Friday, May 30, 2008

Reality TV: The Undercover GOP

Reality TV is a phenomenon, which in the past few years has taken television by storm. The overwhelming volume of reality programs is not by chance; the number of corporations that control a majority of American media (newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations, music, movies, videos and books) has dropped dramatically from 1983 to 2004 (MRIC). Only a handful of media moguls -- Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany and Viacom (formerly CBS) -- control most of the media industry. These companies are the gatekeepers of reality television. Almost every major cable channel hosts their own reality show. It becomes too easy to list the names of common reality programming. In fact, reality programming has become so popular that it can be broken down into categories, each with their own list of ‘specialized’ reality shows[1]. Reality television shows are commonly viewed as ‘fluff’, containing nothing more then ‘mindless entertainment’ by which viewers can enjoy and not devote much thought. This is exactly the problem that authors Laurie Ouellette and James Hay are eager to take on. Ouellette and Hay focus on ‘the regimens through which the conduct of subjects is regulated and regularized’ (9), in that the reality television genre is encouraging and promoting a shift to ‘self-government’. Reality TV and the emphasis on ‘self’ has taken the responsibility off of the larger governing body and puts blame on the individual, disguising its power and control in rules and responsibilities through a changing form of “glamorized consumerism”, appearing in shows such as TLC’s What Not to Wear.

The economic and entertainment lines have been blurred in ‘Reality Makeover’ shows, turning ‘needy’ citizens into everyday citizens. The commentary that the average citizen is actually in need of some sort of intervention by which a ‘specialized other’ must interject a persons’ life because he or she is incapable of success because of a “flaw” in their appearance. Outwardly, shows such as What Not to Wear seem to have the purpose of empowering a person (being ‘transformed’ on the show). It looks like power is given to the individual, when really it is the monopolized corporations exercising their power over the people. Here, television (i.e. reality shows) operate as a form of ‘neo-liberalised social service’ (18), instructing individuals to be responsible for themselves in way which had not been a problem until reality television made it a problem. Privatization is what is being marketed, saying that it is up to the individual to make changes. Reality TV polices the boarders of what is ‘acceptable’ and what is not. It reinforces hegemonic norms and expectations based on gendered social norms, and stereotypical inferences all together.

What Not to Wear makes an example out of those who have not ‘conformed’ entirely to social norms via -- of the most frivol ideals -- clothing. It is an exploitation of the governing power over those who have not fit their ‘criteria of normality’. Compliance to the programs’ rules misleads participants (and viewers) into believing that they are becoming empowered and ‘free’ by adhering to the shows “fashion tips”. On the contrary, every time a fashion tip (i.e. “freedom”) is exercised, they are further reinforcing governmental control of what is a ‘freedom’ or is not.

“... The 'self-fashioning' staged through TV is bound up with strategies of corporate cross-promotion. Women are encouraged to empower themselves […] but there is no oxygen for women who might want to reject femininity or adopt an alternative, 'subcultural' style, or step out of gendered expectations altogether (Ouellette and Hay, 116)” (Marsh).

Reality TV’s display of public humiliation and government control supported be a multi-million dollar corporations’ code of social conduct, is hidden behind the label that it is “mindless”, makes reality programming all the more dangerous. What Not to Wear and reality programing similar thus, bring the practice of ‘makeover’ into daily life, therefore able to reach a broader range of individuals. Cable broadcasting reality makeover shows affects a much larger population who may not have been reached, had these shows not been televised. Business corporations recognize the connection between pubic spending and advertising, and for that reason shows like What Not to Wear push consumerism and label spending[2]. Television is a medium through which individual products can be advertised, ‘but also provides a relentless flow of information and persuasion that places acts of consumption at the core of everyday life’ (Lipsitz, 43). Reality TV makeover shows are what mega corporations have been looking for: a niche where social control can be disguised as ‘fashion tips’ for the everyday person.

[1] To name just a few sub-categories there are: ‘Documentary style’ reality programming Making the Band, Real Housewives of Orange County, ‘Historical Re-creation’ Kid Nation, ‘Science’ Mythbusters, ‘Dating’ The Bachelor, Next, Flavor of Love, ‘Law Enforcement/Military’ Cops, Dog: The Bounty Hunter, ‘Makeover’ What Not to Wear, Extreme Makeover, ‘ Lifestyle change’ Wife Swap, The Biggest Loser, Nanny 911, or ‘Talent Searches’ American Idol and Last Comic Standing. This is but a fraction of the number of reality television programs available today.

[2] Consumerism based on marketed brand-name labels.


Hay, James, and Laurie Ouellette. Better Living through Reality TV: Television and Post-Welfare Citizenship. USA: Blackwell Publishing, 2008. 9-18, 116.

Lipsitz, George. “The Meaning of Memory: Family, Class and Ethnicity in Early Network Television.” Gender, Race, and Class In Media. 2nd ed. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2003. 43.

March, Victor. “TV Studies: Defining Visions & Better Living through Reality TV.” M/C Reviews: Culture and The Media. 8 May 2008. 29 May 2008

Media Reform Information Center (MRIC) “Media Reform Information Center: Links and Resources on Media Reform” MRIC. 28 Oct. 2007. 29 May 2008 <>

Friday, May 23, 2008

Selling Point: Conflicting Messages about Women in Advertising

It is no secret that women are being used as ‘selling points’ in advertisements. The overexposure of these advertisements is both disturbing and debilitating to women of all ages. These ads contain conflicting messages, expecting women to be two things at once. The ‘double standard’ of advertising makes (already) unobtainable ideals even more unreachable, by always keeping women one-step behind. These messages depict stereotypical images of what women should be. Socialization of women’s identities is clearly revealed through these ads. As destructive as these advertisements are, they are integrated into today’s society and can be seen in magazines, television commercials, and on billboards, everywhere. With every message saying “No” a different ad will say “Yes”, and it is this contradiction of messages which prevents women from ever winning the battle over advertisements. Conflicting messages about women in advertising has become normalized, so that many times they go unrecognized, and unchallenged by women, and are therefore all the more dangerous.

Paradoxical images are seen (above) from messages telling women to be “sexy” and “promiscuous” but yet “material” and “innocent”. “Girls [and women] are put into a terrible double bind. They are supposed to repress their power, their anger, their exuberance and be simply “nice,”” (Kilbourne 259). The repression socialized as normal, is repeatedly illustrated in such ads (for example) depicting women visually ‘under’ men; literally looking up at them with faces of fear- or appreciation. Messages depicting women in a ‘less-worthy’ position emphasize societies fear of female power (Kilbourne). An infinite number of inconsistencies can be found with each message, especially in ads for underwear. ‘Be sexy, yet angelic’ is the message from the Victoria Secret campaign, showing rail-thin models caressing themselves in angel wings. Women are shown as sex objects, ready and waiting for their man.

In a study published by Diana Crane, women were asked how they felt about the way women were shown in fashion magazines. When asked about a photograph showing a woman wearing a “very short, sleeveless, flesh-colored dress and high- heeled shoes, with her body bent forward, leaning her buttocks against a wall” (320) one participant said, “I think this photograph expresses a woman’s point of view. She’s ready to take on the world and she can “live-on-the-edge” kind of thing. Because it’s sexy in a way that it’s powerful- she’s the one in control. It’s not like sexy like you know, she’s lying on a bed half naked” (Crane, 320). Images such as this, confuse and manipulate women into thinking that the message they are trying to send positively reflects women, when in fact it most certainly does not.

Other images do display women in positions of “power”- granted, that these images are usually found in tampon or cleaning product ads- but nonetheless send the message that women can be powerful and independent… (As long as they use the right tampon.) The problem here is that the message of power is void because of the woman’s need for a certain product. Again, the woman looses her power if not for the product. Additionally, there are many ads in which the woman becomes the product; either the product itself, (i.e. through disembodiment or contortion of the body) or, the woman becomes a mannequin or doll, by which the product can be displayed.

Works Cited:

Kilbourne, Jean. “The More You Subtract, The More You Add: Cutting Girls Down to Size.” Gender, Race, and Class In Media. 2nd ed. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2003. 259.

Crane, Diana. "Gender and Hegemony in Fashion Magazines: Women's Interpretations of Fashion Photographs." Gender, Race, and Class In Media. 2nd ed. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2003. 320.

(All images) Lukas, Scott A. “ Ads, Education, Activism.” 22 May 2008

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Blue & Pink: The Socialized Gender Roles of Children's Toys

Advertisements, arguably, provide role models to whom consumers can identify, and guide consumers to what they (the advertisers) consider to be the most desirable products (Sender). “…Advertising has consistently reflected prevailing views of appropriate gender relations and heterosexual norms, both endorsing “proper” femininity and masculinity” (Sender, 302). Social heteronormativity emerges through all forms of modern media: television, magazines, film, etc. This ideology, has consumed the consumer, and infected almost every dimension of consumers’ lives, including most poignantly, children’s toys. Products and toys marketed for children partake in methods of gendered socialization, because these gender-specific (gender bias) toys have become socially normalized.

On one popular children’s toy website, toys are categorized into several different groups, each displaying a picture and a short description generalizing which toys it contains. For example, the categories labeled ‘Arts & Crafts’, ‘Preschool’, ‘Dolls & Stuffed Animals’, and ‘Pretend Play & Dress-Up’, all display images of young girls, while ‘Science & Discovery’, ‘Bikes, Scooters & Riding Toys’, ‘Book, Movies & Music’ and ‘Learning & More’ categories show pictures of young boys. Observing the male/female categorical representation, there is an overwhelming constructionistic pattern expressing the disproportion and misrepresentation of genders. These fabricated gender-specific classifications have become accepted societal norms, and in turn have led to the gendered socialization of children via the products marketed to them.

In addition to the overall gender bias of the pictures/categories, an interesting paradox emerges between the ‘Arts & Crafts’ category, and the ‘Book, Movies & Music’ category. Coupling ‘Movies & Music’ with boys, and ‘Arts & Crafts’ with girls, segregates the collective universality of “the arts” by suggesting (through use of pictures) which mode of artistic expression is ‘appropriate’ for either males or females. The addition of ‘Books’ to ‘Movies & Music’ automatically associates the category with ideas of higher learning, intelligence, and education. Conversely, associating ‘Crafts’ with ‘Art’ can have a degrading effect (on the category) because of condescending views towards ‘crafts’ as not an elite method of art, but rather a simple pastime for children. The method of placing seemingly candid pictures of children above categories describing specific hobbies and toys, automatically pre-determines those categories’ gender norms in the mind of the shopper. Regardless of whether a person agrees with these gender categories, they subconsciously force the shopper to make the decision of either accepting the gender roles depicted in the pictures, (shopping for a girl, means focusing on the Dolls & Stuffed Animals category) or rejecting them (shopping for a girl, means focusing on any category).

The featured “girl’s toys” reflect messages of vanity, creativity, care giving, hyper-emotionality, submissiveness, privacy, and everything (that is) “femininity”. Play kitchens, costumes, jewelry, housekeeping products, vanities, make-up, hair and nail sets, puppets, and pretend electronics, are sub-categorized under the ‘Girl’ heading. These toys implicate in a young girls mind that she belongs inside the home, tending to the cooking, cleaning, and (of course) keeping herself presentable.

The added pretend to the electronics heading is another way of showing girls that they are not smart enough or skilled enough to handle ‘real’ electronics, and that this pretend substitute should be adequate. Toys geared for girls encourage minimal imagination, and do not encourage learning or critical thinking, or even talking at all! “In ad after ad girls are urged to be “barely there” – beautiful but silent” (Kilbourne, 263). The symbolic nature of the Puppet reinforces this ‘silent’ behavior, personifying how a gender-normative woman should behave: quiet, obedient, and ready for the puppet master.

Equally, disconcerting messages of gender-normativity are reflected in featured “boy’s toys”: science, logistics, exploration, violence, technology, sports, and everything (that is) “masculine”. Toys featured under ‘boys’ have a much higher intellectual and technological level compared to the ‘girls’ toys. Sub-categories highlight a plethora of academic subjects: astronomy, math, geography, biology, chemistry, and physics. Microscopes, building kits, telescopes, reading and writing kits appear exclusively under the ‘boys’ heading. The assumed intent of helping boys learn about the world ultimately defines the role of males, and what their focus should be.

Additionally, there are many action-figures featuring superheroes, sports athletes, movie celebrities, and video game characters. Stereotypical “masculine” images, which these iconic figures posses, can make boys feel as though they are inadequate for not embodying these “masculine” qualities. Besides having a gender-socialized body, these action-figures hold important and powerful positions- may it be in the fantasy world, or the real one, and their positions become the idealized vision of success.

There are children’s toys which can (maybe) be considered non-gender-specific, but even that can be debatable. Can a ball, ever be just a ball?

Works Cited:

Creative Designs. “Mr. Clean 14 Piece Cleaning Playset with Pail, Gloves, Mop, Broom, and Sponges”. 20 May 2008

Kilbourne, Jean. “The More You Subtract, The More You Add: Cutting Girls Down to Size.” Gender, Race, and Class In Media. 2nd ed. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2003. 263.

Sender, Katherine. “Selling Sexual Subjectivities: Audiences Respond to Gay Window Advertising.” Gender, Race, and Class In Media. 2nd ed. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2003. 302

Monday, May 12, 2008