From Women's Studies
“Sex sells,” but what really goes on behind closed doors is frequently overlooked. It is often said that, “What happens in the bedroom stays in the bedroom.” The truth of the matter is, because so much of what happens during sexual experiences is silenced, many people feel uncomfortable communicating their own uncommon sexual encounters. Strange Sex has set out to break the mold. This television program on TLC explores head-on the unusual sexual encounters and addictions that many people struggle with.
Strange Sex, produced by Sirens Media, is a half an hour television show that aired for the first time on the cable network TLC on July 18, 2010. What was thought to be a somewhat risky move by TLC producers, the show’s airtime is a fairly early 10:00 PM. Topics have been covered on Strange Sex such as cougars and cubs, uncontrollable urges, extremely long penises, piercing pleasures, erotic eating, and balloon fetishes. One particular episode in the second season of the show discussed a woman who had an orgasm in the process of giving birth to her children. Although the topics of these seemingly rare sexual encounters are widely varied, there is one common trend; each of the people discussed in these documentaries was at least mildly uncomfortable discussing their story. Facing embarrassment and coping difficulties, the individuals explored on the show were some of the very few who were willing to become so public with their sexual encounters. Although TLC has received much criticism for airing such a dicey television show, the producers still stand by their original intent which is to educate. The Learning Channel, or TLC, considers Strange Sex an informational show that sheds light on numerous unspoken sexual issues that people deal with every day.
The format of a typical episode of Strange Sex begins with the introduction of the individual and their unusual sexual experiences. Throughout the half hour segment, the man or woman continues on to discuss their strange sexual practices in greater depth. The program will on numerous occasions have a black screen pop up with informational pieces of information explaining the fetishes or irregularities in more detail such as providing a name for the oddity. The person being documented is not the only one talking. The program brings physiologists and doctors who are professionals in the related area. This constructs a television show that is more than just stories about weird sex, but more so it is real people with real sexual irregularities. While participating in such a controversial television show is many times very emotional for the individuals, creating an outlet to get their story out to the public has many times created a sense of relief for many people to realize that they are not alone.
In Omohundro’s What is Culture, he describes a subculture as a “particular mix of shared understandings held by groups within a larger society” (31). I believe that each person documented on Strange Sex is respresenting a sexual subculture that needs a voice to be heard for the greater society. Only a select few of numerous atypical sexual endeavors have been documented so far in this TLC program. Perhaps more deviant sexual encounters such as various forms of gang rape or exhibitionism as displayed by Messner in his chapter “Playing Center: The Triad of Violence in Men’s Sports (31).” Although it would probably be difficult to recruit people to come forward about this sort of deviant behavior, perhaps the show could go to some sort of measure to protect the identity of the person being documented. I think that bringing a topic like this to light would further educate people by explaining what sorts of sexual behaviors can be okay and what sorts of behaviors are never acceptable. Another, less deviant, form of sexual interaction is displayed in Constable’s chapter, “Ethnography in Imagined Virtual Communities.” She touches on the increasingly popular combination of sexual practices and internet use. Constable notes how a woman that she spoke with explained how “a sex man who wrote ‘about all his sexual desires in the first letter (Constable, 35).’” I think that documenting this sort of sexual behavior on Strange Sex would be very beneficial to a growing population of people who engage in cyber-sexual endeavors, especially since like many of the other activities described, it is becoming increasingly less strange and uncommon with time.
Photo source: http://eideard.com
Omohundro, John T. "What Is Culture?" Thinking like an Anthropologist a Practical Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008. 25-53. Print.
Constable, N. Ethnography in Imagined Virtual Worlds. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Messner, M. A. (2002). Taking the field: Women, men, and sports. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, USA.
Links to Images
By Jess Catalano
Say Yes To The Dress
A woman is never more beautiful than when she walks down the aisle, looking stunning in her white wedding gown. Since Queen Victoria’s white wedding debut in 1840, women have been obsessed with finding their perfect wedding dress. It is the most idealized part of the wedding and often, the most important. TLC capitalized on this obsession when it created Say Yes to the Dress, set in New York’s Kleinfeld’s. The show highlights gorgeous wedding dresses as well as all the drama that comes with buying them. However, TLC also capitalized on the vulnerability that accompanies plus sized women when they created the spin off show Say Yes to the Dress: Big Bliss. Big Bliss features only plus sized brides and all of their struggles.
On Saturday, April 30th 2011, an estimated 23 million Americans woke up at 6am to tune into William and Kate’s royal wedding (reported by Nielson Co.). What would compel that many people to rise so early on a Saturday morning? Perhaps it was the historical draw that enticed people out of beds. Or, even more compelling than seeing history in the making, perhaps, was the obsessive desire to see the reveal of Kate Middleton’s wedding gown. Women have been obsessed with wedding gowns since Queen Victoria’s debut of her spectacular white gown in 1840 (Ingraham, 59). Recently, reality wedding shows have been gaining popularity on TV networks, particularly TLC. The wedding and entertainment industries are extremely lucrative businesses and it only made sense to combine them. TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress and Say Yes: Big Bliss encompass US women’s three obsession in one tidy series.
Photo Source:http://stylenews.peoplestylewatch.com Photo Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk
TLC’s reality show Say Yes to the Dress keeps this royalty-inspired tradition alive by helping women find their dream gown. The show takes place in New York City at Kleinfeld’s, a prestigious wedding boutique. Dresses sold on the show range in price anywhere from $1,800-$50,000. As stated on their website, the owners of Kleinfeld’s are committed to creating the “experience” of buying a wedding dress. That is, they want each woman to find the perfect fit, the perfect style, and the perfect feeling when it comes to choosing her wedding dress.
The show was so successful that TLC did not hesitating in creating spinoffs. Say Yes to the Dress: Big Bliss was created in 2011, only one year after the series’ original debut. Big Bliss features the exact same drama that is displayed in the original, with one exception: the only brides featured are plus-sized women. The first season of Say Yes to the Dress featured brides of all shapes, and was successful. In an interview by Style List, Randy Fenoli, Klienfeld’s Fashion Director, claims the motivation behind the spin off was to empower plus sized women. He explains that plus sized women can receive different treatment at bridal salons because dresses often do not come in their size.
But, is the show “exposing” the big injustice, or the just bride’s vulnerability? Fenoli may think that giving the plus sized brides their own show empowers them. What he fails to mention is that by segregating the sizes, they are also effectively giving skinny women their own show. Despite Fenoli’s declaration of empowerment, separating the sizes creates the idea that plus sized women should have poor self image and only Kleinfeld’s can come to the rescue by putting them in overpriced taffeta. When asked about featuring plus sized brides that are comfortable and confident with their bodies, Fenoli points out that “these ladies have been proposed to by a man who loves every inch of them! We lose sight of that sometimes” (“Star Randy Fenoli on Plus Size Brides”).
Photo Source: http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com Photo Source: http://www.tv.com
Kleinfeld’s sells more than just a wedding dress. Brides from all ages, shapes, and sizes flock to New York’s elite consultants to find their perfect dress. They will wait months for an appointment, squeeze themselves into tiny sample sizes, and (often) spend thousands of dollars over budget for a garment they will only wear once, for a few hours. Despite the different ages, sizes, and budgets of the brides they are all looking for that special feeling: that the dress she has on is the one. The wedding is her special day, and on that day she will accept nothing less than looking like a queen.
Weddings, weight issues, and reality TV are three things that TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress: Big Bliss has in common. Women are not only obsessed with weddings, but they are obsessed with wedding gowns. The image of the bride has been ingrained in their heads since the early years of their youth through the marketing of Barbie dolls and Disney Princesses. Spending thousands of dollars on one garment that will be worn once has been naturalized by the media. However, there is one group of women that are at a particular disadvantage when it comes to buying their dream dress: plus sized brides. TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress: Big Bliss features only plus sized brides and all of the insecurities that comes with them. Despite Randy Fenoli’s claim that the show was meant to empower these women by exposing their troubles, the show might do more harm than good by capitalizing on these women’s vulnerabilities.
Ingraham, Chrys. White Weddings: Romancing Heterosexuality in Popular Culture. New York: Routledge, 1999. Print.
Kleinfeld Bridal. Kleinfeld, 2011. Web. 12 Dec 2011. <http://www.kleinfeldbridal.com/>.
Fenoli, Randy. Internet Chat Interview. 9/30/2010. <http://main.stylelist.com/2010/09/30/say-yes-to-the-dress-big-bliss-randy-fenoli/>
"Nearly 23 Million Americans Watched the Royal Wedding." . Associated Press, 5/1/2011. Web. 12 Dec 2011. <http://blog.syracuse.com/entertainment/2011/05/nearly_23_million_americans_wa.html>.
By Amanda Loeffert
My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding
Every little girl dreams of the perfect wedding dress that turns her into a princess, the gypsy community, as seen on TLC's latest wedding show My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, takes this dream to the extreme with their interesting traditions. They plan every part of their wedding to be as extravagant as possible from their giant dresses to their arrival in a horse drawn carriage to their huge receptions, while at the same time worrying that due to discrimination any part of their wedding could be canceled.
My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, produced by Firecracker Films, premiered in February 2010. It follows the community of gypsies living within Great Britain, Ireland, and Scotland, also known as the Travelers in some places, as they prepare for their wedding day, dealing with the everyday issues of normal wedding planning as well as keeping as much of the ceremony and reception a secret for fear of discrimination from the "settled" community, which can lead to cancelation. These girls tend to marry young, around the age of 16 or 17, abandoning school and jobs, to stay at home full time. Coming from strictly religious households, these young women see marriage as freedom from their opressive families, who would often not allow their daughters to be unshaparoned in the presence of a male outside the family.
Chrys Ingraham in her chapter the "Wedding-Industrial Complex" claims that the white wedding dress was brought into fashion by Queen Victoria, whom with her wedding sparked the imagination of the masses wishing to emulate the queen and have their own royal weddings. The travelers take this wish to a whole new level embracing the idea of being a princess for a day with their fiercely protected traditions.
The most important tradition the girls follow is their enormous wedding dresses, spending an exorbitant amount of money on them. The travelers follow the belief that the larger and more ostentatious the dress the larger the status conveyed, having dresses with thousands of Swarovsky crystals, huge tiaras, and dress that have so much crinoline that they weigh over 200 pounds. These dresses weigh so much that they actually carry scars from them, with pride. Another interesting tradition that the travelers have is that of the "little brides". "Little brides" are younger girls within the brides immediate family, similar to flower girls but with a higher status. These girls wear dresses identical to the brides and shadow the bride the entire day, almost like a dress rehearsal for their own wedding.
Photo Source: http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/tv/my-big-fat-gypsy-wedding/gypsy-wedding-pictures1.htm Photo source: http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/tv/my-big-fat-gypsy-wedding/gypsy-wedding-pictures9.htm Photo Source: http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/tv/my-big-fat-gypsy-wedding/gypsy-wedding-pictures4.htm
By Kelsie Hartpence
The network content of TLC expanded within the past few years to include tattooing. Historically, the country has had a negative opinion about tattoos, which were "generally viewed with disdain by the higher reaches of society" (PBS-Skin Stories). Now, shows like LA Ink and NYC Ink share air time with other TLC programs about families, wedding dresses and a New Jersey bakery. The inclusion of LA Ink and other shows dedicated to tattooing reflects the increasing acceptability of tattoos in mainstream society.
Martin Hildebrandt opened the first tattoo shop in New York City in 1846. Samuel O’Reilly, also operating in New York, invented the modern tattooing gun (still in use today) in 1891. Early 20th century circuses employed people with full body tattoos as sideshow attractions. Apart from very specific demographics interested in ink, the majority of society did not appreciate tattooing: “By the 1950s, tattooing had an established place in Western culture, but was generally viewed with distain by the higher reaches of society” (PBS Skin Stories). People with tattoos still accepted the established practices of their society, but represented a subculture within the country. John Omohundro, author of Thinking Like An Anthropologist, defines subculture as a “particular mix of shared understandings held by groups within a larger society” (31) According to the American Academy of Dermatology, about 36 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 have at least one tattoo. 16 percent of all Americans have at least one tattoo. The majority of these people probably live in one of the 10 most tattooed cities in the country-- 10) Los Angeles, CA (home to LA Ink's featured parlor, High Voltage Tattoo Shop) 9) Kansas City, MO 8) Honolulu, 7) San Francisco, CA 6) Austin, TX 5) Portland, OR 4) Flint, MI 3) Richmond, VA 2) Las Vegas, NV 1) Miami Beach, FL But tattoo parlors and tattooed people are seen all over the country---the numbers continue to increase with more acceptability (mostly among women) and exposure. A wider acceptance of tattoos in American popular culture subverts the excorporated role which they once fulfilled. Tattoos are being incorporated in the mainstream. Fiske explains that when the mainstream culture adopts practices and symbols from subordinate cultures, it can sometimes be understood as a form of ‘containment’: “a permitted and controlled gesture of dissent that acts as a safety valve and thus strengthens the dominant social order by demonstrating its ability to cope with dissenters or protesters” (Fiske 114). Tattooed ‘dissenters’ and ‘protesters’ maintain a certain level of freedom: enough to enjoy it, but not enough to threaten the position of the dominant order just not enough to make the dominant order feel threatened (Fiske 114).
One of the best examples of tattoo-incorporation is the television show LA Ink on the channel TLC. The show focuses on artist Kat Von D (Katherine Drachenberg), owner of High Voltage Tattoo Shop in West Hollywood, California.
http://www.mainemaritimemuseum.org/uploads/slideshow_images/tattoo_fouled_anchor_1.jpg http://images.wikia.com/tattoos/images/7/7f/HighVoltageTattoo02.jpg http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-RehiXu-_71c/Tk5HOIdRSnI/AAAAAAAAAPI/Y5lVCC5zpn8/s1600/Kat+Von+D+Tattoos-2112.jpg
By Chelsea Kenner
Sources: Omohundro, John T. Thinking Like An Anthropologist: A Practical Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, “What is Culture”, McGraw-Hill, 2007 Fiske, John, Understanding Popular Culture, “The Commercial and the Popular”, Routledge, 2010 Bordo, Susan, Twilight Zones: The Hidden Life of Cultural Images from Plato to OJ, “Introduction”, University of California, 1999 Butsch, Richard, The Making of American Audiences: From Stage to Television, 1750-1990, “Ralph, Fred, Archie, and Homer: Why Television Keeps Recreating the White Male Working-Class Buffoon”, Cambridge University, 2000 Orend-Cunningham, Angela, Consumers Commodities and Consumption, “Corporate Logo Tattoos: Literal Corporate Branding”, University of Louisville, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2003
Discovery Communications, TLC, “About the Show—LA Ink”, 2011 http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/tv/la-ink/about-la-ink.htm
PBS, Skin Stories: The Art and Culture of Polynesian Tattoo, “History of the Tattoo—Beyond”, Pacific Islanders in Communication, 2003 http://www.pbs.org/skinstories/history/beyond.html
19 Kids and Counting
Many television shows would find it difficult to retain viewers if they kept changing the name of the show. Fortunately for the Duggar family, “19 Kids and Counting” is a special case in that it must change its name in order to stay accurate to the number of children the family has at the time. Soon enough the show will be changing its name once more to "20 Kids and Counting." The United States has become fascinated with the huge Duggar family and their Christian-value-influenced lifestyle. The Duggars have allowed cameras into their home for the last few years so that people could better understand a way of life that is seen as so different from most families.
“19 Kids and Counting” was previously known as “18 Kids and Counting” and “17 Kids and Counting” on The Learning Channel, also known as TLC, but the family first got their television start on the Discovery Health Channel in a show called “14 Children and Pregnant Again!” The Duggar family consists of father, Jim Bob, mother, Michelle, and their 19 children, (Joshua, Jana, John-David, Jill, Jessa, Jinger, Joseph, Josiah, Joy-Anna, Jedidiah, Jeremiah, Jason, James, Justin, Jackson, Johannah, Jennifer, Jordyn-Grace, and Josie). Their oldest child, Joshua, has started his own family with wife, Anna, their daughter, Mackynzie, and a second child on the way. The majority of the show takes place in their home in Arkansas, although the family has been given a many opportunities to travel all over the United States and the world to talk about their family and their beliefs, which are sometimes featured on the show.
For anyone who has ever watched the show, Christianity is clearly a huge part of the Duggars’ lives. It impacts decisions such as what clothes should be worn (modest clothing, especially for girls), how to wear one’s hair (boys short, girls long), what type of homeschooling program to use (a Christian-based curriculum), how children should remain pure until marriage, how girls and boys should act (girls more submissive, boys more dominant), among other family resolutions. One of the most important decisions that has been dictated by their religion and their relationship with God, and also one that has created the interest in the show, is that it should be left up to God to decide how many children Jim Bob and Michelle have, thus the use of contraceptives is prohibited.
Photo Source: http://cdn.babble.com
Although it has been assumed that younger generations are placing less importance in religion, it appears that people are still fascinated by looking at religious subcultures, in this case a conservative Christian subculture, that are different from their own. At first, viewers may be drawn into the show based on the fact that this family has an unusually large number of children, but they will probably stay hooked to watch how this family lives with their highly Christian-influenced values and behaviors.
To analyze this popular television show with some pieces that we read over the summer, I used Joyce Antler's "Jewish Women on Television: Too Jewish or Not Enough?" to compare the Evangelical Christian ways with the way Jewish women are portrayed on sitcoms. I also utilized “More Power!’: Negotiating Masculinity and Femininity in Home Improvement,” by Charlene Dellinger-Pate and Roger C. Aden to discuss stereotypical gender roles. Lastly, I found Ross Haenfler's piece "Virginity Pledgers—Religion, Sexual Identity, and Positive Deviance," to be quite useful when considering the pressures placed upon the Duggar children when it comes to chastity.
Antler, Joyce. “Jewish Women on Television: Too Jewish or Not Enough?” Talking Back: Images of Jewish Women in American Popular Culture. By Joyce Antler. University Press of New England, 1998. 665-671.
Dellinger-Pate, Charlene, and Roger C. Aden. “More Power!’: Negotiating Masculinity and Femininity in Home Improvement.” 153-163.
Haenfler, Ross. "Virginity Pledgers—Religion, Sexual Identity, and Positive Deviance." Goths, Gamers, and Grrrls: Deviance and Youth Subcultures. By Ross Haenfler. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. 71-82.
Links to Images
By Alicia Eissler
Page designed by: Zhanjun Chen