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Bridalplasty: If you’re shocked, you haven’t been paying attention

jpozners Icon Posted by Jennifer L Pozner

September 18th, 2010

In November, just in time for those all-important Nielsen sweeps (and in the same month as my book, Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV will be published), E! will debut Bridalplasty, a headline-baiting reality show combining the desperation and body dysmorphia of Fox’s cosmetic surgery competition The Swan with the unbridled hyperconsumption hawked by wedding industrial complex series such as TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress, and WeTV’s Bridezillas and My Fair Wedding with David Tutera.

Dismally derivative, Bridalplasty will pit future brides who “want the dream wedding AND the dream body to go along with it” and “are willing to do whatever it takes to beat the competition in order to get that perfection” against one another in wedding planning challenges. According to E!’s press release, each week the “lucky” winner of each challenge:

“will also get one piece of her dream body – going under the knife for one of the surgeries off her ‘wish list.’ The last bride standing will have the opportunity to have an extreme plastic surgery makeover and win a wedding fit for the stars where she will unveil her shocking new look for the very first time to the man that she’s about to marry.”

Wondering what’s on these sadsacks’ plasticized, Barbie-meets-Dr. Frankenstein “wish lists?” E! gleefully explains:

“from muffin tops to crooked noses to flat chests, the perceived imperfections they hope to fix are extensive and dramatic. Each bride will leave the consultations with a clear vision of what her new body could be. The competition begins and the women go head to head in wedding-themed challenges, ranging from writing wedding vows to planning honeymoons. The winning bride receives the chance to choose a procedure from her ‘wish list,’ which will take place immediately and be revealed at the beginning of the next episode. Each episode ends in a dramatic elimination with one bride being voted off by her competitors, possibly walking away with nothing and losing her chance to be the perfect bride.”

Can you picture the pitch meeting? I imagine it sounded something like this when Mark Cronin and Cris Abrego of 51 Minds (the brain trust that modernized the minstrel show for cable TV via VH1’s Flavor of Love franchise) sold it to the network:

“You know how crazy chicks get for wedding crap, right? They spend $80 billion a year on bridal gowns, rings, invitations, centerpieces, receptions, destination weddings–stamp “bridal” on it, they’ll buy it. See? Right there, endless opportunities for embedded branding. The product placement potential is HUGE. And we don’t have tell you that no woman thinks she’s thin enough, pretty enough, or hot enough–and they’re right!–so there’s always something we can get ‘em to want to fix. Right? So, like, picture Whose Wedding Is It Anyway? meets The Swan. You remember The Swan, where Fox put a bunch of ugos under the knife head to toe, mocked their pain, sent ‘em to a quack therapist with a sketchy degree with a questionable degree, then made ‘em compete in a plastic surgery beauty pageant?

So, yeah, Bridalplasty’ll have all the tears of ugly chicks who hate their bodies (instant drama!), all the manic obsession of Bridezillas, weekly reveals as they compete over table arrangements and bridesmaids dresses to get one cosmetic procedure after another — which’ll stoke audience anticipation for the final Extreme Makeover-style reveal at their dream wedding (you know, like on that WeTV special Disney Dream Weddings)! And don’t forget that for every winner ecstatic over her new boobs and tucked tummy, we’ll have heartbroken losers sobbing about how their muffin tops and sad, silcone-less racks mean they’ll never look perfect enough to have that fairy tale wedding they always dreamed about. Boom! Ratings gold.

And even if no one watches…hey, it won’t matter, because you’ll rake in so much product placement cash you won’t really need to bring in that many eyeballs. You’ll make a profit before you ever sell commercials. Hey, did we say crying girls? We did? Well, it couldn’t hurt to say it again.”

OK, fine, I don’t know if the conversation went that way. What I do know is that 51 Minds and E! undoubtedly counted on the PR-happy shockwaves that ripped through the interwebs and the entertainment press following the announcement of the series. Reality Blurred’s Andy Dehnert thinks “51 Minds… has apparently lost its mind.” NPR’s Monkeysee blogger Linda Holmes describes it as “the worst idea for a television show that I have ever heard.” Margaret Lyons at Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch notes in disgust, “Every few months, a new show surfaces and we all declare it the utter nadir of cultural decrepitude. Ding! It’s time for another one of those.” Videogum’s headline: “Bridalplasty: The Final TV Show Ever Made Before Mankind Slips Quietly Into The Dust.”

Critics’ outrage is warranted (”Because, really, if a man is going to latch onto the ol’ ball-and-chain for life, at least it should be pert, unwrinkled, and incapable of displaying emotion? Amirite?” snarks Jessica Wakeman at The Frisky). Yet as disgusting as this show is — and, yes, it is abysmal on many levels — pop culture bloggers’ shock is misplaced. There is nothing more inherently exploitative than what reality TV has been subjecting women to throughout the past decade. The pitch meeting scenario I envision above may be fictional, but the smarmy, enthusiastic zeal with which reality producers debase women is all too real. Why should anyone be surprised that the “women are worthless is they’re not ‘perfect’ beauties, so get thee to a plastic surgeon, stat!” template ABC set with Extreme Makeover in 2002, and which Fox tweaked in 2004 with The Swan’s post-surgical beauty pageant competition, would be retooled now via E!’s extra-classy quest for bridal “perfection?”

Anyone who has ever seen a few minutes of any of the endless array of wedding shows that insist that the point of marriage is not life partnership but a one-day Superbowl of consumption, has already seen half of Bridalplasty. Anyone who has ever seen Extreme Makeover, The Swan, Dr. 90210, I Want a Famous Face, or Addicted to Beauty, among others, has already seen the other half. If you haven’t, take a gander at two typical clips from Extreme Makeover, the series that started it all (clip 2 features–who woulda thunk it?–a bride…):

So, go ahead and be outraged at this latest piece of backlash fare–send letters to E!, and to media outlets’ editors. But don’t be surprised. Your shock just plays into 51 Minds’ PR plans. As I wrote in the introduction to Reality Bites Back:

“TV execs believe that the more they bait advocacy groups like NOW, the NAACP, and GLAAD, the more controversy a show will generate. Offensiveness = hype = increased eyeballs for advertisers and cash for networks, making outrageous bigotry less a by-product of reality TV than its blueprint.”

Shows like this cry out for media literacy. Reality Bites Back will hit bookshelves just weeks before Bridalplasty hits your TV screen. If you know someone who plans to watch it, you might want to pre-order them a copy of the book. Just sayin’.

To read excerpts of Reality Bites Back, and for media literacy resources, see www.RealityBitesBackBook.com And if you’re interested in organizing a multimedia lecture or media literacy workshop on reality TV — or on gender, race and class in other aspects of the media — get in touch.

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