Reality shows: whether you love them, hate them, or feel aggressively indifferent towards them, they are rapidly overtaking sitcoms and dramedies and other such pre-written nonsense. Are they incredibly shallow? Usually. Do they make for excellent theme parties? Almost always. Are you an incredible lame-wad if you watch them alone? I’ll let you be the judge (but the answer is “yes”).
With another cycle of “America’s Next Top Model” having come and gone, Britain’s “NTM” hot on its heels, and Canada’s “NTM” following hard behind (hey guys, wait up!), I had to take a hard look at my own favorite non-fake-fake show.
As a self-respecting, body-conscious woman, it’s hard for me to admit out loud that I lurve “Top Model” in all its iterations. Crazy, power-mad Tyra? Love her. Adorable, not-always-sense-making Miss J? Love her too. Dashing, dashing Nigel Barker? *blushes* The opportunity to assemble a flock of girls, a pile of snacks, and usually a few bottles of wine, in order to exercise my judgmental powers? Can’t pass it up.
Because that’s what reality TV is at its core, right? Being able to critique strangers, unashamedly and with impunity? Oftentimes, that’s all the interest the show provides — love this person, hate that person, and now watch them eat bugs. At least with shows like “Top Model” or “Project Runway” or the various Idols/Got Talent/etc.s, you have something external to be subjective about. It makes me feel a bit less like a skeeze when I’m all, Natalie takes idiotic pictures instead of just, Natalie’s an idiot. (For the record, Natalie? An idiot.) So score one for the TM.
It also makes me feel like less of a skeeze to watch “Top Model” in company. I missed a “Top Model” night once and had to watch it on my own so that I could catch up, and I have never felt more like a jobless hack than I did that Thursday afternoon, youtubing bits of the missed episode. Karl Lagerfeld wasn’t joking when he said that “Top Model” is only funny if you’re with other people (and even then, he claims, only for five minutes. I respectfully differ). But most people I know watch these shows en masse, so score another for Tyra bringing people together.
And to give Ms. Banks some credit, she’s been trying to turn what is at its core the shallowest of premises (America’s Next Most Famous Tall, Thin, Attractive Person) into something more inclusive. Though my cynical side says she does it just for the controversy and human interest (which, given Cycle 12’s burn survivor Tahlia, who was more SoccerMom than SuperModel, seems more than likely), there’s no arguing that T has slightly widened the definition of “potential model.” Last cycle was graced by the smart, funny, transgendered Isis King, and the cycle previous was actually won by Whitney Thompson, who is what the industry calls “plus-sized” and the rest of us call “slender.”
My own shoulder-devil tells me that this most recent cycle may have been a huge step backwards, however. Fo Freckles was too short (a full inch taller than the undeniably tall, thin, attractive and famous Kate Moss), Celia was too “old” and “desperate” (at a whopping 25, but let’s be honest, the girl looked like the Crypt Keeper), and London was too fat to be the new face of Cover Girl. The weight issue is a particularly dicey one, both because the modeling industry = anorexic girls, and because have you seen Tyra? Talk about the full-figured pot calling the slightly-plusher-than-average kettle fat. T. Banks and company tried to side-step the issue by claiming that London’s gorgeous bone structure and perpetually smiling eyes (T’s words, not mine) didn’t translate onto film, but they probably should have picked an episode where Jay Manuel didn’t sit London down for a heart-to-lard in which to give her the boot.
So on the one hand, maybe the siren song of a girl’s night filled with wine and criticism of bodies that aren’t ours isn’t enough to justify returning to the “Top Model” well. On the other hand, eensy, cat-like strides are being made, and I for one am willing to wait around to see what sort of equal-opportunity fierceness Tyra comes up with next.