In November, just in time for those all-important Nielsen sweeps (and in the same month as Reality Bites Back will be published), E! will debut Bridalplasty, a headline-baiting reality show combining the desperation and body dysmorphia of Fox’s cosmetic surgery competition The Swan with the unbridled hyperconsumption hawked by wedding industrial complex series such as TLC Say Yes to the Dress, and WeTV’s Bridezillas and My Fair Wedding with David Tutera.
Dismally derivative, Bridalplasty will pit future brides who “want the dream wedding AND the dream body to go along with it” and “are willing to do whatever it takes to beat the competition in order to get that perfection”
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against one another in wedding planning challenges. According to E!’s press release, each week the “lucky” winner of each challenge:
Wondering what’s on these sadsacks’ plasticized, Barbie-meets-Dr. Frankenstein “wish lists?” E! gleefully explains:
Can you picture the pitch meeting? I imagine it sounded something like this when Mark Cronin and Cris Abrego of 51 Minds (the brain trust that modernized the minstrel show for cable TV in the form of VH1’s Flavor of Love franchise) sold it to the network:
OK, fine, I don’t know if the conversation went that way. What I do know is that 51 Minds and E! undoubtedly counted on the PR-happy shockwaves that ripped through the interwebs and the entertainment press following the announcement of the series. Reality Blurred’s Andy Dehnert thinks “51 Minds… has apparently lost its mind.” NPR’s Monkeysee blogger Linda Holmes describes it as “the worst idea for a television show that I have ever heard.” Margaret Lyons at Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch notes in disgust, “Every few months, a new show surfaces and we all declare it the utter nadir of cultural decrepitude. Ding! It’s time for another one of those.” Videogum’s headline: “Bridalplasty: The Final TV Show Ever Made Before Mankind Slips Quietly Into The Dust.”
Critics’ outrage is warranted (“Because, really, if a man is going to latch onto the ol’ ball-and-chain for life, at least it should be pert, unwrinkled, and incapable of displaying emotion? Amirite?” snarks Jessica Wakeman at The Frisky). Yet as disgusting as this show is — and, yes, it is abysmal on many levels — pop culture bloggers’ shock is misplaced. There is nothing more inherently exploitative than what reality TV has been subjecting women to throughout the past decade. The pitch meeting scenario I envision above may be fictional, but the smarmy, enthusiastic zeal with which reality producers debase women is all too real. Why should anyone be surprised that the “women are worthless is they’re not ‘perfect’ beauties, so get thee to a plastic surgeon, stat!” template ABC set with Extreme Makeover in 2002, and which Fox tweaked in 2004 with The Swan’s post-surgical beauty pageant competition, would be retooled now via E!’s extra-classy quest for bridal “perfection?”
Anyone who has ever seen a few minutes of any of the endless array of wedding shows that insist that the point of marriage is not life partnership but a one-day Superbowl of consumption, has already seen half of Bridalplasty. Anyone who has ever seen Extreme Makeover, The Swan, Dr. 90210, I Want a Famous Face, or Addicted to Beauty, among others, has already seen the other half. If you haven’t, take a gander at two typical clips from Extreme Makeover, the series that started it all (clip 2 features–who woulda thunk it?–a bride…):
So, go ahead and be outraged at this latest piece of backlash fare–send letters to E!, and to media outlets’ editors. But don’t be surprised. Your shock just plays into 51 Minds’ PR plans. As I wrote in the introduction to Reality Bites Back:
Shows like this cry out for media literacy. Reality Bites Back will hit bookshelves just weeks before Bridalplasty hits your TV screen. If you know someone who plans to watch it, you might want to pre-order them a copy of the book. Just sayin’.
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