’s been touted as the bold and fabulous gay network, and I like that they embraced that categorization instead of trying to buff it up. They ran with it. Yay them. But these shows put a crazy emphasis on superficial success: Looks and money.

Physical attractiveness isn’t just presented as a commodity, it is overtly marketed as such, and I’m not even talking about the supermodel show. There is such a frightening completeness to that assessment on these programs that it completely discounts the part of a person you could dub ‘human’. On The Millionaire Matchmaker, women were screened to see if they made the millionaire club based entirely upon if they looked the part of sexy, classy and intelligent women. It didn’t matter a dingo’s kidney if they actually were any of these things, it only mattered if they looked it.

And of course you’ve got your supermodel show where you’re looking at model wannabes and Nikki Taylor is pointing out how this girl has ‘body issues’. They tell this tall, slender, size 4 girl to take her anguish to the gym after having her body criticized from every angle till she’s sobbing.

I know that’s how it is. That’s the industry. But I worry about the willingness to accept it and be entertained by it. There’s something really ludicrous about sitting on the couch with a bowl of popcorn, nodding your head in agreement that Angie has a bit too much junk in her trunk to make it on the runway.

There’s been a gradual shift through time to this crazy demand for impossible physical standards, so now it’s widely accepted. It would be weird to act outraged toward these shows. What do you do, stand-up and shake your fist at the television because they perpetuate the idea a woman’s value is based on her physical perfection, a man’s value is based upon his net worth?

That would be silly. And hypocritical, because look: I’m watching. I didn’t switch it over to the Public Broadcasting Station and boycott the ugliness of that message. I validated it with my participation.

And now I feel the need to assert my divinity. To point out that life is precious, unique, that there’s a higher calling to cater to than this plastic vision. That everyone is on a journey, and these false standards only waste precious life and precious time.

But here’s the kicker: Am I only expounding on this during the commercials?

K, I’m gonna lighten up a little because the sunshine in this darkness is ‘Hey, Paula’, the reality show based on Paula Abdul. I admit, I’ve only watched 12 minutes of this program but I was absolutely astonished; helpless with laughter and squirming in discomfort at how batshit crazy the poor woman has become.

If she’s not on drugs then Bravo is definitely exploiting a nutbar. I truly believe Paula would self-destruct if she had to last three hours in the real world. She lives on Paula-planet. It’s rather hard to look away.

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14 thoughts on “Beauty and the Bonkers

  1. An excellent post…….and the theme of a poem I am in the middle of, funnily enough…….my personal gripe is women who feel they can’t eat, who subsist on lettuce leaves then exercise for two to three hours a day, are getting anorexia in their early forties (now most anorexia clinics are populated by as many of this age group as they are by teens)……to what bloody end? It’s sad and gross in equal measure…..surely there is more to life?

  2. Whenever we go to NJ to visit family I spend time with my 12-year-old niece who watches a lot of that sort of television, particularly the model shows. It’s done horrors (as opposed to wonders) for her body image. She sees herself as fat and ugly when she’s very thin and very beautiful. I’ve noticed that she’s learned to eat like a girl with an eating disorder — she moves food around on her plate without taking a bite.

    Because I don’t have cable, I can’t criticize anyone for watching reality tv because I do too much of it myself (The Amazing Race, sometimes Survivor although that got pretty boring after the first few seasons, and don’t tell anyone but I tuned in on The Apprentice last night out of sheer boredom). But I do wish my sister wouldn’t let her daughter spend so much time with unrealistic images via America’s Top Model and Project Runway.

  3. It is as Jo said, eqaully sad and gross. I have very little patience for people whose drama is self-created… particularly over things that are so inconsequential. (i.e. the Bratz movie)

    What little time I do get with my daughter (every other weekend) I am quite conscious of not ridiculing her body or self image. Not that I don’t ever… I’m not the perfect dad because sometimes I’ll say something that later I think, “hmmm… probably could have said that better.”

    But I try, and in trying to battle the message from the lowest common denominator, i plan to buy this book it was featured on GMA with this story.

  4. She is clearly a victim of the false ideas you were raging at in the beginning. Self-inflicted, no doubt. I found it so hard to watch I turned it off but the television always has that effect on me, hahah, which is why I much prefer talking to you, boo,

  5. Slothmolo Enterprises has already stated its collective opinion on this matter, http://slothmolo.wordpress.com/2007/08/08/oh-those-fat-assed-cows/ but I would happily reiterate that women are getting screwed up by fashion society. Tyra Banks (a shrill, idiotic person) at least tries to promote a healthy body image on her talk show, but then COMPLETELY invalidates it by promoting wafer thin “High Fashion” models on America’s Top Model. That’s basically what happens everywhere. People nod and agree that we need to change the image of beauty in our culture, and then turn right around and start a new reality show called “who can eat the least” or something.

    Really, make yourself stop watching it. This is the one problem that really will go away if we ignore it. As long as these things generate sales and Nielsen Ratings they will just keep appearing.

    And yes, Paula is either as high as a kite or as crazy as a loon. Probably both. It makes me uncomfortable when she speaks.

  6. I like the aspect of reality shows where someone has to create something new on the fly but what makes me vomit from the deepest part of me is the seemingly obligatory tears and or crying scene in these, and the camera dwelling upon it as though it is anything but the expression of a moron in distress. Worst offender for tears in general is Extreme Makeover (for that I would reconsider the death penalty).

    Good post though and yes we watch even that crap we have issues with.

  7. I used to live in a house with every channel under the sun and the one that I gravitated to the most was BRAVO. It’s been over a year though since I’ve watched any of that and I can say that I don’t feel as though I’m missing anything. The show that I found the most appalling was The Real Housewives of Orange County. I’m not sure what about them was real. It definitely wasn’t there breasts. I know for me that in the past I have expected myself to live up to a certain standard of beauty and in the process nearly killed myself to attain it. I’m not sure if it’s age or the fact that I no longer watch satellite television but I’ve come to the conclusion that if a guy is only into me for my looks or if he isn’t into me because I’m not a size 2 well then he isn’t worth my time. i wish I had felt that was at 17. It would have saved me and my body a world of hurt.

    Great post!

  8. Television has becoming quite frightening, I’m glad I’m more than two steps removed from it. I watch Amazing Race because I can relate with the problems of the competitors. I watch Top Model because I love to see what a vacuous idiot Tyra Banks is.

    Network exexs want “crazy as batshit.” People are sick, just look at the rubberneckers at a car accident. The average viewer wants to see a train wreck, a Paula, a Tyra, a weeping model.

    Did the Romans know their society was crumbling as it was taking place? If they had had television their viewing habits would have been an indicator.

  9. jo- I certainly hope so. Shows like ‘wives of Orange County’ can’t help, but it’s really depressing because I would think most women by the age of forty would have found their own center, their personal uniqueness and worth and not put their bodies through that. I wonder what has changed in the last 20 years, is it just media?

    Robin- that’s really concerning, and that age particularly seems so vulnerable. Girls seem to lose something, some inner confidence when they hit the preadolescent stage. Have you ever had the opportunity to express your concerns to your sister? I know that can be touchy, but even if she took offense it might soak in a few days later.

    jules- well, it’s good you’re engaged. My parents had split custody, and I developed an aversion to shopping early on because my dad got involved in ways I didn’t like. I don’t know if he was living vicariously or what, but he took me to all the high-end stores clothing shopping when I was a size 3 in highschool, and when I outgrew a pair of jeans he made me stand on the scale in front of him and started constantly telling me all these diet things, and how women with thinner bodies made more money and everything. Even at 15 I didn’t think it was appropriate, it made me feel sort of weird and I wouldn’t go shopping and started wearing primarily large, baggy shirts and loose jeans. A non-verbal ‘fuck-off’. I don’t think he really understood that his hyper attention was making me ultra self-conscious and needing to hide.

    As a veteran of that experience I’d say just accept your daughter; let her do her thing but set guidelines so she doesn’t wear overtly revealing clothes (she may not thank you but reputation is so important, and sometimes girls don’t realize that people are talking about what they wear) if you have concerns about her weight try to find a trusted female to talk to her instead of doing it yourself. I don’t know why, but it’s better that way.

    gingatao- and I’m glad you do. I feel a little pity for Paula, but there are so many people in the world with real problems that I don’t feel too bad laughing at her ludicrous fits.

    boo. :)

  10. Slothboy- Yep, I remember your post on that issue. I’ve never watched any Tyra centered programs, but I’ll take your word for it that she maybe shouldn’t be a person with a talk show, or even a mouth.

    Paula talks really weird, doesn’t she? I’m gonna try to stay away from reality shows except Project Runway and Top Chef. I came into an idea this weekend that’s going to take a lot of time, anyway, so reality t.v. can go on the back-burner.

    That only leaves several million viewers to wean off them.

    aos- yeah, that’s why I love Project Runway. But I donno about the moron distress. It’s freakin’ funny when paula throws one of her wacky attacks. Sorry, but it is. Especially the expressions of the people around her. Priceless.

    bibliomom- Yeah, that’s just a stupid-ass show, for sure. You liked Bravo too, another similarity in taste. The *feel* of the network has always been kinda high-end, but lately it’s like their doing their level best to bust into trashy. If they start running Jerry Springer reruns, I’m going to abandon them for good.

    barbara- lolol, wasn’t that line golden? Kathy Griffin got a lot of traction out of that one in her stand-up comedy routines.

    Stevo- yuppers, people are sick and the networks cater to it and take it to the next level. I just wish they could cater to us sickos a little more intelligently.

    re: the Roman question: They likely didn’t. It’s like the boiling frog thing, where if you put them in cold water and raise the temperature slowly, they just sit there and slowly fry to death, (as opposed to if you throw them in boiling water.. then they hop right out)

    Oscarandre- So it’s *your* fault then! I demand better perverted television, dammit.

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