Reinventing the Self Through Daytime Television

BY ERIN ARCHERD

You know those commercials with the tag line, everything stays in Vegas? I have a friend like that; she can change her personality, her appearance, her mannerisms, at least temporarily. I wish I could change myself that easily, put on the right accessories and go out into the world as a new person.

Perhaps some of that urge comes from our culture, which touts the “new you” and urges us all to reinvent ourselves. The vogue for makeover shows is a good example of the phenomenon.

I’m considering canceling my cable for two main reasons. First, it’s doubled in price now that my one-year bundle promotion has ended and $50/month for cable programming that I watch at most two hours a day feels a bit obscene. Second, since gaps in my day tend to fall not during prime time but during midday hours full of television for retirees and stay at home parents, watching reality makeover television has aged me beyond my years.I have turned into a middle-aged soccer mom at least a decade early. I’ll watch them all, from What Not to Wear to How Do I Look? There are, however, a few reality makeover shows that I try to stay away from: Dr. 90210 and The Biggest Loser. It’s great that Dr. 90210 shows you the doctors as “real people,” but the people I care about on those shows are the ones getting the surgery. I don’t want to see some random doc doing tae kwan do. For that, I can take my kids to the local dojo, assuming I had kids, which I don’t, but those are the sort of thoughts I have while sitting on my couch at 11 a.m. watching reality television.

The Biggest Loser bugs me because its far easier for men to lose weight than women. The female contestants look great, but leave the show feeling like they’ve lost. Sure, they always say something about being happy to have learned how to eat right and exercise, but unless they receive months of counseling afterward, most of the loser “losers” will probably end up doing nothing more than weakening their hearts and gaining the weight back again over time.

Oddly enough, a couple of similar shows draw me in. Extreme Makeover, which appears to have been discontinued, picks people who need the Pimp my Ride treatment of stripping down and rebuilding. Looking around the law school, I’m hard pressed to find a candidate for the show. As I write this, I’m struck by my comparison between making over a car and making over a person. The people on Extreme Makeover don’t seem entirely human to me, which I take as a sign that I need to stop watching it. In fact, I think I’ll ask my philosophy students at the college what they think of Extreme Makeover in light of Kant’s principle of human dignity.

Another show that sucks me in every time is a BBC America program called You Are What You Eat. Each episode begins with the host nutritionist displaying a table of everything the subject couple has eaten during the week. I am fascinated by the gross-out factor of this visual, and tickled by the foreign vocabulary for all the junk food – fizzy drinks (soda), chips (fries), biscuits (cookies), and take-way (fast-food). It only gets better when the nutritionist gives the subjects an enema and then sits down with them to talk about their “poo,” going into detail about its texture and smell.

After an eight-week diet of healthy food like green salads and whole grains, people invariably lose a stone or two (1 stone = 14 pounds). I don’t know if this is any better than a show like Biggest Loser in terms of making me feel like a middle aged soccer mom who’s filling the 30 minute gap before zipping off to pick my kids up from school, but the noncompetitive nature makes You Are What You Eat feel kinder on the “tubby twosomes” featured on the show. There are exactly two reasons why I don’t want to cancel my cable – Mythbusters and Battlestar Galactica. Somehow I think I can move past the loss though. I know an offer to bring snacks to my friends’ apartments in exchange for BSG viewing privileges would not be ill-received, and a gentle hint to mom and dad would land me a stocking full of Mythbusters dvds. What will I do with those extra hours without cable? Nap. Definitely nap.

Erin Archerd is a 3L.

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