The Chronicle of Higher Education chose Brenda R. Weber's Makeover TV: Selfhood, Citizenship, and Celebrity for their "Nota Bene" feature this week. Reporter Kacie Glenn finds that "Weber was drawn to the subject when, watching an episode of Extreme Makeover,
she was puzzled to hear a young woman who had just undergone cosmetic
surgery declare, 'I just don't care what people think of me anymore.' . . . Weber argues that it described a logical, if paradoxical, state of mind.
She theorizes that the woman, like many makeover participants, felt
empowered even as she submitted to society's ideals, because of the
show's insistence that until that moment, her true self had been
suppressed." In the book Weber is critical of the makeover shows, but remains a fan. "Call me a sucker," she writes. "But I like the quirky joy that's represented in such hopeful statements of transformation."
In today's Chronicle of Higher Education, Lauren M.E. Goodlad, co-editor of Goth: Undead Subculture, reviews the television series, Mad Men. While Goodlad looks at why audiences love Mad Men, she primarily focuses on the character Don Draper. "I have been intrigued by the mysteries of culture before. In the
1990s, I was writing on gothic subculture and the phenomenon of 'men
who feel and cry'...all of whom beckoned
young men to dramatize emotion in ways that previous generations had
scorned as unmasculine. Alongside those men in black were harsher
specimens of masculinity in crisis.... While superficially different, both kinds of men were desperate to
feel, through catharsis or brutal violence. Yet most of these tales
focused on men's relationships with one another.... They were men searching for their feelings in the company of other men. And now comes Don Draper, icon of masculinity-in-crisis for the 21st
century. Don is in pain, yes, and hurting himself, too (for all his
spectacular emotional reserve). But he is also different. No tears or
blood on that impeccably pressed suit. No close ties to other men. What
is it that makes this odd blend of Jay Gatsby, the American Gigolo, and
the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit so captivating a figure for today?" To read more of the article, please visit here.
Brenda R. Weber's Makeover TV: Selfhood, Citizenship, and Celebrity is reviewed in Publishers Weekly. According to the reviewer, Weber "offers a long-overdue analysis of what being made over means in American culture. . . her work is worthy of attention." The reviewer also calls Makeover TV a "dense and insightful critique." The book will be available in November.
Image:Marking the Site of
Surgery.Brand New You. “Nicola,” September 4, 2005.
CNN interviewed Maria Elena Buszek, author of Pin-up Grrrls: Feminism, Sexuality, Popular Culture, in a piece on the legacy of Farrah Fawcett. Buszek places Fawcett at the end of a long line of twentieth-century pin-ups. "The Farrah Fawcett poster really is one of the last iconic pinup images of the 20th
century," Buszek said. "By the 1970s, because of the sexual revolution
and mores about sexuality becoming looser in the west, the pinup does
start to become more nostalgic."
I gave up. I decided I would be Jaclyn Smith’s Kelly instead of fighting with my friend and my sister to be Farrah Fawcett-Majors’ Jill. Besides, I could play with my two different Farrah dolls when they weren’t around and would refuse to swap my Jill trading cards next time they wanted to do an exchange. Maybe I couldn’t be Farrah that day, chasing down the bad guys as we rode bikes around the driveway. But she could be mine—I could be her—at other times, in other ways. Such was the life of a girl like me in times like those. In the mid-1970s there was no greater symbol of non-threatening feminine attractiveness and power. Farrah was it. The simultaneous appearance of Farrah’s famous swimsuit poster and the debut of ABC’s new series, Charlie’s Angels, in 1976 made Farrah a household name, an American icon, and an object of widespread admiration and desire. She was the first, and the most recognizable, of American television’s homegrown brand of female sex symbol for the post-sexual revolution era. She would only remain a full-time Angel for one season, but her fun-loving, sporty, beach-goddess aura set the template for a number of TV sex symbols throughout the decade.
It was easy then, as now, for pretty young women to get attention when they appeared on TV, the main stage of American popular culture. But Farrah’s fame was assisted by a confluence of forces, making her symbolic weight all the greater. By the mid-1970s, the women’s liberation movement had made clear that women and girls could do anything their male counterparts could do, not least of which were holding starring roles in action-oriented television series, wielding guns, and capturing villains. Yet the forces of backlash were plenty vocal, as well, insisting that “women’s lib” was seeking to erase the fundamental, natural differences between the sexes to the great peril of society. Amidst such a climate, Farrah happily posed for a pin-up poster. She reportedly had included in her Angels contract a provision that she be home in time each evening to make dinner for her “bionic man” husband, Lee Majors. And she declared in the press, “One of the things women are blessed with is their femininity and their intuition. Maybe we use it a little on the show, but I don’t think it’s wrong.” These dimensions of her star persona made her the ideal mediating figure for a time of confusion, change, and anxiety over gender and sex. Her Angels character could go undercover as a centerfold and fit the part beautifully, but would be most concerned with busting the crooked male owners exploiting the hard-working girls. And Farrah herself could work full-time and engage in hard-line contract negotiations all the while playing the part of the traditional everywoman who, after a day on set, would come home and “do women’s work . . . take off my nail polish, figure out a menu for tomorrow, maybe clean a room.”
Farrah made comfortable and reassuring the landmark changes in women’s roles during the 1970s. Girls like me could adore her for the promise she seemed to hold—the grown-up girl capable of daring adventure yet wildly desirable to boys, so pretty but so down to earth. She was the perfect symbol of sex—the sex “roles” we might fill and the sex appeal we might covet—in a time of vast sexual change.
Dana Polan's The Sopranos was reviewed in today's Inside Higher Ed. Scott McLemee writes that, "Rather than going along with the familiar judgment that The Sopranos
stood above and apart from the usual run of mass-cultural fare, Polan
reads it as continuous with both the traditions of genre television and
the hierarchy-scrambling protocols of the postmodern condition." Halfway through the review, McLemee addresses a previous review from the New York Times blog Paper Cuts. "Someone posting at the New York Times blog Paper Cuts
a few months ago took the entirely predictable route of charging the
book with 'taking all the fun out of our favorite unstable texts' by
smearing jargon on slices of the show. But surely I cannot be
the only reader who will respond with a kind of wistful nostalgia to
Polan’s recurrent, urgent insistence that postmodern irony is
organizing principle of The Sopranos." McLemee also writes that "Polan’s book is often insightful about the visual dimension of The Sopranos."
Lucas Hilderbrand's Inherent Vice was reviewed in yesterday's Independent Weekly. Reviewer Gerry Canavan sees Hilderbrand's book as "a sort of love song to the VCR—one much needed in this age of YouTube." He also writes, "Hilderbrand presents a strong case that personal recording technologies
(in both analog and digital forms) represent a crucial site for both
political struggle and public action, even civil
disobedience—implicitly warning that fair use is something that needs
to be fought for or else it will be subsumed by copy-protection schemes
and corporate enclosure."
Dana Polan's The Sopranos was reviewed in the Toronto Globe and Mail this weekend. Reviewer Rosemary Counter writes, "Between comparing The Sopranos with the good old days of Leave it to Beaver
and turning his nose up at network TV, cable snob Polan somehow
captures the show's smug 'tude - and its undermining - through dramatic
Dana Polan's new book The Sopranos is featured in the "Nota Bene" section of the Chronicle of Higher Education this week. Reporter Nina Ayoub discusses Polan's analysis of The Sopranos's ending and tells readers more about the series the book is in, Spin Offs, a production of the Console-ing Passions book series. On whether the writers of the Spin Offs books will be fans of the shows they deconstruct, series editor Lynn Spigel says, "I think being a TV fan can sometimes make for good scholarship. [Polan] brings fannish enthusiasm to the series but still is able
to provide something other than just promotion or idolatry. It's awful
to hate what you are writing about really, unless, of course, you love
to hate TV, which can sometimes also bring the appropriate passion to a
book." And as for the theory so mercilessly mocked in another national publication, Ayoub writes: "Yes, there is capital-T Theory in Polan's Sopranos. But in this 'Spin Off,' at least, it's more the Parmesan on the pasta than the pasta itself."
Dana Polan's The Sopranos gets a write up in the New York Times book blog, Paper Cuts. It's a pretty snarky one, but it does call attention to Polan's postmodern self-awareness, which we don't think is such a bad thing: "Polan, in his cheerily postmodern way, bounces around between Candide
and Ralph Kramden, Theodor Adorno and Donna Reed. At one point he
discusses Meadow’s boyfriend at Columbia, Noah Tannenbaum: 'In a
caution to any academic who is tempted by overinterpretation of popular
culture, Noah tells Tony about a course he’s taking on the gangster
film with the title "Images of Hyper-Capitalist Self-Advancement in the
Era of the Studio System" — the ironic savvy of The Sopranos here
anticipating books by film scholars such as myself!' Well noted,