For my reality TV analysis, I tried to locate a show I’d never come across and found it in the four-part FOX Reality channel series “My Bare Ladies.” The show features four U.S. pornographic-film actresses – Chanel, Kirsten, Sasha, and Nautica – who are selected to travel to London for three weeks of classical theater training and showcase performances. The episode that I watched – “The Cattle Call” – chronicles the selection process and the contestants’ arrival in London. In short, the show provides interesting commentary on a host of issues related to class, pornography, race, gender, and sexuality among others.
Though I find mainstream pornography problematic for a number of different reasons, I nonetheless took issue with the way in which the narration of the show subtly degraded these women for their engagement in the porn industry. Within the first two minutes, “My Bare Ladies” is framed as a sort of saving grace for the contestants’ professional and personal failures, an opportunity for these “beautiful women who didn’t quite make it in the movies… to prove they have legitimate talent” – “the opportunity of a lifetime, a last chance at making it in the mainstream.” Implicit within these comments is a devaluation – essentially a mockery – of these women and their engagement in the production of pornography. For example, after the initial introduction to the show’s premise, the narration asks “Will they blow it?” presumably in relation to the opportunity afforded by the series; however, juxtaposed with this question is a shot from one of the contestants’ films where she is about to engage in oral sex. Later, when one candidate states that she specializes in oral sex, the judge chides her, “You don’t need to talk about it.” The most pronounced example of this devaluation comes when the final contestants are introduced to the show’s artistic director via videotape, and the camera films him and his assistant as they watch the girls’ biographies. When each contestant is introduced, the first thing that the director (and the viewer) sees are snippets of their films – one introduction consisted of one of the women with her face pushed into the ground during sex. I think that, to a certain extent, this devaluation relates to our discussion of how work related to the body is deemed inferior to that performed with the mind.
This devaluation is also seen throughout the selection process itself. “My Bare Ladies” spends the first half an hour engaging the women in discussion about their backgrounds in the porn industry: their specialties, movie titles, and how they became involved in pornography. What holds the potential to provide insight and subjectivity turns into a side note. I was infuriated by the way in which the show glossed over issues of class and access: one woman described not finishing high school, another expressed that she had trouble reading. While the women were asked about how they became involved in the porn industry – dancer, professional ice skater, and organic chemistry intern were among some of the responses – the contextual reasons that they entered the porn industry were largely ignored.
In terms of form, the contestants’ responses are captured in quick one-word responses and snippets, making their opinions and experiences seem like a dime a dozen. Editing these women’s responses in this way has an almost comedic effect – the humor in their replies almost culminates when shot in this way. Furthering this effect are the judges’ responses – smirks, looks of disbelief, surprise and enthusiasm – which are interspersed with the contestants’ replies.
After surveying the judges and women trying out for the show, the narration claims that the contestants will be “asked to do something in which they have a vast amount of experience.” The shot turns to the senior judge – an acclaimed British theater critic – who lazily tells the girls: “What I’d like you to do now (snaps his fingers) is have an orgasm.” For the next minute and a half, the camera cuts back and froth between the contestants’ bouts of screaming, gasping, and moaning, all peppered by shots of the judges looks of fascinated and, in more exuberant performances, embarrassment. After the contestants were finished, they would laugh and pop right back up as if nothing had occurred. This false, trivial understanding and performance of pleasure immediately led me to the essay in our Women’s Lives text by Audre Lorde (1984) regarding the erotic. As I re-watched this episode, I found this text particularly useful in examining the way in which women’s sexuality is portrayed, specifically in the way that pleasure is depicted as this “plasticized sensation” (198). I surveyed some of the other episodes in which the four women – after having abstained from sex for nearly two weeks – play around, pretending to seduce one another, humping chairs and the dance floor. Both these actions, and the way in which they are framed in the show itself, also contribute to this devaluation and trivialization of women’s sexuality.
Finally, the target audience and commercials. Given the feel of Fox Reality’s webpage, it seems that their shows are geared toward young adults with an edgy, provocative feel. Like others, I also watched the episode on Hulu, and so the commercials were limited – however I found it interesting that Merck’s Gardasil (a drug that helps to protect against cervical cancer) was the most frequent advertisement to appear… I’m not quite sure how to interpret this, but I think that the juxtaposition between this major drug company’s benevolent, fun ad (there isn’t any narration, just lively music with statistics) is interesting…