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Distorting Reality: Reality TV Shows and the Male Gaze - Essay Example

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Distorting Reality: Reality TV Shows and the Male Gaze

This paper illustrates that a particularly vulnerable sector or demographic are adolescents, not only because of the access they have to virtually all forms of media – such as the internet, television, radio, newspapers and magazines – but also because they are at an age where they are particularly vulnerable. They have yet to develop sufficient maturity and discernment necessary to filter out potentially destructive messages and unhealthy ideas streaming in from various media sources. Laura Mulvey has come up with the theory of the “male gaze”, a theory that visual pop culture is tailored around pleasing the heterosexual male spectator and satisfying his desire for pleasure. Says Mulvey: In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female figure, which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote looked-at-ness. Woman displayed as sexual object is the leitmotif of erotic spectacle: from pin-ups to striptease, from Ziegfield to Busby Berkeley, she holds the look, plays to and signifies male desire.
A very good example of what Mulvey is talking about can be seen in reality TV shows. There have been a slew of reality TV shows out in the market over the past few years.

Some of them test one's physical mettle like Amazing Race, others have to do with the search for love like The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, others test one's aptitude in various fields of endeavor like The Apprentice, and yet others talk about undergoing physical transformations like The Swan, a reality TV series in the United States produced by Fox TV.

This paper will focus on the last-mentioned classification of reality television: those that ostensibly aim to make one a better person by simply altering physical appearance.

The Swan: Key Themes
In a write-up of "The Swan", a television series produced by Fox news, it was described in the following manner:
The Swan offers ugly ducklings to transforms themselves into a beautiful swan. It offers women the incredible opportunity to undergo physical, mental and emotional transformations and follows them through the process. This groundbreaking idea culminates in a pageant in which one woman will be crowned "The Ultimate Swan." Each of the contestants will be assigned a team of specialists -- a coach, therapist, trainer, cosmetic surgeon, dentist and stylist -- that will work together to design the perfect individually-tailored program. The final reveal will be especially dramatic because the contestants will not be permitted to see themselves in a mirror during the three-month transformation process.

The core theme of the TV show as it is packaged is about self-improvement, wanting to better oneself, wanting to overcome one's insecurities. While it is certainly good to aspire for betterment, the way it is packaged in The Swan is such that self-improvement is inextricably intertwined with physical beauty and that one is less of a person if one is not bestowed with the gift of pulchritude. There seems to be a sublimation of the other equally important values like intelligence, integrity, interpersonal skills and the like. ...Show more


The discussion will attempt to address the primary question framed as follows: Is contemporary popular culture organized around the male gaze? There can be no denying that media plays an important role in the molding of social values and in the legitimization of personal perceptions…
Author : halvorsongolden
Distorting Reality: Reality TV Shows and the Male Gaze
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