Monday, March 12, 2007

America's Next Top Model (Cycle 8) - 8x02 "The Girls Go To Prom"

With this episode, ANTM seems to be positioning Renee as its dominant villain for Cycle 8, though I've heard in other web discussions that Sarah would make a more appealing villain. But I'm not interested right now in arguing which of the two contestants will be the cycle's villain; instead, I realized how exploitative reality tv can be when it makes villains out of people with obvious self-worth issues.

In both cases, Sarah and Renee have considerably low self-confidence. Sarah keeps telling people how much more she knows about fashion and modeling and photography -- and some of the time, she's right -- but then in the midst of her boasting, she'll kick off a heel during a rehearsal catwalk. Sarah, then, falls into the type of the know-it-all who just wants to impress others. Renee, on the other hand, has an outward swagger, especially when she put down Jaslene in the last episode; but when she performs below the level at which she expects to perform, or she doesn't get her way just right, she'll blame everything but herself (e.g. she said that Jaslene had an easier look to fierce up). Take your pick -- if you dislike know-it-alls (even if they have cute pixie cuts!), get ready to hate on Sarah. If you dislike people who don't own up to their shortcomings and in the face of failure doggedly cling to their inflated, illusory self-image, there's Renee. This cycle, we certainly don't have a shortage of people to hate on.

But then you'd be taking pleasure in someone's insecurities, which is one (unsettling) aspect of reality schadenfreude. In fact, a lot of reality villains, memorable or not, can be categorized as villains because of their low self-esteem. All-time villains like Jade or Robin have hard, aloof exteriors, but when Tyra confronted them, they both made with the penitent waterworks. On the other end of the spectrum is someone like Melrose, whose worst faults were being distant and stuck up (which, honestly, are traits of a certain kind of professionalism). Yet, she had to endure childish name-calling and open loathing literally a few feet behind her back, and she was still painted as her cycle's bad guy. Melrose is a slightly different matter than Jade or Robin, I'll admit, but the bottom line is that we're delighting in the failings of pitiable girls. (ANTM isn't the only show guilty of trotting out drama-prone individuals for the benefit of viewer yuks -- see The Amazing Race bringing Charla and Mirna back for the all-stars edition.)

Reality tv viewers are willing to dislike contestants who might in real life otherwise elicit pity -- nothing new in that respect -- but they also seem to buy into the fictions presented onscreen when it comes to characterizations, even though they're aware of how reality tv producers edit with extreme prejudice. Another way to look at this is that viewers are generally mean, and they tend not to tolerate ignoble or even naive behavior (another TAR see also: David and Mary Kentucky).

Indie rating: Mira Calix - "Picture 4 You"

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