It is easy to get caught up in these reality TV shows. I tend to watch the talent shows, and lately it is NZ's Next Top Model and Australia's X Factor.
It is easy to forget that these shows are legitimate competitions. The reality however is that they are 'managed affairs', in as much as the entrants are selected on the basis of their marketability. It is not about finding the best model, i.e. The one who has the best skills for modelling, or the 'X factor' in terms of best commercial performance. Its about finding the person who best engenders the commercial interests of the production house.
With respect to NZ's Top Model, it is a very good production. But it has to be remembered that these shows are financed by sponsors, and in this case, Covergirl is going to be looking for magazine sales, or engendering makeup sales. How does it do that? Well....a good way would be to create the pretense that the 'competition' is a real competition. Its not. The production house, which is sympathetic to the values of the sponsor, is going to ensure that its interests are primary. Covergirl is looking for new sales, new markets. The best market is ugly girls with low self-esteem who want to think for a moment that they are beautiful in their looks. You could argue that being a Best Top Model is not about looks, but the reality is that such magazines are trying to subjectivise beauty such that anyone can aspire to it. Why? Because if beauty is subjective, the market is open to anyone...which makes everyone vulnerable, and in need of external validation.
By promoting Danielle, an awkward, self-doubting Hobo to the top ranks of the show, she becomes a 'cover girl' for a new market which never thought they had a chance. But also it has the slip-side of making pretentious 'stunners' feel a little vulnerable.
The reason why I think this show is a commercial stunt is:
1. Sponsors need to be appeased - their influence is greatest in the early stages of a show because basically they underwrite its production. This gives sponsors a lot of power.
2. Producers are doing their own casting - so they can pick winners from the start
3. Producers can influence the outcomes of the contestants merely with a few 'judgemental' words, knowing that they are insecure, vulnerable 16-19yo girls with elevated pretensions of being a 'top model'. For example on the last show, Colin says to some of the girls that 'the other girls did not think you would be in the top 3'. It sounds a bit crabby given that she was the most likely to win against Danielle ('the hobo') and Elsa.
Of course the show highlights the importance of presentation, beauty in the physical form, and it also highlights some of the physiological and psychological factors of human nature. These shows are interesting to watch...a display of culture, but one cannot take the results too literally. It is amazing what a bit of make-up and theatrical improvisation can do for a person...but then I guess that is the role of the show....to sell make up and home beauty. Our goal is to sell books...if you are reading..my job is done.
You can see the last episode of NZ's Next Top Model here for the next 14 days only.
The same factors can be seen in X Factor. The commercial variables are the same. There is no particular sponsor advanced, however there is a tendency to have a few 'unknowns' as well as a few proven artists like Altien Childs to keep viewers watching. The trick is to keep us entertained, and both programs do a good job of it, but it helps to retain a sense of reality. Let's now become a victim of crass commercialism.