Monday, July 16, 2007

The Girls Next Door, A Guilty Pleasure

In general, I'm not susceptible to reality TV (unless it involves cooking), but I have to admit that even though I don't make a point of watching E!'s show The Girls Next Door, I find myself flipping to it during commercials with shocking frequency.

The show is "reality" fare that follows Hugh Heffner's three girlfriends' lives in the Playboy mansion. Of course the reality presented does not resemble the reality I live in, but is strangely compelling nonetheless.

So why do I, a self-proclaimed strident feminist, get sucked in?

In a certain way, the very substance-less nature of the program appeals to me -- Kendra, Holly, and Bridget are doing exactly what popular culture tells our women to do:

  • Define their value in relation to men;
  • Consume, consume, consume;
  • Spend a lot of time exercising, waxing bikini lines, putting on makeup, and vamping for men.

To watch the girls on screen is to see my psyche as I might be if I bought in to the standards of beauty and consumption that our culture elevates. For this reason, the show both fascinates me and sickens me.

On the other hand, the girls have each made shrewd calculations and sacrifices to get where she they are -- these are not ditzy girls who lucked into the gig. In the episode "My Bare Lady", Kendra goes out to buy real estate, talking about how her boob job was her "first investment", noting that it's paid off. Holly starts an internship with Playboy, and we see her willingness to be involved in the production of porn, which she views as a creative act that finally puts her where she wants to be: in the director's seat, while Bridget uses the show's fame to jump start her second career as a voice actress.

I don't mean to suggest that the series' approach is either degrading or empowering -- it seems as though both sensibilities are mixed together. The girls are the perfect product of our consumer-oriented and sex-obsessed culture, but they are also real women trying to make money and build names for themselves.. This paradox is what makes me watch.

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