Thursday, May 3, 2007

Final Post: Power and Empowerment in Beauty and the Geek

Power and empowerment are ambivalent, dynamic themes in Beauty and the Geek. No group or person has everlasting power over another. The women and men each have some empowering qualities and some that hold them back.

During the first few episodes, before any transformation occurs among the contestants, the beauties appear to have more power than the geeks. The women on the show have high self-confidence and are outspoken; the men are insecure and are intimidated by such beauty, thereby allowing the women to be dominant and more controlling. Some of the beauties decided (on several occasions in various episodes) to sleep or lounge by the pool instead of studying their given materials, while the geeks were consistently willing to do whatever it took to win the challenges. Viewers saw numerous geeks attempting to get their partners to read and study, but some beauties chose not to listen. The women did what they pleased (which sometimes meant studying, but not in all cases) while the men begged them to put their efforts toward the competition, illustrating the women’s dominance and power.

While the women have power because of their strong personalities and high self-esteem, stemming largely from their good looks, their looks alone also empower them. Jennylee realized this, saying, “Usually I’m getting by based on my looks…I never really thought about that. I never really would admit that.” Being beautiful and feminine gains these women much attention and power, so much so that it is unnecessary for them to be intelligent or even nice. In a piece discussing image-based culture, Sut Jhally writes, "Sexuality provides a resource that can be used to get attention and communicate instantly" (253). Though Jhally is referring to sexuality in advertisements, it can also be used as an attention-grabbing tool in real life, as evidenced by the women on the show. They are able to use their looks and sexuality to manipulate men, especially the geeks, and get whatever they want, like Jennylee admitted. The message Beauty and the Geek tries to send, though, is that it is not right for these women to think that simply because they are beautiful, they are entitled to get what they want and think they deserve. The men are there to teach them (and viewers/society) that beauty is only skin deep and looks certainly are not everything, which is an empowering message for the men on the show and anyone who can relate to them.

Another empowering image in the show is the fostering relationship between a beauty and a geek. Throughout the third season, Jennylee and Nate grow closer and eventually have a somewhat romantic relationship; relationships emerged in the first two seasons as well. The women all talked about how unlikely the matches were, and Jennylee said she never imagined she would fall for a geek, especially on the show. However, after becoming friends with him, she said she realized how great Nate was and how it was a refreshing change for her to date a “nice guy.” Watching a relationship grow between a beauty and a geek sent important messages to both the women and men. The women saw that the geeks were worth getting to know and were worth their time, even though the men were not on the same level of superficial attractiveness as them. The men saw that they did have a chance with beautiful women; obviously, not all beauties are willing to look past outward attractiveness, but the men learned that they should not think so lowly of themselves because there are good-looking women who could be attracted to them.

On the other hand, one particular episode, titled “Pimp Your Geek,” sends a not-so-empowering message to the audience and contestants. This episode aired about halfway through the season and featured the geeks getting made over with new hairstyles and new wardrobes, and some of them traded their glasses for contacts. Trying to make the geeks more attractive seems to somewhat defeat the purpose of the show. Part of the show’s goal is to make the men more confident in themselves, and feeling more attractive on the outside can certainly increase self-esteem, so the makeover idea does have some merit. However, the men are supposed to be teaching the women that looks are not everything and they should not value appearances as highly as they do. By making the men more attractive as part of a challenge, this message is sadly overridden.

Beauty and the Geek contains both empowering and overpowering images, thereby sending contradicting messages to the contestants and viewers. After analyzing the show all semester and especially after looking at images of power, I have come to see the show as contradictory in itself overall. As a “social experiment,” it aims to break hegemonic norms and stereotypes about masculinity and femininity. It does so by sending empowering messages about not placing so much value on appearances and about learning to have confidence in oneself. Nevertheless, certain norms and stereotypes are reinforced rather than discredited, including the value of beauty in our society. The show tries to teach the beauties not to be superficial, yet meanwhile changes the geeks’ appearances in order to make them more attractive to women. Power and empowerment are ambiguous concepts in this show because power continually changes hands throughout the episodes. All in all, the goal of Beauty and the Geek is admirable and worthwhile, but it could be attained in a more effective way.



References:

Jhally, Sut. "Image-Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 249-257.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Feedback from Erin D., author of Model Behavior

Hey Devon!
I thought you showed strong analysis on last blog post, where you critqued Anna David's article--you didn't just take her article at face value, but inspected it for key points, as well as highlighting its flaws. You do great research and respond well to outside sources, so maybe try including some in your final blog presentation.

You definitely seem to be interested in your topic of "Beauty and the Geek" and the posts are cohesive and have a clear theme. The topic had tons of different representations of gender and hegemony, which seemed to provide you with lots to discuss, which you did very well. Your arguments were compelling and you included examples and evidence from the show and outside sources to back up your point. The refernces used were great, and your footnotes were clear and well-marked. Every reference seemed carefully selected and pertaineed both to the topic and readings we covered in class. Your quotes are never stuck in just to fill a requirement--they add real meaning to whatever the post is about.

The only thing I think you could improve on is maybe adding some pictures and graphics just for aesthetic value--the look of the blog itself is a bit text-y and could be jazzed up a little. However, all your content is thoughtful and analytical. I especially liked the lastest post and your collage, which perfectly blended the ideals of "Beauty and the Geek" with Laurie Oullette's article. All in all, great job so far!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Blog Buddy Work with Erin D., author of Model Behavior

1. Where has your Blog buddy shown strong analytical work (be specific—is it a particular post, a type of analysis, a site for analysis that seemed to click more so than others, etc)?

2. How could your Blog buddy use this strength for the final Blog post and presentation?

3. Think about the following statements in relation to your Blog buddy’s Blog and then provide feedback on each area (constructive praise/criticism):

The Blog is on a topic that has been clearly evident in the Blog posts throughout the semester

The Blog is on a topic that seems to interest my Blog buddy

My Blog buddy’s topic is one that has produced a good set of posts that were analytical used gender as a primary category of analysis

The posts make analytical arguments. The posts are understandable and each post logically outlines and supports the argument presented. The posts were clear, provided insight, evidence, and analysis to connect the topic with the assignment for each of the posts

The sources cited in each post are relevant to the topic and help to aid the understanding of the argument and/or assisted in proving the argument.

The quotes used illustrate a broad range of course readings throughout the semester.

The quotes were clear and succinct; additionally, the material was presented so that I could differentiate the Blog buddy’s ideas from that of the author cited.

4. Finally, complete the following:

I thought it was great when you...

I found it confusing when you…

You’re really great at…

I wish you could focus (more) on/alter/edit/explain/expand on/etc these three things…


Thursday, April 5, 2007

"Reality Check: Artificial Intelligence on Beauty and the Geek"

Anna David’s article, “Reality Check: Artificial Intelligence on Beauty and the Geek,” explains her opinions on the interaction between the beauties and geeks on the television show. Although issues regarding race, class, and gender typically appear in analyses of popular culture, David mostly sticks to discussing gender, which is understandable considering it is a central part of the show’s premise. Her main point is that being around beautiful women makes smart men come off as dim-witted, mostly because of nerves and intimidation. Her argument therefore deals largely with aspects of gender and gender differences that contribute to the effect attractive women have on men.

David portrays the beauties, and women in general, in a rather negative light, while sympathizing with the geeks and depicting them as naive, pitiable, and “adorable.” It is clear that she thinks the women on the show are dumb, lazy, and full of useless knowledge like popular culture references and slang terminology. On the other hand, she makes the geeks out to be the innocent playthings of the beauties, who break hegemonic norms by manipulating and dominating the men. For instance, the author says she felt sorry for Matt when Cecille put makeup on him because his explanation for letting her do it was that he felt lucky to be spending time with such a beautiful woman, which he never gets to do in his real life (i.e., when he is not starring in a reality television show that forces attractive women to live in a house and interact with socially awkward men). This goes back to the author’s claim that desirable women make smart men act less intelligent than they really are. Had Cecille not been a beautiful woman, Matt presumably would have objected to the makeover; however, since he wanted her to like him and wanted to continue spending time with her, he permitted her to do whatever she pleased, regardless of the humiliation and taunts he endured from other contestants.

At one point in the article, David not only criticizes the females of Beauty and the Geek, but stereotypes other women as well. In discussing the situation between Matt and Cecille, she writes, “I had to wonder just how many IQ points breasts and platinum hair can deduct from a person’s mind.” David is undoubtedly referring to Cecille in this statement, but millions of other women also fit this physical description. It applies to many females who are not brainless and would not be perfect candidates for this show. Just because a woman has blonde hair and a large chest does not automatically make her an unintelligent, attention-seeking flirt whose passions include shopping and looking good. However, whether or not she intended to, the author does imply that interacting with any woman with “breasts and platinum hair” will make you dumber. In a piece about gendered television, John Fiske describes the typical soap opera villainess as a woman who "turns traditional feminine characteristics (which are often seen as weaknesses ensuring her subordination) into a source of strength. ...[S]he uses her insight into people to maniupulate them, and she uses her sexuality for her own ends" (474). Despite the fact that she is not a character on a soap opera, Cecille, who used her femininity and sexuality to win Matt over, seems to fit the description of a villainess. Again, Fiske, like David, (indirectly) portrays her and women like her in a negative, almost evil way.

In addition to gender, the media could easily propagate race as a controversial topic in Beauty and the Geek, but David steers clear of it in this piece. The only two black women on the show happen to be two of the three women she talks about in her article, but this seems to be a mere coincidence. Nowhere does she mention or imply anything about their race, yet she could have without difficulty if she so chose. The only indication of race in the article is where David describes Cecille as blonde, which implies that she is white. This seems to be included more as a reference to beauty, superficial appearance, and stereotypes (e.g., “dumb blonde”) rather than race, though. While race is hardly included, class is not discussed in the article at all. David focuses primarily on gender as the basis of her writing, but some of her views are surprisingly negative. She illustrates the men as being innocent geeks guilty of no wrongdoing while describing the women as unintelligent, manipulating flirts who make smart men act stupid. Given the context of the show, this is probably how viewers are supposed to think of the beauties and geeks in the beginning, but David does not take into account the changes incurred by the men and women throughout the show. Her depictions of gender in Beauty and the Geek unfortunately seem one-sided, showing only the innocent side of the geeks and the negative side of the beauties and women in general.




References:

David, Anna. (2007, January 7). Reality check: artificial intelligence on
Beauty and the Geek. FOX News. Retrieved April 5, 2007, from http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,241842,00.html

Fiske, John. "Gendered Television." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 469-475.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Presenting and Breaking Down Hegemonic Norms

Beauty and the Geek was not intended to be just another reality television show; its creators call it a “social experiment,” implying that its purpose is to do more than merely entertain viewers, who are mostly young adults. Beauties and geeks are paired up and compete in challenges that force them to step outside their respective comfort zones and see how the other half lives. In the end, the winning team is ideally the one whose beauty and geek best learned how to work together, taught each other important life lessons, and transformed each other into more than just beauties and geeks.

The women of Beauty and the Geek supposedly epitomize beauty. In some ways, they embody feminine hegemonic norms, but they also challenge them at the same time. The beauties work hard to make themselves attractive in order to gain the attention of men. They care deeply about appearances and always want to look good. For example, in the final challenge when there were only three teams left, the contestants had to perform farm duties like milking cows and wrestling sheep. When getting dressed before heading to the farm, the girls found several outfits laid out for them to choose from, and two of the girls decided they would rather look cute and wear the skimpy clothes with high-heeled cowboy boots than dress appropriately for the upcoming farm work. This particular situation might be a bit over-the-top, but it essentially reinforces the feminine ideal of always looking beautiful in hopes of attracting a man. Similarly, some of the women, especially Cecille, talked about how they wanted to marry handsome, rich men and never have to work, which highlights the hegemonic norm that men are the breadwinners and are expected to provide comfortable lives for their wives.

Though these and comparable ideals are shown throughout each episode, the show presents them in such a way that makes them seem ridiculous and unappealing. Obviously, the women of Beauty and the Geek are not representative of all females, but they characterize society’s and popular culture’s idea of beauty. Seeing the women put so much emphasis on looks and material things is supposed to make viewers stop and think about what we really value as a society and how we can (and should) change some of our ideals. As James Lull writes, “Hegemony fails when dominant ideology is weaker than social resistance,” (65) meaning people have the power to transform dominant values and standards when they choose to recognize problems and implement change. Beauty and the Geek, as part of popular culture, presents hegemonic norms in a somewhat negative light, thus attempting to break down the ideals that are perpetuated by popular culture and society as a whole.


References:

Lull, James. "Hegemony." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 61-66.

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The Cosmo Girls of Beauty and the Geek


This collage represents the feminine beauty ideals and stereotypes shown in Beauty and the Geek. It is based on Laurie Ouellette's piece about the founding of Cosmopolitan magazine and its impact on American women, "Inventing the Cosmo Girl: Class Identity and Girl-Style American Dreams." Ouellette discusses the personal life of Helen Gurley Brown, Cosmopolitan's creator, and the ideologies and beliefs that led her to start a magazine promoting femininity and sexuality. She writes, "Brown's reworking of American Dream mythology involved the construction and reconstruction of a desirable self, the presentation of identity as self-made, the valorization of femininity as a creative production, the partial subversion of natural class distinctions, the refusal of Victorian sexual norms, and the expression of multiple hardships and frustrations" (125). This description of the invention of the Cosmo Girl portrays Cosmo Girls as feminine, sensual/sexual, and wanting to be desired. The beauties of Beauty and the Geek fit these categories as well. They use cosmetics and hair products to make them look as "beautiful" as possible. They are not afraid to show off their bodies, walking around in their bikinis, miniskirts, and skimpy tops. They place much importance on looks and outward appearances of both themselves and others. This collage depicts the portrayal of the beauties that viewers see: affinity for beauty products, fit bodies, skimpy clothes, and overall superficiality.



References:

Ouellette, Laurie. "Inventing the Cosmo Girl: Class Identity and Girl-Style American Dreams." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 116-127.


Photo Credits for Collage:
1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Beauty and the Geek 3 - Alice Marwick

Since my old Beauty and the Geek post still gets plenty of comments, I thought I’d post my thoughts on the current season.

I’m hating it. What made the show so good– the honest interplay between people raised to value very different aspects of themselves– has been largely abandoned this year in favor of bitchy cattiness from the girls. The current crop of Beauties are not just vapid and shallow, they’re mean to each other, and they’re mean to the Geeks. The editing is emphasizing this, so I can’t say they aren’t being called on it, but… I’m not sure what the Geeks are supposed to learn from these women except that “women are bitches!!!1″, a message we hear enough of on television already.

I’m also tired of the way the show equates the two knowledge bases. I guess there is some validity in keeping up with popular culture, just in terms of small talk, cultural capital, etc., but don’t insult your audience by pretending that BASIC political knowledge– like, who ran for VP in the last presidential election– is on the same level as whether or not Cameron Diaz or Justin Timberlake are dating. I am a pop culture and gossip junkie, don’t get me wrong, but it makes me very disheartened to see the unbelievably low standards that pass on this show for scientific, political, etc. knowledge. MARKETING is not on the same level of importance with history or physics!

I just get so tired of people positioning history, math, science, literature etc. as “boring” and celebrity culture, fashion, and workout knowledge as “interesting”. Personally, I think the upteenth story about Britney’s new boyfriend is way more boring than, say, the history of the French Revolution, and I think this show really enforces that dichotomy more than it attempts to break it down. But god, people, could we please have a season with some smart women?! Enough of these bimbos.




My response:

You made some really good points in this post. I’m doing a blog about Beauty and the Geek for my Gender and Pop Culture class, so feel free to check it out (wgsgenderpopculture.blogspot.com).

I especially agree with your description of season three’s beauties as being bitchy and mean. Their shallowness led to the formation of cliques, which was basically a race/discrimination issue. The five blondes all stuck together and were united against the three brunette women, two of whom were African American. The blonde alliance put the brunette women into the elimination room until there were no brunettes left; the teams with brunette “beauties” were the first three to be eliminated. The fact that the blondes could not look past such superficial characteristics as hair and skin color is unbelievable, yet somehow unsurprising at the same time. After all, those beauties were chosen for the show because they value appearances above most other things. It’s sad how quickly the brunettes left the show because this advocates the idea that to be beautiful means to be blonde.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Analyzing Gender: Femininity (Part 1)

The premise of the hit reality TV show Beauty and the Geek is a competition among eight teams, each comprised of a beauty (an attractive but “academically impaired” woman, according to the show's description on The CW's website) and a geek (a “brilliant but socially challenged” man). The teams participate in challenges that test the intellect of the women and the men’s social skills and awareness of popular culture. The ultimate goal of the show is to have the women and men make each other more confident and transform each other into more than just beauties and geeks.

The women on the show supposedly represent the ultimate in femininity, or at least the media’s feminine ideal. On the surface, they are all beautiful and are deeply interested in fashion, makeup, jewelry, shopping, and tanning. In the season three premiere episode, only one of the females wore jeans; the other seven walked in dressed in miniskirts. One of the “geeks” remarked that there was cleavage everywhere and the girls were all “shiny,” presumably because of all the jewelry and bright, sparkly clothes they were wearing. Essentially all of the women were comfortable wearing skimpy, revealing clothing and showing a lot of skin. This supports part of Jean Kilbourne’s theory that for a woman to be feminine, she “must be overtly sexy and attractive but essentially passive and virginal.” (259) The beauties can definitely be classified as sexy and attractive, but they are anything but passive and virginal.

The producers of the show select outgoing, fun-loving, experienced beauties because their job is to teach the geeks social skills and how to be more than just bookworms. Viewers know the women are not virginal because on this show, being a virgin or being inexperienced is regarded as being “geeky.” When the participants give interviews during the show, their name is shown along with something to describe them. The descriptions of the women relate to their beauty and femininity, while the tidbits about the men are meant to show just how geeky they are. For instance, Cecille is a “bikini model,” Nadia is a “sorority girl,” Scooter is a “Harvard graduate,” and Nate is a “singer, Star Wars band.” However, Sanjay is known as a “virgin” and Piao “has only kissed one girl.” Because sexual inexperience is connected to the geeks and has a somewhat negative connotation, we can assume that the women have plenty of experience. Maybe these beauties do not entirely fit the description of femininity in Kilbourne’s eyes, but they epitomize the feminine ideal present in popular culture.



References:

“About Beauty and the Geek.” The CW. 2007. The CW Television Network. 28 Feb 2007 http://www.cwtv.com/shows/beauty-and-the-geek/about.

Kilbourne, Jean. "The More You Subtract, The More You Add: Cutting Girls Down to Size." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 258-267.

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Analyzing Gender: Masculinity (Part 2)

While the women embody society’s view of beauty and femininity, the men of Beauty and the Geek represent almost the opposite of the masculine ideal. The geeks are all intelligent and most were interested in technology, but other than that, they would not be considered ultimately masculine. Kilbourne writes, “Boys are shamed for being too small, too ‘weak,’ too soft, too sensitive,” (261) meaning the ideal male is big, strong, confident, and dominant. None of the geeks are very big and strong, and their self-esteem could probably use a boost, since the reason they are on the show is to become more confident with themselves and others. The men admitted they were intimidated by the good looks of the women. The women actually seem to be more dominant than the men because they have noticeably high levels of self-confidence. For example, Matt said he chose Andrea as his partner because he liked the way she took control of the room when she introduced herself. The show’s aim is to instill confidence into the geeks and to show them that they can talk to attractive women and have a lot to offer besides their brains, so in a way the goal is to make these men become more masculine by the end of the competition.


References:

Kilbourne, Jean. "The More You Subtract, The More You Add: Cutting Girls Down to Size." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 258-267.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Related Links

Geek Love

Beauty and the Geek: Typical Stereotypes Prevail

Beauty and the Geek 3 Recap

Beauty and the Geek 3: Interview with Jennylee and Niels

Pimp Your Geek

Beauty and the Geek Blog


These are links to other blogs and articles discussing different episodes and seasons of Beauty and the Geek. They analyze the stereotypes, contestants and their behavior, and the show's success (or lack thereof) in breaking the stereotypes and fostering change.