Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Next on the CW: Search for the Next Pussycat Doll

The new UPN/WB mash-up network, The CW, announced yesterday that they have ordered eight episodes of a reality competition series in which young women will compete to be the next member of the pop group the Pussycat Dolls. While producer McG (who also produces The O.C.) told Variety that the series would "try to explore the consequences that come with joining a group such as the Dolls," CW president Dawn Ostroff told Reuters that the series is about "female empowerment, self-discovery and personal transformation." This makes me want to vomit.

Don't get me wrong, I'm actually a fan (with reservations) of the UPN-now-CW show America's Next Top Model, which trades in the same kind of exploitation as empowerment nonsense. What I like about that show is its honesty; it's a fascinating expose of the modeling industry. By showing how difficult the job really is, it gives me a lot more respect for the models. And by showing the emotional turmoil it creates for them, I have more sympathy for this class of beautiful aliens. Instead of completely glamorizing the process, I think that the series will make anyone with dreams of becoming a model think twice about their decision.

But, at its most fatuous, America's Next Top Model does incorporate themes of transformation and growth that are usually reserved for coming-of-age fiction. They bring in host Tyra Banks's mother to have heart-to-heart conversations with the girls and help them talk about their feelings. They attempt to connect emotional maturity with one's willingness to think of themselves as a marketable brand. In short, growing up equals selling yourself. Interesting, but distressing.

I suppose this new series has the same potential to deglamorize an industry, if it can tone down the empowerment message. But I don't have high expectations. I'm all on board with the post-feminism thing. Women can be sexy and feminine and still be powerful and intelligent. The Pussycat Dolls as a burlesque show was an interesting phenomenon, a kind of reappropriation of stripper aesthetics. One can appreciate it in the same way that we can honor Bettie Page as a kind of feminist icon. But the Pussycat Dolls pop group? Which produced the song, "Don't You Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me?" Not so much.


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