Pink girls rule the World

Ideological issues in The 2013 Annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show

Victoria’s Secret is a powerhouse lingerie company, known for it’s glitz, glamour, and so-called “sexy” fashions that appeal to the young, flirty, thin female role. Notorious for it’s celebration of what they classify as beautiful bodies, the company is constantly working through ideological issues brought on by their sexually suggestive apparel. Victoria’s Secret has been sexualizing women since the company emerged in 1977 and sex and sexuality are used to court Victoria’s Secrets’ imagined audience by selling the way their products look on beautiful women. The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show challenges the viewer to question the issues of beauty in our society by putting a face to what sexy should look like. This is done by constant representation of beauty norms, female empowerment, and the use of consent in products. Overall, Victoria’s Secret is constantly worried about their image, but mostly concerned with selling product, if they have to use sex and sexuality to be successful, they will. Throughout this blog post, I will be unpacking the dazzling complexities of beauty and sexuality expressed during The 2013 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

Background of The Annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show

The Annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is one of the most looked-forward-to events of the year. It features their brands of lingerie as well as sleepwear, makeup, and accessories. They also normally debut their most lavish bra that costs up to millions of dollars. In The 2013 Fashion Show, model Candice Swanepoel had the honor and responsibility of wearing their ten million dollar bra.

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Candice wearing the 10 million dollar bra

In order to walk in the fashion show, models have to last though the difficult and political process, in which the producers scout “gorgeous, healthy women”. Some Victoria’s Secret Angels include, Alessandra Ambrosio, Lily Aldridge, Behati Prinsloo, Candice Swanepeol, Adriana Lima, and Cara Delevingne to name a few. The Victoria’s Secret Fashion show is televised by CBS, typically in December, right before the holidays to appeal to all consumers, and promote their product even further during the Christmas season.

Every year, the show has to be better than the previous, constantly competing with the preceding numbers and sales. The numbers behind the 2013 Fashion Show were the best to date. The producers bring in various artists to accompany the models while they walk down the runway. In 2013 the artists were Fall Out Boy, Taylor Swift, A Great Big World, and Neon Jungle. Each song constitutes a different theme that is visible through costumes, set design, and artist’s outfits. The costumes and lingerie featured throughout the fashion show are extremely elaborate, not to mention heavy. Models get the honor of wearing giant angel wings to symbolize their efforts as a Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show Angel. Various wings include devil, feather, lace, etc. which have become symbolic for the brand.

Beauty Norms

             One ideological issue that Victoria’s Secret is constantly working through is beauty norms. The Annual Fashion Show is an infamous event that many women and girls look forward to watching every year. Women every day dream about being something better, something different, or more importantly something they are not. Victoria’s Secret took advantage of women’s fantasies and put a face and body to those hypothetical perfect women. Unfortunately for those dreamers, the Victoria’s Secret model is almost unachievable because they are too perfect, except their trainer will tell you how to get an insane body like the Angels. This article suggests that everyone wants to look just like a model, but the expectations of being just like them are too great for anyone to achieve. No model of Victoria’s Secret wears a size bigger than a 2, this idea does not promote much diversity among their models, or good body image, because the consumers idealize the model’s body, and not their own. There is no room to not be perfect if you are a Victoria’s Secret Angel, because they all look the same. An issue that was present during the fashion show is their lack of diversity among their Angels. For the duration of the entire show, only one black girl is featured, among the 20-40 models selected to walk. They also have a “sexy little geisha” costume featured on their website, worn by a model who is clearly not Asian, and a Geisha is almost a prostitute. This costume makes it feel like Victoria’s Secret is making a mockery of the lack of diversity.

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The PINK section of the fashion show features the most conservative pieces because this brand is catered to a younger crowd. Comparing outfits from their PINK theme to any other theme it is clear that they are trying to promote a more conservative stance for younger girls. However this idea conflicts with the rest of the show, which only features racy and revealing outfits/ costumes.

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PINK themed costume

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Standard costume during the fashion show

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The also obvious model stereotype or norm is that they are not intelligent, however, Victoria’s Secret producers say that they are looking for an angel who is happy, enthusiastic, and bright. They want to combat this stereotype and have their models be seen in the highest light. A cameo featured in the fashion show, questions their attempt to have their models be seen as smart and intelligent because they ask them what they would do stranded on an island. Many of the responses include:

“I would bring… a surfboard…ummm a barbeque”

“a really strong man”

“obviously we need wi-fi?”

Many of the responses were pretty scattered and do not reinforce their intelligence. The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show deals with many different ideological issues, specifically beauty norms and how they are reinforced or questioned throughout the entire show.

Female Empowerment

Another thing that is constantly being worked though specifically during the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is female empowerment. Critics of the company are quick to say that the way they organize models and set up pictures/ advertisements objectifies women, but during the Fashion Show, the models are always justifying that walking down the runway for Victoria’s Secret is something they have always wanted, and have even dreamed about since they were little. Victoria’s Secret wants to give off the impression that women are there because they want to be, and feel empowered by being a Victoria’s Secret Angel. For example, a women who works for Victoria’s Secret is featured in an interview and says “for us it’s important to find a girl who’s enthusiastic, positive, and always happy, a gorgeous healthy woman”. She gives off the impression that they are looking for average girls, “just like you!”, but as the same 6 foot tall, blonde, white, tan girl walked down the aisle, her statement was continually proved wrong.  There are many different scenarios in which Victoria’s Secret makes statements on how to look like their model. During many of the Angel’s interviews during the fashion show, in between themes, many of the models speak to the camera telling the audience how happy they are to be an Angel, making statements like, “I made it”, “one lucky girl”. Such phrases justify that they feel empowered by being an angel, and not objectified like the critics are quick to suggest. Other opportunities to empower the angels include commercials, like this, that feature women as strong, independent, athletic women who men should not mess with. This commercial is exactly what Victoria’s Secret wants their models to feel: empowered.

However, the ideological issue of female empowerment is contested in the way that the producers highlight the relationship between Angel Behati Prinsloo and fiancé Adam Levine (who is sitting in the audience). When Behati walks down the runway we see her look to her fiancé with a questionable look, one may even describe it as a desire for approval? Adam Levine supplies her with an adequate expression, accompanied with applause and cheering. This scene that is reenacted every time she walks down the runways, supporting a claim that females need to please their male counterpart. Another scenario that occurred onstage that negates female empowerment is when Taylor Swift is performing, a model walks by her and Taylor spanks her. This action supports the sexualization of women, and how they are only seen as objects. Throughout the Fashion Show, the actions and responses of many of the models, and the way the camera frames relationships/ interactions question Victoria’s Secrets’ efforts to empower their models

Commodifying “Consent”

The last ideological issue that Victoria’s Secret is constantly working through, that I looked at while analyzing Victoria’s Secret is the “consent” line. Rape and sexual abuse is definitely not a joking matter, and unfortunately is a very serious issue across the United States especially on college campuses. Victoria’s Secret took tag lines like “no means no” and “ask first” and plastered it on barely-there panties to make money. The irony is not lost on me. Such blatant mockery questions the values and moral set by Victoria’s Secret.

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Sex on Glee: Teen Naivete, Pregnancy, and A New Gay Chic

The musical comedy-drama Glee from co-creators Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan, and Brad Falchuk, burst onto the scene in 2009 with a cast of breakout stars who all played “outcasts” until they found a home in the rural Ohio high school’s Glee Club, New Directions. It has had impressive staying power, and even if ratings based on viewership have decreased, it is still a media text that embodies so much of its cultural moment. Namely, the show deals with issues of teen sexuality and desire, works through and de-romanticizes teen pregnancy through warning against the risks and dangers of unprotected sex, and creates the character of Kurt Hummel, who reflects a cultural discourse surrounding gender expression and homosexuality, making him an “approachable” gay character for the new Millenium. These ideological struggles were in process during the time of the first season of Glee, exhibiting an important cultural “working through.”

Season 1 of Glee premiered May 19, 2009, with the rest of the season running from September 9, 2009, and June 8, 2010. Specifically, for my analysis, I looked at seven episodes where Glee most ostensibly works through these ideologies and embodies anxieties surround sex, sexuality, homosexuality, and teen pregnancy.

“Our Hormones Are Driving Us Too Crazy to Abstain!”: Teen Sexuality and Desire

Glee appeals to its audience through a “clean taboo.” The show touts an ironic self-awareness in the naivete with which it portrays sexuality and sex, approaching sex in ways that are deviant enough to be controversial or scandalous, but clean enough to appeal to Fox’s viewership.

For example, in the 15th episode of the season, “The Power of Madonna,” Finn and Rachel are both struggling to decide whether or not to lose their virginity. The storyline itself does have the potential to articulate very difficult tensions regarding sexuality and choice, making teen sexuality a serious topic. However, these possible discourses are commercialized, trivialized and put over a musical number…Madonna’s Like a Virgin, of course. It makes talking about virginity safe, cute, appealing, with just the right amount of “sexy.”

In Episode 2, “Showmance,” Quinn, the popular Cheerio captain, is introduced as the president of the Celibacy Club. She wears a cross around her neck, refers to “sharing her faith,” and calls contraception the “C Word.”

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Quinn calling the Celibacy Club to order in “Showmance.”

Quinn has Celibacy Club members do an activity where the men can’t get erections while standing across from the girls of the group or they’ll pop a balloon.

Quinn: Now let’s pair up for the Immaculate Affection. Now remember, if the balloon pops, the noise makes the angels cry.

She is presented here, in the beginning of the season, as a conservative Christian who is abstaining from sex with her boyfriend Finn. She believes in abstinence only and ties it ostensibly to her religious beliefs. When Quinn becomes pregnant two episodes later due to a miscommunication regarding birth control (while cheating with Finn’s best friend Puck), it mirrors the ideological struggle within abstinence education surrounding ideas of sexual choice and the difficulties of a mounting sexual desire in teenage years. With the lack of education highlighted in scenes with the Celibacy Club comes a sexual naivete that is perhaps most embodied by Finn’s storyline in our first season. He doesn’t believe his girlfriend would cheat, or that she wants to have sex just as much as he does and because of his lack of education,  Finn thinks he got Quinn pregnant, even if they never had sex.

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Quinn: I’m pregnant.
Finn: Mine?
Quinn: Yes, you! Who else’s would it be?
Finn: But we…we never…
Quinn: Last month, hot tub?
Finn: But we were wearing our swimsuits!
Quinn: AskJeeves said hot tubs are the perfect temperature for sperm…it helps it swim faster.
Glee, Episode 4, “Preggers”

Because of his lack of sexual education and his beliefs surrounding sexuality, Finn believes her when she tells him the baby is his.

In Episode 17, “Bad Reputation,” the sexual exploits of the glee club members come out on a “Glist.”

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Yes, the sexuality of the club members is alluded to, but the list isn’t filled with gossip-y anecdotes. Instead, it’s arbitrary numbers put together  by the once popular Quinn Fabray in her frustrations over losing social status. She tells Mr. Schuester that she put herself at the top of the list because she believes a bad sexual reputation is better than no reputation at all. Even in an episode explicitly tied to sexuality and teen desire, the show frames it in “lite” and approachable ways.

Glee, 16 and Pregnant, and The Public’s Pregnancy Scare

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Quinn’s pregnancy storyline arrived in a timely fascination with teen pregnancy in 2009.
Audiences were fascinated, but wary, of teen sexual autonomy. Then came 16 & Pregnant, a brilliant MTV series playing on a “public pregnancy scare.” It did anything but glamorize pregnancy. In fact, it only really intensified negative perceptions of teenagers who choose to have their children when they become pregnant. The show was brilliant in many ways, perhaps most through it’s showing every single part of the cast member’s lives, however gruesome or upsetting. It even accounted for declining teen birth rates after its premiere, according to an article by the Washington Post.

We see these same “scare tactic” characteristics throughout Quinn’s pregnancy in season 1. In “Wheels,” Quinn struggles with the costs of her pregnancy and Puck has to offer to pitch in. In “Ballad,” Quinn is kicked out of her parents’ house because she finally tells them she’s pregnant. And she is upset about losing control of her life, her body, her popularity for the entirety of the first season. The show’s stance is clear.
This pregnancy, even if it’s happening to the former most popular girl in school and captain of the cheerleading squad, isn’t supposed to be glamorous at ALL.

Perhaps most compelling is the season finale, “Journey to Regionals,” when Quinn goes into labor. It isn’t just a short montage or an “after” shot. Quinn is screaming and yelling, juxtaposed against the chaos of Vocal Adrenaline’s performance of Bohemian Rhapsody. Like we see in MTV’s 16 & Pregnant, Quinn’s pregnancy is unmistakably difficult and a cautionary tale about making “irresponsible” choices around sexuality.

Kurt Hummel: More Than Just a Pretty Face

Glee came out as a “gay-friendly” show early on with the casting of Chris Colfer as the wonderful Kurt Hummel. But why do we love Kurt so much? Yes, Gleeks everywhere can agree that Kurt in Season 1 of Glee was unbelievably lovable…he was unapologetically himself, individualistic, fun, and his outfits were out-there and fabulous.

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The many outfits of Kurt Hummel in Season 1 of Glee.

But there is a lot more to Kurt than meets the eye.

Kurt = New Gay Chic

Kurt Hummel emerged in Glee as the new gay chic, embodying a new pervasive character trope of a gay male in popular TV.

Ron Becker’s Gay TV and Straight America talks at length about the cultured, employed, and wealthy gay men in their early 30s that dominated gay characters of popular TV in the 90s to appeal to the bobo’s and the Creative Class. Homosexuality in public discourse absolutely looks different than the 90s Ron Becker’s popular TV and the character of Kurt Hummel turns the gay character prototype of the 90s on its head. Now, the “new” gay trope appeals to a younger demographic, one that is typically “pro-gay rights” but still adjusting to more “blatant” expressions of sexuality. Gay characters on TV are now not just those same cultured and employed wealthy men. They are high schoolers in their teens. They are colorful. They are naive and questioning. Kurt Hummel is a self-described diva, he wears “flamboyant” clothes, he talks about his sexuality openly to his dad and friends.

Ryan Murphy, the show’s creator, was quoted in 2011 as saying that he wanted Kurt to win: “I am not interested in seeing that kid be gay bashed. I’m not interested in seeing that kid be picked on. I’m interested in him winning, and being popular, and a survivor.”

However, Kurt is still widely considered an “outcast” in the first season. He’s slushied, bullied, called gay slurs and homophobia in relation to Kurt’s identity is a big theme in Glee’s premiere season.

Finn and Burt as The Helpful Heterosexuals

“Like a liberal concept of tolerance, the trope of the helpful heterosexual offers a reassuring image of an empowered gay-friendly heterosexuality. The notion of tolerance reaffirms heterosexual privilege by positioning heterosexuals as agents and gays and lesbians as passive recipients of their largesse. Straights tolerate; gays are tolerated.”
– Ron Becker in Gay TV & Straight America

Burt, Kurt’s dad (shown below) and Finn, a member of glee club with Kurt, both embody Becker’s Helpful Heterosexual.

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They are gay-supportive straight guys. Finn and Burt are working through Kurt’s openness as a gay teen and his willingness to be himself. They somewhat begrudgingly accept Kurt for who he is because they care about him, not necessarily because they are “pro-gay.”

When Kurt comes out to his dad, Burt responds:
I guess I’m not totally in love with the idea, but if that’s who you are, there’s nothing I can do about it…and I love you just as much.

2

Sex, Power, and Violence: Life in Frank Underwood’s House of Cards

 

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Frank (Kevin Spacey) & Claire (Robin Wright) Underwood

Since its inception in the winter of 2013, the critically acclaimed Netflix Original show, House of Cards, has received twenty Primetime Emmy nominations and four wins. It has been hailed on sites such as Metacritic.com and Rottentomatoes.com as a game changer and must-see television. Netflix Original shows have been marked by their “season at a time” releases, tailored for the binge-watching habits of modern viewers as well as its gritty, unapologetic content. House of Cards is an American political drama set in present day Washington, D.C. The show focuses on a Southern Democrat, Francis J. Underwood (Kevin Spacey), and his elaborate scheme to put himself into a position of power, exacting revenge on those who have wronged him. Frank’s ruthless attitude highlights the manipulative ploys that occur between powerful people. Looking at the first two seasons of House of Cards, I will analyze marriage as a business partnership rather than an intimate one,; the concept of sex being used for power and manipulation; and violence as a justified means to an end, as ideological concerns at work in the television series.

 

Different Kinds of Marriage

Frank’s marriage to Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) symbolizes more of a business partnership rather than a marriage built on lust and intimacy. The Underwood’s relationship succeeds in illustrating a marriage between educated elites that operates as a close, prosperous partnership. Frank and Claire stand as two separate entities, yet are mutually understood to form one cold-calculative unit.

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Frank (Kevin Spacey and Claire (Robin Wright) Sharing a Cigarette.

For example, we never see Frank and Claire have sex, but they always share a cigarette at the end of the night. During a scene in an episode entitled “Chapter 10,” Frank and Claire have a heated argument regarding how Claire acted in her own favor and figuratively stabbed Frank in the back:

Frank Underwood: “We make decisions together.”

Claire Underwood: “Yeah? Well it hasn’t felt like that. Not for the past six months. I don’t feel as though I am standing beside you.”

Frank Underwood: [Angrily whispering] “I don’t want to have to say this, but maybe you need to hear it. CWI is important, yes. But it doesn’t come close to what we are trying to accomplish. You must see that. I’m just trying to be honest.

Claire Underwood: “Then be honest about how you’ve been using me like everybody else! That was never part of the bargain.”

This exchange suggests that their marriage was established as a partnership rather than one of physical attraction. The constant reference to “our goals” or “what we are trying to accomplish” highlights the calculative team that Frank and Claire form.

While Frank and Claire may not always see eye-to-eye, there is a deep seeded sense of love, trust, and understanding between the two of them. This underlying factor strengthens their bond as equals, helping them to maintain a successful marriage. While many would consider the Underwood’s marriage to be unconventional, they have found what works for them and have established rules around their lifestyle. Throughout the series, Frank and Claire both have open affairs, yet oddly enough their marriage is the only relationship on the show which remains steadfast and loyal. In a scene later in “Chapter 10,” Claire visits a reporter, Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), who is also Frank Underwood’s mistress . Although Frank is using her to help him control the flow of information in Washington, Zoe remains certain that it is solely a lustful affair.

Zoe Barnes: “Ok, if you came here to punish me…fine I get it.”

Claire Underwood: [looking through Zoe’s closet] “Such a shame. How naïve you are.”

Zoe Barnes: “I’m not naïve.”

Claire Underwood: “No? I’ve known everything from the beginning, Zoe. My husband and I tell each other everything.”

This interaction helps to illustrate the type of relationship that Frank and Claire share. It is mutually understood between the couple that Frank’s affair with Zoe is strictly to help the Underwood’s achieve their long-term goals. Furthermore, it solidifies the fact that the Underwood’s pursuit of power controls their actions.

 

Sex in the Form of Power and Manipulation

In the Emmy award-winning series House of Cards, there are several instances where sex is used to display power over another individual. However, the twisted depiction of the seemingly intimate concept is vital to the show. At the start of Frank’s affair with Zoe, manipulation ensues when a scandalous picture is taken. The picture shows Frank questionably looking back at Zoe, who passes by in a tight white dress (picture below).

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Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara)

Zoe publishes the picture as blackmail and as an attempt to showcase her power. However, as the relationship advances, Frank proves to be no match for the young reporter. Not only does he choose what inside information to give her, but Frank also has sex with the young journalist as a demeaning demonstration of his power in their relationship. In one scene, Frank persuades Zoe to pose nude so he can take pictures of her. Those pictures are later used for blackmail.

Despite his undignified ways, Frank is not the only one who uses sex to display his power. In “Chapter 10,” Claire imitates her husband’s strategies by visiting an artistic ex-lover. Her incentive is to get him to generate donations for her non-profit organization. Like her husband, Claire uses her sexual prowess to obtain the powerful upper hand in order to increase her funding. In another episode, Claire gives a dying man a hand job, not out of compassion, but to cement her domination over him. Another scene shows Frank’s right hand man, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), buying the silence of a prostitute, Rachel (Rachel Brosnahan). The scene ends with Stamper shoving a wad of cash into the prostitute’s mouth and saying, “the last little bit is for me.” This scene uses sex to demonstrate the dominance that Doug has over Rachel. By putting the money in her mouth, Doug belittles Rachel to the point of making her seem completely worthless. Lastly, Frank and his wife have a threesome with the head of their Secret Service detail as a “reward” for his loyalty. Again, the Underwoods draw a character into their web, and use him as potential blackmail for future opportunities. In terms of conception, it can be further argued that the Underwood’s decision to consecutively abort their three children is an exercise of their narcissism. Given Claire’s ambivalent character, she succumbs to Frank’s belief that sex for procreation is a deal breaker. Furthermore, it supports the claim that having kids is strictly forbidden in their bizarre political relationship.

 

Violence as a Means to an End

Part of what makes House of Cards such a riveting, dramatic thriller is because the violence is never meaningless. The show uses violence only when necessary and as a means to an end. In the first scene of the first episode, Frank’s neighbors dog is hit by a car in front of their town house and lies on the sidewalk whimpering. As Frank approaches the dog the camera zooms in for his first monologue of the series.

Frank Underwood: “There are two kinds of pain. The sort of pain that makes you strong or useless pain…the sort of pain that’s only suffering. I have no patience for useless things. Moments like this require someone who will act and do the unpleasant thing, the necessary thing.

Frank then proceeds to strangle the dog to death before his Secret Service detail gets the owners. This scenario as the first scene of a series is very powerful. It explicitly gives the audience a sense of the lengths that Frank will go to in order to achieve his goals. Frank’s lack of remorse about the situation illustrates his unapologetic, narcissistic attitude and ruthless hunger for power.

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Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) & Peter Russo (Cory Stoll)

At the end of season one, as Frank prepares to assume the position of Vice President of the United States of America, he finds himself in trouble as an alcoholic politician, Peter Russo (Cory Stoll) (who Frank had been controlling, relapses) threatening to reveal his secrets to the public.

Peter Russo: “When has your help ever helped me? You live your life the way you want to, I am done being told how to live mine.”

Frank Underwood: “Well there has to be a way to take responsibility without shattering everything. Are you at least willing to have that discussion?”

Frank now sees Peter Russo as a threat. Frank drives Peter to his apartment and parks the car in a garage. Frank and Peter sit in the garage for a while and continue to drink until Peter falls into a drunken stupor. Leaving the car running, Frank closes the garage door, and allows it to fill up with carbon monoxide.

2

Consumerism, Female Empowerment, and Homo-Normativity: Appealing to the “Refinery29 Girl”

It’s 2014. You’re at your desk looking to kill time between 8 AM sips of morning coffee, procrastinating from the impending day of emails and Excel spreadsheets. You click the browser icon on your desktop and find yourself mindlessly typing r-e-f- into the URL window. Next thing you know, you find yourself on Refinery29 scanning through the bright neon images and bold black print font of the running newsfeed of articles. That’s it. That’s exactly the point. They’ve got you hooked. You’re a Refinery29 girl. With a readership of fashion conscious, urban-minded, liberal, working women, the website has become a go-to news source within the cyber sphere. Founded in 2005 by Philippe von Borries and Justin Stefano, the website has grown to a news source for all things fashion, culture, and beauty. The structure of the home page and variety of categorized articles helps the reader to both find what they want to read and find it quickly. Upon analysis of website layout, advertising content, and the language and content of individual articles, it is clear that constructed ideologies are used to appeal to the reader. Refinery29 “works through” the ideological issues of consumerism, female empowerment, and homo-normativity to appeal to its target audience, the “Refinery29 girls”.

Life in Plastic, It’s Fantastic!

Refinery29’s mission statement reads: “To be the #1 new-media brand for smart, creative and stylish women everywhere”. Stylish. In order to appeal to its audience, the structure, content, and image of the website must be constructed. In this case, Refinery29 uses consumerism to appeal to its fashion conscious reader. Michele White breaks down the set up of eBay and looks at the underlying structures of business and the way things are categorized in online business settings (White 84). Using similar forms of analysis as White, I will look at how Refinery29 breaks down its site into various categories, images, featured articles, and advertisements all using material to entice the reader to consume. The rebrand of Refinery29 in 2013 can be found in the current website seen today. With thousands of posts a month, the website is constantly updated. A newsfeed of popular articles can be found on the home page, among various images of advertisements. In the image below, you can see an example of the visual organization of the website’s home page; it is set up so that the readers’ eyes are first drawn to the top of the page, seeing an advertisement for Cara Delvigne’s new collection for DKNY. By nature, your eyes will start at the top of the page, then proceed to scan to the bottom. Strategically placed immediately below is a clickable icon for Refinery29’s first published book. The Refinery29 brand icon can be seen near the top left of the web page, placed next to the seven categories where the reader can be directed to specific content.

Illustration #1

A horizontal band of brightly illustrated photos can be seen accompanying the headlines of “Today’s Hot Stories”. The colorful hues of photos and type font, along with the unique web page design, create an atmosphere that mimics the personality of the reader. That is most definitely not an accident. Layout, design, and content all play a strategic role in Refinery29 as a platform for consumerism. In an article on the 2013 rebrand of Refinery29, Fast Company describes the consumer driven direction for the site: “their efforts dovetailed neatly not just with the rise of daily mass consumption of online content but also with a burgeoning independent retail scene” (Rhodes). Under the seven main content categories, regular article columns can be found that are sponsored by retailers and prominent brands. Examples of this include: “The List”, a dedicated feature for TJ Maxx and “Beauty Nation”, a dedicated feature for Revlon. Each of these act as regular articles giving tips on the latest fashion and beauty trends, but only show products for the specific brand. There is even a separate “Shopping” category creating an interactive way for the reader to consume through the website; it allows you to shop various articles and uses hyperlinks connecting the reader with specific retailers and e-commerce websites. Acting as both a source for entertaining information and a shopping platform for its reader gives Refinery29 an advantage in the online market. Sponsored articles, running advertisements, and an interactive “shop” are all used to appeal to the reader. As a platform for consumerism, Refinery29 is already appealing to a certain customer base with an income viable enough to buy the latest fashion and beauty trends; female empowerment is another prominent theme found in the language and article content of the website.

We Can Do It!

With a mostly female readership and articles oriented towards fashion, beauty, and sex, Refinery29 is already positioned as a supporter of all things female. Daily and weekly articles focus on specific women in the ‘working world’. Reproductive rights, such as birth control and abortions, are openly addressed with regards to sex and important life decisions.

Refinery29 is centered around the idea that women should be the best they can be in all aspects of the word, whether that be at work, in a relationship, or on the runway. It promotes a positive sense of self and of others, celebrating both the success of you and your female peers. The weekly, sometimes bi-weekly, “Superwoman” feature highlights real, business women dominating typically male roles in the work place. The purpose of the article is to show the reader that they can achieve just as much success as “superwoman”. In “This Woman Says She Can’t Do It All – & That’s Why We Like Her”, the spotlight is on Deborah Spar. As the President of Barnard College, former Senior Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Development at Harvard Business School, and author of Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, the interview highlights all of Spar’s impressive achievements, along with the difficulties that come with the success. Language is used to construct an interview Questions are repeatedly asked by the interviewer, Anna Davies, that include the word feminism; creating a connection for the reader between the “Superwoman” ideal and a feminist perspective. Language in the title of the article also emphasizes Reflecting the everyday girl mentality that makes up the reader of Refinery29, Davies poses the question: “We’re ambitious, we’re intelligent, we want great jobs and fulfilling personal lives, but we’re not necessarily looking to land in the C-Suite. How do you advise women like that, to help them strike the right balances in their lives?”. The interviewer positions questions in such a way as to advise the readers on how to achieve a healthy level of success for themselves. With content supporting positive acknowledgement of other women and of yourself, female empowerment runs deep as a conscious ideal of the website and its target audience.

There are many differences between men and women. One of the most important defining characteristics of women, if not the most important, is the ability to reproduce. The question of the protection of women and their rights has always been a topic of conversation. Birth control, the right to choose, consent, and sexual violence are just some of many conversations taking place on Refinery29. In Lizz Winstead Talks Lady Parts Justice & Encouraging Women’s Pride, Lizz Winstead, one of the creators of The Daily Show, is interviewed about a new women’s movement working to get approval of women’s reproductive rights. Winstead, is not only proving to women to make their voice heard, but also proving that women’s rights are still important as ever. Not for the closed-minded, the article is just one example of how Refinery29 “works through” the issue of female empowerment.

Homo or Hetero, Should There Really Be a Difference?

With a liberal bodied readership and content not for the faint of heart, it should come as no surprise that Refinery29 features homo-normative content. The content of articles on Refinery29 appeals to all sexualities. Homo-normativity, is the idea that homosexuals can do exactly what heterosexuals can do; “it is the assimilation of hetero-normative ideals and constructs into homosexual culture and individual identity” (Positive Space Network). Homosexual and heterosexual topics go hand in hand with regards to the content featured on Refinery29. Articles featuring homosexual relationships are written just as commonly as article material featuring heterosexual relationships. Culture related articles also address the political and social issues regarding same sex relationships. Through specific language and an almost politically influenced attitude, homo-normativity can as an ideological issue specific to a certain kind of audience.

With thousands of articles published each month and the working girl reader with a very busy schedule, Refinery29 acts as a news source keeping up to date with relevant issues. The Refinery29 reader is as informed as they are stylish. Among the wide range of articles addressing the “Best Dress For Your Body Type” or “ Shootings, Love & the Gunman Myth”, you can also find “Where Are All The Gay CEOs?” and “Ellen Page Announces She’s Gay In A Very Public & Awesome Way”.

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How I Met Your Mother

How I Met Your Mother is a hilarious television program that aired new episodes from 2005-2014. As one of the top-rated shows during the time, the series captured a large audience from multiple demographics.  As is true of all programs, HIMYM ‘worked through’ a multitude of societal issues over it’s nine seasons.  This writing examines three of the major issues addressed: the crossover between physical appearance and emotional maturity, the relationship between marriage and matrimony, and coping with life’s difficult transitions.

The 'gang'

The ‘gang’

 

The crossover between physical appearance and emotional maturity

 

In today’s society, physical appearance is consistently portrayed to be more important than inner personality. When it comes to relationships, many people find themselves struggling to date someone who has compatible emotional chemistry as well as physical attractiveness. Seasons eight and nine of the sitcom How I Met Your Mother reveal the societal norms surrounding this struggle and emulate three key facets that relationships must have in order to succeed: emotional maturity, trust, and the ‘it’ factor.

When season eight commences, Robin reveals that she’s dating a man named Nick, whom she met a few years before while shopping with Ted. When their relationship becomes the topic of conversation for the gang (Robin, Ted, Marshall, Lily, and Barney), she frequently confesses her sexual arousal to the idea of him shirtless. It’s the stereotypical female gaze: he has an eight pack, he’s buff, he’s handsome, and he dresses well. Yet for some reason, Robin is the only one who fails to see Nick’s true immaturity. It’s evident that she has no interest in his personality and simply dates him for his masculine physique. Barney gets particularly annoyed with Nick’s immaturity and begins pressing Robin to break up with him. While she agrees that he isn’t “the most emotionally stable man,” she can’t think about dumping him without envisioning his body, thus changing her mind. When she finally musters up the strength to end things, Nick tries to seduce her and is completely oblivious to the idea that he’s getting dumped. This magnifies the lack of intellect that his character possesses while further exemplifying how difficult it is for Robin not to be persuaded by his physicality.

This scenario is very relatable to a large number of persons. The fact of the matter is that our first impression of someone is based on looks. Therefore, people consistently attempt to date those whom they are sexually attracted to. Robin’s realization of Nick’s emotional immaturity reveals the cultural struggle that people face after the initial phase of physical attraction wears off. Her inner-battle to end the relationship is the process that the show wants the audience to grasp. It’s the idea that it’s acceptable to date someone due to his or her appearance, but that this person must also be emotionally mature in order for the relationship to last.

Robin's relationship with nick is due to his body

Robin’s fascination with Nick’s body

At the same time that Robin dates Nick, Barney settles down with a stripper named Quinn. This is a rather unusual occurrence, due to Barney’s ‘anti-relationship’ character throughout the first seven seasons of the show. He prides himself on the number of girls he’s slept with and consistently criticizes others for being in relationships. When he declares his love for Quinn and the couple gets engaged, the gang is taken by surprise. However, as the wedding draws near the couple begins to realize how much trust is lacking in their relationship. In one of the more dramatic episodes of the series (the pre-nup), the two meet with a lawyer to discuss what should be in their pre-nuptual agreement. As they discuss their demands, both Quinn and Barney realize that neither can trust the other due to Barney’s sexual past and Quinn’s provocative employment. The relationship comes to a screeching halt out of the blue.

This, too, is a very relatable scenario. Often times, couples get so caught up in how happy they are together and the excitement of marriage that they forget that trust is one of the most important aspects of relationships. The idea that it took Barney and Quinn an engagement in order to realize that they weren’t a good fit for each other reveals that sometimes there will be a ‘big’ moment that makes or breaks a previously flawless relationship. The overarching assertion is that trust is key to lasting success.

Not long after Barney and Robin become single, Marshall, Lily, and Ted begin to realize that Barney is actually in love with Robin. In arguably the most emotionally provoking show of the series (The Robin), Barney carries out his master ‘play’ in which he proposes to Robin. The amount of time and effort surrounding the proposal leaves no doubt that he is head-over-heals in love with her. Robin’s reaction exposes her similar feelings towards Barney. Barney goes on to discuss how, since they met, he never wanted to go a day without seeing her, and that he feels more connected to her than anyone else in the world. Robin admits how much she hates that Barney slept with so many women, and that her reasoning behind accepting a job in Japan was to try and get away from him so that she could move on, but it didn’t work.

It’s evident during this scene that the couple possesses the ‘it’ factor that can’t be controlled. It’s an emotional connection that only happens between the right two people, and it’s not something that can be created by man. The show wants it’s audience members to understand that you must continue to search until you end up finding that person, no matter how long it takes. If you can combine the ‘it’ factor with emotional maturity and trust, you can have a happily successful relationship.

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Barney and Robbin’s wedding

 

Divorce as a positive action

 

Unfortunately, even the happiest of relationships tend not to work out.  With divorce rates being consistently high, the topic of marriage and matrimony is frequently relevant. However, different people have different views when it comes to divorce. Some people might base their beliefs off of religion and stay together regardless of their feelings since divorce is a sin. Other people try to hide their feelings through an affair or alcohol. How I Met Your Mother portrays the moral view on the topic via the two most compelling relationships within the series. They reveal that, regardless of circumstances, some relationships will work out, some won’t work out, but that either situation is okay as long as you’re honest with your partner.

Marshall and Lily are the ‘perfect couple’ over all nine seasons. Falling in love as college sweethearts and getting married early on during the show, they hit a few bumps during their time together but never let anything separate them. Their marriage is the number one priority for both partners and they portray the ‘ideal couple’ whose relationship does work (keeping in mind the 3 ideals of a successful relationship mentioned previously).

Barney and Robin appear to be the match made in heaven when they finally get engaged during season eight. With the ‘it’ factor at full force, it seems that nothing will deter the two from each other. Unfortunately, after three years of marriage they decide to get a divorce. While still in love with each other, their continual fighting and different work schedules make them an incompatible match for one another. When the show cuts away to the moment that they decide to get a divorce, an important moment takes place:

 

Robin: “Is this just not working for us anymore?”

Barney: “I love you, Robin. When we got married, I made a vow that I would always tell you the truth…We’re not happy anymore.”

 

The moment barney and robin decide to get a divorce

The moment Barney and Robin decide to get a divorce

While this very brief exchange of dialogue might not seem like much, it actually reveals the way in which HIMYM attempts to present it’s view on divorce. Rather than lying about feelings or staying together based on religious beliefs, couples should be open and honest about what’s going on and understand if it’s time to move in a different direction. It also reveals the cultural idea that some relationships just aren’t going to work no matter how much two people care about each other.   This preserves the idea of matrimony and attempts to explain what people should do if they get into a similar situation.

While some might worry about the aftermath of revealing their feelings, the show also works through the idea that ‘everything will be okay.’ After Barney informs the crew of the divorce, he attempts to calm them down by saying, “Guys, it’s okay. This isn’t a failed marriage. It’s a very successful marriage that happened to only last three years.” This provides a framework for viewers that might be going through a similar situation. Rather than thinking about divorce negatively, the show wants people to think about the positives behind marriage and realize that sometimes it just doesn’t work.

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How the Kardashians “Keep Up” with Ideological Themes

How the Kardashians

Promotional Still, October 2007.

 

“I have never heard more anger and dismay then when we announced that the people you are about to see were on our list. I mean last year we had the cast of Jersey shore, and no one said a word. But there’s something about the multi-million dollar empire known as the Kardashians that really gets under people’s skin.”   -Barbara Walters 

On her interview program airing on December 15th, 2011, American journalism icon Barbara Walters introduced her infamous Armenian guests with the above statement. As Walters alludes to, the Kardashians are perceived to be irritating tabloid celebrities, but we forget one thing; there are the quintessential reality television stars. Even more, the content within Keeping Up with the Kardashians arguably continues to reflect mainstream understanding of sex, sexuality, norms and various other ideological issues that are continuously evolving in American culture. The Kardashian’s handling of new challenges to established societal norms surrounding sex and sexuality reflect the processes of ideological issues evolving as our society progresses.

By conducting a narrative analysis of the eight episodes within the first season of the Keeping up with the Kardashians, we can identify and analyze how the following three ideological issues: the transformation of gender roles within the family, changing perceptions of female beauty, and a cultural obsession with consumption and materialism are “worked through” by the show’s content

Transitioning Family Gender Roles

Introducing the “Momager” 

As we progress into the current decade, it becomes apparent that we no longer have a distinct American family unit complete with a set hierarchical structure like that portrayed within Norman Rockwell’s paintings of the 1950s.  Women continue to enter the workforce at staggering rates while fathers are beginning to drift into “Mr. Mom” roles. We find this issue addressed during the entire first season, especially in the pilot episode, “I’m Watching You,” which aired on the E! Entertainment on October 14th, 2007. The episode begins with an introduction of individual family members, beginning with the older sisters Kim, Kourtney, and Khloe, then finally the Kardashian Matriarch, Kris Jenner. When the scene cuts to Kris, who dons a crisp black cocktail dress, she proclaims, “I’m Kris Jenner. I’m the Mom, and Kim’s manager.” Jenner boldly asserts that she is the head of the Kardashian broad and gives herself not only the title of mom, but her business title of manager as well. This role reversal of the mother and wife within a family unit is evident with Kris’s proclamation of her titles, as well as the fact that she is introduced before her husband’s scene. Kris presents herself as an example of a modern day wife and mother who can have a family but still have a successful business career.

How the Kardashians

Kardashian Matriarch Kris Jenner

The family owns DASH, a clothing store selling fashion merchandise in their Calabasas home town. Many scenes within the season take place in the DASH store while the girls organize clothes, tally inventory and clean. In episode two, “Managing Mom,” Kim, Kourtney, and Khloe are managing inventory in their Dash store discussing how overwhelmed they are with work just as Kris enters the store. Her eyes covered by oversized, Gucci aviators paired with business casual work attire, Kris announces to her daughters how exhausted she is. The scene then cuts to Kris’s one-on-one interview where she reveals, “I’m busy 24/7. I run a store with my girls, and then there’s managing Kim and Bruce.” Kris again asserts herself as the female, head of the family who takes on the emerging societal role of wife, mother, and career woman.

At Home with Mr. Mom

How the Kardashians

Bruce is the primary caregiver of younger daughters Kendall and Kylie

In opposition to Kris is her second husband, former Olympian Bruce Jenner. Immediately following his introduction in the pilot, we see Bruce placed into the role of a secondary care-giver and passive stay-at home dad. As mentioned earlier, Bruce’s introduction interview is placed after Kris’s, thus symbolizing his hierarchal placement behind his wife within their family structure. Bruce’s self characterization begins as he tells viewers, “My name is Bruce Jenner, and I am a pushover for my family.” In episode 2, “Managing Mom,” viewers visually experience a day in the life of Bruce Jenner as Mr. Mom. After we see momager Kris complaining to Bruce about Kim’s selfish behavior, Bruce proceeds to tell Kris his schedule for the following day. As he lounges on the couch with the family’s petrified Chihuahua, Bruce tells twelve-year-old Kendall and eleven-year-old Kyle that they are taking the dog to the vet today. The scene then cuts to Bruce taking out the laundry and cooking lunch as he narrates, “My life revolves around my family.” In the following scenes, Bruce takes the girls to the vet, and later a manicure session, even electing to have a clear-coat polish on his toes. Bruce tells the manicurist with a chuckle, “I’ve been running around with kids all day.”

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Bruce at home with Kendall. Season 1, Episode 6, “You’re so Pregnant Dude.” Air date: November 18th, 2007.

Bruce does not represent the assertive father figure or the main income earner for the family, a role traditionally played by the male husband. He embodies the stereotypical tasks that a female wife would, including laundry and manicures, while Kris earns a hefty commission to support the family. Bruce is in charge of disciplining the girls when their morals fall out of line yet has no authority when it comes to dealing with money. The show presents this contrast as normal, with neither Kris or Bruce suggesting discomfort with their position, each accepting their designation as the “norm” as many other Americans are beginning to do.

Changing Conceptions of Female Beauty

Kim Takes on Twiggy

Middle-sister Kim is undeniably the most famous family member, appearing on the show, tabloid magazines, club appearances, and product endorsements. With the distribution of her sex tape, Kim’s body gained notoriety before her family did. Kim is of Armenian descent, having contoured cheek bones, dark flowing hair, exotic eyes, and voluptuous curves, a stark difference from the beauty industry’s commonplace obsession with the “Twiggy” figure of the 1960s. Kim is part of a larger ideological shift in the stereotypical hegemonic ideals concerning female beauty, specifically a thin, blonde woman of Western European descent. This image is currently being replaced in society with a more inclusive body type characterized by curves and differing ethnicities. During season 1 of the Kardashians, many scenes focus on Kim’s curves and beauty, emphasizing her non-generic looks throughout the various story lines. On season 1, episode 1, “I’m Watching You,” the show begins with Kim and her sister Khloe in the kitchen, the camera angle focused on Kim’s behind. As Kim opens the refrigerator, Kris shouts, “I think she’s got junk in the trunk.” The family laughs, while older sister Kourtney defends her sister with “she’s always had a big ass, you’re being so caddy right now.” This sets the scene of a storyline centered on Kim’s body, specifically her large gluts as a continuous source of fame.

How the Kardashians

Kim poses for Playboy. Season 1. Episode 4, “Birthday Suit.” Air date: November 4th, 2007.

Pearls, Playboy & Girls Gone Wild

Kim creates a new, curvy sexy that lands her movie auditions and even the December 2007 cover of Playboy magazine; she doesn’t have to be a size zero to be considered attractive or beautiful. In episode four, “Birthday Suit,” Kim is contacted by Playboy magazine, asking her to be featured on the December cover. Kim is hesitant at first, but reluctantly agrees sensing the rarity of the opportunity. During the photo-shoot, Kim is draped in pearls donning underwear that exposes the top of her bottom as she poses seductively with the music. During the shoot, the background music features more club-like sounds, and the camera focuses on Kim’s large breasts and behind. True, producers are potentially exploiting Kim’s body to generate an economic base for the show. However, if we look closer, the show could feature the exposing photo shoot in an effort to promote this new body ideal. Kim demonstrates that having curves is desirable and attractive, seeing she is being photographed for one of the world’s most famous magazines.

How the Kardashians

December 2007 Playboy Spread

This new image can be expanded to Kim’s other sisters, Kourtney and Khloe. Even though it is Kim who is most famous for her distinct body type, her other sisters also have generous curves with large butts. The sisters’ bodies are prominently featured on the show, and are constantly the center of dialogue between family members. Throughout all eight episodes, when the girls are at home, they lounge around the sofas wearing tight velour Juicy jumpsuits which accent their “assets” for viewers. The girls even wrestle with each other, particularly Khloe and Kourtney, and smack each other’s behinds while playfully writhing on the floor. On episode 3, “Brody in the House,” Kim, Khloe and Kourtney fly to Mexico for a Girl’s Gone Wild Photo shoot.

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Two and a Half “Manly” Men?

Introduction

Throughout the comedy series, Two and a Half Men, viewers of the show have a tendency to overlook the ideological issues that pertain to sex and sexuality and how these issues are embodied within each episode. Specifically, there are three ideological issues that the producers “work through” that help provide a closer and more in depth look into one of television’s most popular comedy series. The show is about a laid-back jingle writer, Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen) and his uptight, anal-retentive brother, Alan (Jon Cryer). After Alan divorces, he and his son, Jake (Angus Jones) move into Charlie’s Malibu beach house. Due to alimony checks and child support that Alan is now responsible for, he is not financially stable enough to afford his own place and must rely on his older brother for a place to live. Although Alan tells Charlie that the living situation is only temporary, Charlie realizes that his brother and nephew will not be leaving anytime soon.

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While most of the audience who watches Two and a Half Men can identify with the humor associated with Alan and Charlie’s polar opposite personalities and Jake’s dimwittedness, there is more to the show than what meets the naked eye. The first ideological issue that Two and a Half Men works through relates to Jake and the coming-of-age narrative that is told throughout the show.  Second, the show works through the hegemonic view of masculinity by not only exaggerating what “manliness” represents through Charlie’s character, but also mocking Alan’s struggle to successfully portray this same role of masculinity that his brother possesses. Lastly, Two and a Half Men uses Charlie and Alan’s characters to show that affluence is not necessarily based on professionalism, but rather how wealth and power correlate to a dominant view of masculinity, rather than through an educational background.

 

Jake’s Coming-of-Age Narrative

As Jake emerges into a teenager throughout the first five seasons, the producers give Charlie and Alan different sets of values that reflect on Jake’s coming-of-age narrative. Although Alan tries to be the responsible father in terms of advising Jake about making the right choices with schoolwork, girls, and dating, it is almost always Charlie’s advice that Jake defers to. In season five, episode ten, Jake has just broken up with his girlfriend and is confused about what to do next. As Jake, Charlie, and Alan are sitting together at the dinner table, Alan asks his son if he wants some advice. Without hesitation, Jake responds, “Yeah. What do I do Uncle Charlie?” Although Alan is the one offering advice, Charlie is the one that Jake seeks out for help. The producers make Jake aware of his father’s past love life, which includes a divorce and no substantial relationship since. Furthermore, since Jake lives in Charlie’s house, he always sees the beautiful women that are present in the home and therefore feels his uncle is the better role model in this type of situation.

TWO and a half men

Charlie tells Jake to be more patient with his father and to embrace Alan’s desire to bond.

Due to how the show depicts Charlie’s single, bachelor-esque lifestyle as the normal, hegemonic standard of living, Jake tries to mirror this role of masculinity (Hatfield, 544). In season three, episode five, Charlie is strategically placed alone in his living room in preparation to give Jake a lesson about relationships. As Jake explains to Charlie that a girl in his class gave him a cupcake because he thinks she likes him, Charlie tells Jake that he should not feel obligated to have similar feelings.  Charlie says, “When someone freely gives you a cupcake, your only obligation is to enjoy it. There is no reason to get emotionally involved.” As the conversation comes to a close, Alan walks in and finds out that Charlie was talking to his son about sex. Alan immediately states that he does not approve of this, considering how well he knows his brother lifestyle and the way he treats and speaks of women.  When Charlie explains the lesson that he gave Jake, Alan replies, “So in essence, you told my son it is okay to have sex with a girl without having any feelings towards her?” As Charlie affirms this question, Alan is disgusted that he taught this type of mentality towards his son.

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An older and more mature Jake discusses life values with Charlie in his living room.

Although Jake seems content with the advice given to him by his uncle, it is really Alan’s perspective that Jake should preserve. Since Two and a Half Men establishes a media representation of the heteronormative view of masculinity, Alan’s advice always gets ignored (Hatfield, 544). Since Charlie is portrayed as the more “manly” character in the show, this gives Alan difficulty to invoke life lessons and form a relationship with his son during his teenage years. A prominent example lies within season four when Alan notices that Jake has redecorated his room with posters of women in bikinis. What used to be full of Harry Potter merchandise was quickly replaced with material associated more with a teenager’s bedroom. Almost instantly, Alan begins to panic how quickly his son is growing and makes an attempt to bond with him by planning a weekend camping trip. As Jake had feared, the trip was a complete disaster, mostly due to Alan’s obsessiveness over singing nursery songs and telling dull campfire stories.

Upon returning home from a miserable experience, Jake begs his uncle to talk to his dad to “lay off” the father-son bonding. Once again, Charlie is put in a position that resembles the father figure because of the role of masculinity he performs around Jake. It is now Charlie’s obligation to tell his nephew that he needs to be more patient with Alan and to appreciate his effort for wanting to create a closer relationship.

Hegemony Within Masculinity

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Alan enters the room after a shopping spree.

The various scenarios and conflicts that Alan and Charlie are apart of in each episode establish what hegemonic masculinity looks like through the eyes of the sitcoms producers. Charlie engages in stereotypical activities such as poker games with his male friends, cigar smoking, drinking bourbon, and betting on horses at the track. It is made clear to the audience that these activities are associated with typical gender norms that are present in today’s culture. When Charlie dates a girl named Mia in the third season she forces him to eat vegetarian food and quit drinking and smoking (episode 15). While at a restaurant, Charlie has had enough of her attempt to reform him, shouting in front of a crowded restaurant, “I’m a big old bourbon-soaked, cigar-huffing ass. As God in his infinite wisdom meant me to be-as he meant all men to be. You guys are disappointing God.”

Alan is never shown adopting these characteristics. Instead, the producers mock Alan’s inability to resemble Charlie’s masculine role in almost every episode. In the season three finale, Alan is thrilled when there is the opportunity to help Mia plan her and Charlie’s future wedding ceremony. Alan immediately snaps into wedding planner mode by bringing out his file folder, sitting cross legged at the kitchen table and debating with Mia which type of flowers would best suit the ceremony (Hatfield, 533). The dialogue between Alan and Charlie at the table reaffirms Charlie as the masculine figure, especially when he says to Allan, “And you wonder why people think you’re gay?”

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Alan and Charlie’s fiance, Mia, discuss wedding details.

Alan’s effeminate performance almost always results in him being mocked or being confused by others as a homosexual (Hatfield, 533). For example, in season four episode twelve, Alan mistakenly pierces the “gay ear,” prompting Charlie’s housekeeper, Berta (Conchata Ferrell) to immediately comment, “Look who is finally out of the closet!” Even when Alan is attempting to look more hip and modern he cannot escape the stereotypes that pertain to effeminate or homosexuality qualities. Another example is shown in episode eighteen of season two when Charlie is invited to a party hosted by a gay ad-executive.

In order to fit in with the crowd, Charlie asks Alan to pretend they are life partners. While Charlie does not change anything about his personality or style, Alan dresses extremely flamboyant and talks in a stereotypical gay manner while using all sorts of hand gestures. At one point within this scene Charlie has to pull Alan aside and says, “If you flame anymore you are gonna set the drapes on fire.”

Two and a Half

Season two episode 18: Charlie and Alan pretend to be a gay couple to fit in at an ad-executive’s dinner party. As this picture shows, Alan’s attire and hand gestures signify his attempt to be perceived as gay.

Actions like these are always part of Alan’s character and never Charlie’s, proving that the audience is suppose to view Charlie’s masculinity in a different context than his brother’s.   While Alan is in fact a heterosexual, his enactment of masculinity always seems to fail even though he embodies many typical values that American have (Hatfield, 531).

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True Blood, True Life: HBO Series’ Sex-Fueled Social Commentary

With a reputation for not-so-kid-friendly programming, it’s no surprise that HBO’s hit show True Blood is all about steamy dreamy sex—with vampires. Premiering on September 7, 2008, the fictional television series includes vampires who live in a present-day society where they live peacefully in agreement with the general public. As expected, various tragedies, heartbreaks, and rebellions ensue between the humans and the vampires. What remains constant, however, is the presence of common issues of sex, violence, and political distaste that we see all around today. Over seven heart-wrenching seasons, the uniquely mythical fiction series packs in copious amounts of evidence regarding our generation’s growing infatuation with sex and power. This post documents three ways in which HBO’s True Blood works through our society’s ideological issues regarding sex, power, and the bloody truth behind what we call “love.”

 

Deviant Sex: “Right” vs. “Wrong”

X-Men alum Anna Paquin stars as Sookie Stackhouse, a bartender with a sweet Southern charm and an itching obsession with vampires and all things dangerous. Sookie’s big heart allows her to care deeply for her community. She’s smart, independent, and poised with a Southern twang that you can’t help but fall in love with. What the town sees as Sookie’s downfall, unfortunately, is her attraction to the also-charming vampire Bill Compton. Bill’s smooth attitude and visibly troubled past strikes a nerve in Sookie that makes her fall harder in love than she ever has before. Sookie and Bill’s relationship was extremely physical from the beginning. Their romance was heartbreakingly violent and no matter how tough Sookie tried to be, she received constant criticism from her community. Sookie and Bill’s detailed troubled romance makes a case for how our society today tries to degrade what is classified as deviant, unordinary, or inappropriate sex. In this case, the kind and loving girl-next-door isn’t “supposed” to fall in love with the violent bad-boy vampire. Regardless of whether or not this stereotype still exists, Hollywood still uses it as a basis for plotlines, which causes our society to internalize those stereotypes and eventually agree with them. True Blood works through these issues by putting sex—specifically between Sookie and other vampires (yes, she encounters more than one!)—at the forefront of almost every episode. The show depicts Sookie’s sexual encounters with at least four different men that we would identify as the leather jacket wearing, motorcycle riding bad boy. Sookie’s strong-willed personality and independence breaks down relationship barriers for the female audience. With her down-south attitude, Sookie proves that the age-old conventional ideals of love and attraction are just as old as the vampires she’s sleeping with. Sookie’s rebellion against the “good girls can’t date bad boys” stereotype is just one of the many examples of how True Blood breaks down the viewer’s preconceived notions on deviant sex.

True blood cast, rolling stones 2010

 RELATED: True Blood star Anna Paquin comes out as bisexual!

 Lafayette, another main character played by Nelsan Ellis, is a black gay male with a lovingly eccentric personality and ability to communicate with the dead. With Sookie, we see traditional morals being combatted against, but in Lafayette’s case, the viewer encounters systems of sex on display in a more modern-day outlook. Throughout the series, Lafayette’s actions and comments reveal his sexual orientation, but it wasn’t until the fifth episode of the seventh (and final) season that his character was seen having sex. In one of the most dramatic scenes of the season, Lafayette is shown engaging in less-than-gentle intercourse with a male vampire- who happens to have a girlfriend- Jessica. This scene, in which Jessica catches her man in the act, not only ignites a passionate stream of rage between the three, but also points out the difficulties of sex and sexuality in our present-day society. While homosexual sex might be seen as wrong or unnatural, True Blood manages to work through that complication by putting a bisexual character in the middle of a love triangle and showing that he has the same kind of personal difficulties that anyone else faces. The cast and crew of True Blood work with sex in all its possible purposes. While remaining violently sexy and fast-paced, the sex lives of these characters set up a social commentary for the new, free, and fluid form of sex that can be referenced and discussed—without needing to say what’s “right” or “wrong.” With sex essentially being the backbone of the program, many other societal setbacks come about in regards to race, class, and social status—and what better place to test the three than in the Deep South?

 

LA to LA: The Geographic Importance of True Blood

Not every actor or actress jumps out of the cab for the first time, looks to the left, and sees the Hollywood sign. The cast of True Blood filmed most of their show in the swampy lands of Shreveport, Louisiana. While the location provided a basis for a tongue-smackin’ southern accent, it also contributed to the social crises faced by various members of the town. In the first episode of the first season, Sookie sees and is immediately intrigued by vampire Bill. Her excitement to seeing her first vampire since they “came out of the coffin” on national television displays the fictional town of Bon Temps (pronounced “bon-tomp”) as a small southern community with little interruptions to their unique style of living.

Check out the accents in this clip from the first episode, where Sookie meets Bill for the first time!

The arrival of vampires in the town, however, wreaks havoc and affects the people of this town in ways they never imagined. With a strong dedication to manners, Sunday school, and family, the people of Bon Temps have no desire for vampires and their violent crimes to inhabit the town. The conflict between the people of the town and the vampires provide a blueprint for looking at how systems of race, class, and status can be affected by geography. In a town where pretty much everyone knows and loves one other, the arrival of the vampires causes the citizens to rebel against the higher power thus causing conflict between one another. In our society today, we see communities rebelling against political leaders, welfare recipients, and others that they feel contaminate the purity of the community. This concept of the people protecting the authenticity of their land is worked through in True Blood by igniting disagreement between the murderous nature of vampires and the southern hospitality of Bon Temps humans. While their conflict has nothing to do with race or status, the imbalance of power alludes to the struggle of keeping sacred the values associated with our specific location on the planet.

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In an effort to stay focused on True Blood’s infatuation with sex, it is important to note how sex figures into the geography of the show. Throughout the series, about half of the sex scenes are filmed outside. Whether in a cemetery, a forest, or an open field, the screeching crickets and sticky southern summer air kidnap the pair into a hot new kind of romance. By filming many of these sex scenes outdoors, True Blood displays sex as feeling more natural, primal, and excitingly spur of the moment. In making the oddity of vampire-human sex feel so naturally desired, the town of Bon Temps develops an entirely new way of life that would have been completely against its traditional ideals of Southern charm. Case in point: True Blood’s disagreement with the locational values and it’s new inhabitants reference the complexities of globalization and hybridity. If cultures, ideals, and core values of a community can change, is there such thing as an authentic culture at all? While the people of Bon Temps constantly conflict with vampires, a much bigger bottle of blood brews between the vampires and the government.

 

Made in the U.S.A: Universal Secrecy and Authority

Although sex plays a key role in both the pleasures and conflicts of the show, there is a much larger threat at play that mirrors the current state of our government. The title, True Blood comes from the vampire-created company that produces synthesized blood for vampires to drink and live peacefully without killing humans. The plan works efficiently until the powerful white supremacist couple decides to poison the blood with a virus that would slowly kill all vampires who drank it. While this is a farfetched example of something that would actually happen, it makes a stinging reference to the level of power and secrecy adapted by the United States government. The show’s use of the vampires’ distrust with the government paints a picture for how a community can ban together and retake control. When the democracy of a population is threatened, the backlash initiated by the community completely reverses the distribution of power. True Blood succeeds at working through conflicts of democracy by showing the vampires transition from threat, to ally, and back to threat—all due to the government trying to take control, as opposed to being of, by, and for the people.

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Entourage, the Ultimate Bro Show?

Entourage is an eight season HBO series that follows movie star Vincent Chase’s navigation through the unfamiliar terrain of Los Angeles with his close knit group of friends and his one-of-a-kind agent (Ari Gold). Every guy from the age of 15 to 35 is looking for a show that he can kick back, enjoy, laugh at, and watch with the boys. Entourage understands its primarily young and male dominated audience and plays to this notion. This blog will dissect three ideological issues that guys everywhere appreciate and understand. First, it will look into how Male sexuality and Power is portrayed in the show. Next, it will analyze the culture of friendship and loyalty created in the series. Finally, this blog will look into the class mobility and growth that occurs over the course of the 8 seasons. The analysis will be done through the structure of feeling model, which will be processed by working through specific scenes, dialogue, and characters in the show. After looking at the series through this particular lens, viewers will be able to use the show as evidence of the ongoing conflicts in our time period.

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From left to right, Johnny Drama, Turtle, Vince Chase, Eric, Ari Gold

Male Sexuality and Power

Culture of Heternormativity

Men love to lust after women with other men, it is a way for them to show off their masculine sexuality. Male Sexuality and Power is extremely prevalent throughout the show, highlighted by the culture of heteronormativty, which contributes further to the male aura that surrounds Entourage. The characters in the show all bond through heterosexual conquest. For example, in Season 1, episode 2 of the show, Vinny and the boys enter into a huge party at Jessica Alba’s house. Upon entering the gang is immediately greeted by Jessica Alba who tells them “bars here, bars there, girls everywhere, and bathrooms back there.” She assumes that the guys are there for 2 reasons, to drink alcohol, and to meet beautiful women. By saying this, she is acknowledging that women and drinks are there for the guys consumption and use. She presents women in this context to further support the heterosexual fantasy, meaning the guys are free to assume that the girls are looking for heterosexual sex as well.

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Eric and one of his girls

Another representation of heteronormativity can be seen by looking at Season one, episode 7. In the episode, the entire group is disgusted to hear that Vince will receive oral sex from a guy in his new movie. Turtle (Vince’s friend and driver) tries to convince Vince to quit the movie saying he cant bare to see “Vince running around Queens with a silk shirt knotted around the bellybutton.” Vince jokingly questions Turtles homophobia, and Turtle defends himself saying “No, I’m not, look if you were gay, I’d accept that, but you’re not, so why you gonna pretend you are?” Johnny (Vince’s half brother) then counters by saying, “Cause the guys an actor you fuckin idiot, that’s what he does.” Turtle quickly fires back by saying “No, its what you do you assfuck loser.” The group then moves the discussion about homosexuality to a nearby strip club and resumes talking while getting lap dances. Working through this episode, we can see evidence of the group’s homophobia in how worried they were about the entire scene and how it could negatively impact Vince’s career. We also see how the group is able to maintain their image of masculinity as long as homosexuality is talked about in a manly place (strip club), or is put in a joking or funny context (Turtle making fun of Johnny).

Leveraging Sexuality

Next this blog will analyze how the characters leverage their heterosexuality to gain hegemony. Looking at dialogue throughout the series, words like “fag,” “pussy,” and “bitch” are used frequently in almost every episode. For example, Eric (Vince’s Best friend and manager) is constantly called “soft” or a “bitch” by Johnny Drama and Turtle. These terms are usually associated with femininity, which is often connected to homosexuality. Working through this, Drama and Turtle use these insults to further gain power over Eric by associating him with femininity and homosexuality. Similarly, Lloyd (Ari Gold’s gay assistant) is constantly the butt of harsh gay jokes by Ari. In season 5, episode 8 there is a scene in which Lloyd misreads a situation and ends up making Ari mad. Ari rips on Lloyd saying, “I’m fucked, and I’m fucked in the way you like to get fucked, not in the way that normal people like to get fucked.” Working through this scene and the vulgar dialogue we see how Ari expresses his masculine heterosexual power by demeaning Lloyd’s sexuality. He straight up says homosexuality is not normal, and not only is it abnormal but it is extremely undesirable. He uses Lloyd’s orientation as a source a humor that places heterosexuality in a privileged position over homosexuality.

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Ari Gold

Friendship

Fame. It’s More Fun With Your Friends.

Friendship is a central theme in the show, and the dominantly male audience can easily relate to the deep bond the characters share with each other in the series. A materialistic version of friendship is best illustrated through Vince, who always took care of his friends needs, no matter how irresponsible or trivial they may be. In season 3, episode 2 after Vinnys new movie premieres and grosses over 116 million dollars, he makes a point to take care of his boys. He buys Turtle, Drama, and Eric brand new motorcycles, saying, “A quarterback always takes care of his offensive linemen.” He also buys Turtle a $1200 pair of pajamas after getting the entire group invited to the Playboy Mansion in Season 2, episode 3. He even offers to pay $10,000 for Johnny’s calf implants in Season 2, episode 5. He tells Johnny, “this is insane, but you know I always say yes to you.” Vince expresses his friendship by his willingness to take care of his friend’s needs and desires.

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We Ride Together. We Die Together.

Friendship is also illustrated by loyalty throughout the series. Eric, Drama, Turtle, and Ari were all there when Vince celebrated his first box office film at a high school house party,and  they were also there to pick him up from rehab when dealing with his cocaine addiction. This type of unwavering loyalty is best illustrated through Johnny Drama who expresses his friendship through his protection for the group.For example, in season 3, episode 9 somebody makes fun of Eric’s girlfriend, and Drama immediately comes out and punches him in the face to defend his friend, ruining his public image in the process. Similarly, in season 7, episode 10 Vinny flees from the group, high on cocaine and ends up making a fool of himself at a big Hollywood party hosted by Eminem. Recognizing that Vince is in trouble, Johnny Drama (his brother) goes after him and try’s to get him to leave the party with him. Vince refuses and ends up in a physical altercation with Eminem. Even though it is entirely Vince’s fault, who screamed “Fuck You” right in Eminem’s face, Johnny is always there to back up his friend. Drama ends up getting pretty beat up in the process of defending his brother. Even in the middle of getting sucker punched by 2 NBA stars, Johnny continuously yells out “Vince,” showing more concern for his brother than his own well-being. Even after the entire incident, Johnny is there waiting for Vince at the hospital, and he never once blames Vince for getting him hurt. This is true friendship.

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Class Mobility

From Rags to Riches

The theme of class mobility is universally sought after by men. Guys like watching guys that they can relate to succeed. Entourage is a great illustration of living the American Dream and sharing that dream with friends. Even the star of the show, Vinny Chase, grew up a poor kid in Queens and was raised by a single mother. However, the true rise in financial status can be seen by looking at Vince’s friends. In the beginning of the show the friend group is financially dependent on Vince for just about everything. He pays for food, housing, and is largely responsible for any success they may enjoy. In season 3, episode 3 the group returns to their house after a late night of partying to find out that someone has broken into the house. Turtle yells out for Vince to stay in the car, saying “if something happens to him, we’re all fucked,” fully understanding how much they need Vince. Each individual does odd jobs for Vince instead of getting a real job. Eric reads Vince’s scripts, Johnny cooks for the group, and Turtle is Vince’s personal weed carrier and driver. Each individual’s life revolves around Vince and his career.

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Gaining Independence

Over the course of the series each character is able to flourish and enjoy individual success. Johnny Drama, once a big TV star is able to get his career going again.

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The Guide for Getting the Girl of your Dreams

Men’s Fitness is a magazine that showcases how the average male can achieve a muscular body and ideal lifestyle meant to help one get the girl of their dreams. Men’s Fitness divides content into six categories, those being training, weight loss, style & grooming, sex and women, and life. The magazine is trying to get across the idea that a man needs knowledge in each of these categories to obtain the girl of their dreams. Outside the cover stories, the Breakthroughs and Game Changers sections are a large part of the content and they are the magazine’s guide for reaching the ideal lifestyle. The back section of Men’s Fitness is the body book, which is about obtaining that ideal body image by either losing weight or training to get more muscular and toned. In attempting to provide this guide Men’s Fitness runs across issues of representing females in the magazine, creating not just an ideal image but lifestyle, and making the lifestyle accessible for more than just the upper class.

 

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Female Model Workouts and Their Purpose in the Magazine

 

In the middle of each magazine there is a full-page image of a beautiful and fit women with minimal amount of clothing, typically a bikini. This begs the question why a beautiful female model not a part of an advertisement or an image with a male model is in the magazine in the first place? Men’s Fitness is a fitness, well-being and lifestyle magazine for men, so it is not the picture but the accompanying article on the model’s workout that helps fit the script. The images of beautiful women are how Men’s Fitness sells their ideal body image and lifestyle to the audience. The magazine is insinuating that women like this should be your crush and whom you lust for. If you follow the magazine’s advice, women like this would be attracted right back to you. They blatantly say this in the November issue, stating, “Sofia Vergara likes a fully-body workout and a man who knows where he’s going-which, we’d wager, is anywhere she wants him to”. The magazine is not just saying you should go wherever Sofia Vergara but also wherever the beautiful girl of your dreams wants you to go, once again selling men on the image of the beautiful girl.

While the image of a beautiful girl is the focus of the page, Men’s Fitness would say the accompanying article is the focus. The use of articles is how Men’s Fitness got past the model’s bodies being objectified. This idea is very similar to the centerfolds in Playboy, as Carrie Pitzulo says, “Hefner believed that he personalized the centerfolds with stories of the models’ families and aspirations, and therefore could not or would not entertain the idea that the playmates were objectified or dehumanized” (p. 39). Men’s Fitness does the same thing, just differently. Being a fitness and health magazine the articles write on how the models achieved their image displayed. It is a fitness magazine and yes it is for men but is it the same thing if the article is about a woman or man obtaining a certain fitness level. This is exactly how Men’s Fitness gets through representing the women featured in the crush section as just sex symbols. In the October issue, under her picture, crush Olivia Munn is quoted saying “I travel with a TRX that I can attach to any door”. The article on Olivia Munn continues with her talking about how a hardcore training, golfing, and surfing regimen has got her fitter than ever. The magazine then seemingly has to prove the point that she is fitter by showing a picture of her.

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Men’s Fitness works through the images of models not purely being sex symbols by connecting the images to the reason the target audience visits the magazine, which is to obtain that body image wanted. While Men’s Fitness does show the models working hard to achieve their bodies, does learning about a female model’s workout help a man learn workouts as much or more than showing workout plans and successes from other men? This question is not why these women are pictured; women are there to really work through the purpose of the magazine and why men should obtain the ideal image. This purpose is to create the thought that men can be found attractive by women similar to the models pictured if they obtain the ideal image. This is shown more deliberately in the Fit for Her section of the magazine. The section interviews women, asking what characteristics of men are ideal for them. In doing so, is it necessary to show a picture of the girl being interviewed in lingerie or a bikini? Once again, in the article Men’s Fitness is trying to sell their ideal lifestyle on how to get the girl of their dreams and what better way to do it than showing a beautiful woman giving that advice.

 

Not Just Ideal Body Image but Lifestyle

 

Men’s Fitness is a magazine that is going to help you get those shredded abs and biceps that you desire. When thinking of a fitness magazine, that idea is commonly thought of, yet, as previously stated, the magazine is about much more than solely achieving the ideal body image. The magazine is attempting to work through the idea that being attracted by the girl of your desires is not simply having the ideal body image but the ideal lifestyle. This ideal lifestyle is comprised of ideas on how to act and what to wear.

In each magazine there is a section titled What to Wear, showing the body you develop for yourself doesn’t matter if you don’t showcase it and represent yourself well with how you dress. The November issue of this year released an article in the section What to Wear titled “Ready, Willing and Stable”. This is about how to secure the girl of your dreams for the long term. Men’s Fitness it trying to say its not just about getting the girl but keeping that girl requires dressing for success. Men’s Fitness says, when meeting the parents there is not much you can control but you can control what you wear, so let use help with that, as they say, “It’s about looking pulled together, but also being comfortable while you’re sitting around getting to know them”. In this case Men’s Fitness isn’t just doing you a favor working through the idea of what women want in a man but also what the parents of your lovely girlfriend want. The What to Wear section is just a part of the guide for obtaining the ideal lifestyle.

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Another part of the guide that Men’s Fitness provides is the Breakthroughs section. The Breakthroughs are all about lifestyle and the new trends and studies that can help men. The October addition provides a breakthrough helping single men out with using pick up lines. The article is based on a study done at the University of Kansas with men and women talking to each other. In the study 80 percent of women knew when they weren’t being hit on but only 18 percent knew when they were being hit on. In articles like such the magazine is making their imaged lifestyle about much more than the clothes your wear, as a man you must act and talk a certain way to get the girl. This article pictures a beautiful girl to insinuate acting this way because it is how she would want to be talked to. The allusion that the beautiful girl in the picture wants men to talk the way the article suggest is just that, an allusion. The beautiful is representing the girl different men would imagine talking to.

 

Opulent, Upper class, yet Affordable

 

The magazine’s advertisements and articles at first glance make it seem like it is a lifestyle for those with money to spend in the upper class. Meanwhile, Men’s Fitness is attempting to show this is a lifestyle achievable for a greater population of men. This is very similar to how Carrie Pitzulo says Playboy makes the bachelor lifestyle it imagines more realistic. Playboy invents this idea of the girl next door and the idea that you can meet women similar to the models in the centerfold anywhere. While this idea is similar, Men’s Fitness goes about it more blatantly with the use of wording and how to simply save money. Men’s Fitness flirts with the line between their ideal lifestyle being affordable for all and one that is popular and more importantly what women want. In just the October and November issues, Men’s Fitness does this by suggesting making dinner versus going out, making the most of leftovers, and finding the right tailor for clothes.

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The article “Perfect Pairs” lays out perfect options for dining in with your date, saying you can “surprise her with a meal you’ve paired up like a pro” instead of spending big dollars on a pricy and upscale restaurant.