Episode 24 – The Fashion Hero

 

This episode: The Fashion Hero, Season 1.  Watch it on Tubi TV.  Watch it on Amazon Prime Video.

Next episode: The Four: Battle for Stardom, Season 1, Eps. 1, 5-6.  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

9:39 / Discussing our impressions of the host, Brooke Hogan, and how the role of the host differed in this show (Mike mentions Kate Moss)

11:48 / Talking about the four judges and their role in the show (Dave mentions Simon Cowell and Gordon Ramsay as contrasts; Mike mentions Top Chef)

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

1:08:06 / The usual announcements: contact us, rate/review, and subscribe

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Episode 1 – America’s Most Smartest Model

 

This week’s discussion: America’s Most Smartest Model, Eps. 1-3.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next week’s discussion: The Only Way Is Essex, Season 18, Eps. 1-3.  Watch it on Hulu.

Our very first episode!  We introduce the format and goals of the podcast as well as discussing our previous experiences with reality TV and our preconceptions of it going into the show.  We then get to the meat of the episode where we discuss the show’s humor, product placement, outdated technology, reliance on stereotypes, and gender/body politics.  We also speculate as to why this show failed to be renewed and delve into what makes a reality TV series successful.

Show Notes and Links

1:20 / Introducing our show’s format and goals

3:32 / Our experiences with reality TV and our reality TV touchstones

JS: Survivor (season 1), American Idol (season 5), COPS

Mike: Blind Date, The Jerry Springer Show, Jersey Shore, Mike’s Challenger moment and possible new reality TV show pitch

9:22 / Our preconceptions and stereotypes of reality TV

11:07 / Gender and Reality TV fights

12:23 / Our (not very extensive) experiences with America’s Next Top Model, Mike mentions Tyra Banks’ Oprah rip-off

13:11 / Concept of America’s Most Smartest Model

14:14 / The show’s judges

14:50 / The ‘point’ of the show

15:34 / Questions about the contestant interview process

16:10 / This is not a show about merit

17:00 / Issues with pacing and questions about timescale

18:23 / The show’s body politics

20:53 / Back on topic with discussion of the contestants

26:25 / Stacking the deck on gender and ‘dumb model’ stereotypes

27:37 / Mike’s theory on the dominant ideology of reality TV

28:47 / JS thinks the show is reminiscent of the movie Zoolander

29:20 / Celebrates modeling industry despite poking fun at stereotypes, Product placement

31:13 / Mean-spiritedness of show’s humor, fashion industry; is it a hallmark of reality TV?

33:24 / Mike preferred the meanness being channeled into zany challenges rather than mean comments (He also forgot to mention the commercials they had to film while taking an ice-cold shower, that was funny too)

34:41 / Being put off by some of the show’s gender politics, particularly Mary Alice’s dismissive response to a contestant’s concerns about being approached by male strangers (she’d get pilloried on Twitter if this show aired today) and Ben Stein’s leering

36:03 / They’d have to take the smartphones away if they re-did this show today

37:35 / Reveling in the shittiness of this show’s video post-production quality, Mike mentions the 90’s vintage VH1 show Pop-Up Video

39:20 / The show’s bipolar attitude towards the fashion industry’s relationship to sex, Mike thinks Mary Alice needs to get off her high horse

41:30 / Mike thought that the show’s attempt to change gears and get us to sympathize with the participants in the finale was a failure

42:06 / JS compares the narrative arc of reality TV competition to horror

42:57 / Discussing the finale

44:40 / Mike hadn’t seen a reality TV competition finals with two ‘designated villains’ (admittedly drawing from a limited sample)

45:15 / Who we found (kind of) sympathetic and our difficulties sympathizing with the contestants, Mike mentions the Grand Guignol Theatre

47:13 / Mary Alice’s myopic attitude towards non-modeling interests

51:05 / The Wikipedia page for the show

51:23 / Reality TV as a ‘springboard’ to notoriety

52:43 / The Calvinball-esque quality of the competition element and Mary Alice’s odd “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying” attitude and strange judging criterion

54:31 / Mike has a grander theory about the show; JS is skeptical

55:14 / Discussing why this show was not renewed; JS thinks the lack of fairness in the competition undermined the show’s prospects

57:32 / Would playing it straighter have helped?

57:57 / The ‘Borat’ problem; if the show is successful, it’s harder to replicate because everyone is in on the joke

59:02 / Is the show too gimmicky to sustain itself beyond a season?

1:00:04 / JS thinks celebrating success is an integral part of successful reality TV competition

1:00:51 / Mike thinks the show lost steam because it became more of a ‘regular’ modeling show as it went on, but thought it had fun moments with the creative challenges

1:02:41 / JS thinks the most successful moments were the challenges that forced the contestants to be creative

1:03:50 / The answer to what would make this show succeed: America’s Next Top Model

1:04:30 / The ‘novelty Christmas album’ of reality shows; works best as a one-off

1:05:10 / Why people come back to new seasons of reality TV shows, JS mentions the show Chopped

1:05:55 / This show doesn’t celebrate success, but failure

1:07:13 / Mike liked this show more than JS because he likes watching people fail

1:08:06 / Comparing this show to Top Chef (or more accurately, Mike’s second-hand impression of Top Chef), Trade-offs of focusing on humor v. competition, accessibility vs. sustainability

1:10:01 / Failure can be sustainable, but needs variation

1:10:46 / Mike found some weeks of competition worked better than others on a merit-level, but the bogus competitions sometimes led to entertaining results

1:11:41 / Discussing the humor of the quirks of some of the contestants

1:15:02 / Reality TV humor and ‘creative editing’

1:16:09 / Mike goes on a tangent about Jersey Shore (get used to this)

1:17:10 / JS wraps up with a discussion of gender stereotypes and humor, picks on the poor women and their laughter

1:18:42 / Signing off and announcing next week’s show