Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Paradox of Perfection in Dr. 90210

Reality television emerged in the late 1940’s and now has become the buzz of television programming featuring unscripted ordinary individuals in real situations. Reality television as genre has erupted into America’s most watched programming. As a culture, we are mesmerized, entertained and moved by the unscripted actions of others as we watch safely from our homes. However, in the same notion, we are unaware of what reality shows are actually imposing on our reality. The infliction of reality television on American popular culture, enforces the ideology that women are never born good enough, that women as a sexual object are physically imperfect and must transform into the male oriented patriarchic definition of beauty.

Technology has created all the newest forms of cultural communication. Televisions are the most influential and allow for the production of various arrays of programming and broadcasting. Television has become the social interpreter for social control. It has influence over how we look, think act and become. Hegemony is the control of one social group over another and using this concept of control, we can identify the victims and perpetuators.

Now if we were to make television the interpreter of one social group, and viewers another social group, we would then create a hegemonic analogy between the control of television over its viewers. According to James Lull’s view on hegemony within social contexts, “technological developments in the twentieth century, however, have made the manner of social domination much more complex than before. Social differences are not determined solely or directly by economic factors. Ideological influence is crucial now in the exercise of social power”. This means that television has become the major force of hegemonic control over social status.

Reality or truth programming as some may call it was created as a form of actuality television where viewers are able to be entertained by other people’s life choices. The underlying ripple affect of the images shown through reality television can be made to be the same as any other messages sent through popular culture. We believe and thrive off pop culture because it is our only way of knowing. The capitalist creation of reality television results in its social acceptance as authenticity, and our goal is to reach this social ideology by reaching into our wallets to be made over, or buying the new diet guide to become the next top model.

Dr. 90210, a makeover reality television show based in the upper class suburb of Beverly Hills, stars a male plastic surgeon who operates on individuals with a desire to transform in someone they merit more beautiful. Its premier in 2004 as a cosmetic surgery series received plenty of tuning by women in households across America, young and old. Cosmetic surgery in the twenty-first century is “in” and this series served as “guardian angel” for insecure, unconscious social victimized women.

The paradox in this reality series is represented when women enter Dr. Robert Rey’s office with the belief that they are in control of their beauty and appearance, however, ultimately they are dependant on the skills of man, giving him the power over their unachievable perfection. Many women on the series desired breast augmentation, rhinoplasty or liposuction; common procedures women believe will help make them more desirable. However, the desirability these women strived for was that not of them, but of those who imposed the beauty standards upon them.

Women tune into The Bachelor in hope for love but then get booted off an hour later only to turn to Dr. 90210 and discover the reasoning why “she” wasn’t good enough. However the doctor is there to save the day, by pumping up those breasts and tummy tucking his way all the way through their television. This beauty myth is a woman’s desire appear as someone different other than the self for unconscious reasons has been imposed on society by socially constructed ideas about beauty and attractiveness. However as Wolf states, “the beauty myth is not about women at all. It is about men’s institutions and institutions of power” (Wolf). If this is so, why do women fill hair and nail salons, why do women believe that surgical alterations will result in self acceptance or that extreme dieting will result in a happier life?

For us as consumers to understand the hegemonic force these makeover realities televisions shows such as Dr. 90210, we must first identify who is controlling what is being broadcasted into our homes and why. “The real concern is the millions of viewers, scores of whom are young girls, who take these misogynistic spectacles uncritically, learning that only the most stereotypically beautiful, least independent women with the lowest-carb diets will be rewarded with love, financial security and the ultimate prize of male validation” (Pozner). The most vulnerable population is being cut, stuffed and lifted by popular culture, but it doesn’t end here. An entire capitalist corporation is built off the insecurities of these women with paradox messages of beauty verses self loving. Dr. 90210, like any other physical makeover series is only adding to the insecurities women, resulting a cycle imperial capitalism controlling what we watch, consume and believe.

Lull, James. "Hegemony." Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Gender, Race and Class in the Media: Text Reader. Boston: Sage Publications, 2003.

Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. New York: Harper Perennial, 2002.

Pozner, Jennifer L. "The Unreal World." Women: Images & Realities, A Multicultural Anthology. By Amy Kesselman, Lily D. McNair and Nancy Schniedewind. New York: McGraw Hill, 2002.

Image retrieved August 7, 2008 from

Thursday, July 31, 2008

CosmoGirl! ™ Be Sexy But Not Too Sexy

CosmoGirl! ™ is the teen spin-off of Cosmopolitan magazine offering beauty, fitness fashion and relationship (i.e. sex) advice. It’s marketed for teenage girls, ranging from ages thirteen to nineteen, however primarily those who are still attending high school. Sex, one of the magazines most printed topics seems to be the main focus of many of the published magazines. Only ten CosmoGirl! ™ magazines are released throughout the year and all of them contain advice on sex or how to become sexier suggesting the act of sex. However on the other side of the cover, there will be information on the spreading trends of sexually transmitted diseases and how to protect oneself. These ideas given to young women create a confusing contradiction, where on one end one women are told to become more sexual beings, while on the other, there are messages saying keep away and protect yourself. The dichotomy created by CosmoGirl! ™ send conflicting messages about gender and sex. These conflicting messages therefore create a box for young women, allowing them to only go so far one way before turning them to the other end.

“Adolescents are new and inexperienced consumers and such prime targets. They are in the process of learning their values and roles and developing their self-concepts. Most teenagers are sensitive to peer pressure and find it difficult to resist or even question the dominant cultural messages perpetuated and reinforced by the media” (Kilbourne, 258).

“Blow His Mind”, “387 Ways to Make Him Fall for You” “5 Moves to a Hotter Body” and “Naughty Sex” are just a taste of many of the headlines that can be found on the cover of CosmoGirl! ™ magazine. Bold, catchy, arousing, and all are marketed and sold to young teenage girls. These overtly suggestive messages are usually found on the same cover as “My Ex Posted Topless Picture of Me on Myspace”, “Crazy Ex-Boyfriends: How to Deal When He Won’t Leave You Alone”, “The STD 80% of Women Now Get”, and “Could Your Friend Have a Eating Disorder” shared by a thin, celebrity smiling to you from the cover What kinds of messages are these images and statements sending to the teenage female consumer and how is she reacting to these messages. Advertisers are very aware of what they sending and how they are affect these women. They particularly play on the insecurities of this population in order to market their products. Kilbourne states, “Advertisers are aware of their role and do not hesitate to take advantage of the insecurities and anxieties of young people, usually in the guise of offering solutions” (Kilbourne, 258). These solutions include ways to convert and conform to the social standards of beauty and sexualizing oneself for likings of a patriarchal society.

Sexualizing messages are being sent along with confusing messages about the consequences of becoming a more sexual human being creating a dichotomy of misdirection. CosmoGirl!™ like many other women magazine publications keep women in a never-ending cycle of confusion, with advice on how to keep him wanting more and other publications on how to get a way from a crazy ex boyfriend. Where can we draw the line of what is too sexy are too sexual. Young girls are then stigmatized as “too fast” or “bad girls” when they end up pregnant or with a sexually transmitted disease. But how can these young women not when they are being sent these conflicting messages constantly. These young girls are being manipulated and exploited by the American mass media and society’s cultural worship of women as sexual beings. Magazines such as CosmoGirl! ™ needs to reevaluate the messages being sent to these young women to help in stopping the cycle profiting from female insecurities.

Dines, Gail & Jean M. (McMahon). Humez. Gender, Race and Class in the Media: Text Reader. Kilbourne " The More You Subtract, The More You Add: Girls Cutting Down on Size" . 258-267. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications: 2003.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Gendered Toy Consumerism

We live in a gender-based dichotomy, separating us as individuals from birth, between male and female. It all begins with our naming and from there we either wear pink or blue, play with action figures or dolls, continuously learning our roles as gendered human beings. Through these simple notions such as either wearing pink or blue, we become familiar and identify with our gender by acting out traits of masculinity and femininity. There is nothing genetically inherent in men to make them courageous, aggressive and dominating, or women to make them timid, nurturing and congenial. However, we identify ourselves and others on what it means to be masculine or feminine allowing us to acknowledge that gender is socially constructed.

Using an object as simple as a childhood toy, we can find difference based on gender between the toy preferences of boys and girls. We will never see a male child playing with Barbie Ballerina or a female child engaging in play with a Power Wheel Ford F-150 in any televised commercial or advertising display. Toy products marketed for children as young as newborns suggest gender specificity through the type of toy, type of play involved with the commercials used to market the toy.

After online shopping for children as young as two to three years I found before even browsing through the toy selection, that they had already been separated into toys for boys and girls. Once proceeding to the boy-oriented section, I discovered such toys as a fire engine, Go! Diego Go! Tough Trike™ and a play construction caterpillar. All of these “boy-oriented” plays toys already suggested occupation, character and courage.

The toy fire engine implied that boys who play with fire engines can aspire to be courageous fire fighters and very male oriented occupation. The Go! Diego Go! Tough Trike™ not only featured a male cartoon main character but was also described as tough; simply indicating the young boy who rode this bike was tough and resilient. These are also common traits of masculinity. What caught my attention the most however, was the play construction caterpillar. I assumed that boys would use this toy to play with in dirt or sand, pretending to build and construct based on the type of toy. This toy suggested the type of play that would result in the ideology that boys can grow up and aspire to be construction workers where as girls may not because this toy is not necessarily made for their consumption.

After leaving the boy toy section, I entered the “girl-oriented” toy section where I found a Pastel Play Kitchen, a Disney Ariel Ocean Salon™ and doll’s crib with an attached musical mobile, along with a matching high chair and stroller. All three of these toys suggest domesticity, motherhood and the ideology that girls must be fit into the very commercialized beauty beginning at a young age. While sons play in the mud with their caterpillars, young daughters engage in practicing how to care for a young infant, cook meal for family and at the same time, learn to keep up with her appearance for her future husband.

Boys who display feminine characteristics and girls who display masculine characteristics are social chastised for crossing gender lines. Gender stereotyping of children’s toys does indeed influence the development of individual gender through parenting, advertising and peer approval. These toys often correspond with gender stereotypes and behaviors such as emotional and gentle or dominant and competitive. Not only do children prefer gendered toys, but they avoid the use of opposite gendered toys. From birth, products are marketed based on gender and the social definitions of gender.

Even the way parents dress their children, had the affect on the way a child is able to play. “Frilly dresses do not lend themselves easily to rough and dirty play. Clothes for boys rarely restrict physical movement in this way and are made to withstand vigorous activity” (Newman, 112). Gender therefore begins the building blocks for character, sexual orientation, career goals, appearance and most interesting the type of toy a three month old boy will engage play with.

Newman, David M., Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the intersections of race, class and gender. (2007). McGraw Hill. NY NY

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Identities in Family Guy: Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality and Nationality.

Family guy is a comedic cartoon satire addressing America’s political and social influences on culture, ideologies and principles. American viewers are able to relate because this sitcom tackles everyday values, beliefs and at many times in a very blunt, outright manner. The hidden beliefs that many American may keep secret in order to maintain political correctness are exposed through sardonic and comical situations within the show. These situations address labels within society relating to race, class gender, sexuality and nationality. Through satire, Family Guy is able to depict the norm’s (American, white, middle-class married heterosexual couple with children) dominating oppressive influence over deviant identities that do not fit into the ideal American family. How and why these identities are made to be deviant stem from the hegemony, political and social influence over a nation and Family Guy uses this ideology of control to flip it and use it as raw humor. Instead of being saddened by the reality, we are therefore able to laugh at it. Lucky there’s a Family Guy!

Using Family Guy’s season four episode, “Don’t Make Me Over”, I will analyze the show’s use of satire when portraying identity through assumptions, standards and stereotypes.


Chris: “Um, Mr. Doctor, if you get shot in a rap feud, can you perform surgery on yourself? “

Puff Daddy: “Well, no, Chris, my degree is in optometry.”

  • Chris’ question to producer Puff Daddy suggests that all African Americans within the rap entertainment industry seemingly engage into acts of violence where they may be shot and injured by an opposing rap artist.

Brian: “(barking) Oh, God. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Oh, my God. That-that is not me. That's not who I am. I vote Democrat. Uh, it will not happen again. W-We cool? We good?”

:: Puff Daddy exits leaving just the Griffin Family::

Brian: “You, uh, y-you guys know I have no problem with black people, right?”

Peter,” Lois, Chris, Meg & Stewie: Oh, yeah, sure. Yeah, yeah, sure.”

Stewie: “Well, you did say you hated Crooklyn”

  • Brian’s violent barking at the producer suggests to the audience that he has a problem with African Americans and he tries to redeem himself by claiming his vote for the democratic party


The Griffin family starred in Family guy portrays the typical ideal American white middle class family. They reside in a home in the suburbs of Rhode Island with a dog and garage. Financially they have no difficulties and if so, by the end of the episode these issue are resolved. Family guy represents the heterosexual, middle class. White married couple with kids, a home and pet dog. This representation typical known as the American Dream.


Tricia Takanawa: “Some lucky hideous woman will be transformed by our makeover magicians into someone of value to society.”

  • Tricia’s referral to a hideous woman suggest that woman that do not fit the American white woman standards are hideous, and therefore lucky to be getting a makeover to transform them into a more beautiful woman. This more beautiful woman would then become a value to society because she now fits into the American beauty standard.


Producer: “We gotta get her half-naked and put her out front, center stage, and that's gonna make y'all billionaires, because America loves hot, white jailbait ass.”

Meg: “Shut up, Mom, it's not your decision! I want to be exploited.”

  • Meg’s producer is more interested in turning her new look into a teen sex symbol for America to gawk at than the actual music itself. The exploitation of young women in pop culture, such as in music, television, movies and magazines has become one of the industry’s highest profit margins. Celebrities who refuse to conform to the typical white American beauty (thin, long hair, colored eyes) and show more skin are usually made to be unwanted by the American mainstream media. Meg’s want for this is not a personal but social goal. She knows that if she conforms to this ideal image, she will be accepted and successful. If not, she will be shunned, disregarded and unwanted


  • Miss Swan, Meg’s personal nail technician appears in the episode giving Meg a pedicure on the tour bus. Her heavy accent, appearance and career suggest that many Asian women come to the United States for careers at nail salons where they provide services for nail, body and facial care. A majority of the nail and massage spas are primarily employed by Asian workers, who usually speak their native language but have conformed to American fashions due to their clientele.

Family Guy. “Don’t Make Me Over.”

Season 4, Volume Three, Disc One, DVD. 6/5/05

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation: Beverly Hills, CA. 2005.