Next episode: The Four: Battle for Stardom, Season 1, Eps. 1-2, 6. Watch it on Hulu.
Mike has been talking about it for ages, but the day has finally arrived for our friend, Dave, to come back on and discuss the Amazon-produced reality TV fashion (anti?) competition show, The Fashion Hero (aka America’s Woke Top Model).
After breaking down the unique structure and format of the show and discussing the principal players, such as the host, judges, contestants, etc, we do a deep dive into the relationship between the show’s ideology and structure with a particular focus on both the unique nature of its blend between reality TV competition and a ‘social justice message’ (touching on the good and bad sides of ‘message television’) and how much of the social mediation in the show is shaped by said message. Throughout it all, we continue to return to the question of whether this is the future paradigm of reality television or a failed experiment that is weighed down by its contradictions (egalitarianism vs. capitalism/competition, utopian harmony vs. conflict-driven entertainment).
Finally, we situate the show within the broader ‘meta-genre’ of reality TV as a form of ‘advertainment’ and the cultural context of changing political and cultural attitudes among millennial women, who constitute the target demographic for the sub-genre of fashion competition reality TV before ending by asking, “Is some level of cattiness and trashiness necessarily always a bad thing?” (Mike says no.) We hope you enjoy this episode because this is definitely the most unique and interesting show we’ve reviewed for this podcast.
Show Notes and Links
1:12 / Our returning guest host, Dave (Episode 17 on Hell’s Satans is here)
2:01 / Introducing this month’s show
2:30 / The concept and format of the show – a modeling competition with a twist
3:48 / Examples of the activities performed on the show
6:00 / The activities were microcosms for the overall journey
6:57 / The unique structure of the ‘competition’
8:47 / How the lack of eliminations affected our view of the overall narrative
15:24 / The familial atmosphere of the show was striking (Dave mentions The Voice)
16:38 / Segueing to our overall impressions of the contestants as a group
17:27 / A striking focus on the collective as opposed to the individual that separated this from other reality competition shows
18:52 / The diversity of the cast in terms of nationality was notable, especially in comparison to other reality shows
19:52 / Lots of contestants who are outside the mold in terms of body type and age (Mike also brings in a brief compare and contrast to Season 1 of the ur-text of reality TV fashion competitions, America’s Next Top Model)
21:55 / Discussing the finalists – Stacey, Tanashay, Heidi, and Revic – and their narratives of overcoming their insecurities and challenges
26:52 / Is there a difference in how we view male models as opposed to female models? Perhaps our broad lines of male attractiveness are more permissive, but our ideas of the ‘male model’ are narrow? (Mike mentions Calvin Klein underwear models)
28:10 / Discussing the worldview more explicitly – ‘democratization of beauty’
28:56 / Is there a tension between the show’s egalitarian ethos and the relationship of the fashion industry to capitalism, competition, etc?
31:03 / Mike makes a call-back to our first episode and compares the two shows in terms of the relationships they fostered between contestants
33:06 / This show really illustrated the level of control that the production team has in enforcing the ‘reality’ in reality TV
34:10 / Dave thought this show really stood out for having an explicit ideological agenda that is normally not found in reality TV
34:53 / The tension between the show’s positive tone and the goal of entertainment – it often went to sometimes comical lengths in order to build drama
36:18 / Talking about the sincerity of the show through the guests that were brought on
38:14 / Mike calls back to Survivor and observes how this show actually meets many of the conditions of the hypothetical ‘cooperation’ show he mentioned during the episode
39:17 / Introducing the article we read for this episode, “Reality TV as Advertainment” by June Deery, from Popular Communication, 2004
39:52 / The main points of the article – Reality TV as hyper-commercialized documentary, voyeurism, ‘hedonistic’ and ‘spartan’ reality TV, product placement
41:36 / Dave noticed this show rarely peered into people’s private rooms or treated the contestants as commodities – with one exception that we delve into (the discordant DQ moment)
44:35 / Briefly touching on Brooke’s freak-out (and its possible connection to the DQ moment?)
45:05 / How Mike thought this was similar to conventional reality TV – focus on the therapy of the self, advertising for products – but with an activist message (Mike mentions our last episode on Highway Thru Hell)
47:28 / Dave observes that in absence of antagonist characters, the antagonism derives from personal insecurities and societal prejudices that must be overcome
48:09 / Can utopian harmony be entertaining? Particularly within the context of reality television?
49:52 / This show often changed the rules at the last second and staged weird ‘mock eliminations’ to generate drama
51:14 / Mike thought it funny that all the contestants leaned on reality TV clichés in their confessionals during the final week of nominations despite the competition not appearing all that intense
52:12 / How cooperation was baked into the judging criteria and contestants often acted anti-competitively
53:01 / Transitioning into the demographic appeal of the show – Mike discusses a Pew research poll on political affiliations that came out recently
53:53 / The conflict between the reliance on stereotypes in reality TV and the burgeoning cultural progressivism of the millennial women who are the chief audience for these shows
54:36 / This show fits well into the current cultural zeitgeist – Trump, #MeToo, etc.
55:26 / Is there a conflict between the utopian positivity of this show and the base entertainment value one expects from traditional reality TV?
57:39 / Dave’s chief complaint: the heavy-handed nature of the show’s message
58:43 / Are we more forgiving of the exaggerations and heavy-handedness in relentlessly cutthroat shows like Survivor? (Mike also makes a comparison to Monica the Medium in terms of both shows’ relentless positivity)
1:00:03 / What would our advice be to the producers for improvements going forward?
1:02:01 / How drama and personal conflict could be incorporated into the show without stepping too hard on its ideological message
1:02:56 / Introducing the idea of ‘friendly competition’ between judges a la The Voice
1:04:17 / Despite the flaws, the sincerity and positivity of the show was refreshing, particularly because it differed so much from what we’ve come to expect from other reality TV shows
1:04:48 / Is it still OK to crave the cattiness and trashiness of reality TV? (Mike, for one, was definitely craving it)
1:05:45 / This show did change how Mike viewed the possibilities of fashion
1:07:18 / Announcing the next episode