Throughout the spectrum of what appear to be a unique variety of makeover shows, Weber identifies a universal framework of cultural indoctrination and re-education. Prejudicial and stereotypical notions of racial identity, sex and gender identity, and social conformity are drilled into the minds of the insecure, who willingly hand themselves over to a governing body of groomers in the hopes that it can make them better. Weber suggests that the goal of the makeover is not to be better, but to be “normative,” to cast off all perceived deviations from societal expectation, and conform to the middle-of-the-road definition of acceptable (255).
Most disturbing of these mechanisms seems to be the breakdown methodology espoused by the teams that take on the case in question. The individual is subjected to a dissection of their existing selfhood – teams take apart their wardrobes from the underwear up, deriding every facet of their existing style as a means of eroding what remains of their self-esteem. Participants’ appearances are subjected to the “objective” judgment of strangers; these uninformed opinions are given weight by the “experts,” further eroding the participants’ trust in their own judgment. Some contestants are forced to stand, nearly naked, in front of a hall of mirrors, which is psychological torture enough with ones clothes on. Example after example smacks of the kind of tabula rasa methodology used to berate and torture individuals until they abandon their free will and surrender to their captors, becoming suitable for the slave trade. The latter example of the house of mirrors, from How To Look Good Naked, makes the rather tasteless juxtaposition of an emotionally devastated black woman in her underwear against the white male host of the show, fully clothed, offering her hope and redemption. One could not help but draw attention to the allusions of white supremacy and gender subjugation.
Though these shows make an outward showing of egalitarian consciousness by casting non-white, non-straight individuals in the taskmaster and designer roles, the hegemonic principles of neoliberalism are nonetheless enforced through the show’s rhetoric and treatment of its contestants. The values of a society where appearance is a commodity are instilled and reinforced in contestants, who, once broken down, are rebuilt in the show’s image of what their ideal should be. Once indoctrinated, these participants have little incentive to deviate from the social role into which the show has cast them, for to do so would be to give up the social power and cultural capital they have accrued through the heart wrenching process of emotional demolition and appearance renovation.
1.) Pursuant to the “fat/ugly” oppression that Weber argues the audience and gamedoc grants, what other sorts of oppressions are the Makover TV paradigm (and its audience) willing to grant for the sake of maintaining the normative? What sort of oppressions do we grant ourselves on a day-to-day basis?
2.) Weber counters Sander Gilman’s argument that “the belief we can change our appearance is liberating,” by arguing that changing our appearance only makes us believe that we’ve been liberated (256). What is liberation, within the framework of these shows, and what would liberation from the show’s framework mean for its former participants?
3.) Can true self-improvement really be televised? As each case tends to be a one-shot deal, there isn’t a lot of concern over maintaining drama, but pre-constructed narratives still exist. Can people who legitimately need help in one avenue or another trust a marketed product of this kind to really help them?
Weber, Brenda R. Makeover TV: Selfhood, Citizenship, and Celebrity. Durham: Duke UP, 2009. Print.
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