Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Analyzing "The Girls Next Door"

For this post I chose to blog about the concepts of masculinity and femininity as found in the reality television show “The Girls Next Door.” “The Girls Next Door” is a show about “Playboy” founder Hugh Hefner and his three main girlfriends Holly, Bridget, and Kendra. Although each and every episode of this series does nothing but reinforce normative roles and concepts related to masculinity and femininity, I chose to look at one particular episode. This episode deals with the three women getting prepared for a big birthday celebration for Hefner. Within it, the women are constantly worried about their self-image and body weight so that they can “look their best for Hef” and are at no time portrayed as intellectual.

To start, the first concept of the show that is blatantly obvious because of the particular episodes topic is the representation of the “Barbie-girl” image. Since in this episode the women are preparing for Hefner’s birthday party, each are adamantly concerned about their appearance, and what they will be wearing to the party. In one particular part, Bridget is having a meal with her parents and only eats vegetables because she’s on a diet. Only eating a few pieces of vegetables is definitely not a sufficient way of nourishing oneself and Bridget sees it necessary so that she can look her best for Hefner. This sends a terrible message to younger women, and especially teenage girls. Meanwhile, during the same meal, Bridget’s dad is shown numerous times while eating his meal, making it very obvious that he is eating as much as he wants and is enjoying it. This work by the producers to show that Bridget is overly concerned with what she is eating while her father chows down on his meal reinforces social norms that it is commonly accepted for men to eat disregarding their body and for women to do the complete opposite.

Furthermore, the very beginning of each episode begins with the show’s theme song that includes the three girlfriends shown as cartoon characters. This immediately depicts an image of each woman as childish due to the fact that cartoons are obviously attributed to children and the immature characters associated with them. Also, throughout the mini-interviews done during the show the women are often seen acting and speaking in the same manner. The show does nothing to hide this either, making sure to include each clip in which they slip-up or do something clumsy and then reinforcing the ridiculousness of the act by adding some demeaning music. The producers are clearly guilty of reinforcing normative definitions of femininity.

If these women were acting as themselves it would not differ from other shows. However, because it seems to me that these women are putting on an act it makes it much worse. As is guilty of most reality television, Holly, Bridget, and Kendra do not seem to be acting as they would if the cameras were not around. It is hard for me to believe that these women are not actually much more intelligent than they are letting on. All three women have received some form of higher education with Holly and Bridget attending Universities, and Bridget even possessing a master’s degree in communication. Despite their intellect, the women always seem to act silly and childish, and does anyone else think it’s odd that each of them has the cliché bleach-blonde hair to go along with their acts? These women are just as much to blame for our society’s view on women because younger girls or teenagers who watch the show “are even more powerfully attuned to images of women, because they learn from these images what is expected of them, what they are to become” (Kilbourne).

Anyway, not only are the producers of “The Girls Next Door” to blame, but Holly, Bridget, and Kendra themselves are guilty as well for doing nothing but reinforcing the view that a “Playboy” playmate or “the perfect woman” should act and is intellectually inferior to Hefner, or the male. It is important to keep this notion in mind when analyzing concepts of masculinity and femininity because we need to realize that these normative definitions are coming from all aspects of our society.

Kilbourne, Jean. "The More You Subtract, The More You Add". Gender, Race, and Class In Media. Sage Publications, Inc. Thousand Oaks, California. 2003.

1 comment:

Jessie said...

Your thoughts are nicely articulated in your writing Mark. However, you may wish to be very careful with your claim about the show that paints the characters with a rather vague and broad brush. Specifically, you contend, "Although each and every episode of this series does nothing but reinforce normative roles and concepts related to masculinity and femininity, I chose to look at one particular episode." Was this concentration at all related to the fact that it was the one we watched in class? The show might seem very stereotypical and a very strong source of messages about gender norms and ideals; however, this episode can't be generalized into a claim about the entire show. For example, moments of clear, hegemonic subversion are depicted in many episodes (i.e. Holly jokes about being a robot gone awry when she was "created for the purposes of serving Hef." Her point is premised on the "dumb blond" image that she conveys and the fact that she makes astute comments at several moments in the shows first couple seasons...we don't know what was edited out or deliberately included (the line between individual and character is a bit blurry). However, her quip about being a robot, in short, was she was created slightly smarter than Hef would like her to be... Whether she's speaking to the audience, social norms, Hef, or the camera crew is unclear. It could be all or any of them; however, she has an awareness of what she's doing and how it's depicted on the show. Therefore, do you think she is actually one of the more powerful figures on the show because of her consciousness about the expectations of her by her audience, and it's resultant power over women and the messages the show conveys?
Conversely, the "work of the producers" during the Bridgette-family-meal scene seems (the way you've described it) to confront the notion and practice by women who starve themselves to be "beautiful"? Typically, the idea is that starvation for beauty is 'normal' and so common it's just too boring for TV. Additionally, it frequently gets thrown into the realm of the "private" and treated as though 't be spoken of.
However, it seems that you may have pointed to some intriguing subversive elements of this show... are the producers, by figuratively speaking of Brigitte's dietary issues (in this case, making the issue more transparent instead of hiding it, which makes it appear so normal, there's no point in showing it), actually offering a counter-hegemonic voice?
However, it could be just the opposite extreme (or not extreme at all!!). Are they illustrating that women are somehow so intellectually inferior that they starve themselves and strip for their parents unknowingly to an audience that will ridicule them for their ignorance to this absurdity of these events?
Your post made me think and I can appreciate that; however, you seemed to be following a scripted understanding of the show (that it would only be oppressive to women...perhaps, you could delve into some more of these complexities in your next post) that might have stopped you from pursuing what seems to be a challenge to this script!

Some clips from "The Outing"