Feminist Theory and the Misguided Shows of the E! Network Bridal Plasty. Dr. 90210. What’s Eating You? Girls Next Door. Sunset Tan. Sound familiar? The common feature uniting all of these television shows is the E! Network, owned in its entirety by media conglomerate NBC Universal and plaguing the minds of over 600 million viewers worldwide, including an incredible 88 million US viewers. The E! Network holds its claim to fame as the original “Entertainment Television” channel, with few competitors in its midst even today.
But hey, with quality programming such as “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and “Married to Rock” at the touch of your $200 universal remote, who needs to have competition? Unfortunately, even for those minds that have managed to thwart a swift plunge into the reality TV quicksand, there is still quite a battle to be fought against this type of exploitative programming, as illustrated by its high viewership. The misguided shows of the E! Network combines nearly all of the pitfalls of reality television with a distinct emphasis on dysfunctional body image, gender essentialism, and the contemptible voyeurism and objectification of women.
One of the main issues with dysfunctional body image on the E! Network is that it is forecast as the prime source of “entertainment” on multiple programs. “Bridal Plasty” was pioneered as the first American reality show to have contestants actually compete for plastic surgery. According to theories presented by Jenifer Pozner in “Reality Bites Back,” Pozner would reference the idea that this kind of “prize” is exactly what has attributed to the skewed perception that the most important thing a woman has is her body and appearance.
The premise of the show reinforces the idea that “perfection” is attainable and should be sought after if you have the means necessary to do so. The show also brings up questions concerning medical ethics and pushing the boundaries of so much unnecessary surgery in relation to possible body dysmorphia disorders. Another key television example that also exploits the issue of dysfunctional body image is Dr. 90210. Not only does this show emphasize an unhealthy and unrealistic attitude towards what is considered on-air to be “perfect” and “normal,” but the two patriarchal surgeons of the show, Dr.
Rey and Dr. Diamond, have their own misogynist attitudes to work out. According to “Vulva Goldmine: The New Culture of Vaginal Reconstruction,” author Julia Scheeres notes the trend of genital surgery has its epicenter in Southern California, where the quest is to be forever young and meet the same standards of beauty that would compel a woman to willingly shove needles in her face to lose a couple wrinkles. Scheeres’ interviews of Southern California gynecologists involved questioning the intent of such unnecessary and expensive surgery.
At up to $10,000 a surgery, the doctors she spoke with had reasoning similar to those from Dr. 90210: they insist that the surgery is “specifically for female pleasure and not very often for their partners. ” (Scheeres) On the show, Dr. Rey asserts that he is providing women with higher self-esteem and boosted confidence. It must be nice that he is able to do that for so many women, apart from his own wife. Aside from having a purely misogynist perception about the necessity of vaginal reconstruction, Dr.
Rey doubles as the poster child for the typical patriarchal, controlling, and dominating husband. His married life on the show acts as somewhat of a space filler at times and interaction with his wife is usually limited to discussion about her genetically gifted frame and figure. The irony of this is interface is that she is 1. thin as a rail, and 2. loves receiving his attention and praise. This reiterates the misguided notion of what the “average woman” looks like, and should look like, as well as feed into the idea that women need praise from men to feel confidence and self-worth.
Another noteworthy topic is the lack of female surgeons on the show. The sole female practitioner on the show, Dr. Linda Li, is an advocate for plastic surgery: reconstructive and medically necessary plastic surgery, that is. So why not more feature her on more episodes? Based on the E! Network’s track record, it seems as though Dr. Li’s less-than-enthusiastic approach to unnecessary plastic surgery hinders her appearance as a regular surgeon to film. The show “What’s Eating You? ” takes body image issues and showcases them as the foundation of the program. “What’s Eating You? chronicles two different people every week who have severe eating disorders that they are trying to overcome. Now, there are several issues to discuss about the morality and complexity surrounding of this type of show, but a starting point would be the name of the show itself. The title “What’s Eating You? ” has an almost facetious connotation that sets the tone for the viewer that the show may not be as psychologically complex or in depth as it should be. In any manner, “schadenfreude,” taking pleasure in the misfortune of others (Pozner), is a key element in audience appeal.
Explaining the complex emotional and physical processes of the recovery of not one, but two individuals in the time slot of one hour doesn’t “cultivate awareness” as the advocates of the show claim it does. What it does do is provide an incomplete picture of recovery and treatment for those who don’t have much of an understanding. Another meaningful issue to point out is the fact that only two of the 14 participants are male while the rest are female. This feeds into the idea of gender essentialism, and how society views women as the weaker sex in terms of developing eating disorders.
Misguided gender essentialism is another prevalent issue within the E! Network. The most prominent reality show to serve as an example of this idea is Girls Next Door. The premise of the show revolves around following three Playboy playmates, Holly, Kendra and Bridget, as they go about their daily lives in the Playboy mansion. There are several issues to consider with this show. The most obvious subject to address is the girls’ “occupation. ” Over-exoticising their lifestyle on this program is crafted skillfully to provide a sort of escapism or fantasy world that draws in large audiences. Pozner) They portray their everyday life as extremely desirable to viewers, most of whom are incapable of seeing through the superficiality of the show to the deeper problems that lie beneath concerning body image, gender essentialism, and racism. The issue of distorted body image exists on the forefront of “Girls Next Door,” as seemingly perfect bodies are strewn across the screen during each and every episode. Not only that, but all three women have admitted to having breast augmentation surgery. They are also all blonde, white, and have nearly the same bodies.
The only distinguishing factor between characters is their heightened personality differences. It seems that the show plays up the girls’ diverse personality traits to ultimately appeal to different audiences. Bridget is portrayed as being sweet, cute, and smart; Kendra is portrayed as a tomboy and sport fanatic; and Holly is portrayed as being more of a housewife or motherly figure for others in the house. These character traits may not be as extremely different as the show makes them out to be, but by standing apart rom one another the male viewer is able to better connect with one girl specifically and stay tuned in for more episodes because of it. Speaking of the male viewer, the “male gaze” that is so commonly projected through the media doesn’t lose any precedence on this show. Often times the camera angle will focus on the body parts of these women rather than on their faces when they talk. Additionally, none of the women do any kind of work and are thus depicted as worthless without their beauty and appearances to fall back on. This brings up gender essentialism and the notion that women are stupid and women are incompetent at work and home. Pozner) The show also takes advantage of their “stupidity” by using selective editing that make the women look useless and inept. The show also feeds off another gender essentialism, that women are gold diggers, to almost justify their relationships with an 80-year-old millionaire. Though the women are admittedly not catty or manipulative, the three still push for the affection of the same man, Additionally, any possible intersectionality on the show is dismissed completely. There are no black female playmates portrayed nor is there much distance from the norm: all playmates are white and most have blonde hair.
The male subjects on the show are similar; they are white, middle-class, and rich enough to gain exclusive admittance to the Playboy mansion. The E! Network has jumped on the bandwagon in terms of the success and popularity of this show by creating two spinoff series: “Holly’s World” and “Kendra. ” The fact that the E! Network has taken further steps to extract every bit of success out of this program proves how the main driving factor in developing new shows and programs remains to be ratings, and how the Network can be innovative in terms of new forms of entertainment.
Another great example of how the E! Network has used exploitative methods to attract viewers is through their own News show. E! News revolves around superficial celebrity imagery and topics to promote trends, brands, companies, and even their own shows. Celebrity endorsements shown as commercial advertisements on the E! Network are a prime example of the strategic use of product placement. In between segments of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” you are likely to come across multiple ads for the popular diet pill “Quick Trim. The problem with this celebrity support is that it yet again endorses a false reality of the “average woman” and the misconception that this body is attainable for anyone who uses this product. Common storylines for the show often involves modeling shoots, beauty, body image and clothing, and questions pertaining to diet decisions and food intake. The added emphasis of supplementing such perfect, yet “imperfect” bodies with diet pills makes the rest of the female viewers think twice about their own body insecurities.
As in, “Maybe I’m not insecure enough! ” Going in a different direction with the same show, the E! Network hit an all-time low point following the release of Kim Kardashian’s decision to divorce her husband of 72 days, Kris Humphries. The E! Network decided to take some stock in the catastrophic news by airing and re-airing “Kim’s Fairytale Wedding,” an E! special that had first aired a month earlier which chronicled the days leading to her wedding. Pozner would characterize this as the “Fairy Tale” approach in terms of disparity and humiliation.
Viewers participate in “schadenfreude” as they take part in enjoying the inevitable misfortune of the Kardashian divorcee. The E! Network would be receiving the “ultimate rating as a result of humiliating women (Kardashian)” and though the special is called “Fairytale Wedding,” the irony and ultimate metaphorical “money shot” is that there is no happily ever after for these two celebrities. The E! Network has certainly put to rest the idea that reality television can still be considered “harmless, mindless entertainment. (Pozner) However, unfortunately for most viewers, this epiphany has yet to be discovered due to the aggregate nature of this type of programming combined with the rising popularity of reality television today. Though E! has made some strides (albeit very, very small) with progressive programming such as Chelsea Lately, a show featuring a female comedian who is applauded widely by the feminist community, it’s difficult to say whether there will ever be a future for a show highlighting feminist theory on a cable, nationally-televised network.