Thursday, May 29, 2008

Rereading Reality TV

“Since its cultural explosion in the late 1990s, popular reality TV has presented an array of techniques for diagnosing personal problems and transforming so-called needy and “at-risk” individuals into successful managers of their lives and individuals (Ouellette 63).” The popular MTV show “A Shot at love with Tila Tequila” clearly demonstrates how contemporary US society’s pop culture creates (or reacreates) meanings and messages about gender and sexuality and portrays them on a popular TV show for the world to see. In the show we see clear differences in behavior and personality between the “straight” males and the “gay or bisexual” females. The show centers around Tila, a hot young gal who originally got noticed and built a fan base on MySpace. Tila, who is a bisexual looking for “true love” brings 16 guys and girls to her house hoping to find her perfect mate. While the competition is meant to be friendly it turns out to be a serious battle of the sexes where everyone’s true personalities come out. Tila’s interactions with males and her interactions with females are interesting to see and we can se some valid differences in how the media portrays each sex.
I personally can’t see how anyone could take “a shot at love” and “flavor of love” the bachelor, bachelorette, etc., seriously. If they were actually looking for true love the show would never air because it would be done after 1 season. Instead we’re finding 2 and 3 seasons of one person picking their “true” love and coming back for another season. “A shot at love” is full of stereotypes and that’s why it’s a particularly good example of a reality TV show to examine. A stereotype, as we read in Newman’s chapter 5 “Expressing Inequalities”, is “an oversimplified picture of the world, one that satisfies our need to see our social environment as a more understandable and manageable place than it really is”, (Newman, Ch.5). The stereotypes portrayed on reality television only make it more prevalent in real life. It condones these types of behaviors and when people see it on TV they feel as though that is what is a normal way to act. Men are supposed to be masculine, strong, and cocky. While women are supposed to be sweet, considerate and delicate. “A shot at love” definitely contradicts these stereotypical behaviors and transcends typical gender roles.
Taking a look at Tequila, she’s the very definition of femininity. Her real life character and personality on the show are portrayed in the same way. She’s beautiful, young, caring and a young female that feels very deeply. She plays her role of the damsel in distress many times. For example, whenever a fight breaks out between to competitors whether they are male or female she usually ends up getting upset and crying. This is an example of analogous feminine and masculine concepts. Although she gets upset when her “potentials” are fighting, she allows herself to be rescued afterwards but it does not necessarily have to be by a masculine figure. In many cases she is “rescued” by another female in the house.
While she may play the stereotypical female role, TIla actually only portrays a partial example of the normative definition of feminity and sexuality. She has both heterosexual and homosexual tendencies and does not let this affect how she would normally react to a situation. While sometimes absurd “A shot at love” actually breaks the barriers of what is considered the norm in our society. Tila spreads the message that “hey, you don’t have to be straight to be normal.” Through this show the media is now portraying other sexual identities so that they become more known and ultimately accepted. This show is one step closer to televising the fact that there are homosexual and bisexual people in the worlds and as society starts to accept these facts more will be able to live a happier healthier life without having to hide their true sexual identities.
In the case of Tila, the norm would be that she’s young and hot and should only be attracted to men. In her case she deviates from the norm and discredits the stereotype of the “normal” and ideal feminine individual. We can finally see that the media is taking interest in breaking the hegemonic norm, where the heterosexual male group is dominant over not only females, but homosexuals as well, by including lesbians and a bisexual on the show it breaks this norm. Now the main question is how does the show illustrate the power of TV to discipline us while simultaneously entertaining us? MTV uses TIla’s unique status to get ratings. Since Tila is a bisexual woman, something rarely portrayed in pop media in this manner, the media realizes that the show and her character will attract a variety of viewers to the program since most people, (even if they don’t agree with it) are intrigued by the unfamiliar and therefore want to view the program.
In episode 1 of season 1 the 16 men show up and start acting in the typical guy fashion. They take one look at Tequila and start salivating over how hot she is and all of a sudden their in “love” and have feelings for someone they have never even personally spoken to. This is a perfect example, that shows how men care more about the physical sense of the relationship more than the actual emotional connection. The men were very competitive and mostly obnoxious. Even though the men are living up to their stereotypes so are the women and the media is taking much care to engrave these ideals into our minds.

After the men are introduced Tila finally brings in the 16 lesbian contestants. As soon as the females are brought in the tension was released and Tila comments that girls just seem like so much more fun, and outgoing. This is a stereotype proven to be true among many females. Females are more delicate, sweet and sincere, than many of the men.

Works Cited

1) Newman. Chapter 5.“Expressing Inequalities” Inequalities

2) Ouellette, Laurie & James Hay. Better Living Through Reality TV: Television and Post-Welfare Citizenship. Blackwell: 2008.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Disembodied gendered objectification in images of masculinity and femininity

While we’ve already heard the cliché “sex sells”, does anyone even know what that really means? What does it mean to say “sex” is “selling” something. This concept is used as a marketing strategy and can be seen in billions of ads. The truth is that “sex” itself doesn’t literally sell the product but it does draw and attract consumers to the product. For example, you can have the same car in two different ads but if you put a hot girl in a string bikini on top of the one of them, the car with the girl will more attention and in turn will give it more sales. Advertising products by using sex makes the product stand out from the rest of the clutter of ads. Unfortunately, if all the ads start using “sex to sell” it’s going to make them less shocking and therefore grab less attention. Jean Kilbourne, one of the best known advocates for the exploitation of women in advertising, claims that, “we are exposed to over 2000 ads a day, constituting perhaps the most powerful educational force in society (Kilbourne 194).” If that is the average are exposed to a minimum of 104,000 ads a year. Kilbourne claims that the portrayal of women in advertising is negatively influencing the view men have of women in our society and how women view themselves. She claims that the constant barrage of images and texts depicted in ads, suggesting the idea that ‘the thinner a woman is, the better she is’, has a strong influence, especially in female adolescence, that contributes to eating disorders and low self esteem issues. She has published several books and films on these subjects that seem to support her claims.
The female body (as well as the male) is always being objectified in the media. For sex to cell, women have to be used to in a less than respectful manner. Unfortunately there are many ramifications to this objectification. “This struggle starts with the media depicting unreasonably "perfect" bodies as attainable and continues with the confusing profusion of beauty, diet, and "health" advice from profit-making corporation (Biber 63).” In other words, since the advertisements use women with perfect, bodies, breasts, legs etc. you women today believe that this is what they need to look like to be a beautiful, sexy woman. When in fact even the women in these ads don’t really look like that. It’s all about the lighting and airbrushing of the picture. These objectified roles play a huge role in how girls as young as the age of 6 view their bodies. What’s worse yet than using the female body to sell ads is using only one specific area of the female body in a objectified manner to sell a product. The ads basically give the message that “women, you are an object, not a person.” This can be seen in the ads with the pear and the where all you see are the breasts. The whole woman doesn’t even need to be seen just the most “important” parts. Moreover, the single reason behind the incredible amount of body dismorphia that the objectification of the female body causes is simply cold hard cash. “And the unconscious hallucination grows ever more influential and pervasive because of what is now conscious market manipulation; Powerful industries-the $33-billion-a-year diet indusry, the $20-billion cosmetics industry, the $300 million cosmetic surgery industry, and the $7 billion pornography industry-have arisen from the capital made out of unconscious anxieties, and are in turn able, through their influence on mass culture, to use, stimulate, and reinforce the hallucination in a rising economic spiral (Wolfe 124).”


Kilbourne, Jean. “Beauty… and the Beast of Advertising.”
New York: Longman, 2001. 193-196

Wolfe, Naomi. “The Beauty Myth”
Chapter III. Gender and women’s bodies

Hesse-Biber, Sharlene Nagy. The cult of thinness
by Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber.-2nd ed.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Gendered Consumers/Engendering Consumerism –Toy Shopping Field Work

  • A 7 year old girl’s Birthday Shopping List:

1. America’s Next Top Model Barbie

2. Strawberry Short Cake Little Crib Play

3. Bratz Hairplay Doll

4. Dirt Devil Junior Play Upright Vacuum Cleaner

5. Wooden Kitchen and Refrigerator Set

A normal 7-year-old girls wish list would look something similar to the list above. If you look on toy websites you can narrow your search results right down to the age and gender. All the products marketed to young girls between the ages of 6 and 11 are based on gendered roles. These products give young girls the ideas that girls are supposed to grow up to be mommy’s, homemakers and have to be dolled up and skinny to be play into their roles as females. Kilbourne says: “Primarily girls are told by advertisers that what is most important about them is their perfume, their clothing, their bodies, their beauty…Even very little girls are offered makeup and toys like special night Barbie, which shows them how to dress up for a night out. Girls of all ages get the message that they must be flawlessly beautiful and, above all these days, they must be thin (260).”

In the case of “America’s Next Top Model Barbie”, there are a few different types that depict different cultures. There’s Blonde, Brunette and Red head Top Model Barbie. Asian Top Model, Hispanic Top Model and African American Top model Barbie. The same is the case with Bratz Hairsplay Doll. Each doll is made so that any little girl regardless of race can relate to the doll because she’s got the same hair color or skin tone. Every one of these Barbie’s are proportioned in a ridiculous manner that a normal young woman would never be able to achieve and maintain in a healthy way. Unfortunately though this is what young girls see as beautiful and Barbie’s such as these are what give young girls the wrong impression about body image. Kilbourne states that: “Even more destructively, they get the message that this is possible, that, with enough effort and self-sacrifice, they can achieve this ideal. Thus many girls spend enormous amounts of time and energy attempting to achieve something that is not only trivial but also completely unattainable… The glossy images of flawlessly beautiful and extremely thin women that surround us would not have the impact they do if we did no live in a culture that encourages us to believe we can and should remake our bodies into perfect commodities (260).

Next on the list is the Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner, (just like mommy’s), a kitchen play set, and strawberry shortcake’s crib set. All these toys marketed to young girls and buys into the stereotype that young girls should be learning how to be mommies and homemakers. Toys encouraging cleaning, cooking and nursing babies are predominant on toy websites under girls between ages of 6 and 11. Why aren’t these house playing products also geared towards boys? Many young men grow up to be famous Chefs. Why not nurture that natural skill in the kitchen from a young age. For example, Emeril has his own show just like many other male cooks, with his own food line and recipe books. This double standard is the exact type of marketing that defines roles in the gendered socialization of women.

If you go onto any toy website and go “shopping” they make the process very easy for consumers. “Click here for Boys Ages 1-5, 6-11, etc.” You will find many different variations of the above shopping list for girls in almost all the age brackets. Everywhere you look there are tons of Pinks and purples and blinding glitter. Everything for young girls is geared more towards ascetics, creativity and the “normal” role of mommy/homemaker. Under the boys section you will find toys that challenge young boys to think and solve. Puzzles, legos, building blocks, and action figures. It’s nurture vs. violence in the world between girls. Vs. boys.

All the toys geared towards males cultivate ideals that only boys should be competitive, assertive and aggressive while girls play the role of the complete opposite. Katz states: “For many males who were experiencing unsettling changes, one area of masculine power remained attainable: physical size and strength and the ability to use violence successfully…Historically, use of gender in advertising has stressed difference, implicitly and even explicitly reaffirming the “natural” dissimilarity of males and females. Stressing gender difference in this context means defining masculinity in opposition to femininity. This requires constantly reasserting what is masculine and what is feminine (351).”

If you look at the age ranges, the toys marketed towards young children are basically the same but as the age goes up the toys just get more accessories, more technological and more complicated.


Kilbourne, Jean, “The more you subtract, the more you add: Cutting girl down to size;”
Gender, race and class in media Sage publications, 2nd ed. California 2002

Katz, Jackson, "Advertising and the Construction of Violent White Masculinity: From Eminem to Clinque for men".