Tuesday, October 6, 2009
In some ways, life imitated art for Gloria Swanson after her award-winning role in Sunset Boulevard. In the 1950 film, Swanson plays Norma Desmond, an aging silent film star facing her own descent into obscurity. Gloria Swanson, like Norma Desmond, was also a celebrated silent film actress who had difficulty making the transition into talking pictures. As Norma says defiantly, "I am big. It's the pictures that got small." Somewhat surprisingly, after the phenomenal success of Sunset Boulevard, Swanson's career also began to fade. All other roles seemed inferior to that of Norma Desmond. Swanson worried that she would become a "parody of a parody"--a description that could apply to the character of Norma Desmond.
Seven years after the release of Sunset Boulevard, Swanson began to develop plans for a musical called Boulevard! In this musical, Joe Gillis and Betty Schaefer continue their romance--with Norma's blessing. The audience is left to believe that Joe and Betty live happily ever after. Parmount, which was in negotiations with Swanson over the proposed musical, quashed all plans, stating that this production would damage the reputation of the existing film.
Do you agree with Parmount? Would Swanson's musical have altered popular interpretations of the original film? Could it have been successful? With this change, would you have considered Boulevard! to be an interpretation of the original film or a new work that should be considered completely distinct from the original?
Monday, September 14, 2009
Ronald Reagan, Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Al Franken all moved from the entertainment industry into politics. Jerry Springer left a career in politics for television. These shifts are not shocking; after all, both careers are based on performance. Even though we may not be politicians or actors, we, too, are performers. We act differently when we are with our parents, in our dorms, or in the classroom. And as writers, we utilize a persona, a "self" that varies from the persona we use when engaging with our families or friends. In this course, we will analyze the ways the rhetoric of performance works to construct identity from small screen soaps to the political soap box.
How is identity a social, political, and cultural performance? How do different situations call for particular styles of rhetorical performance? How do we evaluate and analyze different types of performances, including artistic and political performances, as well as the performances of everyday life? To answer these questions, we will examine in-depth performative rhetoric in, for example, the classic film Sunset Boulevard, television "reality" soaps, and, beyond artistic performances, the performative rhetoric used in political speeches and ad campaigns. The course will culminate in your own rhetorical performance: a research-based-argument that analyzes a form of performance or a particular performance.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Curb Your Enthusiasm has, since its debut, intertwined reality and fiction in a strange whorl. The show is written by, directed by, produced by, and stars Larry David as himself – he envelopes the show, sandwiching it on both sides: production and acting. The show is highly improvised. David usually writes about seven pages of material, which provides a plot outline, but the dialogue is left unscripted. Larry David characterizes his portrayal as a fictionalized version of himself, but a version without the appropriate social reservations that the real-David has. He is the co-creator of Seinfeld in real-life as well as on the show. The character of his wife is based on his real wife. The plot of the show, in which they are divorced at the end of season six, even mirrors David’s real-life divorce. Perhaps the greatest difference between real-David and show-David is that show-David is not producing, writing, and starring in a show about himself – and this is probably a good thing lest the audience be trapped in an even stranger recursive reality: show within show within show ad infinitum.
Previously, Curb has depicted David as acting, as in season three where David is cast in a Martin Scorsese film (Scorsese, of course, played himself on the show). Season four is even stranger. Mel Brooks (playing himself) casts David as Max Bialystock in a Broadway run of The Producers. Staying true to the theme of warped reality, it turns out that Brooks is carrying out the same plot as Bialystock does in the play. Humor me: David casts Brooks in Curb who casts David in The Producers as Bialystock but it turns out that Brooks is the ‘real’ Bialystock (in the show’s reality), and strangely, David must have cast him this way to begin with. From a bird’s eye view of the season, it looks like Brooks casted David as Bialystock and the other way around. Certainly part of David’s humor can only be fully appreciated by considering the production of the show itself. The full picture of Curb includes reality.
Season seven is currently in production and slated for premiere in fall 2009, and if rumors are to be believed, we are in for a far more interesting interplay of reality and fiction than we have seen yet. So far, all the projects in the show, including the Scorsese film and The Producers have been fictional. Recently, Larry David starred in Woody Allen’s latest film, Whatever Works, which premiered in April and will start limited screenings in June. It has been speculated (and let me emphasize that this is only speculation) that Woody Allen may appear as a guest in the upcoming season of Curb, as himself, directing Whatever Works. If this were the case, then the show would be like a documentary of the production of Whatever Works. One begins to wonder what exactly “fictionalized” means.
In this scenario, there may be a two-way influence between the reality of the show and reality itself: a show about the production of a movie whose production was intended from the start to be the content of the show. This seems a natural progression in David’s ongoing experiment, but perhaps an unlikely one given that season seven is confirmed to have the entire cast of Seinfeld appearing in a multi-episode subplot (the first time all will appear together since Seinfeld’s end). It is hard to imagine that there is enough time in one season for the cast of Seinfeld and Allen. Also, reference to this rumor has been edited out of the Curb Wikipedia page where it appeared for most of the 2008 summer. The originating site, tvbuddy.com, seems to have eradicated it as well.
Whether these rumors pan out, Curb will continue to involve reality in creative ways somewhere in the nebulous area between documentary, mockumentary, and sitcom. The show has affected reality before. In 2003, Juan Catalan, suspected of premeditated murder, was cleared of all charges when cut-out footage of the “Carpool Lane” episode in season four proved that he and his daughter were attending a Dodgers game 20 miles away from the crime scene. This effect was unintentional of course, but quite suitable to the show’s spirit. We should, however, expect to see David intentionally involving reality in his comedic concoction in stranger ways still.
My Super Sweet 16 first premiered on MTV in January of 2005, long before terms like “financial crisis” and “global economic meltdown” entered the average American’s vocabulary. In each episode of the show, MTV’s cameras follow around a real, soon-to-be 16-year-old and document the planning that goes into their sixteenth birthday party. These are no normal teenagers, however; MTV has tracked down the most outrageously spoiled adolescents possible for our viewing pleasure. The extreme level of indulgence displayed on the show makes viewers question whether or not My Super Sweet 16 is reality TV or complete fiction, however; no 16-year-old purchases $300,000 in jewelry for her birthday party, right?
Wrong. Savannah, the star of the episode I watched for this review, receives diamond bracelets, necklaces, and earrings worth this hefty amount before hopping in the enormous limousine that transports her and a cadre of friends to her party. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The designer dresses, entertainment (in the form of exotic animals and an oxygen bar), and trendy club she gets for her party certainly aren’t free. Neither is the shiny new BMW convertible she receives as a gift at the episode’s conclusion. It is nearly impossible to make an estimate as to the total amount of cash Savannah’s family spends over the course of the whole episode, but it is somewhere in the range of a million dollars. Not too shabby for a birthday party, eh?
This extravagant display of wealth is one of the episode’s two main attractions, the other being Savannah’s competition with her mom to see who can hold the cameras’ attention the longest. Mother and daughter fight over who gets to buy the most jewelry, who gets to wear the most extravagant dress, and even who gets to look the “hottest” at the party. This bickering seems ridiculous to almost any viewer, but reminds us that even the super rich aren’t perfect.
Although My Super Sweet 16 remains in MTV’s rotation of reality TV programming, the show is something of an anachronism given the present state of our global economy. Each episode is designed to flatter wealth by the standards set before the recession, so Savannah’s party seems even more over-the-top now. The show’s entertainment value wasn’t particularly high when it first aired a couple of years ago (Savannah’s princess-like sense of entitlement gets old fast), but if anything, it is evidence that the times are changing. One can only wonder what Savannah and the rest of her family’s thoughts are on the episode today.
Wendy is a freelance writer, teacher, and triathlete who lives outside Boulder, CO. She has an MFA from St. Andrew's University, Scotland. She has published in Cooking Light, Trail Runner, Natural Solutions, and Atlanta Magazine. She has decided not to audition for The Amazing Race, although she avidly follows British and American reality tv, including American Idol and Britain's Got Talent.
An L.A.-based blogger and former English teacher, Kevin was a writer for planetsocks.com, one of the first and most influential reality television sites. As a media studies major, Kevin wrote his honors thesis on reality television and celebrity. He once spit on Julie from Real World New Orleans
A Bay Area writing teacher and Stanford alumnus, Kim is an avid reality television watcher with insider knowledge--two of her family members work in the reality television industry. Her yearbook is signed by Melissa of Real World New Orleans. You may recognize her from the front row of The Price is Right.
Mark is completing a Ph.D. in English, specializing in urban space and 20th century literature. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture. In fact, he scored over 100% on Entertainment Weekly's pop culture quiz (about 60% higher than Joel Stein, EW's columnist). Richard Blais of Top Chef follows him on twitter.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Monday, June 1, 2009
Bravo is known for producing some of the most quality reality programs that television has to offer. Its new series “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” is not one of them. The show is one of the many spin offs of the company’s popular series, “The Real Housewives of Orange County”, and accomplishes the difficult task of being even more vapid and over-dramatized than the original. Within the first minute of the season premiere, the women are shown in the midst of a full-fledged screaming match, and within a minute and a half one housewife has already called another a “prostitution whore”. Before the opening credits even begin to roll, one cannot help but think this show would be better suited for a major network or even Oxygen, rather than the same company known for Project Runway and Top Chef.
The show does little to deviate from the Orange County original- however now the same vacant stares of the women’s botox-injected faces are framed by dark over-processed hair opposed to the peroxide treated locks of their California counterparts. They have simply taken the shallow, gold digging antics of the rich housewife and added thick jersey accents for an “exotic” touch. The Juicy Couture sweatsuits of the OC housewives have been replaced by Victoria’s Secret PINK brand sweatpants, and while the children of the West Coast Housewives are attending schools such as Berkeley and on their way to entering the MLB, on the East Coast they are working for their parents’ businesses and trying to raise money to open a strip club. It is the New Jersey, Italian-American stereotype at its finest, and through its portrayal of these women seems to make the claim that money does not buy class. At the end of the episode, clips for upcoming events of the season show the women spending thoughtlessly, yelling brazenly, gossiping incessantly and fighting cattily. I for one will avoid watching diligently.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
A friend of mine recently sent a movie to me - a Japanese film from the early 2000s called Battle Royale. Once I found the subtitles feature I decided to give it a try, and as the minutes unfolded, I could believe my eyes less and less. The movie is representative of a trend towards increased extremeness in Asian cinema, and the nature of the plot - an elimination challenge - is highly similar in many ways to reality TV that was emerging at the time.
The movie itself is difficult to take seriously, mostly because of the absurd premise that directors barely even attempt to rationalize. In the new millennium, the corrupt government, attempting to crack down on the increasingly disruptive youth, passes a law that requires one selected junior high class of fifteen year olds to be taken to an island and enter a “Battle Royale.“ 41 children, armed with maps, food, and one random weapon, must fight to the death until one remains. If no winner emerges after three days, the collars placed on everyone’s neck explode, killing them. Ready? Go.
Battle Royale is simply an exploration of how these children choose to play the game. Some hide, some kill themselves in protest, some work together, and some choose to be assassins. Strategies and alliances play out in a way not so different from Real World/Road Rules challenges, and no one can be trusted. After every death scene, the movie displays updates on recent eliminations and how many remain. The game is compelling in and of itself, but watching teenagers slit each other’s throats and jump off cliffs adds, well, shock factor too. This bloodbath of innocents is obviously not meant for the squeamish, or for the Japanese government, but someone digs it - at the Japanese Academy Awards, the film was nominated for best picture in 2001.
Battle Royale can’t really be considered a reality program, but it is really is just the most extreme version of the reality formula. And despite the ridiculousness of the basic premise, the vapidity of the ending, or the convoluted and unnecessary flashback sequences, the movie is largely successful just based on the elimination structure and shocking content. I hesitate to call it a logical next step in the realm of shows like Fear Factor or MXC, but it does seem to evoke some of the same thoughts - “what would I do if I were in that game?” or “how much of my humanity would I give up for the prize?” (in this case, not dying.) Still,
Either way, despite the shortcomings, I personally found myself thoroughly captivated while watching Battle Royale, and if you think you can stomach it, it’s worth most of the two hours.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
For example, in one episode she had to work at a nudist colony. What was asked of her was beyond simple. Instead of cleaning the rooms and checking in guests, New York focused on how unattractive the naked bodies around her were and refused to make the bed out of laziness. In fact, she often complains of broken nails and unflattering uniforms but somehow manages to get the $10,000 check from some of her employers(this is usually a byproduct of her overexposed cleavage). In an economy where unemployment rates are higher than ever, people are getting laid off every week and college graduates from top schools are having difficulty getting jobs. Tiffany Polard, with a high school education and no skill set, can get $10,000 in a single day.
At the beginning of each show New York addresses her audience as “America” and I suppose she feels justified in doing this since audience members text to choose her next job, but in reality New York—you are not the President so please don’t refer to your television audience as America. If America could respond back to you we would all give you a resounding: shut up!
Monday, May 18, 2009
Then I saw the premier of MTV’s new show College Life.
I was about ten minutes into the show when the realization struck me -- I was wasting my life watching it.
These people are nothing like the people I live with. From the second the camera starts rolling they are flat and easy to define – we have the drunk jock who can’t focus on academics, we have a mixed race boy who seems to define himself entirely in terms of ethnicity, we have a girl who still hangs out with a possessive ex regularly, and another who has – well guy drama of some sort or other. They’re all decently attractive, of course, and know how to whine with the best of them. Ultimately, they made me a bit ashamed that this was the impression viewers would get of college life. Where was the depth? Where was the passion (for things besides beer and sex, at least)? Where were the friendships or the odd antics or the random conversations about which breakfast food you would most like to wear, if you had to wear one? (The answer, by the way, is sliced bread).
Of course, I’m sure (read: I hope) that, in person, these people have more going for them. Being on reality television, however, seems to flattens them. Compare this with another show – or rather, a web feature, called Dorm Life, a "mockumentary" following one floor of a dorm at an undisclosed college (watch it at dorm-life.com). In other words Dorm Life is College Life... except scripted and considerably better. Where College Life boasts, “This isn’t ‘reality.’ This is real”, Dorm Life runs with the tagline “This isn’t real life. This is dorm life.”
The funny thing is, Dorm Life seems infinitely more compelling and real than College Life. Dorm Life provides some truly ridiculous characters as well but, as satire, is able to tap into something much more relatable through this comedy. College Life cannot say the same. It seems odd that something scripted can seem more “real” than something that claims to be real, yet the nature of reality televisions seems to be necessarily removing and redefining its participants. Fiction, however, just tries to be good – the rest falls into place.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
The actually competition itself wasn’t too interesting. There’s a reason the Miss America pageant has been declining in ratings in recent years; there’s just not enough entertainment value by today standards in modeling casual wear, evening wear, and swimsuits. This can be seen anytime on the Home Shopping Network. There is the talent portion, however. Unfortunately young children are not very talented, especially the 2-3 age group. Beyond running around on stage and playing with a baton, there isn’t much a two-year old can do. Ava was no different, though she did do a “back-flip” with the assistance of her dad, who was shocked when this didn’t get her a title. The older groups weren’t much better, with both Rebecca and Meaghan doing dance routines. The mother’s portion of the pageant went by uneventfully, with the moms realizing that their kids are even more amazing than originally thought. The only real drama on the show was the Jones family arriving late. One of the judges stated, “We’re waiting on Meaghan, and it is an unusual situation and judging someone who’s late, it can be a detriment.” Apparently, it wasn’t too much of a detriment, because Meaghan ended up winning the highest title in the contest. The ending of the pageant was not as exciting as anticipated. There was no real drama from not getting the grand prize, since there are pity trophies and more pageants to be had in the future. Also, Meaghan’s big win wasn’t all that great as she almost expected it. Overall, Toddles & Tiaras lacked excitement, and the parents’ enthusiasm just wasn’t enough to give it life.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
College Life is completely self-produced by the participants. Each student is given a $500 camera (provided by MTV) and is instructed to film any and everything that they think might make good television. Needless to say, the quality of production is subpar at best. With out of focus shots, missing pivotal moments, and less-than-entertaining dialogue, it’s easy to see that reality television is scripted for a reason.
MTV does do a pretty good job of getting a diverse group of relatable students to shoot, though. Here are a few of the most interesting characters:
Andrea: Born in Wisconsin, she’s a devout Christian committed to saving herself for marriage even in the midst of her many boyfriends—one of whom is JJ, a big beefy athlete. Her high-school ex-sweetheart, Josh, also attends the school, and they hang out. A lot. Way more than exes should. Conveniently, Josh is also a virgin. This week, Andrea “breaks up” with Josh “for good.” Prediction: a Lauren Conrad-Stephen Colletti-Kristin Cavallari-type love triangle, except this time the girl’s the player.
Jordan: This half Jamaican, half Canadian freshman grew up in the conservative town of Wheaton, Illinois. And he never lets you forget it. Lately, he’s been having some issues dealing with his family life. He got a $2400 tattoo (a little excessive, don’t you think?) across his arm instead of paying his mom back for tuition, so, naturally, she cuts him off. Prediction: he gets a job, and he has a hard time making friends because of his mixed heritage and unique situation. No one could possibly understand.
Kevin: College would be incomplete without your regular beer-bellied party animal. From Minnesota, Kevin is that guy you know down the hall that won’t stop blasting music and playing beer pong even though it’s 1 A.M. the night before finals. He likes filming himself drinking, especially if he happens to be chugging Natty Ice and making a fool of himself. He’s been having some trouble with school and has gotten written up three times for alcohol violations. This week, he was officially kicked out of housing. Prediction: a bachelor pad for Kev with a built-in beer pong table and more of the same old, because watching drunk college students is way more entertaining than watching them study.
Even though the plots are boring and the camerawork is hard to follow, MTV deserves some credit for backing off and allowing kids to recreate themselves through this show. It will be interesting to see where these kids take their stories. Although UW-Madison doesn’t endorse the show, the tagline “this isn’t ‘reality’…this is real” seems to hold true, and their struggles, conversations, and attitudes hit home. And after all, MTV doesn't care whether you love it or hate the show, only whether or not you're watching it.
Monday, May 4, 2009
The idea is for Benson to smoke weed at every single opportunity that he has over a one month period. He will smoke more than the average recreational marijuana smoker, to amplify the results. This is similar to what the host of Super Size Me did by consuming more fast food than the average person, in order to get the most conclusive results.
First, Doug Benson takes some preliminary tests to get a baseline to compare his results to. These tests include: blood pressure, lung capacity, IQ test, and a psychic test. The documentary then proceeds to follow Benson as consumes marijuana in every possible way that he can think of.
At the end of the documentary, Benson retakes all of the tests that he had taken at the start of the show. The results showed that his blood pressure improved drastically, his lung capacity was lowered, his IQ test remained virtually unchanged (he did a little bit better), and his psychic ability was doubled. Benson was actually very surprised by the results and stopped smoking weed for two weeks for one last follow up round of tests. After the two weeks of sobriety, all of his results returned to normal showing that there were no permanent harmful effects apparent from the tests that he had taken.
The documentary turned out to be more entertaining than educational. The tests (especially the psychic test) were kind of inconclusive and could have been done more thoroughly. Overall, this documentary was funny but it wasn't really worth the time it takes to watch it. It was too long of a documentary to end on inconclusive results.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Giada de Laurentiis
Authentic Italian cuisine simplified to fit the modern, fast-paced lifestyle of a young, vivacious wife, mother, and entrepreneur whose flawless features and voluminous golden hair raise doubts about her culinary prowess. Yes, I am talking about Giada de Laurentiis and her fabulous show, Everyday Italian.
From the energetic and encouraging introductions to the high-definition, vibrant stills of the prepared dishes, this cooking show has successfully set itself apart in the industry of cooking shows. To add to the modern yet authentic vibe of the show, Giada throws in a heavy Italian accent whenever discussing ingredients while she whirls around her fashionable, contemporary kitchen in figure-flattering outfits flashing your startling blue eyes at the camera on occasion.
The success of the show comes from the element of simplicity in the dishes, without the loss of sophistication, unlike its counterpart, 30 Minute Meals with Rachel Ray. Rachel Ray approaches the audience as an equally unskilled cook who somehow manages to maneuver her way through the kitchen by tips and tricks she picked up over the years in her time among the professionals. Her abbreviations and New York accent make her unrefined yet agreeable. Her techniques, or lack thereof, are generally nontraditional and somewhat haphazard. Giada on the other hand, calls upon her professional background in both explanation and technique, yet she is thorough in every description, pleasant, and through her charm and warmth, inviting and encouraging.
The episodes are always cleanly laid out, beginning with a personal introduction to the dish by Giada, followed by a visual feast of the dish that is going to be made during the episode. The cooking session of the episode is always very calm, accompanied by light, upbeat music and little background noise beyond the sizzling of the oil, and of course, Giada’s soothing voice. The set is always kept exceptionally clean, cast in soft sunlight and accented by a neutral color palette.
The conclusion of the typical episode really drives home the main theme of this series, which is that dining and entertaining can be both easy and impressive, but more importantly, fun and worthwhile. Laughing, talking, smiling and generally having a good time, the crowd always seems impressed by the food and content with the company, a situation created by the meal that was just prepared.
This cooking show is effective in inspiring the audience to create their own good memories by cooking and entertaining. The choice of host, setting, music, and camera angles all attempt to maintain sophistication despite obvious simplification.
It’s not a dating show; it’s not a social experiment; and it’s definitely not funny.
When it first aired in 2005, Ashton Kutcher’s Beauty and the Geek was pitched as “The Ultimate Social Experiment”: a show whose premise was a group of “Beauties” (namely young, attractive women who relied primarily on their looks to get by in life) and a group of “Geeks” (think complete opposite of the “Beauties”) spending six weeks together, in hopes of not only tearing down stigmas but also burying their own previous insecurities. For the “Beauties” this meant learning to appreciate and interact with men who may be missing the sex appeal that naturally comes with a set of gorgeous washboard abs; or who may be missing the charm and seduction of a modern day Valentino; or who may be, frankly, missing it all. On the flipside, for the “Geeks” this meant making the epiphany that you can’t learn everything from a book, as well as overcoming their own deeply embedded insecurities about approaching women – especially hot women. And so a show with such blatantly progressive qualities as Beauty and the Geek begs the question: really Kutcher?
Do people really believe that producer Ashton Kutcher, a star who made his claim to fame by playing the idiot in That 70’s Show and who then went on to produce Punk’d (a show whose premise is simply let’s watch Ashton Kutcher be a jackass to other celebrities), cares about the transformation of these sixteen individuals?
I think not. Beauty and the Geek is a show designed for viewers to mock the clumsy, socially inept geeks and to laugh at the ridiculous goo goos and gah gahs that come out of the mouths of the beauties as they try and answer seemingly trivial questions – all while staring at their beautifully shaped and mounted yah yahs. As viewers, what defines this show and what we derive our entertainment from are not the profound realizations that are made by each person at some point in the show. No, the highlights of each season and the moments we most remember are those moments when a nerd humiliates himself by stripping off his shirt just to reveal his strikingly white set of ribs (or in some cases his strikingly lumpy set of flab), or those moments when a beauty misspells a word we “educated” layman all learned in elementary school, and feels awful about it. Ultimately, this show is about cheap laughs at the expense of others, and the same cheap laughs can only take a show so far.
Not surprisingly, the second and third seasons of the show did considerably worse than the first. But wait! In Season 4 the producers of Beauty and the Geek promised to deliver a shocking twist that will hopefully rile up the audience and at the same time revitalize the dropping ratings brought in by the previous two seasons. Kutcher was probably taking one huge dump when he came up with the ingenious idea of taking out one male geek and one female beauty and – yup, you guessed it – adding in one female geek and one male beauty. Three letters for you Kutcher: OMG.
And wait it gets better, in Season 5 Kutcher tossed that idea and replaced it with yet another brilliant twist to the now faltering show – let’s keep it at 8 female beauties and 8 male geeks, but this time, for just the first two episodes of the season instead of beauties and the geeks, let’s make it beauties versus the geeks! And yup, you probably guessed it again, Season 6 has been put on hold (possibly indefinitely) due to lack of interest. Nice job, Kutcher, looks like the only significant results from your nifty experiment are that you’re horny, you’re obnoxious, and you aren’t even funny. Awesome.
- Jason Wei
Monday, April 27, 2009
28-year-old Jennifer is a New York actor and comedian. She may by funny, but her friends think that her choice in clothing is even funnier. Jennifer's oversized men's cargo pants and army fatigues are crushing this talented actor … can this actor shed her layers and find her one true self? … at Trapeze School New York, Jennifer is unaware that some surprise spectators have moved in to witness her back flip.
[Once off the trapeze, Jennifer is met by a tall, dark-haired lady with clad in a crew-neck red-and-white printed tee, a navy structured jacket, and khaki pants and a tall, blonde man clad in a striped navy-and-cyan polo and grey pants. Jennifer looks very surprised.]
“And I’m Clinton.”
“And we’re from TLC’s What Not to Wear.”
[A crowd of Jennifer’s friends and family cheers. Jennifer now looks really surprised.]
“Your lovely friend Anne called us and she's a little bit concerned about your Julliard-trained fashion sense.”
[The crowd of Jennifer’s friends cheers uncontrollably as Stacey and Clinton continue to verbally assail her choice in clothing. They then give her a better option.]
“I have some good news. I have a Bank of America Card with your name on it [crowd cheers] and $5000 for you to spend on a whole new wardrobe.”
[Jennifer inquires if she can use the money to pay her rent. Stacey and Clinton decline.]
“Actually there's a catch, you have to agree to shop by our rules, okay? And we get your entire current wardrobe. All the men's cargo pants, which I may just take for myself. Now you can get women's clothes.”
[For a split second, Jennifer contemplates the difficult decision of either staying home and mal-dressed or going on a $5000 shopping spree with two great stylists for a head-to-toe makeover. She chooses the sacrificing of her current wardrobe.]
“So here’s the deal. We would like you to go home, pack up all of your clothes to bring to our studio, and we are going to invite you and all of your friends to watch that lovely secret footage tomorrow.”
I. LOVE. THIS. SHOW. I actually considered nominating my mother for it—she knew this by the way. She wasn't amused. Although I label most all reality TV as utter and complete crap, I refuse to put What Not to Wear in that category! Why? Because I’m resigned to believe that it empowers women! The show encourages its contestants to feel comfortable in their own skin by showing that all women can look and feel great about themselves no matter what body type they may have. This thread runs through the fabric of the show and is emphasized when participants who really hate their bodies and the way they look on Monday are exclaiming “Wow, I never knew how good and confident I could look and feel until now” by Friday. However, anyone could argue that after a $5000 shopping spree with two stylists in NYC, Stacey London and Clinton Kelly, a new hairstyle by an A-list hairdresser, Nick Arrojo, and a new makeup wardrobe, compliments of Carmindy, they would teeming with self-esteem as well.
Consequently, on the surface the show also appears to suggest that change comes from the outside in, when in reality (no pun intended) change comes from the inside out. But, can we really say that clothing cannot incite internal change? For the lady who’s spent the last 10 years wearing black, putting on a vibrant color and wearing it in public may incite more change than weeks of personal introspection could do. Conquering that anxiety of wearing color in public may help her to pinpoint what is mentally crippling her from wearing something other than black, whether it be obsession with the notion that “black is slimming”, suggesting an issue with body image, or a paralyzing necessity to blend in or not stand out in a crowd, suggesting an issue with self-esteem.
I do admit that I also tune in for the cute outfits they pick out, upon which I feverishly take mental notes, but I ultimately resonate with What Not to Wear because of positive influence it appears to have in the lives of its contestants. In general, everyone must step out of their respective comfort zones in order to grow, mature, and evolve as individuals. And for many contestants, this transition into a new wardrobe and confrontation of latent anxieties translate into the start of internal evolution, the traces of which we can begin to see on screen. Though I pine to whole-heartedly believe in the show’s genuine nature, sadly it is reality TV, and, therefore, there is a chance that the end-of-episode gratitude/massive-internal-change chatter I watch is completely staged. Of course to an extent, the act of filming the experience compromises its authenticity since it can be difficult to “pretend the camera’s not there”. Reality TV markets itself as if the storylines depicted in its shows are genuine and thus attempt to convince us as such. Though TLC’s What Not to Wear is no different, I cannot say that I don’t believe those women are walking away as externally upgraded and internally improved individuals.
Perhaps I’m right. Perhaps I’m gullible. Only the producers know.
“I’ve reclaimed myself. I had to work much harder in my old look to get people to see me because they had to look past all of that outside shell. And now there’s a more positive, confident, polished, confident energy about me, and people are going to immediately feel that. I am excited for my future.”
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Not true. Luckily, in this day and age of reality overload, there exists a fix for folks like myself. Rob Dyrdek's Fantasy Factory, one of MTV's newest "reality" offerings, is a reality show in the sense that it chronicles the daily struggles of a man with a job and everyday interactions. But it's fantasy in that the protagonist - Mr. Rob Dyrdek - assumes a lofty title that likely nobody else will ever claim: "skater/entrepreneur." For his obligations to be called a "mere" job would be fantasy to any normal mortal being.
It's reality in the sense that it chronicles his dramatic interactions with friends and family. But it's fantasy in that these daily interactions are with colorful characters such as Drama (his meek wannabe cousin/assistant whom Rob routinely hassles), Chanel (his cute, freestyle-rappin' receptionist), Jeremy (his no-nonsense manager whose sternness comically contrasts with Rob's silliness), and his adorable puppies Meaty and Beefy. Though these side characters have abundant charm and personality of their own, they find themselves consistently overshadowed by the sheer charisma and testosterone-fueled antics of Rob Dyrdek and his wondrous "Fantasy Factory."
But what's the deal with this alleged "Fantasy Factory," the other half of the title? Is it really as awe-inspiring as it sounds?
Arguably so. The "fantasy factory" refers to the second protagonist of the show: a giant warehouse of goodies that would render the pants of any fun-lovin' soul wet with glee. It is a giant factory where, as Dyrdek puts it, "dreams are made," boasting such luxuries as a giant foam pit, an indoor skate park and "super blob," a T-Rex car, a tennis-ball-powered mobile gun and zipline. Among other novelties. It is the vehicle through which Rob Dyrdek delivers his fantastical ideas, and it is the means by which he can exercise his knack for "extreme ventures" and thereby solidify his name and brand. Think the grandiose self-promotion and ego of Donald Trump in The Apprentice, but with a tinge less dickishness and instead of boring, contrived business affairs, Mr. Rob Dyrdek needs to worry about such pressing business matters as:
- Setting the world record for fastest land-speed for a skateboarder
- Building the largest skateboard in the world
- Getting attacked by a swarm of sharks to promote his new line of action figures
- Dancing in a Carl's Jr. star outfit to promote his new skate park
- Establishing a string of motels with the Dyrdek name
- Gathering actors to star in his own, self-filmed music video
As can be seen, for the easily-amused among us, there's a variety of pain-derived laughter á la Jackass. People get hurt, most of them innocent bystanders, and most of them at the hands of Mr. Rob Dyrdek. But realize the stunts aren't the centerpiece of the show, nor even are Dyrdek's ridiculous enterprise ventures. No, Mr. Rob Dyrdek himself is the force that keeps the show consistently fresh. He is the ideal reality character; eager to flaunt his domineering side, hungry to live the life of excess, but at the same time willing to accommodate the quirks of his supporting cast. He is a "bro" in the truest sense of the word, and his idyllic lifestyle is one any sane human being should envy and aspire to fulfill.
Indeed, the true appeal of Rob Dyrdek's antics, I believe, lies in its authentic representation of the American Dream. That may sound like high praise for a show that features Dyrdek smoking hardened dog poo like a fine cigar, but bear with me. Here's a gentleman who pursued his dream profession - one that society conditions us to consider unsustainable - and managed to generate for himself an (anything but) modest living. He builds his renown in small part by pandering to corporate fat-cats, albeit, but he does so in a way that remains true to his deeply-rooted skater identity. The Dream isn't about a comfortable lifestyle, with a loving wife, steady job and (god forbid) children. Baloney. No, The Dream is about bro-ing it up, doing what feels right, having no regard for practicality or formality, taking no s@*# from nobody, and somehow letting this mindset rake in obscene amounts of money for yourself. If Rob Dyrdek's Fantasy Factory isn't the premier manifestation of The Dream, then I don't know what is.
Other than a startlingly high recycled-footage-to-fresh-footage ratio (one best-of episode and one unseen footage episode, both within a 12-episode season), this show packs more situational gold nuggets per episode than a primetime sitcom. Not bad for unscripted. More importantly, though, it reinforces a real representation of a very fictional and far-removed ideal: follow your passion, and your life will be set. If you want stale drama and overdone catfights, then go elsewhere. As the show's title theme asserts, "Forget all that you see / It's not reality / it's a fantasy / Life is just a fantasy." Yes, it may be fantasy, but by god, that's what makes it the best reality program on TV.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Almost everyone tends to associate Bravo with “culture.” In the past, a consistent problem faced by Bravo was that a relatively specific and small niche of viewers watched its shows. This had to be remedied. As would soon turn out to be ironic in reference to its future choices of programming, Bravo decided to give itself a facelift. It needed a less elitist image consisting of new programming that would tell more of America that they too could somehow find “culture.”
Such a daunting task seems frightening. How would you change your image? To whom would you turn for help? How would you make yourself a “better” person? Who would come to your rescue?
Since everyone, even Bravo, is well aware of the fact that gay men are well versed in all of the modern day arts, such as fashion, gourmet cuisine, interior design, personal hygiene, and overall fabulousness, the network enlisted the help of five gay men, each flamboyant in his own way, in order to solve its dilemma. This “Fab Five,” as they were soon deemed, brought about many changes to the network and decided the future course of its reality programming.
The premise of each episode consists of the Fab Five coming to the rescue of a seemingly hopeless, hot mess of an individual, in order to infuse them with culture. The men arrive, react dramatically at the very sight of the disgusting, embarrassing state of their subject’s life, and immediately go to work. After having some fun pointing out to the subject just how terrible the his or her life is, they have separate consultations in order to work on improvements in each of five areas of culture. The final fifteen minutes of the program show the subject come forth no longer as an ugly duckling, but a beautiful swan whose life has been improved in many ways. The subject succeeds in achieving an intended goal, such as a marriage proposal or family gathering, and there is a happy ending.
But is the ending happy for everyone? No. While the show makes for good television, it first and foremost perpetuates gay stereotypes in order to achieve ratings. And though it succeeded in helping Bravo find a new edge, it provided audiences with a different definition of culture. The subjects helped in the show come from more or less average lives and are given access to a glamorous Manhattan world of money and privilege in order to be polished up a bit, but not for long. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy provided Bravo with a specific definition of culture that it would soon exaggerate and take to new levels. The channel that once provided America with culture by way of the arts now does so through glamour, privilege, and fabulousness.
In an attempt to appeal to more viewers through its new definition of culture, Bravo’s new shows become more and more superficial and empty. It seems that the its use of the Fab Five was a double-edged sword, helping ratings but taking the meaning out of how Bravo defines culture. For the love of all that truly is cultured and classy, please rethink your choices, Bravo. Remember, facelifts do not last forever. Stay true to yourself and give audiences real culture, lest you want to one day be sorry.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
While none of his other videos have broken the 1 million view mark, other popular Mr. Chi-City videos include “A Brotha Vs. A Bug, Mr. Chi-City Kicking some Insect A**,” where Mr. Chi-City videotapes his showdown with a massive insect inside his house, “Mr. Chi City; Ticket Destruction,” where Mr. Chi-City cooks a parking ticket with chicken, and “Christmas Give-Away, Mr. Chi-City Style,” where Mr. Chi-City drives around Chicago, handing out Christmas cards with money inside to random people on the street. Much of Mr. Chi-City’s appeal comes from this marriage of out-there premises and unique narration, which has proven to be an entertaining combination.
Watching these videos, one cannot but help but wonder how “real” Mr. Chi-City is; by never showing his face, one can only judge Mr. Chi-City based on his unique manner of speaking, which can come across as not entirely genuine. Mr. Chi-City exists only as a larger-than-life voice, and so our understanding of who he is comes only from what he chooses to say and how he chooses to say it – Mr. Chi-City has more control over audience perception than many other Youtube videos. In Mr. Chi-City’s most recent video, “Getting To Know Mr. Chi-City; Q and A,” he responds to a question about why he never shows his face by saying that initially, he just held the camera from his point of view, but now, “I just feel like what I say, and what I do, is so much more important than what I look like. I feel like my face is really irrelevant at this point, you feel me?” In a way, the appeal of Mr. Chi-City is that of a well-written novel – the audience creates their own image of Mr. Chi-City in their head; they can interpret freely. Some people might take Mr. Chi-City to be a crafted persona, à la lonelygirl15, while others might see Mr. Chi-City as a true Youtube star, a regular person who becomes famous for being himself. Whatever the case may be, Mr. Chi-City is an interesting case in Youtube celebrity – an ambiguously real persona who exists only as a voice.
- Tim Moon
For some reason, however, if a celebrity is caught in a lip-lock, they make headlines. Americans today are fascinated by the celebrity lifestyle. We love to know where our favorite celebrities are and what they are doing every second. We go to their favorite restaurants and buy their favorite clothes. We even vest ourselves in their love lives. Given this inexplicable obsession, it is not surprising that scandals such as Brangelina and Madonna/A-Rod have hit the tabloids in the past. Today, however, the tabloids are not alone. Now, thanks to new media, we can watch actual clips of celebrities’ lives on YouTube and enhance our pre-existing obsessions. Currently, the most viewed video on YouTube is “Ashley Tisdale Caught Kissing a Boy at 1AM,” scoring a whopping 251,980 views. So who was the guy? Nobody. Well, where were they doing it? In his car on a fairly quiet street. Scandal? Not really. So what’s the big deal?
Thanks to new networking sources like Twitter and Facebook, the line between the private and public spheres has been blurred. Not only do we have access to people’s personal lives and “statuses,” but we now also expect to know what everyone is doing. Although one may not know Ashley personally, her prominence in American culture makes her seem just as close to us as a new friend on Facebook. Now that YouTube has allowed her PDA to become public, approximately 200,000 people want to see for themselves what their pal Ashley has been up to. Although Ashley Tisdale is simply exhibiting normal American behavior, because of our interest in celebrity life coupled with today’s technology, her actions have become “newsworthy.”
With the help of YouTube, everyday civilians can now elevate themselves to celebrity status. A simple home movie giving a glimpse of your personal life can make you a star. That might sound good for a while, but one should ask himself, when will it stop? Where do we draw the line between public and private? Does such a line still exist? If YouTube mania, along with the popularity of networking sites, persists, the private sphere might not last for long.
Monday, April 20, 2009
MTV hit The Hills returns for a fifth season in predictably dramatic fashion, with a premier episode soaked rich in tears and champagne.
With this season marking the last in the series, viewers expect a sense of closure. Will Lauren forgive Heidi and rekindle their old friendship? Will Audrina ever get over Justin Bobby? What will become of Spencer and Heidi?
The first episode, the promos and teasers all indicate that the show will answer all these questions by season's end. The story line will come full circle, with season one's conundrums all solved and resolved by the season five finale. Then we see the illusion of it all.
The show only captures five years of these people's lives. True, society regards those adolescent and young adult years as the most exciting, most dramatic span in man's life, so by focusing on this period, MTV has captured here (lucrative) lightning in a bottle. However, by ending the series with a long-awaited, much-desired reconciliation of Lauren and Heidi, MTV implies that we can leave behind these two characters, who--the studio wants us to believe--will live happily ever after. They end the series on a high note because doing so will bring in profits--everyone likes a happy ending.
The truth, however, is that lives are dynamic, not static, that people continue to mature. Lauren and Heidi, should they become friends again--as seems increasingly likely--they could well break up the very week after production. This time, though, for once, there would be no camera crews, no producers, no studios to document it occurring. If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, then did it happen? For Lauren and Heidi, their lives will continue to unfurl, but for the audience, it will reach an idyllic end by the end of this summer... or at least until the inevitable reunion show.
MTV thus promotes an illusion. Of course the seemingly scripted dialogue, the forced drama and edited emotions receive a great deal of attention. The underlying implication, however, that these five years are the only ones that truly matter, for the mere reason that TV covers them, presents an unsettling question. Do we exist now, if no one pays attention? Or can we really only call it living after we've been documented doing whatever it is we do?
Sunday, April 19, 2009
The unconvincing stars didn't compare to the lackluster everyday folk, who reminded me why reality shows never cast "real" people. When Jared Fogle, famed Subway spokesperson, revealed himself three times, he never got more than, "Oh, cool," in response. Come on, people! It's Jared, and you're on TV! Can't you show some shred of excitement for the hungry viewers? Womp. The only exciting thing that happened in that hour-long (not-so) special was Ice-T pretending to make an under-the-table shoe deal with two teenage boys. When they found out they were on camera, they didn't know whether to be excited or take off running with their stolen goods. Now, that's reality!
I Get That a Lot certainly had potential, especially with the star power of celebrities like Mario Lopez and Jessica Simpson. And if this show had aired in the days of Candid Camera, it probably would have gotten a few more laughs. However, in today's "reality" world of raunchy love scenes, hair pulling, and back-stabbing, good old-fashioned prank pulling just doesn't cut it.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
The first episode, The Switch, tries to outline the differences between the "hood" and the Palisades. Although there appears to be differences among the different homes, they have nothing to do with the income of the families. Tarra lives in a neat, nice home of upper-middle class range. Angela lives in a disorderly home of middle-class range. Both girls have moms who stay at home and cook them breakfast (generally, "poor" families cannot afford to have a stay-at-home parent). Both girls live care-free lives with leisure time to hang out with friends. Both girls own similar computers: iMacs that cost over $1000 a pop. The only difference between the girls is this: Angela speaks with a "ghetto" accent, lacks a sense of personal hygiene, detests organization and structure, and is very outspoken while Tarra is more reserved, orderly, put-together, and polite. These types of personalities are not distinctive to those of "rich" or "poor" people.
It seems that both girls are inherently spoiled in their own ways: Tarra materially and Angela behaviorally. Yes, the switch exposed the girls to a different life, but unfortunately, the show did not film any evidence that the girls' lives were changed "forever" within the 7 days. Angela advised Tarra to be more spontaneous and sleep with the dogs at least once a week. Tarra advised Angela to take her dancing skills to Hollywood. Both girls rejected these "words of wisdom". Neither missed living in each other's homes. The message of this show: appreciate who you are. Does it really take thousands of dollars and 12 subpar episodes to understand that?
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
The New York Yankees made the first big splash on December 10th by signing ace free-agent pitcher CC Sabathia for $161 million over seven years. Because committing $161 million to their books wasn’t enough during the greatest financial meltdown in our lifetime, the Bronx Bombers followed this expenditure two days later by signing pitcher A.J. Burnett for $82 million over five years. Add in their $180 million deal with first baseman Mark Teixeira, and the Yankees managed to spend $423 million over the course of two weeks. Let’s see Paris Hilton match that.
Then there was “Manny being Manny.” Manny Ramirez, known for his ability to wreck both his own team’s chemistry and the opposition’s pitching, couldn’t find a team willing to shell out the nine-figure deal that he wanted. In the end, after months of failed negotiations with multiple teams, Ramirez was forced to settle for a measly $45 million over two years with the Dodgers. Ramirez might have been better off following Alex Rodriguez’s example by ditching super-agent Scott Boras.
Speaking of Rodriguez: never one to be upstaged, A-Fraud managed to wrack up enough negative headlines that ESPN sportswriter Bill Simmons claims he has “broken the Tyson Zone” (ESPN). After his affair with Madonna (really?), Rodriguez faced his steroids scandal haphazardly, offering the “full” story over the course of a week instead of all at once. If that weren’t enough, Details featured a picture of the star kissing his own image in a mirror (picture courtesy of Details).
Yet the show must go on, and Opening Day always allows us to forget all of the off-field garbage and remember why baseball truly is America’s pastime. So, next time you can’t find anything exciting on television, try going out to the ballpark.