Final Reflective Report

“All television is educational television…” (Johnson, 1970). This report will display my understanding of TV’s academic history, vocabulary and debates. It will also delve into three key TV Studies concepts that I have found most interesting over this semester. It will begin by exploring TV’s depiction of family values and the traditional family.  It will go on to discuss Reality TV. It will then cover “The Makeover”. Finally, this essay will reflect on my first blog entry and discover how far I have come over this semester.

A main concept that has been covered over the course is ‘traditional family values.’ I have explored these issues in my blog ‘Questioning family values.’ More so now than ever, the idea of the ‘traditional family’ has been questioned on TV shows using scenes, characters and story lines to parallel traditional family debates. Throughout this semester I was particularly interested in the case study of True Blood, which displayed these underlying debates.

In Week 5, we had a lecture on True Blood. We learnt in this lecture that the context of race and sex in True Blood reflects the contemporary debates about gay marriage as well as history of conflict on racial integration and civil rights in the South. In William Irwin’s book, True Blood and Philosophy, he explains the parallels between True Blood vampires and Gay people. He says a lot of them choose to stay “in the closet/coffin” because coming out means you might “suffer limitations on, or even the outright loss of, your societal rights and privileges.” Irwin also says the fight over who has the right to marry, a primary concern of homosexuals, “finds an almost exact parallel in the debate over human-vampire unions in True Blood.” (Irwin 2011). Irwin also brings up parallels between The Equal Rights Amendment and the Vampire Rights Amendment (VRA). Finally, Irwin explains that True Blood’s opening sequence shows a billboard that converts the famous antigay slogan of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka “God hates fags” to “God hates fangs.”

In an article in the New York Post, Charlaine Harris, author of the best-selling novel Sookie Stackhouse (which True Blood was based on) explains she hoped fans would pick up on the link between vampire rights and gay rights when she published the first book in 2001. “When I began framing how I was going to represent the vampires, it suddenly occurred to me that it would be interesting if they were a minority that was trying to get equal rights. It just seemed to fit with what was happening in the world right then.” (Harris. Cited in Shen 2009)

In the book A Taste of True Blood, the parallel of the earlier civil rights struggle in the South is described. The book explains that there are three major shots in the opening credits of True Blood that touch on the civil rights struggle of the South. The first is a white policeman carrying away a black protester by his arms and legs. The second is a shot of a cute young boy dressed up in Klu Klux Klan regalia, complete with white hood. The very next image we see is of a middle-aged man in a rocking chair. He is possibly the little boy grown up. The final image along this theme is a cross-ignited in flames. The burning cross is another image of the Klu Klux Klan. All these images leave us with “the inescapable notion that this organized hate continues in the New South and that it’s not just vampires who need to keep looking over their shoulders.” (Lima, Wilson, Clifton. 2010)

In week ten we studied reality TV and it’s origins and contexts. I discussed this in my blogs: Reality TV contestant: everyone’s secret dream-job and Big Brother: Smartest TV show of all time? Discussed in the lecture, which was particularly interesting to me, was the appeal of reality TV to the audience. We learnt that there were many appeals, including spontaneity and the unscripted nature, the impression of authenticity, the local culture, voyeurism and participation. An example that we studied in the tutorial was Big Brother. Big Brother, based on Orwell’s 1984, is one of the most successful reality TV shows of all time. It has been a prime time hit in 70 countries. But there are still lots of questions as to what its appeal is. Many people still call it trash TV. In fact, in 2001 in France, a group calling themselves Activists Against Trash TV clashed with security guards during a raid on the set of Loft Story (France’s version of Big Brother). I will now attempt to uncover the appeal of reality TV, using Big Brother as an example.

Andy Bennett explains the appeal of Big Brother in his book Culture and Everyday Life. He says, “…As with the soap opera, part of the appeal of Big Brother undoubtedly relates to the fact it deals with issues that people are confronted with on a daily basis. The combination of television and internet platforms in Big Brother has created a collective experience characterized by a desire for everyday communality and by a rebellion against the norms of ‘civilized’ public culture. That desire, not provoked by exceptional events… but rooted in ordinary daily humdrum experience, forms the basis of Big Brother’s success.” (Bennett, 2005).

Steve Reicher, a social psychologist at St Andrews University in the UK says in an article in the Guardian “It’s very good sneer television and provides an opportunity for everyone to feel superior, If we want to evaluate ourselves in any way we can only do it through social comparison.”

The show also provides what psychologists call “safe danger”. The situations that crop up in the house allow us to talk about social dilemmas without being held accountable. “The notion that it’s real makes the discussion more real and removes one barrier to it being meaningful,” (Reicher. Cited in Adam. 2003). Finally, Annette Hill’s academic article indicates that the attraction to Big Brother is based on the social and performative aspects of the program. (Hill, 2002).

The final concept I will analyze is transformation narratives, or ‘the makeover.’ I speak about this in my blog: Dr 90210- we don’t want to see your surgeries.  In week 11 we had a lecture on makeover shows. The show we analyzed was World’s Strictest Parents. One aspect we considered in the tutorials was the pedagogical and ideological ‘lessons’ of the show for participants and viewers. Something which I am extremely passionate about is body image role models for young girls. That is why I will be using cosmetic surgery makeover shows as my examples when examining the lessons learnt from makeover TV shows.

Fox aired The Swan in April 2004, a reality series including a competition in each episode between two women having multiple surgeries and culminating in a grand finale of a beauty contest that selected from the winners of each episode the ultimate woman, the swan. The E! Network came aboard with Dr. 90210 in July 2004, enhancing the format of cosmetic surgery reality television with the aura of Beverly Hills. In Ryan Bishop’s book Baudrillard now, he uses various theories to explain that watching these shows as a young child can severely damage self-confidence and body image.

In Richard Huff’s book Reality Television, he says, “In the case of The Swan or Extreme Makeover, they’re getting a huge amount of surgery at once that the average person couldn’t afford.” (Huff. 2006.) This encourages young and naive adults to waste their money on often unneeded surgeries.

Finally, the organization of psychiatry online explains, “reality shows such as “The Swan”and “Dr. 90210,” which feature plastic surgery and major makeovers,have been criticized for promoting unhealthy body image… It’s  very unhealthy.” (Derenne and Beresin. 2006.)

In conclusion, I have learnt a tremendous amount about TV over the past semester. When looking back at my first blog entry about why I chose TV Cultures, it seems to me I just chose it because I had a love of sitting down in front of TV and watching episode after episode. I now have a much deeper knowledge and appreciation for TV. I understand that there is a whole world of academic history, debates and special vocabulary especially for TV. This has really been such an interesting and enjoyable learning experience, and I only wish there were more subjects like it I could have studied. I am proud to say that I can now be one of those “TV studies people” and join in on any TV conversation I want to!

References

  1. Johnson, Nicholas. How to talk back to your television set. Little, Brown, 1970.
  2. Irwin, William. True Blood and Philosophy. John Wiley and Sons. 2011.
  3. Shen, Maxine. Flesh and Blood, How HBO has turned hot vampires into gay-rights analogy. New York Post. June 23, 2009.
  4. Lima, Maria, Wilson, Leah and Clifton, Jacob. A Taste of True Blood: The Fangbangers Guide. BenBella Books, 2010.
  5. Bennett, Andy. Culture and Everyday Life. SAGE, 2005.
  6. Adam, David. What on earth is the appeal of Big Brother? The Guardian. 29 May 2003. UK.
  7. Hill, Annette Big Brother: the real audience. Television & New Media, 2003.
  8. Bishop, Ryan. Baudrillard now: current perspectives in Baudrillard studies. Polity. 2009.
  9. Huff, Richard M. Reality Television. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006.

10. Jennifer L. Derenne, M.D. and Eugene V. Beresin, M.D. Body Image, Media, and Eating Disorders Academic Psychiatry.  2006.

The most hated family in America

I recently watched a very disturbing and fascinating documentary on ABC. The Most Hated Family In America is a 2007 BBC documentary written and presented by Louis Theroux. It is about the family  of the Westboro Baptist Church. The organisation is led by Fred Phelps and located in Topeka, Kansas. Westboro Baptist Church members believe that the American government is immoral due to its tolerance of homosexuality, and they protest at funerals of U.S. military killed in action with signs that display text such as “God Hates Fags” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “Thank God for 9/11”. With a BBC film crew, Theroux traveled to Kansas to spend time with members of the church and interview its leadership. In the documentary, church members are shown protesting and picketing at funerals of U.S. soldiers. In fact, this same group just stated that they will be protesting at Steve Jobs funeral.

What’s fascinating is seeing how you can get people to believe the most absurd things if you start in childhood. I was really affected by this documentary. It was hard to watch the bubbly and naive young kids turned into fanatic haters of anything human and natural. I strongly recommend this riveting and sad documentary.

Here is a clip which sums up this documentary. It’ll shock you.

Dr. 90210- we don’t want to see your surgeries

In the lecture on Transformation Narratives, we discussed the different makeover subjects.  These include: people, bodies, cars, houses, pets, relationships, professional skills and gardens/backyards. This immediately caught my attention. There is a show dedicated to making-over every aspect of my life. Do I need to ‘make-over’ my life? Well according to these shows, yes. They’re saying I am not perfect, and I should be “made-over.” I believe that these shows are incredibly unhealthy for young boys and girls growing up, watching these shows on TV. Shows like Extreme Makeover and Dr. 90210 negatively effect body image and suggest that plastic surgery makes you more beautiful.

In fact, a study from the University of Southern California suggests that women are more likely than men to watch makeover shows like Extreme MakeoverThe Swan and Dr. 90210. And the more they watched, the more likely they are to feel anxious about their bodies. “The aim of plastic surgery makeover shows is to make women more beautiful and highlight the dissatisfaction women have with their bodies,” study author Julie Albright said. What’s more, women assumed that a surgically enhanced body was more attractive to men, even though men in the study disagreed. So basically, women are putting pressure on themselves to look a certain way, even though men don’t expect–or even want–perfection.

I believe these shows are cause much more body-image problems than the beauty magazines which are often complained about.

This is a clip from Dr 90210 where a beautiful woman is getting breast implants and a nose job. This can easily make young and influential children think “if she needs plastic surgery maybe I do too…”

I do agree that there are some good “makeover” shows. The Biggest Loser, to an extent, is one of them. It encourages healthy eating and exercise, and explains how obesity is bad. It does not encourage plastic surgery. In my opinion, World Strictest Parents (the show we watched in the lecture) is reasonably okay. I don’t like how it enforces ideas onto parents, and how the children’s lives are made so public. But I do think it gives some good tips to unaware parents, and it is better than extreme beauty makeover type shows.

Reality TV contestant: everyones secret dream job.

There’s a particular sort of “show” I have to watch late at night. When everyone else is asleep. It’s my indulgence. I know it’s wrong, but there’s something that pulls me to it. I need  to watch it. My Dad thinks it’s disgusting. He thinks it’s the worst thing ever made. He forbids me to watch it. (And I’m not forbidden from much). That’s why I have to watch it at 1am with the remote in my hand ready to turn it off if anyone comes near near the TV room I’m watching in.

These forbidden shows are called “Reality TV.” Masterchef, Australia’s Next Top Model, New Zealand’s Next Top Model (My dad’s most hated), Big Brother UK, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Junior Masterchef- I love them all.

My Dad often asks me what I love about such stupid shows.  On a forum website, one woman said “I hate reality TV (although watch it on rare occasion) because it is filled with people I would never in a million years spend time with, and it reduces the number of shows filled with people who I would like to invite into my life. In scripted TV, people are smarter, wittier, and capable of more. In reality TV, it is the bottom of the barrel, and it’s often an embarrassing display of the human potential.” I’ve never really had a good answer for why I like reality TV, but by using what we learnt in the tute and lecture on Reality TV, I will try and develop a good answer.
As we learnt in the tute, Reality TV is “now a dominant genre in primetime programming.” It’s aired all the time, so is obviously popular with a wide audience.

We also learnt in the tute that reality TV as a category can cover many different forms. These include:

-infotainment formats -surveillance reality formats -fly-on-the-wall docu-soap formats -lifestyle formats -reality game formats -reality life experiment formats -reality talent formats -celebrity reality formats -reality clipshow formats.

What a wonderful category where so many variations have evolved from the same genre.

The key influences of reality TV include:

• reinvention of talk shows – taboo subjects and audience participation

• lifestyle programming

• radio stations and listener competitions

• internet and the webcam

• social ubiquitousness of CCTV and home video technologies

These influences are current and up to date, reality TV is evolving with society’s changes.

Additionally, reality TV often addresses  gender politics and family values, two very current and talked-about issues nowadays.

Reality TV also allows people to experience real life situations. In the case of One Born Every Minute, the show takes the viewers through child-birth. This portrayal of childbirth is much more realistic than one shown on a non-reality TV show, for example when Rachel gives birth to a baby on Friends.

And finally, an article on psychology today states that  “the message of reality television is that ordinary people can become so important that millions will watch them. And the secret thrill of many of those viewers is the thought that perhaps next time, the new celebrities might be them.”

So maybe the reason that I and so many other people love reality TV so much is purely the fact that we like to fantasise about gaining status through automatic fame.

So next time I’m asked why I like reality TV so much, I’ll have a few reasons up my sleeve!

Too far, TV?

So I recently watched Charlie Sheen’s roast. The roast was aired immediately after the famous Two and a Half Men episode where Charlie Sheen’s character Charlie Harper gets killed off extremely brutally, and is replaced by the jaw-droppingly good-looking Ashton Kutcher.

Now I was very sad that Charlie got killed off. Despite all his craziness I love him and the tiger blood running through his veins. Naturally, I decided to watch his goodbye roast, and see him on TV one last time (until his next crazy stunt that is).

The Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen  — the network’s highest rated roast in history, had an average of 6.4 million viewers according to laughspin.com. I was expecting ‘funny.’ What I got though, was something extremely uncomfortable and crude. I cringed nearly every time a joke was uttered.

Hosting the roast were comedians Seth MacFarlane, Jon Lovitz, Jeffrey Ross, Steve-0, Amy Schumer, Kate Walsh Anthony Jeselnik and Mike Tyson (I didn’t get that one either). Charlie and all the roasters were present on stage the whole night.

The 8 meanest jokes of the night according to insidetv.com were:

1. “You’re just like Bruce Willis — you were big in the 80s and now your old slot is being filled by Ashton Kutcher.” — Amy Schumer

2. “If you’re winning, this must not be a child custody hearing. The only time your kids get to see you is in reruns — don’t you want to live to see their first 12 steps?” — Jeffrey Ross

3. “Brooke Mueller is not very bright unless Charlie throws a lamp at her. … Mike Tyson, your opponents spent more time bleeding in the corner than Charlie’s ex wives.” — Jeffrey Ross

4. “The only reason you got on TV in the first place is because God hates Michael J. Fox.” —Anthony Jeselnik

5.  “Charlie still hasn’t hit rock bottom. He’s looking forward to it though, because he thinks there’s a rock there.” — Steve-O

6. “You dropped out of school faster than Casey Anthony’s kid.” — Anthony Jeselnik

7. “It’s amazing — after abusing your lungs, liver and kidneys, the only thing you’ve had removed is your kids.” — Kate Walsh

8. “Charlie, you claim to have ‘tiger blood,’ but after all the porn stars you’ve [had sex with], it’s probably Tiger Woods’ blood.” — Seth MacFarlane

Cringeworthy right? But there was one that I thought was worse than all of those. It was Amy Schumer’s  joke to Steve-O about his late friend Ryan Dunn (from Jackass) who died in a car crash recently. She said: “I truly am — no joke — sorry for the loss of your friend Ryan Dunn. I know you must have been thinking it could’ve been me. And I know we were all thinking, Why wasn’t it?” Harsh? In my opinion, YES! But is there such a thing as TOO FAR? And has TV gone there? Can we brutally make fun of wife-bashings, life-threatening, death, car crashes, severe mental illnesses etc. etc.  just because all this is said on a screen?

So my final question is has TV gone too far? Were we better off in the days of censorship where the most embarassing thing aired on TV were Doris Day’s bare legs?

Questioning family values

Wow… Big Love. I had never heard of this powerful TV series before being shown it one unsuspecting Friday morning. What an extremely interesting dramatic tragedy and soap opera. I have never seen anything about polygamy before. In fact, I didn’t even know that it was still being practised by some Mormons. The whole aspect and intrigue of this fascinated me. Luckily Brian could answer a lot of my questions about it in class. Like does it ever work the other way around? Women with multiple husbands? (My feminist side coming out). I was told definitely not.

Anyway, once I got past the polygamy aspect of the show, I realised that it was quite similar to many other soap operas I had seen. This brings me to what I found most interesting about the tute after Big Love. This was the context we discussed it in. We discussed that the show reflects the US political debates going on at the moment. The show also seems a product of the George Bush Jr era. It questions family values and the traditional meaning of family and marriage. It raises the current “gay marriage debates”. This has been evident in many shows I have seen, including True Blood, which we discussed earlier this semester.

Will and Grace is a very obvious example of how the fight for gay marriage rights is being pushed. Karin Quimby, author of the book: Negotiating Gay Marriage on Prime Time Television says “humour relies upon and is in response to, issues and problems found within the social structure.”

Will and Grace pushes the boundaries and show a normal and loving relationship which is not “traditional.” Other obvious examples of this are The L Word and Modern Family.

A more discreet example of this is perhaps (although this can be argued) Desperate Housewives. It displays a street where all the families seem perfect and traditional. However on the street there is a single mother raising a family, two gay couples and a house where the mother works and the dad is a stay-at-home father. All “non-traditional” families.

A-Z of why I love Friends

A- Amy (Rachel’s sister played by Christina Applegate) is  “the hottest I’ve ever hated” (Joey).

B- Ben, Ross and Carol’s very cute son.

C- Cheesecake that Chandler and Joey eat off the floor.

D- David (played by Hank Azaria) the funny Scientist guy who proposes to Phoebe.

E- Emily, Ross’s second wife.

F- Frank Jr, Phoebe’s brother who Phoebe has a baby for.

G- Gunther!

H- Mr. Heckles, Monica and Rachels neighbour who leaves them all his stuff when he dies.

I- Italian boyfriend of Rachels: Paolo

J- Janice

K- Kiss: Winona Rider and Rachel

L- Lesbian: Carol, Ross’s ex wife.

M- Muriel: Chandler’s middle name

N- Neurosurgeon- Dr Drake Ramoray’s profession.

O- Obstetrician obsessed with Happy Days and The Fonz.

P- Princess Leia, Rachel dresses up as her to fulfil Ross’s fantasy.

Q- The one where Rachel quits

R- Roommate- Joey’s hottest has been Elle Mcpherson.

S- Spray Tan that Ross gets

T- Toe of Chandler’s lost on thanksgiving

U- Ursula

V- Veneers, the teeth whitening Ross gets.

W- Weird obsession with cleaning: Monica

X- (E)Xpensive shoes Monica buys

Y- Yemen- where Chandler pretends to move to escape Janice

Z- Mr Zelner- the executive at Ralph Lauren who Rachel accidently kisses

Bring back the Rugrats

I miss the rugrats. I have a little sister, and the shows I watch with her are nowhere near as good as the ones we used to have. While I find them funny, our old Nickelodeon shows are on another deep level.

There’s no show now that teaches that no matter how young or old you are you can still be smart and powerful, the rugrats taught me that. There’s no TV show for kids that teaches that looking and being different can be a good thing, just like Ahh Real Monsters taught me. There’s no show that my little sister watches that teaches its okay to be a tomboy, like Rocket Power did. And there’s definitely no football shaped head kids like there was on Hey Arnold.

I mean why do we need shows like Hannah Montana which teach us how to hide our secret true identity: a famous singer??? That doesn’t relate to real life at all! Maybe I’m just being nostalgic, but our 90’s tv shows as kids were much better than the stuff nowadays. BRING BACK THE RUGRATS! (The original one, before Dill entered the scene!)