In November, just in time for sweeps (and the same month as my book, Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV, will be published), E! will debut Bridalplasty, a headline-baiting reality show combining the body dysmorphia of Fox’s cosmetic surgery competition The Swan with the unbridled hyperconsumption hawked by TLC and WeTV’s wedding industrial complex series such as Say Yes to the Dress, Bridezillas and My Fair Wedding.
Dismally derivative, Bridalplasty will pit future brides who “want the dream wedding AND the dream body to go along with it” and “are willing to do whatever it takes to beat the competition in order to get that perfection” against one another in wedding planning challenges to “win a wedding fit for the stars where she will unveil her shocking new look” to the man she’s about to marry. According to E!’s press release, each week the “lucky” winner of each challenge “will also get one piece of her dream body – going under the knife for one of the surgeries off her ‘wish list’… Each episode ends in a dramatic elimination with one bride… possibly walking away with nothing and losing her chance to be the perfect bride.”
Mark Cronin and Cris Abrego of 51 Minds (who modernized the minstrel show via VH1′s Flavor of Love franchise) undoubtedly counted on the PR-happy shockwaves that ripped through the interwebs following the series' announcement. Critics’ outrage is warranted, but their shock is misplaced. There is nothing more inherently exploitative than what reality TV has been subjecting women to for a decade. Why should anyone be surprised that the template ABC set with Extreme Makeover (2002), and which Fox tweaked with The Swan’s post-surgical beauty pageant competition (2004), would be retooled via E!’s quest for bridal “perfection?”
Go ahead and be outraged at this latest backlash fare–send letters to E!, and to media outlets’ editors. But don’t be surprised. Your shock just plays into 51 Minds' PR plans. As I wrote in the introduction to Reality Bites Back:
“TV execs believe that the more they bait advocacy groups like NOW, the NAACP, and GLAAD, the more controversy a show will generate. Offensiveness = hype = increased eyeballs for advertisers and cash for networks, making outrageous bigotry less a by-product of reality TV than its blueprint.”
A more in-depth version of this post is available at the Reality Bites Back Book blog.
Media Economics and Hype
Interesting post, Jenn. I wasn't aware of this show, but it certainly is troubling.
I think the point you raised about the relationship between the shock of a show's premise, media hype and network economics is interesting. The specificities of cable economics comes to mind. E! is no stranger to these tactics. Months after Kim Kardashian's sex tape controversy, her family's reality show was announced. And shortly after the string of robberies at celebrity homes was connected to Alexis Neiers, her family's show was revealed. It seems to be a strategy of this network to capitalize on scandalous programs.
Such stunts are usually more successful on cable networks, and while some cable nets are chasing broadcast-type programs (USA, TBS, TNT), many still prioritize controversy and edge in programming decisions. And though hype and scandal might attract some viewers, with the low cost of reality programming and cable's dual revenue stream, the bar for success is much lower than broadcast...perhaps the standards are as well. Even if it makes sense economically, that doesn't take the sting out of Bridalplasty's offensive premise.
Its sad really, especially as a womyn in her early 20's with knowledge of other womyn who watch this show in envy. To recognize the power producers withhold over our own perceptions of the idealistic beauty and how none of us, essentially are capable of reaching it is a very ugly concept, yet it is the reality of Television. Almost a mirroring effect as shows from Television history that just as effectively represented the hegemonic American Family (i.e. Ozzie and Harriet). Programs as such showed families what they were supposed to look like, and those that couldn't identify with, well were s.o.l ( s**t out of luck). And just the same, shows such as Bridalplasty and others alike are what we have to represent to womyn young and old that this is what you should desire, and if you dont -- well there's obviously something wrong with you. Shocking? Not so much. . . In need of change? Very much so. But how, is an entire other conversation.
New Product Placement?
I believe that shows like this are taking product placement to an all-new extreme. We are being shown that in order to have the perfect wedding, besides all the trimmings that go with the reception and the dress, one must have their “dream body”. What a great way to advertise the great “advantages” of cosmetic surgery, right? Wrong. Shows like these are saying that individuals must not only alter themselves in order to win the attention of the writers and producers of the show that they are playing a part in, the individuals must also alter themselves for their loved ones in order to make their special day even more eventful. I feel as though giving up that much of oneself is excessive, and the reason for why shows like “Extreme Makeover” and “The Swan” are no longer on. People were noticing how individuals were literally throwing their identities out the window just to be on TV.
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