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Reality Bites Back excerpt on Jezebel: The Exquisite Sadism Of America’s Next Top Model

jpozners Icon Posted by Jennifer L Pozner

November 11th, 2010

On Tuesday, Jezebel posted (and Gawker cross-posted) an excerpt from the violence against women chapter of Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV, focusing on “The Exquisite Sadism Of America’s Next Top Model.” By 9am today, the post had received more than 31,000 views, 315 comments, and 414 “likes” on Facebook.

When Jezebel asked to excerpt that particular section, I had a feeling it might strike a chord. In all the press since the book launched on Nov. 1, no media outlets have picked up on my discussion of the way reality TV both normalizes and glamorizes violence against women. (A few have asked me about the many male participants in reality dating and lifestyle series who have had restraining orders, arrest histories and even jail sentences in their past for harassment, battery or sexual assault.) So I was glad to know that their readers would be able to sink their teeth into this analysis of the dangerous messages Tyra Banks sends on America’s Next Top Model, in the name of “empowering” girls.

This 800+ word excerpt is just a small taste of a 10,000+ word chapter, but I hope you’ll enjoy it. If “enjoy” is the right word for an essay about girls being instructed that, for women, pain is pretty, fear is fierce, and nothing — not even your safety — is as important as being perceived as beautiful.

Here’s a little snippet — see Jezebel for the full excerpt:

“The Exquisite Sadism Of America’s Next Top Model
Reality Bites Back excerpt on Jezebel, Nov. 9, 2010

In hyping an industry that has long gotten rich promulgating “sexy torture,” America’s Next Top Model is a perfect case study of how violent imagery plays out in the reality TV landscape. Sadism has been a recurring theme.

The series has pioneered a whole new standard of placing women in danger, sometimes imaginary and sometimes all too real… Top Model producers also concoct photo shoot challenges in which pain is supposed to be the models’ motivation, terror and violence the backstory, and the image of a woman in jeopardy an advertiser’s ultimate “money shot.”

In an episode titled “House of Pain,” Tyra offered cycle 10 contenders this bit of wisdom: “The biggest modeling secret trick/tip that you can get,” she told the girls, is to “pose with pain . . . when you’re stuck and you don’t know what to do and [a photographer] is yelling at you . . . think pain, but beauty.”

Then came a pain-themed “pose-off,” with Tyra instructing each model to embody a different variety of physical anguish: menstrual cramps, migraine, chest pain, sprained ankle, fingers slammed in a door, and even, for a contestant named Claire, an ache that came with this helpful backstory: “You did a movie and you had to do a scene with a man who strangled you, and your neck hurts.”

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