Review, Part 2 – Makeover Nation – Selfhood, Citizenship and Celebrity

Though the first half of my review focused on those methodologies in the makeover gamedoc which resembled “tabula rasa” style indoctrination and enslavement techniques, this second installment takes a closer look at the methodologies which turn appearance into a commodity that helps or hinders an individuals market value in regards their human and social capital.  The gift of a free makeover, considered a prize not only by the contestant but usually by their families and friends (as evidenced in expositional footage of congratulations) comes with necessary requirements and obligations that the contestant must agree to of their own free will, making this invasion of their inner self and renovation of their outward appearance a conscious decision made on their part, rather than an intervention on the part of a neoliberal marketplace seeking to reinforce its own indispensability by highlighting the disadvantages incurred by those who do not fit the necessary requirements for trade and citizenship.

Is democratic citizenship predicated on meritocratic mobility within society, as Weber suggests (2009:38)? This is suggested by the jubilation of After-body contestants who intone that they can “do anything” now that they have a culturally appropriate body to do it in.  This belief is likely predicated on the notion that, though all men may be created equal, we do not remain that way for long after birth, and these differences ultimately cast us into social strata which can increase or decrease the amount of weight our individual aesthetics and beliefs have in the communal congress of cultural sensibility.  In offering the average citizen (as average as can be considered, given that only 20% of female contestants and 1% of male contestants are people of color), a leg up in the world by renovating their appearance to better reflect an external vision of beauty, makeover shows not only reinforce a strict cultural framework of acceptable appearance, but help the contestant to internalize this sensibility while inflating the importance of ones’ external offerings as capital in a fiercely competitive social market (Weber, 2009:42).

Despite the ever-presence of the outside worlds expectations of social norms and aesthetics, a recurring theme of isolation incurred by the makeover narrative, which insists that the contestant remove themselves to a private place where their transformation can occur in secret.  This evokes themes of cultural rites of passage wherein the young are removed from their childhood homes to undergo tests and trials as a means of preparing them for adulthood.  When they return to their homes, they do so as adults, recognized as such by their peers, who now see them as worthy of respect and capable of making actions and sharing in group decisions that can affect the whole of the community.  As well, those makeover recipients return to their old lives once their trials are complete as full citizens; their voices now carry more weight and authority thanks to the changes that someone else has made for them.  Tropes of law enforcement and criminal justice are loud within the narratives present.  This isolation is a double-edged sword, as not only a trial in and of itself, but as a punishment for the poor decisions the contestant has made throughout their lives.  The process of virtual incarceration and rehabilitation serve to remind the citizen that their old life, their old appearance, were crimes against the state.  They must now internalize the aesthetic and behaviors of another if they have any hope of functioning as self-possessed citizens fully capable of participating in the neoliberal market culture that is America.

If, as neoliberal ethics suggest, everything has a market, then relative inequality in terms of human capital does easily translate into a differential in decision-making power.  This ethic of America, as delivered by makeover transformations, has been distributed internationally to cultures who have begun to see America as less a place and more “…an idea, a concept to be thought of in quotes which, itself, can be reproduced and distributed outside of national contexts.” (Weber 2009:48)  America, in the international eye, becomes more a theme park of opulence, where 90210 is Main Street, USA, and glamour is a social right, and a requirement, of citizenship.

Questions

1.)                    What do we, as Americans, think of in terms of international lifestyles?  How do other countries “brand” themselves, or is this a uniquely American notion?

2.)                    Are we building our own stereotypes?  Is a stereotype simply a marketing tool within the constructs of neoliberalism?

Reference

Weber, Brenda R. Makeover TV: Selfhood, Citizenship, and Celebrity. Durham: Duke UP, 2009. Print.

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