I've decided that if I'm going get past this writer's block, I've just got to push through it without worrying too much about "polish." Just a heads up: all of the photographs in this essay feature living, breathing models. Some of them are really offensive, which is why I've got my knickers in a twist in the first place. View them at your discretion. Here we go.
On Tyra Banks' reality game show "America's Next Top Model," where 12 "lucky girls" cry, pout, and pose their way through a series of challenges in the hopes of landing a modeling contract and center spread in Seventeen magazine. It's like MTV's "Real World" meets "Survival" meets the spokesmodel portion of Ed McMahon's Star Search from the 80s. Every episode features the models attempting to master a basic skill that will supposedly serve them well in the fashion industry- get a radical makeover! pretend to be bald! hold an energy drink while jumping on a giant trampoline in an airplane hangar! dress up like a fairy tale character and fall onto a mat!
Uh, sure. Bizarre? Maybe. But who is it hurting?
This past week, the most recent episode went way, way over the line. The most recent ANTM challenge required the women to pose as if they were brutally murdered. Tyra Banks, who ironically tackles issues of abuse and violence against women on her talk show, and her crackerjack team of judges coached the eight remaining models through a photo shoot where they pretended to be shot, poisoned, decapitated, electrocuted, strangled, drowned, shoved off a rooftop, and robbed of their internal organs.
The challenge was couched in cute terms in that each girl was supposedly "killed by a model." During the judging, the models each made up a cute story. For example, the model who had her internal organs stolen pretended that the other models, desperate to know if her voluptuous breasts are real, cut her open to find out. This was met with smiles from the judges and giggles from the other women. The backstories drew from footage of the drama going on in the group house where the models live, which comprised the earlier part of the episode: OMG! One girl wants to use the phone, but another model is hogging it to sob to her husband because she didn't win a $40,000 bracelet in a pose-off!
:::CPB commences with banging her head on a table:::
Only one of the models seemed remotely effected of the intense violence depicted in the challenge, and only, she claimed, because she recently had a friend who OD'd. No one questioned the makeup artists. No one raised objections during the judging. No one said, "No."
Interestingly enough, up until yesterday the website featured each model's snuff shot with the judges comments next to it. Some examples include descriptions of the models as "very beautiful and dead," "sort of morbid," "marionettes broken up," "broken down dolls" and my personal favorite, "Death becomes you, young lady."
You can see all the models' photos and the judges' comments
The snuff shots off the official website now, in part because bloggers
with greater circulation and earlier deadlines than me have capably covered this controversy. It blows my MIND, though not as "glamorously" as this model's mind was blown, that the banner ad on America's Next Top Model's website is a plug for the Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Why is this okay? How are we so desensitized to violence against women in fashion photography that NO ONE on the executive board of a prime time TV show with national sponsorship from Cover Girl batted a single false eyelash at this concept? Easy, breezy, beautiful? I don't fucking think so.