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This Is What Every Girl Dreams Of?

The ladies of Joe Millionaire use the phrase "fairy tale" a lot. This irritates me. In part, it's a cultural thing: I'm part of the ironic tribe, and I generally find expressions of wide-eyed sincerity or golly-gee naïveté slightly embarrassing. Still, even after adjusting for my cynical attitude, I remained disturbed. Trying to get to the bottom of my distaste, I thought, "Grown women just shouldn't…." It took me awhile to finish the sentence, but finally, I thought, "Grown women just shouldn't believe in fairy tales."

It almost felt heretical, just thinking it. It just seemed so cold and grumpy, so lacking in whimsy and childlike wonder. But, really, fairy tales are crap. (By "fairy tales," I am referring to the Disneyfied variety, because I assume this is what the ladies of Joe Millionaire mean. I don't think they're talking about the kind of fairy tale where, for instance, Little Red Riding Hood gets eaten by the wolf and that's that because disobedient girls deserve what they get. That kind of fairy tale is crap for different reasons.) While ending up with a prince instead of an ogre might have been an understandable aspiration for women who had no options besides marriage and no say over whom they married, snagging a prince is neither a particularly glorious achievement nor a laudable goal for contemporary American women.

I find myself bristling every time one of these women declares that "This is what every girl dreams of." What is the "this" to which they refer? The French chateau? The millionaire with hyacinth locks? Competing with several other women for the attentions of one man? Letting that one man call all the shots? Looking for love in the wholly artificial and always-sleazy setting of a Fox "reality" show? While I admit to daydreaming about the luxurious world-travel aspect of the show, I can't say that any other elements of the Joe Millionaire universe correspond to fantasies I've cherished and honed since childhood.

I suspect that "this" refers primarily to Evan's princely status as a (supposedly) wealthy hunk. One of the assumptions fundamental to the show—aside from the idea that women shouldn't mind being lied to—is that every woman wants a rich man. This is not quite the same as assuming that every woman wants to be rich; a woman might accomplish that on her own. No, the dream, according to Joe Millionaire, is scoring a rich man.

Of course, as Carina Chocano points out in this column for Salon, Joe Millionaire does deserve modest props for even acknowledging that there is such a thing as class in America, even if they do it in a sexist and ham-fisted way. (The last time I remember seeing income disparity depicted on TV was that episode of Friends where Joey, Phoebe, and waitress Rachel let their more lucratively employed pals know that they can't afford lavish entertainments like tickets to a Hootie and the Blowfish concert.) On the flipside, Joe Millionaire does, as Chocano explains, perpetuate the fantasy that class-jumping is as easy as putting on a designer dress that belongs to the guest staying in the hotel room you're cleaning. (The New York Times article Chocano references can be found here.)

January 29, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (0)

"If a man is bad, he will be bad to you."

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching a Buffy rerun on FX. During a commercial break, there was a promo for the show, which featured an interview snippet with James Marsters, the actor who plays Spike. I turned the sound back on, and immediately wished that I hadn't.

I like Spike, by which I mean like-like. I find him hot—not Angel-hot, but hot. I found James Marsters not so much to my liking. It was disconcerting to be looking at Spike, the sinewy punk vampire, while hearing a slightly geeky American gushing about how wonderful his castmates are. I hit the mute button as fast as I could, but I remained concerned that my crush on Spike had been irreparably damaged.

After reading this profile of Marsters from The New York Times, though, I found myself rather taken with the actor and wondering, sheepishly, why I had a crush on Spike in the first place. I mean, aside from the fact that he's a vampire, a soulless (until this season, anyway) mass murderer, the guy is a bastard. Sure, Spike is all tortured now and he really loves Buffy, but so what? Such is the stuff bad boyfriends are made of. Marsters knows this, and his thoughts on Spike and the moral universe of Buffy the Vampire Slayer make for pretty good reading.

January 21, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (0)

I Enjoy a Hideous Spectacle

I've been watching Joe Millionaire, Fox's latest perverse reinvention of "reality." I like to think that I'm watching as a cultural critic, as someone tuned into the zeitgeist. But, the fact is, I am tuning in for the same reason just about everybody else is: I enjoy a hideous spectacle.

This is not to say that I am viewing uncritically; it's just to say that, even as I am mentally enumerating all the false premises on which the show is based, I am also thinking, "Jesus! Heidi is such a bitch!" Of course, the show's producers do everything in their power to help me think that Heidi's a bitch, and I feel satisfied when she gets what's coming to her in the second episode. But what do the "winners" get? Continued participation in a duplicitous contest designed to make them look their worst, a contest which assumes that a man with money is always attractive, and that he should have his pick of women. They get to search for "true love" in a wholly artificial setting, and in front of an audience wallowing in the most mean-spirited kind of dramatic irony. And the last woman standing will enjoy the dubious pleasure of finding out that she has been lied to, and that her choice, as it is defined by the show, is between love and money, not between love and self-respect.

Anyway, in this American Prospect column, Noy Thrupkaew offers a very thoughtful and incisive reading of the show. She makes many of the points I would make, were I to write such an article, and she does it without feeling the need to single out the women who are obviously lying about their age, nor does she mention that Mojo dresses like a tramp.

In another very fine opinion piece, Robert Rue of Pop Matters explicates Fox's particular genius for misogyny and the ol' double standard: "What's easy to gloss over is that finding twenty women who are in love with the myth of marrying a rich, good-looking savior is probably about as difficult as finding twenty men in love with the fantasy of marrying a Playboy playmate."

January 10, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (0)