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The Makeover

The Makeover: Reality Television and Reflexive Audiences

Katherine Sender
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 259
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  • Book Info
    The Makeover
    Book Description:

    Watch this show, buy this product, you can be a whole new you! Makeover television shows repeatedly promise self-renewal and the opportunity for reinvention, but what do we know about the people who watch them? As it turns out, surprisingly little.The Makeover is the first book to consider the rapid rise of makeover shows from the perspectives of their viewers. Katherine Sender argues that this genre of reality television continues a long history of self-improvement, shaped through contemporary media, technological, and economic contexts. Most people think that reality television viewers are ideological dupes and obliging consumers. Sender, however, finds that they have a much more nuanced and reflexive approach to the shows they watch. They are critical of the instruction, the consumer plugs, and the manipulative editing in the shows. At the same time, they buy into the shows' imperative to construct a reflexive self: an inner self that can be seen as if from the outside, and must be explored and expressed to others. The Makeover intervenes in debates about both reality television and audience research, offering the concept of the reflexive self to move these debates forward.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3897-9
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Self-Projects: Makeover Shows and the Reflexive Imperative
    (pp. 1-25)

    Midway through interviewing people who watch makeover television shows, I had a conversation with Seth,¹ a white, single, heterosexual man in his thirties. He was a fan of the United States version of the popular competitive weight loss showThe Biggest Loserwho wanted to lose about eighty pounds in weight. In the course of the interview, Seth articulated his complex and contradictory perceptions of this show that help to frame some of the central themes in this study. Above he notes the “wow” factor of seeing contestants going through dramatic physical transformation and the possibility of identifying with the...

  5. 2 Gender and Genre: Making Over Women’s Culture
    (pp. 26-46)

    On August 2, 2006, the US cable channel Bravo aired an exceptional episode of their makeover showQueer Eyethat featured Miles, a female-to-male transgender person, with the project to “trans-form the trans-man.” Since its debut in 2003, the show had featured five openly gay men, the Fab Five, who with camp ruthlessness took hapless heterosexual men to task for the state of their clothes, hair, skin, cooking, and apartments. By their fourth season, the Fab Five had broadened their scope of deserving candidates to include women, gay men, couples, and Miles. Miles is struggling to project himself as an...

  6. 3 Not Like Paris Hilton: Instruction and Consumption in Makeover Shows
    (pp. 47-79)

    The previous chapter offered a critique of makeover television that focused on how gender, class, and race norms are worked through contemporary demands to be more flexible workers and enthusiastic consumers. The rest of this book looks at how the audiences we talked to engaged with the project of self-making represented in these shows. People who watch the shows used them to guide their own and their loved ones’ personal presentation within shared ideas of what it means to be attractive—but not like Paris Hilton. Yet their reflexive orientations to the texts, as well as to their own selves...

  7. 4 Shame on You: Schadenfreude and Surveillance
    (pp. 80-104)

    Like many journalists, Sarah Rodman assumes that exposure and humiliation are makeover shows’ stock-in-trade. OfThe Biggest Loser’shome channel, she worries that “NBC” now stood for the “ Nothing But Cruelty network” and that “survival and talent are out, and self-improvement by way of self-abasement is in.”¹ Danica’s quote suggests, however, that some audiences find value in seeing themselves through the eyes of another, whether this is through the footage secretly recorded and later watched by millions of strangers, or through the scrutiny of a loved one. Some observers of the representational routines of makeover television are concerned that...

  8. 5 Feeling Real: Empirical Truth and Emotional Authenticity
    (pp. 105-135)

    Julie’s discussion of her emotional engagement with the housemates onStarting Overframes the intertwined themes in this chapter. For Julie, the housemates’ expression of emotion, particularly crying, signals the authenticity of the show, a rare value in most television. This authenticity is underpinned by her sense of the housemates’ vulnerability, where Julie presumes they are showing their real selves to the audience. And through this perception of the housemates’ emotional authenticity, Julie also experiences her own emotional release: “I’m usually crying . . . when they’re crying.” Julie’s appeals to “real TV” and “be[ing] real” emphasize a taken-for-granted association...

  9. 6 Mirror, Mirror: The Reflexive Self
    (pp. 136-163)

    Danica here draws together some of the themes from the preceding chapters. She disputes thatWhat Not to Wearis a makeover show, suggesting a narrow definition of this genre that focuses only on physical transformation. What she enjoys instead aboutWhat Not to Wearis its attention to “internal” change, despite the candidates’ conscious intentions. Although she is aware of the producers’ interventions in what happens on-screen, she maintains that such a transformation has indeed taken place, that candidates “feel different” about themselves. The preceding chapters considered media and self-reflexivity in audiences’ engagements with the shows. In chapter 3,...

  10. 7 Research Reflexivity: Audiences and Investigators in Context
    (pp. 164-185)

    In the first quotation, a survey respondent chided us about a badly designed survey question; in the second, an interviewee told us where to look for good data about the candidates on a show. As I developed the frame of reflexivity to describe participants’ engagements with the shows, I realized that they were also reflexive about taking part in a research study. They were aware of dominant and usually negative views of fans of reality television, drawing on their sensitivities to makeover television’s lowbrow status to contextualize their roles in the research process. They situated themselves as actors in the...

  11. 8 Once More with Feeling: Reconsidering Reflexivity
    (pp. 186-204)

    This book began with cautionary tales: makeover shows invoke people’s worst impulses toward laughing and pointing at others’ misfortunes, produce obedient consumers, and turn people into self-governing, rational automatons. It narrates a story that focuses on some of the people who watch makeover television, and on their reflexive engagements with the programs, the research process, and their selves. This trajectory allows a reconsideration of the makeover genre in light of its reflexive opportunities, and a revisiting of audience research from the perspective of reflexive self-production. But both the contradictions inherent in makeover shows and the challenges of audience research demand...

  12. APPENDIX I: Protocols
    (pp. 205-212)
  13. APPENDIX II: Demographic Data
    (pp. 213-218)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 219-228)
    (pp. 229-236)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 237-245)
    (pp. 246-246)