Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Women as Wallpaper

One of my biggest pet peeves is television shows (usually game shows) that use female models for no purpose other than serving as a pretty backdrop to the show's action. Typically clad in skimpy clothes and high heels, with big breasts and even bigger hair, these women flash glowing smiles and show off the "fabulous prizes" with enthusiastic arm motions, serving as one half of the magic game show formula of cash+sex appeal=ratings.

The worst offender when it comes to treating women as wallpaper is "Deal or No Deal," a show that features a wall of what are essentially Maxim models come to life, who collectively pout when a contestant loses the $1,000,000 prize or smile wider than what seems humanly possible when he wins big. Every girl has essentially the same body and wears the same black minidress, only distinguishable by their number (each girl has a number and keeps it throughout the show). Throughout the show, host Howie Mandel gives fun facts on the models ("Did you know that Leyla was featured in a recent Budweiser commercial?") and peppers them with trivial questions about their lives reminiscent of the Q&A's of sexed up C-list celebrities in men's magazines. He'll refer to "the gorgeous Anya" or "our beautiful Jenelle" and this flirtatious banter gets picked up by the male contestants who beg the models (they know them by name) to "give them a good number" so that their chances of winning are increased.


NBC plays up the model aspect of the show by heavily promoting the girls on the show's website, which features bios and a photo gallery of each girl, posing with PG-rated flirtatiousness. Here's a sample portion of one model's bio "Her down-to-earth nature and sexy, sassy appeal have led her to grace the covers of many internationally renowned calendars, catalogues, and magazines. The highlight was scoring the 2006 Maxim calendar cover.

Lisa is highly ambitious and extremely passionate about life and loves the challenges of the entertainment business and what it brings! Life is a journey and there is no stopping this talented blonde beauty." Even the girls who had college degrees were discussed in this dismissive manner, and I couldn't help but wonder why anyone whose ambitions were higher than wanting to be an FHM cover girl would be willing to be reduced to a glorified mannequin on this show.

I find it admirable that Deal or No Deal features racial diversity among their models, but they still all have similar bodies and are packaged to look, act and speak the same. Is that what we're supposed to want in a woman, or is it just what NBC thinks we want? Sure, each girl is given a few qualities to distinguish herself (one was a pageant queen, another has had minor roles in a number of films, yadda yadda), but these superficial distinctions do nothing to contribute to our image of these women as individuals.

When it comes down to it, I really just don't understand how something like this is completely acceptable and enjoyed in 2007. It would be one thing if they were going to objectify men and women (about half of the contestants and I'm sure a similar percentage of the audience are women), but the idea that a wall of hot but identity-less girls somehow enhances the show is beyond me. At what point will our society decide that treating women as objects is no longer okay?

15 comments:

WindWhisperer said...

Hi Meg, I can't stand that show and you're right, it's has obnoxious presentation values. It reminds me of beauty pageants where the woman are presented like choice cuts of meat.

Anonymous said...

Jeez, what a grouch. Its a great fun show that you can watch without thinking too much, nice after a long hard day at work. Not only did they have Ladies Night...where all the models were men...but Howie's eye candy, as well. When they had a lady contestant on who said she loved all men they brought in a whole section of men just for her. So the show likes pretty girls AND pretty boys. You did say it would be different if they objectified men, as well, didn't you? Now what's your argument, grouch?

Meg said...

Anon- While I don't appreciate you calling me a grouch (twice), I'm glad that you brought up that Deal or No Deal did feature male models. Unfortunately, I think having only one night a season where men are objectified doesn't really count as a kind of gender equality. No tv show would feature a wall of men ALL the time, instead they're brought out and it's kind of a funny twist on the norm (because when men are shown performing roles associated with women, it's always supposed to be humorous), but it's not equal.

Wishful thoughts said...

I completely agree with Meg...the blatant use of women as wallpaper has been going on for years yet was it not that very thought process that the women's lib movement strove to reject?

When will intelligent, normal women be viewed with the same value as those who appear to be cookie cutter versions of the male ideal?

Anonymous said...

hi meg,
thanks so much for your post on cardigans! it was very helpful.
-- original request

Jessica said...

Yes, this is certainly just another way that the media sets the standard for how "desirable" women should look, think, and act.

As sort of an offshoot comment, have you ever read some of the comments left by visitors of celebrity gossip sites? They are absolutely heinous, insulting beautiful women with the tiniest bit of cellulite, body hair, extra pudge - whatever little flaw they can find. Katherine Heigl, Kelly Clarkson, and Mischa Barton are just a few of the celebs. that are continually criticized for their body flaws, however slight they may be. I find these comments to be very, very telling about how our society has come to perceive beauty, self-worth, and the human body.

Meg said...

Jessica- Yeah I have, which is why I NEVER read the comments on any celebrity gossip site. I already have kind of mixed feelings about reading the sites already, and I try to avoid blogs that make those kind of derogatory comments toward every woman, but sometimes it's hard.

themakeupgirl said...

Hmmm - Interesting point of view...

Dei said...

Although I agree with you, it's not all that hard to imagine those with higher ambitions than a modeling career taking the job. Think about it for a second.

You're hot and know you're hot. You're intelligent enough to know that you won't be hot forever, so of course you go to college to have a start in something more substantial. While in college, you do modeling gigs to earn money. No big deal.

When you're done with college, you discover that Los Angeles can be a difficult and expensive city. You might be getting jobs in your chosen field, but the pay is awful and you barely have enough for rent. All of a sudden a job comes along that is basically standing and looking pretty that pays amazingly well and can lead to even bigger gigs because of the notoriety. You would be a fool not to take it.

So yeah, it's annoying how the media exploits women, but don't knock the women if they're smart enough to use it to their advantage.

Meg said...

Dei- That's a good point that I didn't consider. While I do find the show to be somewhat demeaning toward the models, for someone trying to break into legitimate acting or modeling, it's certainly preferable to being in far more exploitative media like music videos (where a number of female celebrities started their careers) or more popular, men's magazines.

Anonymous said...

I think that from an early age, children learn to expect pretty faces and unrealistically proportioned sexy bodies from the media. I work in a preschool, and all the girls there are obsessed with Bratz dolls, which are basically a more slutty and bimboish version of Barbie (the name Bratz bretty much says it all). At least Barbie was supposed to be a woman and she had various careers, while Bratz look more like girls and their only interests are shown to be vanity.

We'll sometimes show the Bratz movies to the girls, and the message of them is that is that a "cool" girl is the one who learns how to use her looks and popularity to get out of doing work. She sees school as boring and nothing but a place to socialize and her only "passion is for fashion." It's pretty sad because then the girls start emulating dolls in their ditzy speech and want to wear makeup and look sexy at 4 yrs old. Then they grow with their highest aspirations being to become eye candy.

You usually won't see any types of toys that can be used for violence allowed in school settings, yet dolls that look like strippers are okay for some reason. It's really sad that our society allows children to become acquianted with the vulgar side sexuality and the objectification of women before many of them even know where babies come from.

Anonymous said...

I posted the last post, just wanted to say sorry for going off topic a bit.

Distar said...

Despite being the gender specialist that I am (MSc in Gender no less), I have no real issue with Deal or No Deal. I wouldn't dare make a blanket statement about the objectification of women on tv, but I agree with Dei's point. Reading the women's bio, there's a diverse lot of them on there. Contextually, Howie does quite a bit to always call them by their names, and often point out interesting tid bits about them. I've never felt their treatment was deragatory.

As women, we should feel comfortable to use every advantage we have. I'm not of the old school feminism that women should hide their beauty. If you've got it, flaunt it. Equality as I define it should be about equal opportunity and equal access, not us women demanding we be treated exactly like men.

Gala said...

Meg, you're great. I loved this piece.

I haven't owned a television for years & when I saw some tv for the first time in ages a little while ago, I was SHOCKED to see that game shows still have silent woman assistants while the man does the "actual presenting"! It blew my mind. I thought that stuff stopped in the 90s. Ignorance is bliss.

Dei's comments are interesting. The women in the show may be using the industry to their advantage, but it's not really about them -- it's about what they represent, & it's about the fact that kids watching that show don't know the backstory. They will grow up thinking that men are where the real action is, & women are just eyecandy. It's a bullshit message. The women on the show might be making the most of the system, but what they're representing is irresponsible.

Becca said...

Hey Meg.
LOVE your blog, by the way. I just wanted to let you know, that here in Quebec, Canada, we have a Quebecer version of this show. It's called Le Banquier, which is french for The Banker. It's the same premise, except that the host is a women AND our wall of models, features MEN! As well, as women, and yes, we have less men, but hey, at least we have them!