America’s Next Top Model—A Pseudo Event
As a fashion addict, I actively absorb any fashion-related information for the sake of possible career opportunity in the fashion industry oneday. As a result, despite my awareness of the fact that reality TV is merely a representation of fake reality, I still tune in every week to watch Tyra Banks’ reality show, ‘America’s Next Top Model (ANTM),’ and apparantly have no trouble being manipulated.
According to Boorstin (1987), a ‘pseudo-event’ is planned, staged, or provoked rather than being spontaneous. It is the artificial representation of reality that replaces the ‘real thing.’ Reality TV, as its title suggested, is ‘the perceived reality made for TV’ and therefore more or less scripted. With no exceptions, ANTM’s content is planned and presented with the same principle and mechanism as any other reality shows. By revealing the private life of its contestants as well as the ‘inside look’ of the fashion industry the show intends to portray, ANTM satisfied not only the audience’s curiosity in the notorious yet glamorous modeling world but human’s inner desire to pry into others’ privacy. The contestants, based on their individual personalities, all played a certain character on the show to some degree. Some of the roles could be a completely false or different representation of who they really are in life while some might only be the exaggerated illustration of their own personality. Whether it was the ‘bitch,’ the ‘conservative,’ the ‘diva,’ the ‘nuts,’ the problematic one, the quiet one, the bubbly one or the good one, the contestants all acted out their roles for the viewers to watch and perceive as reality. Even Banks, ANTM’s host and producer, admitted that she was role-playing on the show. Coaching the girls through photo shoots, offering both modeling and life advices to them, having heart-to-heart talk with them, and hugging them when they are in need of comfort, Banks played the role of a ‘Big Mama,’ as she called herself. In the previous seasons, while Janice Dickinson was still in the show, Banks played the good cop and Dickinson played the bad cop. Regarding her role on the show, Banks (O'Hare, 2006, para. 11) explained, “[But] [W]ith Top Model, that’s more of a character. That is not who I am in real life…it’s a reality-show character…it’s just something that works for the show”
Not only the show itself is a pseudo-event, the photo shoots and fashion runways in ANTM as well as Banks herself are also part of the pseudo-events. The majority of these shoots and runway shows were created and held solely as a challenge for the contestants; therefore, lots of theatrics were added for the viewer’s eyes. Moreover, in order to ‘stir things up’ and create topics for the media and general public, some of the photo shoots were taken place in inhuman settings. Whether it is wearing bikini and posing in an ice-sculptured room or floating and being photographed under frozen cold water, the contestants were still expected to finish the shoots to show ‘the judges’ their seriousness and devotion to the contest/show, regardless of their physical limitation. Under such circumstances, some of them collapsed and were sent to the emergency room after the shoots. The camera somehow accidentally caught everything, the whole ‘incident,’ and the audience witnessed it with the camera. Is that still what we call reality? I do not think so.
Furthermore, referring to Banks, the purpose of having all contestants (women, of course) living under the same roof and going through the judges’ harsh criticism was to reflect the toughness and reality of the modeling world. The industry was portrayed as a place of cat fights, craftiness, competition and no friends. In the end, in what degree did the show reflect reality? We might never know, unless we work in the industry. All we see was a staged, preconceived reality that the show wanted us to see, a pseudo-event that interests us and manipulated our perceptions.
In addition, Tyra Banks herself is a celebrity “who is known for her well-knowness,” a human pseudo-event (Boorstin, 1987, p. 57). As a supermodel, her perfect body represents the exaggerated expectation of women. Also, being the face of Victoria’s Secret and one of the few world-famous Black supermodels that has appeared on countless magazine covers, Banks has reached the pinnacle of her model career and received fame. By appearing in the show and interacting with Banks, the contestants has somewhat transformed into celebrities as well. As Boorstin (1987) indicated, a celebrity creates other celebrities “by touch, relationship, inference” (cited in Durbin, 2006, p.24). Therefore, the contestants have also turned into human pseudo-events and their image would be continuously reproduced in the show.
Yet, how real was the reality show? ANTM’s relation to the underlying reality is ambiguous.
After all, in reality, no one will put you under a surveillance camera 24-7 to film your unfaithful foreign affairs, cat-fights with others, crazy party nights, sharing of your deepest secrets and fears, or any other emotional or physical crisis. In real life, you will not have someone to tell you ‘one of you will be eliminated’ week by week. Yes, the modeling world can be quite competitive, but probably not in this way.