The Makeover: Reality Television and Reflexive Audiences

The Makeover: Reality Television and Reflexive Audiences

The Makeover: Reality Television and Reflexive Audiences

The Makeover: Reality Television and Reflexive Audiences

Synopsis

Watch this show, buy this product, you can be a whole new you a 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. a 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.

Excerpt

The Biggest Loser’s “wow” factor is mesmerizing—over a period of maybe twelve
weeks to see someone completely change what they look like by their own hard
work. I think that element could appeal to any people of any size. But what draws
you in initially, for a thin person, might not be the same as a fat person. Where a
fat person is drawn into the show with a “what if” concept, like “What if that was
me?” or is approaching it as “Maybe I’ll learn something from it.” And I think that
maybe that’s the side of the show that is lacking in my opinion, is that there aren’t
many—it’s very fleeting. It comes on, I watch it, I’m enthralled, I love the con
cept of it. When it’s done, I don’t really think about it until it’s on again. It doesn’t
teach me anything; it doesn’t give me life lessons; it’s not an instruction book for
how you at home could do it. It’s portrayed as a contest to win money, and that’s
the primary objective. And so that’s my one criticism is that I’m not learning
anything. I’m just watching someone like me have the motivation and desire to
do what I can’t do, and then they achieve it and I wish I was them, and then the
show’s over, and then I just continue my life as a person who doesn’t do that.

—Seth, The Biggest Loser interviewee

Midway through interviewing people who watch makeover television shows, I had a conversation with Seth, a white, single, heterosexual man in his thirties. He was a fan of the United States version of the popular competitive weight loss show The Biggest Loser who 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 contestants. He expresses his disappointment that the show is not more explicitly pedagogical, as well as his regret that he cannot convert these fleeting images of transformation into changes in his own life. He went on to note how body size and appearance are . . .

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