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.