Makeover TV Selfhood, Citizenship, and Celebrity

by Brenda R. Weber

Part of the Console-ing Passions Series

Makeover TV Selfhood, Citizenship, and Celebrity Synopsis

In 2004, roughly 25 makeover-themed reality shows aired on U.S. television. By 2009, there were more than 250, from What Not to Wear and The Biggest Loser to Dog Whisperer and Pimp My Ride. In Makeover TV, Brenda R. Weber argues that whether depicting transformations of bodies, trucks, finances, relationships, kids, or homes, makeover shows posit a self achievable only in the transition from the Before-body -the overweight figure, the decrepit jalopy, the cluttered home-to the After-body, one filled with confidence, coded with celebrity, and imbued with a renewed faith in the powers of meritocracy. The rationales and tactics invoked to achieve the After-body vary widely, from the patriotic to the market-based, and from talk therapy to feminist empowerment. The genre is unified by its contradictions: to uncover your true self, you must be reinvented; to be empowered, you must surrender to experts; to be special, you must look and act like everyone else. Based on her analysis of more than 2,500 hours of makeover TV, Weber argues that the much-desired After-body speaks to and makes legible broader cultural narratives about selfhood, citizenship, celebrity, and Americanness. Although makeovers are directed at both male and female viewers, their gendered logic requires that feminized subjects submit to the controlling expertise wielded by authorities. The genre does not tolerate ambiguity. Conventional (middle-class, white, ethnically anonymous, heterosexual) femininity is the goal of makeovers for women. When subjects are male, makeovers often compensate for perceived challenges to masculine independence by offering men narrative options for resistance or control. Foregoing a binary model of power and subjugation, Weber provides an account of makeover television that is as appreciative as it is critical. She reveals the makeover show as a rich and complicated text that expresses cultural desires and fears through narratives of selfhood.

Makeover TV Selfhood, Citizenship, and Celebrity Press Reviews

Makeovers are everywhere in today's society, though I had never really given much thought to them until I read Brenda R. Weber's Makeover TV. Weber points out that we are making over everything: bodies, houses, cars, hair, lifestyles, wardrobes, and even pets. . . . It was a bit scary to realize how right Weber is, and that so much `entertainment' on TV is focused on making people conform to the norm. Makeover TV is a good, eye-opening read. -- Kristin Conard * Feminist Review blog * Weber sees in these makeover programs a strange new world-or, more accurately, a strange new nation, one where citizenship is available only to those who have made the transition `from Before to After.' . . . Weber's makeover nation is an eerie place, because no one fully belongs there, and, deep down, everyone knows it. -- Kelefeh Sanneh, The New Yorker The book is an engaging work that is as humorous as it is horrifying. While Weber's very personal conclusion still questions the processes of humiliation and painful surgical procedures endured in the name of reality TV, she remains quietly optimistic about the role of the makeover genre because, after all, we all want to feel better about ourselves. -- Peter C. Pugsley * Media International Australia * [Weber's] book blends the enthusiasm of a fan who has thought through her own connection to the genre with a high degree of scholarship that will be of considerable value to students and scholars alike. . . . It is the combination of redemption and coercion that make lifestyle such a fascinating genre and Weber's book such an engaging read. -- Gareth Palmer * Celebrity Studies * Makeover TV is a project of striking originality and timeliness, written by a skillful, sure critic. Brenda R. Weber's analyses are consistently subtle and penetrating. -Diane Negra, co-editor of Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture Makeover TV is a great book and a true pleasure to read. Brenda R. Weber's treatment of makeover television as a crafting of the self within the broad scope of neoliberalism, postfeminism, and a kind of savvy consumerism is convincing and provocative. Her book is an important contribution to television studies, media studies, feminist theory, and cultural theory. -Sarah Banet-Weiser, author of Kids Rule!: Nickelodeon and Consumer Citizenship Makeovers are everywhere in today's society, though I had never really given much thought to them until I read Brenda R. Weber's Makeover TV. Weber points out that we are making over everything: bodies, houses, cars, hair, lifestyles, wardrobes, and even pets. . . . It was a bit scary to realize how right Weber is, and that so much `entertainment' on TV is focused on making people conform to the norm. Makeover TV is a good, eye-opening read. - Kristin Conard, Feminist Review blog Weber sees in these makeover programs a strange new world-or, more accurately, a strange new nation, one where citizenship is available only to those who have made the transition `from Before to After.' . . . Weber's makeover nation is an eerie place, because no one fully belongs there, and, deep down, everyone knows it. - Kelefeh Sanneh, The New Yorker [Weber's] book blends the enthusiasm of a fan who has thought through her own connection to the genre with a high degree of scholarship that will be of considerable value to students and scholars alike. . . . It is the combination of redemption and coercion that make lifestyle such a fascinating genre and Weber's book such an engaging read. - Gareth Palmer, Celebrity Studies The book is an engaging work that is as humorous as it is horrifying. While Weber's very personal conclusion still questions the processes of humiliation and painful surgical procedures endured in the name of reality TV, she remains quietly optimistic about the role of the makeover genre because, after all, we all want to feel better about ourselves. - Peter C. Pugsley, Media International Australia Whether or not you're a fan of What Not to Wear and its ilk, Makeover TV is a great read which raises some serious questions about our society's obsessions with appearance and conspicuous consumption. Next time I'm staring at my reflection in a department store three-way mirror, I'll not only be wondering `What would Tim Gunn do?', but also `What would Brenda Weber say?' - Librarian Hot

Book Information

ISBN: 9780822345510
Publication date: 20th November 2009
Author: Brenda R. Weber
Publisher: Duke University Press
Format: Hardback
Pagination: 344 pages
Categories: Media studies, Cultural studies, Television,

About Brenda R. Weber

Brenda R. Weber is Associate Professor of Gender Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington.

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