Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Reality TV Analysis

The Real Housewives of Atlanta

a) In the hour-long episode that I watched, several enthralling, gossip-filled events take place. The first appearance made by the women featured on Housewives is at an adult sleepover. At this slumber party, the ladies hire a pole dancing instructor and learn how to perfect their stripper moves. There is one white woman on the show, but only the four black females were at this gathering. The following quotes were heard during this segment: "Black women have booty and we shake 'em and we're proud." "Women + alcohol + a pole = a great time, a great time." (I will refer to these comments more later.) 

The white woman on the show, Kim, desperately wants to become a country singer. This episode follows her meetings with a famous producer and a renowned voice coach. Kim is told that she doesn't know what she's doing, but with a copious amount of money, anything is possible, right?

DeShawn has a birthday party with some of the women and they have dinner at a classy restaurant in Atlanta. One of the women, NeNe, gets drunk and starts drama. Her comments toward Kim's singing career cause a great divide amongst the women and ruin "once meaningful" friendships.

Additionally, the women go to a lingerie shop and try on fancy undergarments. They talk all about their bodies and what their respective husbands/boyfriends like to see them in. Kim and Sheree also go to have Botox treatments. Beauty ideals and expectations are briefly discussed. 

Lastly, NeNe wants to start a foundation that would support women who are victims of domestic abuse. Along with other wealthy women, she plans for the "Twisted Hearts, Battered but not Broken" Big Hat brunch.   

b) True Entertainment (an off chute of Endemol, "a global leader in entertainment programming") is the production company responsible for the show. (True has put out various other reality shows, ranging from series seen on Discovery Health to TLC.) Their shows are produced so that they can make money, and possibly so they can reinforce the stereotypes and ideals in the American system. (It is this system, this way of thinking, that keeps the shows in production.) Real Housewives airs on Bravo (a cable channel) at all hours of the day. The newest episodes are always shown at night–the Atlanta season is complete, but "The Real Housewives of OC" airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. central time. I watched Housewives at 10 a.m. 

c) The audience for this show is quite obvious when viewing the commercials. Both young and middle-aged women (particularly mothers and wives) are the primary targets of Housewives and the advertisements that run during the show. Products typically consumed by females, such as makeup and Victoria's Secret lingerie, were seen. Other items, such as Campbell's soup, Verizon cell phones, Frosted Mini Wheats, and KY Lube were presented in a way that would attract Housewives' specific audience. Women, either spending time with their female friends or with their boyfriend/husband, were seen in virtually all of the 30-some commercials. 

d) Where do I start...
Societal expectations are reinforced constantly, starting with the title of the show. These women are housewives; they fill the caretaker role that females are "supposed to." They also rely on their husbands funds to live extravagantly. At the beginning of the show, a viewer sees that the women have a great deal of fun being hypersexual. They are learning how to display their bodies for the male gaze. The quote that I mentioned earlier ("Women + alcohol + a pole = a great time, a great time") was said by a female, but it certainly sounds like a remark that a man would make. This show is directed towards women, but it is filmed and produced with a male gaze (as almost all of today's media is). Laura Mulvey's essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" directly relates to this idea of "looking." She explains that cinema (reality television, in this case) "offers a number of possible pleasures. One is scopophilia. There are circumstances in which looking itself is a source of pleasure, just as, in the reverse formation, there is pleasure in being looked at" (344). The women in Housewives definitely enjoy being seen, and the women (and men) watching the show like to see the housewives. By showing content that is inherently sexual, such as stripping or trying on lingerie, this scopophilia is only intensified. Throughout this scene, it also seemed as though the creators of the show were saying that black women long to be strippers. ("Black women have booty and we shake 'em and we're proud.") The blonde, busty, white woman wants to be a country singer, and for some reason, she was not present at the stripping lesson. Male perspective and racial stereotypes are pervasive in Housewives. 

Another recurring theme in the show is that women are dramatic, gossip-spreading "bitches." The women slander each other, send horrific text messages, and pick fights over minutia. When the group is at the birthday dinner, the women have their husbands alongside them. As soon as the ladies start to bad-mouth one another, the men roll their eyes and appear to be fed up by their wives. Within Housewives, the men are often patronizing toward their partners. The women were portrayed as being generally unintelligent, but the men were knowledgeable leaders. 

Beauty expectations are talked about and the women's desire for perfection is seen repeatedly. From going to get Botox and claiming that "beauty is pain" to wearing minimal clothing when taking pole dancing lessons, the women are constantly showing off their bodies and striving toward what is "ideal." Society's construction of what is attractive can be seen time and time again on Housewives.

Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." Media and Cultural Studies: KeyWorks. Eds. Durham, Gigi and Douglas Kellner. 342-352

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