Episode 21 – 90 Day Fiance

 

This episode: 90 Day Fiance, Season 4, Eps, 1-6, 14.  Watch it on TLC.com (cable sub required).  Purchase it on Amazon Instant Video.

Next episode: Behind Bars, Season 1, Eps. 1-8.  Watch it on Tubi TV.  Watch it on Amazon Prime Video.

[A brief note from Mike: I had replaced my mic – fruitlessly, it turns out – and since I’ve had to record at my parent’s house with no immediate access to Audacity, due to a technical problem with my brand of mic and the Win 10 Creator’s Update, I didn’t realize my gain was too high.  I was able to more or less fix it in a similar fashion to our episode on Paris Hilton’s My New BFF Dubai when I had a similar audio issue, but like that episode, the audio is a little shaggy at points.  My apologies.]

We are back with yet another reality TV extravaganza about the topic of love and romance (albeit a conception of ‘love and romance’ that may be a little bit more mercenary), this time with the infamous TLC show 90 Day Fiance.  With the assistance of an excellent article on the figure of the ‘mail-order bride’ in popular culture, we situate the different couples from each storyline within the dominant stereotypes of commodity, victim, or victimizer (or how, in some cases, they run counter to them).

We also discuss larger issues of different cultural definitions of marriage as either a vehicle for romantic love or as a straightforward legal and economic transaction, the show’s ‘male gaze’, and the show’s depiction of foreigners and foreign cultures.  Finally, we return to our usual staple topics of the show’s authenticity, worldview, and appeal, along with a brief discussion of the role of technology in facilitating (and ‘nurturing’) these long-distance relationships.

Show Notes and Links

1:15 / Mike floats an idea for a spin-off

1:52 / Introducing this month’s show

3:20 / The show concept and episodic structure

6:25 / Mike wasn’t bitter about purchasing this one (Mike mentions two lowlights – Monica the Medium and TOWIE)

7:23 / Our previous experiences with the show

8:36 / Introducing this month’s article: ‘Mail-order brides’ in popular culture: Colonialist representations and absent discourse, International Journal of Cultural Studies, Volume 15, Issue 4, by Bonnie Zare and S. Lily Mendoza

11:02 / The stereotypes mentioned in the article: commodities, victims, and victimizers

12:07 / JS makes an amusing Freudian slip (the idiotic conspiracy theory Mike is making fun of is covered here by Snopes)

12:36 / Jorge and Anfisa’s storyline (Amy’s Baking Company is covered on our episode on Kitchen Nightmares)

16:44 / Jorge’s anti-feminism made him much less sympathetic

18:05 / This was the most stereotypical of the storylines

19:07 / Returning to the article – Russian women as “victimizers”

20:21 / Russian sex ratio imbalances (Wikipedia article and article on Russian-Chinese marriages)

22:02 / Discussing Jorge and Anfisa on the tell-all episode

23:24 / Matt and Alla’s storyline

27:31 / Contrasting cultural differences around marriage between Alla and Matt’s family

29:37 / Is Alla a “victimizer” stereotype like Anfisa or is this different?  Is the “victimizer” stereotype rooted in anxieties about the modern conception of marriage?

31:40 / The presence of the child makes the couple more sympathetic

33:20 / Chantel and Pedro’s storyline

35:40 / This storyline runs counter to the traditional ‘mail-order bride’ narrative

37:03 / Mike makes a brief digression to their storyline’s continuation on Happily After Ever

37:37 / Discussing the show’s ‘male gaze’ (particularly in regards to Chantel)

39:30 / Are we more sympathetic towards this couple because of our cultural bias toward romantic love?

42:15 / Returning to the article – this storyline runs counter to the racial and gender ‘script’ that the article references

44:06 / Although this storyline goes against the grain in many ways, the couple is still traditional in their conception of gender and marital roles

45:53 / Nicole and Azan’s storyline (we mention the websites OkCupid and Omegle)

50:34 / Mike was surprised that Azan was surprised about Nicole’s weight; JS has a personal story about online dating

52:44 / We thought Azan wasn’t someone who came off as “eager for a green card”

54:15 / Talking about the cultural differences regarding religion, public displays of affection and the role of husband and wife

56:17 / Contrasting the show’s depiction of their families

58:23 / Mike praises the show’s portrayal of Morocco and how it countered stereotypes of foreign countries as (to use the parlance of our racist prez) “shitholes

58:57 / Transitioning to the eternal question of authenticity; Mike contrasts the visual style of the tell-all episodes of the main series and Happily Ever After (the article Mike mentions about the ‘scripted’ line is here)

1:00:12 / Chantel’s meltdown on Happily Ever After (check the outro for the clip) and other over-the-top moments made Mike question some of the authenticity of the main series

1:01:32 / JS’s instinctive read on the show’s authenticity

1:02:44 / Mike gives some examples of possible producer manipulation (The reality TV deal Jorge and Anfisa supposedly inked is here and the $45,000 dress is covered here)

1:03:58 / Mike’s Grand Unified Theory on the show’s authenticity (Our episode of Bridezillas is here and an article providing more fodder for Mike’s theory on Jorge and Anfisa is here)

1:04:57 / A brief discussion of technology on the show, particularly the role of FaceTime and other video chats

1:07:32 / Closing with the usual discussion of the show’s appeal and our personal reactions

1:08:32 / JS thinks the show’s appeal lies in its generally authentic portrayal of both success and failure

1:10:35 / Mike thought the most interesting portions of the show were when the relationships were more ambiguous than the straight success/failure dichotomy

1:12:01 / Does this show have a message regarding these kinds of marriages?

1:15:58 / Debuting our totally original rating system

1:16:11 / Our upcoming episodes (our episode with Dave on Hell’s Satans is here and our first episode on America’s Most Smartest Model is here): The Fashion Hero and Behind Bars: America’s Toughest Jail

1:18:49 / The usual announcements: contact us, rate/review us, and subscribe

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Episode 15 – Toddlers & Tiaras

 

This week’s discussion: Toddlers and Tiaras, Season 7, Eps. 1-5. Watch it on Hulu.

Next week’s discussion: Judge Faith, Season 2, Eps. 1-4, 7-10.  Watch it on Amazon Prime Video. Watch it on YouTube.

This week we tackled the infamous TLC show Toddlers & Tiaras.  JS begins with an apology to our listeners and declares it the worst show he’s ever seen, whereas Mike offers a somewhat qualified defense of the show (though definitely not the people – who are the worst).

After our recriminations and the usual recap of concept and structure, we delve into the show’s point-of-view and how it is reflected in its editing choices.  We also discuss the topics of beauty and gender standards, how these pageants sexualize minors, ritualistic nature of beauty pageant culture, the links between beauty pageantry and social conservatism, and the role of social class and economics.  Of course, we continually return to how troubling this is as well as finishing up with an exploration of whether this show has any redeeming social value or is merely wallowing in salaciousness.

Show Notes and Links

1:31 / Introducing this week’s show (with bonus apology from JS)

2:21 / JS thinks this is the worst show he’s ever seen

2:52 / Mike explains why he didn’t think this was the worst (although the people are); mentions Monica the Medium and Keys to the VIP

4:41 / The concept of the show

7:08 / This isn’t the first ‘rodeo’ for many of these families

8:08 / Talking about the exception: single dad at first pageant

9:28 / Covering the awards ceremony (and the ridiculous award names)

10:40 / These parents don’t accept second place

12:00 / Delving into the pageant judges and directors

14:15 / Segueing into the show’s point-of-view; Mike mentions Bridezillas

14:52 / The editing choices were revealing

16:41 / Money is a frequent topic

17:13 / The motif of bribing kids with sugar and caffeine

19:33 / Parsing the difference between disapproving of the parents and the pageant

20:36 / Mike was rubbed the wrong way by many of the judges’ comments

22:27 / Mike’s theory of why the pageant footage is edited differently

24:02 / Talking about the intended audience; see our Finding Bigfoot episode for our take on the decline of educational cable channels

25:09 / Show possibly geared towards mothers; contrasting the appeal of the show to Snooki and JWoww: Moms with Attitude

26:53 / How this show could potentially appeal to ‘pageant moms’

27:19 / Transitioning to a discussion on what this show says about beauty and gender standards

28:08 / The artificiality of the beauty standard was revealing

29:04 / The problematic message of adult beauty pageants is even more amplified when it involves children who cannot meaningfully consent

31:24 / The two objections to child beauty pageants: consent and sexualization

34:12 / The ritualistic aspects of child beauty pageantry; Mike makes a possibly melodramatic comparison to ‘female circumcision

36:17 / JS poses a question to Mike

37:38 / Coming back to traditionalist gender roles and the Southern regional aspect (Correction: one was also in California, but the larger point stands)

39:07 / The relationship between social conservatism and beauty pageant culture

41:45 / Talking about our (limited) experience with (adult) beauty pageants

43:24 / Discussing the role of social class and economics

44:40 / Mike noticed a positive correlation between wealth and winning

45:15 / JS begrudgingly gives the show his one kudos

46:06 / Returning to the vast amounts of money spent on the dresses

46:47 / Seems to be no real monetary return for these pageants

49:03 / Speculating (somewhat baselessly) into the economics of holding a beauty pageant

51:08 / We’d call it a con, but these parents seem to have no illusions of wealth

52:02 / Exploring the parents’ motivations: validation, living vicariously, and ‘winning’ (not ‘confidence’)

54:57 / Participation trophies are ‘ruining society’

55:45 / Does this show have social value or is it wallowing in titillation?

57:15 / JS thought the social value was held back by the fact that there are bigger problems in the world

59:40 / Mike wonders whether this dichotomy is so strict (Is there inherent tension between sensationalism and exposé?)

1:01:17 / Mike imagines the response to this show would depend on the viewer, which has disturbing implications

1:01:55 / Mike found the show both more interesting and more depressing than he expected, even if it wasn’t Edward R. Murrow; thought the show would be light-hearted camp

1:02:53 / Comparing this show to America’s Next Most Smartest Model and America’s Next Top Model; JS found how it puts children into an adult setting objectionable

1:05:12 / Announcing the next episode (You can refresh yourself on our Divorce Court episode here)

1:08:50 / The usual: email us, rate/review, and subscribe