Thursday, August 7, 2008

"The Real World vs. Popular Culture"

"This is the true story... of seven strangers... picked to live in a together and have their lives taped... to find out what happens... when people stop being polite... and start getting real...The Real World".

"The Real World" is a reality television show that first broadcasted on MTV in New York in 1992. This show focuses on social relationships and social interactions amongst seven strangers living together. These relationships and interactions are documented and edited into 22 minute episodes. The casts consists of men and women from all walks of life; different racial and ethnic backgrounds, different religious beliefs, different political beliefs and different sexual orientations. In many ways, these individuals are forced to viewed everyday life through different lenses and perspectives, and to gain a knowledgeable understanding through these lenses and perspectives.
Moving into its 21st season next year, "The Real World" gives the viewer or the audience an insightful and in-depth look into how U.S. society's popular culture recreates powerful meanings to individuals and how these meanings are used to define and in some cases, force individuals to conform to society's ideals about them. "The Real World" is taped over an extended number of hours and days, and is edited to document the most entertaining and interesting clips in a 22-minute time slot.
As a result of editing, much of the casts are portrayed in a negative light and are only used for entertainment purposes. This depiction can be applied to pimping and prostitution, in that individuals are used for the sole purpose of producing more money for MTV. The more money in their pocket, the higher the chances and opportunities for them to stay on the air as well as produce other shows. In their book, Ouellette and Hay explain that, "Television, especially in the United States, is not required to do much more than maximize profit...'We have no obligation to make history; we have no obligation to make art; we have no obligation to make a statement; to make money is our only objective". (Ouellette & Hay, 3). This shows the capitalist society in which we leave in.
Unlike its title, "The Real World" in many ways isn't real at all. Some of what is shown is used to boost higher ratings, and to 'put on a show' for the cameras, so to speak. For example, in an online article written about the show regarding a London episode from 1995, it was stated that cast member "Lars Schlichting of the London cast related an anecdote in which roommate Mike Johnson asked a question when cameras were not present, and then asked the same question five minutes later when cameras were present, an incident that Schlichting adds was not typical of Johnson". ( Images like this display the power and control that society has over individuals and their lives, and in some ways individuals are forced to conform to society's ideals about them.
There are also some cons regarding "The Real World" as well. One such con is that in displaying many of the clips, viewers are aware of negative consequences that occur as a result of negative behavior. This image can be displayed in a "Real World:Hawaii" episode, in which cast mate Ruthie Alcaide was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning and was temporarily dismissed from the show to treat her alcoholism. Scenes of Ruthie throwing up, her eyes rolling to the back of her head, being unresponsive to calls of her name, paint a vivid picture as to the negative impications and effects of excessive drinking. These scenes could have been used to encourage others to either quit drinking or limit their use of alcohol, and to place a strong emphasis of the seriousness and danger of alcoholism.

'The Real World"in many ways forces us as viewers to formulate our own ideals about individuals, and in some ways forces us to either accept or reject individuals for who they are based on how they are portrayed and how they portray themselves. In order to support this theory, I have chosen to focus on two cast members from different "Real World" episodes, Pedro and Brianna, to show how dominant beliefs about gender are reproduced and challenged in individual episodes, and how these beliefs can formulate our own beliefs about others.

Brianna was a 20-year old exotice dancer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from "The Real World:Hollywood" cast. As a result of her occupation, she was viewed as being very sexual and promiscuous, and was often taped wearing skimpy outfits to the clubs, and walking around the house with her bra. In a couple of clips, Brianna was actually shown 'dancing' and 'putting on shows' for her castmates. In one scene during the season, Brianna was brought to tears through a phone conversation with her mother in which her mother denounces her lifestyle and begs her daughter to change her way of living.

Brianna's mother's views are shared along with a majority of society. Society has this desire to place women 'in-a-box', and tries to enforce and apply traditional roles to them. For generation after generation, women played typical housewife roles; cooking, cleaning, being obedient to their husbands. Anything outside of these 'norms' is unacceptable and not condoned. What gives a woman the right to have sex outside of marriage? What gives a woman the right to flaunt her body for money? These questions, along with others, aim to limit women's power and control in society over their lives.

Wolf argues that, "The beauty myth is not about women at all. It is about men's institutions and institutional power". (Wolf, 122). Wolf's analysis shows how even reality TV can create, transform, and change hegemonic/counter-hegemonic understandings. In Brianna's case, the hegemonic understanding what that exotic dancing is not a field women should be, it is not something that a woman should be doing. A woman should be doing other things with her life, rather than flaunt it around men. It is a man's world, and there are certain roles that women should play. Brianna's mother did not overtly say these things, but through her comments and reactions, the message was silently relayed.

Pedro was a 21-year old openly gay, HIV positive male from Havana, Cuba. Upon his arrival, Pedro made his other castmates aware of his sexuality and his illness, and some were receptive and others were not. Pedro was belittled and criticized by one castmate in particular named Puck, and was the focus of repeated homophobic and racists rants by him. Puck called Pedro a "faggot" and criticized his Cuban accent.

Pedro's roommates' hesitation to accept shows that society is unable to accept what is different, unable to accept what is considered 'out of the norm'. Society is afraid of change, afraid of what they don't know, because it goes against everything that they believe in. Anything different poses a threat to tradition. Newman explains that "American culture is heteronormative-that is, a culture where heterosexuality is accepted as the normal taken-for-granted mode of sexual expression. Social institutions and social policies reinforce the belief that sexual relationships ought to exist between males and females. Cultural representations of vrtually every aspect of intimate and family life-dating, sex, marriage, childbearing, and so on-presumes a world in which men are sexually and affectionately attracted to women and women are attracted to men". (Newman, 60). Puck's reaction to Pedro's homosexuality and even his race displays the hegemonic ideology that a white, heterosexual male is the 'ideal man'. Puck reinforces the hegemonic understanding that heterosexuality is right and should be the ideal way of living for everyone, and that homosexuality is wrong and not an open topic for discussion.

Reality TV has the great ability to influence our thoughts, feelings, emotions and ideas about ourselves and about others. It has the power to create/recreate, transform, and change our understanding of the world. Reality TV shapes our views and opinions about others, based on how they are portrayed. We can either accept or reject what seems common or foreign to us based on perceptions. For example, Puck's reaction to Pedro's sexuality could have reinforced someone's homophobic beliefs or it could have created new ones. One may think, "Well, if there's nothing wrong with being gay, then why would someone react like that on national television? Also, if a closeted teen viewed the show, they would have probably been too ashamed, guilty or embarassed to 'come out of the closet' so to speak for fear of the same reaction.


1) Hay, James and Ouellette, Laurie. "Better Living Through Reality TV". USA, 2008.

2) Newman, David, M. "Manufacturing Difference: The Social Construction of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality". New York: McGraw Hill, (2007):30-70.
3) Wolf, Naomi. 'The Beauty Myth". Gender and Women's Bodies (1991):120-125.






Thursday, July 31, 2008

Objectification of Women in Everyday Products

Images of women in both men and women advertisements, portray women in atypical roles-sex objects. These ads focus moreso on female sexuality, and uses this as a bait to reel consumers into buying the products advertised. For example, the products advertised above consist of (from left to right): Chanel perfume, Tom Ford cologne, Tom Ford sunglasses, women's Nike sneakers, Ugg Boots, Budweiser beer, Francesco Biasia purses, Miller Lite beer, and men's Nike sneakers. In each of these ads, advertisers used beautiful, scantily-clad women to bait the audience into buying these products. Some of these ads portray the idea that women will be sexy if they use the products, and other ads portray the idea that men would be desired by women if they bought the products. Advertisers use what we like, what we desire to persuade us to consume their products. They know that long hair, big butts, and tight, firm butts are what many men are attracted to; therefore they do what they can to appeal to this audience. This is how sex is sold. Sexual attraction makes advertisers rich. They do whatever they can to draw an audience to their t.v. screens, mesmerize them, and get them to buy their products.
Kilbourne states that, "The sex object is a mannequin, a shell. Conventional beauty is her only attribute. She has no lines or scars or blemishes. She is thin, generally tall and long-legged, and above all, she is young. All 'beautiful' women in advertisements (including minority women), regardless of product or audience, conform to this norm." (Kilbourne, 122). This idea paints a very real and vivid image of how women are seen as something to be wanted, something to be desired. Women are to be seen and not heard. Kilbourne's analysis shows us how women should be, what would should look like, in order to be attractive to men. This analysis shows us an 'ideal beauty' that women should reach in order to be attractive.
Wolf's article, "The Beauty Myth" supports Kilbourne's analysis. In her article, Wolf contends that, "The beauty myth tells a story: The quality called 'beauty' objectively and universally exists. Women must want to embody it and men must want to possess women who embody it. (Wolf, 121). The 'beauty myth' claims that the 'ideal beauty' is a goal that all women should want to reach. Women who do not desire to reach this goal are not considered beautiful, not attractive. They are not desired by men. Women should want to be appealing to men.
Both Kilbourne and Wolf's article give in-depth looks into how society really views women, and the positions or roles that they believe women should play or fulfill.
1) Kilbourne, Jean. Beauty and the Beast of Advertising. Los Angeles: 1989.
2) Wolf, Naomi. "The Beauty Myth." Gender and Women's Bodies (1991): 120-125.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Toy Shopping Field Work

I went shopping at the nearest Walmart to find clothes and toys for my 7-year old goddaughter Joy. I wanted to get her a couple of light shirts and skirts, seeing as how the weather has been getting pretty hot lately. I also wanted to get her a couple of learning toys since the school year is about to start up again.

Upon my arrival, I immediately went to the apparel section first, but Joy wasn't too happy about this. She wanted to run around for a bit, so I had to bribe her, and promised to take her to McDonalds afterwards. (Sad, I know). Upon my arrival in the girls section, I immediately noticed how colorful the clothing were. There were lots and lots of pinks and purples, and the clothing had different designs on them, like rhinestones and butterflies. I found a cute denim skirt for $8.50 and I asked Joy what she thought of it. She thought it was "pretty". Probing, I asked her what made the skirt "pretty", and she immediately said, "because of the little butterflies". I though this was interesting, expecting her to say something about the ruffles at the bottom of the skirt. However, what I found most interesting was that the purple butterflies immediately caught her attention.
Continuing my search, I started to look for some shirts for Joy to wear. I could not help but be amazed. I had never seen so much pink in my life. Pink hearts, pink butterflies, pink sleeveless shirts. All I could think was, "WOW". Expecting to pick out a shirt for Joy, Joy immediately ran in front of me and stopped in front of a rack of shirts. Next thing I heard was, "Princess, Princess, Auntie! Princess!". (Although she really is my goddaughter, I always tell her to call me Auntie Linda). I picked up the shirt she was looking at, and immediately laughed to myself. It was a pink shirt for $6.50 that read, 'Make Way for the Princess'. I looked down at Joy and asked, "Baby, you like this shirt?". She nodded her head so fast, I could not help but laugh. I then asked asked her why, and her response kind of shocked me. Joy said, "Because I'm a princess". I then asked, "Well, how do you know you're a princess?". She then gave me the biggest smile and said, "Daddy tells me all the time. He says mommy is a princess too!". I thought, "WOW!".
We then went to go find some toys for Joy to play with. I looked for toys that would benefit her and help improve her learning skills. I shopped by age (5-7 years), and found a couple of nice toys. The first toy I found was a pink 'Barbie B-Bright Learning Laptop' for $25. The item description section stated:
1) 20 Bilingual learning activities, 10 English and 10 Spanish
2) LCD screen with lots of fun animation
3) Volume control
4) Cool flashing butterfly
5) Designed for preschool and kindergarten levels
6) Features an alphabet keyboard and number and music keys
7) Compose music, learn numbers, letters and vocabulary
When I looked in the specifications section, it said 'Shop By Gender: Girl".

The next toy I found was a 'Fisher-Price Fun 2 Learn Teaching Clock' for $19.97. The item description sections stated:
1) 2 grow-with-me levels and 3 play modes
2) Press a button to see real time on the digital clock
3) Teaches time of the day, reading time, matching time and numbers
When I looked in the specifications section, it said 'Shop by Gender: Boy, Girl".

The last item on my list was a globe. I found Joy a 'BRATZ Learning Globe' for $79.82. The item description stated:

1) 3 Learning Modes:
World Tour: use the pen to touch any country in the world to learn about it
Fabulous Fifty: 50 popular countries are marked on the globe with a lips icon
Games: 6 timed games challenge the player to find places on the globe
2) Repeat button allows the player to hear the question again
3) Available in English and Spanish
When I looked in the specifications section, it said 'Shop by Gender: Girl".
I spent a total of $139.79. Exhausted, I dropped Joy off at her house and went home and thought about my long day.

Through my interactions with Joy, I found that in Newman's article entitled, "Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality", many of his findings proved to be true. One such finding was that, "Parents also gender-socialize their children through the things they routinely provide for them. Clothers for example, not only inform others about the sex of an individual, they also send messages about how that child ought to be treated and direct behavior along traditional gender lines". (112). This idea can be shown in Joy's interaction with her father. Because her father repeatedly told her that she was a princess, Joy immediately had this idea that girls are princesses, and wear pink. Joy's perception was that girls should be 'girly' and like 'girly' things like butterflies. In her mind, there is a high standard in being a 'princess'; she needs to maintain that 'princess' status. Also, in the clothes being so colorful (i.e. pink and purple), companies are reinforcing the idea that certain colors belong to certain genders, and those colors define those genders.

Another finding stated that "Decades of research indicate that 'girl toys' still revolve around themes of domesticity, fashion, and motherhood and 'boy toys' emphasize action and adventure'. (112). This idea can be displayed in Walmart's choice of toys for boys and girls. The laptop and globe that I bought for Joy were both pink; however, the clock that I bought for her was red, orange, yellow, green and blue. This shows that solid, basic colors can define and be applied to both sexes, and that bright, colorful items define and can be applied to females.

I also saw my interaction with Joy in Wolf's article entitled, "The Beauty Myth". In the article, Wolf stated, "Most of our assumptions about the way women have always thought about 'beauty' date from no earlier than the 1830s, when the cult of domesticity was first consolidated and the beauty index invented. For the firs time new technologies could reproduce-in fashion plates, daguerrotypes, tintypes, and rotogravures-images of how women should look". (123).

Although, this quote refers to a physical change in womens appearances, it can also be applied my interaction with Joy as well. In designing the clothes and toys the way they did (i.e choice of colors and designs) companies are enforcing the idea of what a girl should be, what a girl should look like, what a girl should wear, what a girl should play with. As a result of these ideas, social interactions, and the media, Joy now has an idea of what the "ideal girl" is. These images show a major distinction between boys and girls; only boys can play with these toys, only girls can play with these toys, pink is only for girls, girls are suppose to look pretty".

*Shaking my head and sighing*...Gendered socialization has now claimed another victim.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Family Guy Analysis

1) Race-In the "Don't Make Me Over" episode, the white race was the hegemonic representation that was most dominant. There was only one person of color, Cleveland, the "token" black person in a predominantly white neighborhood. Not only was Cleveland the only black person, but he appeared to be slow, as was evident by is droopy eyes and voice. Higginbotham makes reference about the "token" black person in her article "Teen Mags", where she makes reference to one light skin black model amongst a group of white models in teen magazines. She states, "Maybe they think if they surround her with enough white people no one will even notice she's black".

Reference: Higginbotham, Anastasia. Teen Mags: How To Get A Guy, Drop 20 Pounds, and Lose Your Self-Esteem. 1996

2) Ethnicity- As stated above, the characters in the episode were predominantly white; however references were made to Asians as well. There was an Asian reporter named Miss Tokonowa, who had a thick Asian accent, and there was an Asian pedicurist named Miss Wong with a thick Asian accent as well. When Meg and her mom got into an argument, the pedicurist said, "Oh yes. She mad. Old lady jealous", in broken down English. These references show Asians in typical everyday roles.

3) Gender- The characters in the episode consisted of mainly white males. The episode focused on how important it is to society that women maintain sexy looks, whereas men don't have to do much to themselves. Meg completely transformed her look, and had the typical blonde look. she wore low-rider jeans, had midriff shirts that showed her stomach. Her mother wanted her to wear shirts that said "Little Slut", "Porn Star", and "Sperm Dumpster", which she deemed attractive because they were glittery. She was viewed as a sex object by men. These depictions can be shown in two big scenes. The first scene showed Meg and her family singing to the inmates in jail, and how they swooned over and basically wanted to devour her. One man said that he could strangle her all day. The second scene is when Jimmy Fallon tricked her into sleeping with him on national television, which in turn embarassed her. These scenes show that women are seen as property and nothing more.

4) Sexuality- There were alot of homosexual references in this episode as well. One scene showed a cow licking an ice cream and speaking with a feminine type of voice. When Meg asked Craig Hoffman out, he said that he doesn't go out with dudes, but then when she had her makeover that's when he showed interest in her. In the scene where all the guys were dressed up to perform, Peter made a comment that if their outfits matched, they would look like queers. One scene made fun of the Tin Man from "The Wizard of Oz" finding out that he was gay, and showed him falling on top of a man and saying, "Look what happened by accident". This scene portrayed sexual intercourse between men. A man named in jail braided Chris's hair, which implied that he was gay. When Peter signed the contract on Tony's butt cheeks, Tony screamed each time the pen touched him. This scene implies that Tony was raped by men.

5) Incarceration (Prisoners)- The jail scene showed buff, old, white, dirty men who had not seen or been in contact with women for a long period of time, which explains why they reacted to Meg's presence that way. One man said that he could strangle her all day, which can imply rough sex. Another scene implied that there was male raping going on in the jail, because a man was sensitive when it came to someone touching his butt.