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.