Saturday, November 24, 2012
GOOD ON TV?: IS "AMERICA'S NEXT TOP MODEL" CULTURALLY IRRELEVANT?
I haven't written a lot of "Good on TV?" blogs lately, but in one of my FB groups, AD's TV Critic, I got into a discussion over "America's Next Top Model". Well, not so much a discussion, but well-, okay, maybe I could've simply kept my big mouth shut, but since I have an entertainment blog that updated multiple times weekly, there's little chance of that happening, but anyway, somebody posted a rather innocuous comment about the show have it's season finale that night (Which, I didn't know), and wanted to know who we thought might win or want to win. Well, I decided to ignore that question completely, but I did have something to say about the show, so I decided to play a little devil's advocate, and propose a theory, that "America's Next Top Model," isn't simply bad, which it is; I'm not sure that's really debatable, but it's bad, but I proposed that the show is in fact, irrelevant. I'm gonna copy my original reply to the post below, so you can see exactly what I said:
"I’m sorry, does anybody really care? I mean, let’s forget that it’s a stupid show, when’s the last time a model has been remotely relevant? Does anybody know? There was a time when it was. I can recall when Kim Alexis was the biggest model in the world, and Crawford before her, than Kathy Ireland, then, Tyra, Heidi Klum, Kate Moss, a couple others, but that was last Century! I can’t name one model in the last decade that’s been remotely culturally important? Can anybody? Not a model who became an actress or something, somebody famous, just for being a model, can anybody name one? I’ll let you throw in Playboy models, name one important model, from the last decade? You know where to find an accurate portrayal of models, “Project Runway”. They all line up on the runway, in the same black slip, all looking a little alike, a few minor difference, which give some of the designers an occasional challenge, but they’re basically canvas. Small canvass, small painting, slightly smaller canvas, slightly smaller painting, or outfit. That’s all they are now, and that’s all they should be. Why anybody would do or watch “ANTM”, in this day and age is beyond me. There’s nothing more irrelevant than a model."
I'd start by bragging a bit, and say that while there were numerous responses to my post, not one person, gave me a single name of a model that was culturally important. Just wanted to say that. (If someone can name a model who fits that description, in the last century, let me know, I'm more than willing to be proved wrong.)
Anyway, this led to a rather elaborate exchange between me and the person who wrote the original post, who I might add, called me a douchebag on multiple occasions, but basically, we were discussing was whether or not a TV show that can be on, for so many seasons, actually be completely irrelevant, in a sociological context of television. At least, that's what I was trying to question. It didn't exactly translate that well to any of the others participating, 'cause this got sidetracked into a strange, wider question on, "Is anything on television relevant?" which, I strongly disagree with. In fact, from my perspective, if it's on television, not only is it relevant, culturally, sociologically, and every other ology you can think of, but that all artistic endeavors are sacred. So, I dismissed any argument that something on television is irrelevant; in fact, I consider the opposite is true, whether it's "60 Minutes", or Triumph the Insult-Comic Dog, everything on TV is clearly relevant.
By that simple description however, "America's Next Top Model," is obviously relevant. However, I'm gonna challenge my own declaration here. If something's on TV, but nobody watches it, does it actually exist? Well, normally the answer would be no, because if nobody watches a show, it gets cancelled, so then it wouldn't be on TV, and that's clearly the major sign that a show isn't relevant. At least that's how it used to be.
I'll start with my claim that being a "Top Model" whatever-that-is, isn't a culturally relevant dream anymore. Well, if that's true, and I believe it is, should that alone mean that "AMNT" irrelevant? No, however, let's consider something it, in comparison to similar reality shows. The singing competition shows for instance, "The Voice," and "American Idol," being the main ones. Whatever one thinks, music is certainly still relevant, and that can't be argued. So is dancing, so "So You Think You Can Dance?" is certainly relevant. It apart of pop culture, who's headlining on the Las Vegas Strip still, I can vouch for that personally, so "America's Got Talent," is pop-culturally important, still. "Project Runway," I can name a bunch of fashion designers, all of whom are current and pop-culturally relevant. Just watch the Oscar pre-shows to find out how major they really are. It's important knowing who the best chefs in the country are. That's new, actually, that didn't use to be the case, but it certainly matters now. I'm sure there's a few other reality-competition shows I'm forgetting, but compared to the best and major reality-competition shows, it's certainly doesn't appear that who the top model in America is, lacks cultural importance.
However, every year, they manage to find about a dozen or so young girls, who are willing to enter the competition in hopes of becoming "America's Next Top Model". So, obviously there must be many girls out there, (and probably men too, btw) who dream of becoming a major supermodel, or at least, be some kind of model. Okay, there's nothing with that. I have some friends who have done some modeling over the years. There's a lot of avenues to get into modeling by the way, and a larger need for models, probably than ever before, especially since the internet exploded. That's one of the reasons why there isn't a prevalent culturally important supermodel anymore, 'cause models are everywhere. When there was only a few magazines and maybe, commercials, billboards, and posters, but now, you can find model jobs for everything. Just on reality shows alone, there's dozens of temporary model jobs, everywhere. Need a pretty girl for a photo, trust me, you can find one. Hell, I can recommend a couple with experience. For a lot of these shows, they are a major and viable outlet to find new young talented artists, of all kinds. Chefs, singers, dancers, fashion designers, etc. Not the only one, but certainly, the credibility they have does give credence to their job, and their cultural relevance. There isn't a major standard anymore for which to determine the top supermodel anymore, because there's more outlets to find models, that it's too commonplace. Not to mention, how models have been devalued over-the-years after widespread reporting of such things as bulimia and anorexia, plus the declining portrayal of models in general in pop culture. I think "Project Runway"'s portrayal of models, has drastically lessened their importance, specifically because they really show the actual work that goes into modeling, and it's drastically deglamourized it. I expressed that before in the FB post I said earlier, but notice how since that show, also parallels, the decline in models' relevance in pop culture.
So, what about "AMNT". It's searching for a pop cultural icon, in an area that isn't pop culturally relevant, but they've managed to search over 19 times, determined to find one. Well, maybe it's a ratings hit. It is, but it isn't. It started on the now-defunct UPN network, and crossed over to CW, when the networks merged with WB. According to wikipedia.com, it's been the top rated show on CW, for five seasons, and has consistently been near the top of the channel's ratings. That said, the ratings outside of the channel, are lousy, never ranking higher in the Neilsen's than #106th, and never recording more than six million average viewers. So it's the highest-rated show on a channel, with no ever moderately well-rated shows. Granted, the market is highly-saturated, more television shows than before, ratings are more skewered than ever. A show doesn't have to have particularly high ratings in order to remain on the air anymore. Especially with reality shows, which are incredibly cheap to produce, "AMNT", has had 19 cycles, in nine or ten seasons, so they can run two series a year practically, so it's really cheap to produce, and it makes money, despite the ratings, so it remains on the air. I don't blame CW for doing that, they need to make money, and if that's one of their only cash cows, they might as well make the money from it.
So, we have a show that remains on the air, despite traditional indicators that is shouldn't, on top of it, being a show that searches for a top in a profession, that isn't culturally relevant, which, I guess there's an argument that a reality show shouldn't have to be culturally relevant professions. Personally, after dealing with a crappy garbage disposal over the last week, I'd be interested in a show to find America's Best Plumber right about now (Patent pending), but the show, while having good intentions, is simply outdated. Tyra Banks, was literally, the last time I can recall a model be relevant in pop culture, just for being a model. (I know, she was in "Coyote Ugly," and a couple other minor acting roles, but until she had this show, and then the talk show, which was years later, I think about her being on multiple SI covers, which, once upon a time, actually were important.)
I don't know if this meets my claim that "AMNT" isn't relevant. There are certainly arguments in favor of it, (and if some are willing to make that argument, I'd be glad to post the dissenting opinion, right here) and if I call one show irrelevant, breaking with my own thesis that claims that, by a show being on TV, it's relevant to pop culture, can other shows also have absolutely no relevance? At any case, I think I can certainly claim that "AMNT", isn't as relevant as other TV shows. Even within it's genre, it's not as relevant as the other main shows. Still though, at least I'm talking and writing about it, so it's at least relevant enough to do that.