Monday, April 21, 2008

How Class is Presented in Sexualized Media

Anna Nicole Smith on the cover
of New York Magazine

Kevin Federline Portraying
the Working Class

Paris Hilton & Nicole Richie
Experiencing the Working Class
in "The Simple Life"

Jerry Springer & his
Tabloid Talk Show

Geneva & Kyle from the
Country Music Television show
"My Big Redneck Wedding"

Class is presented in sexualized media and many times it is the lower class that is exposed and in many cases purposely constructed for sell ability. Media artifact #1 is the cover of a past issue of New York magazine which headline says “White Trash Nation” and features model and Playboy Playmate Anna Nicole Smith. The article was obviously about “white trash” celebrities and celebrity stories as it advertised to feature “Tonya. Lisa Marie. John & Lorena. Roseanne & Tom. Paula & Gennifer & Bill. They’re everywhere. Lock up your Twinkies.” but Anna Nicole claimed that the magazine told her the photo shoot was for the ‘All-American-woman look’. The model was upset when she later saw that they had featured this photo that was apparently taken as a “just-for-fun outtake” and it portrayed her as white trash. Magazine stories such as these lend support to Constance Penley’s point in her article Crackers and Whackers: The White Trashing of Porn. Penley states that “white trash” is more than a low economic status but that it is a “never-ending labor of distinguishing yourself, of decoding your behavior”. She also makes the point that white trash is sometimes purposely constructed in sexualized (and sometimes non-sexualized) media such as Howard Stern, Hustler magazine, porn, America’s Funniest Home Videos, WWF wrestling, and Mad Magazine. Penley says, “…you do not have to be white trash to use white trash sensibilities as a weapon of cultural war…,” so it makes sense to believe that “white trash” is constructed for media but in the case of New York magazine (and many other cases), real white trash is just as sellable.

Media artifact #2 is a picture of celebrity Kevin Federline acting as “man of the house” or more appropriately, doing household chores of the common class, not of the celebrity class. Minette Hillyer questions in her article Sex in the Suburban: Porn, Home Movies, and the Live Action Performance of Love in Pam and Tommy Lee: Hardcore and Uncensored if what is done in the private can be considered public and what is done in the public can be considered private. Although Hillyer’s article is based around porn versus home movies, I think the same question can be applied to this picture of Federline. Is it the fact that a man is posing as “man of the house” or is it the fact that it is a celebrity that is posing that is news worthy? By showing an average Joe posing as himself doing household chores wouldn’t be nearly as exciting as showing a rich celebrity posing as the working class.

Media artifact #3 is that of celebrities Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie in their reality television show ‘The Simple Life’. This show takes these upper class socialites and places them in lower class situations where they have to work low-paying, manual labor jobs. This show is another example of Hillyer’s argument of the public and the private and class. If this show was about regular people (non-rich, non-celebrities) doing their everyday jobs and chores then there would be no appeal but because the show is about these two wealthy ladies who know nothing about the lower class and manual labor then the show is appealing. The show feels like getting a private snapshot into the lives of these upper class celebrities as they do the work that their lower class viewers have to do daily. Is the work or the working class private or public? When it is done by celebrities on camera then it becomes public and it becomes entertainment.

Media artifact #4 is that of Jerry Springer’s tabloid talk show ‘The Jerry Springer Show’. This show is a mess of white trash and often sexualized themes as it exploits the guests’ personal lives. Sex sells and as Penley’s article suggested, white trash sex sells even more. ‘The Jerry Springer Show’ seems like real life home grown white trash but a lot of work also goes into the creating and framing of the show to create that magical white trash feel that we all know and love from jerry Springer. As Penley suggested, could this be another way that white trash is used as a weapon of cultural war?

Media artifact #5 is a picture of the couple Geneva and Kyle from Country Music Television’s reality show ‘My Big Redneck Wedding’. This show finds “redneck” couples and follows them through their country styled weddings including all the must haves of camouflage, beer can canopies, mud wrestling, horses, ex-cons, shot guns, roasted squirrel, and baked beans. The shows host and narrator is the white trash icon Tom Arnold which only lends to the fact that this show may be titled “redneck” but it is all about white trash. To these couples they may be fulfilling their dream weddings but to the audiences watching they are giving us great white trash entertainment in the form of love and marriage. Viewers get a glimpse into the lower class lives of these couples or at least a glimpse of what Penley calls the labor intensive work of distinguishing themselves as white trash despite their economic class.

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