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Beauty and the Geek

Reading "reality" TV: Beauty and the Geek

I have to admit- I love the concept of Beauty and the Geek. I don’t have any time to watch TV with my busy schedule, but the concept of nerds and beauties coming together in a mansion and competing with one another definitely merits a download.
The first episode (my introduction) presents us with a group of women who are supposedly the “beauties? (women who have gotten through life by relying on their looks, and needn’t have any intellectual capabilities), and “geeks? (men who have lived their lives reveling in nerdy antisocial bliss). Their goal is to pair up and compete against one another in teams, to reveal at last which team succeeds most in having the women de-ditz and the men acquire some smooth social skills

It is evident immediately that this show is about stereotypes. It’s ironic in the sense that its purpose is to obliterate stereotypes; in doing so, it reinforces them. Much like John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club, in attempts to say ‘we’re all the same inside’, the characters are starkly separated on the outside. All of the ditzy women are extreme caricatures of ditzy women- the taglines that appear under their names to help the viewer identify which woman is which include ‘sorority girl’, ‘playboy model’, ‘bikini model’, ‘beauty pageant queen’, ‘former hooters waitress’, and the nonspecific ‘model’. The Geeks’ taglines are similarly non-telling and oblique, but manage to give us an easy way to identify the different men. Their info includes ‘owns 25,000 comics’, ‘had a perfect S.A.T. score’, ‘singer: star wars band’, ‘Harvard graduate’, ‘has only kissed one girl’, and the most telling: ‘virgin’.
The show creators do an insurmountable amount of damage in just these labels alone. They say, “categorize these people! They are one-dimensional!? yes, the show attempts to consolidate the divergent personalities later on, but the initial stage of the game reinforces the predominant thinking that occurs in our immediate world today. By saying ‘look at this geek, he owns 25,000 comics!’ we attach ideas to the concept of comic book collectors and nerds alike. The two are almost interchangeable nowadays anyway- why not ‘wears pocket protectors and glasses’ or ‘plays Dungeons and Dragons’?
The tags do make sense- I certainly find it easier to think about Nate as the guy who sings in a Star Wars band and Scooter as the Harvard Graduate than to accept the shows proposal that these men are ‘Geeks’. The women, on the other hand, are much easier to accept as ‘beauties’- their tags of sorority girl and model don’t stick in your mind. They don’t’ need to- the beauty aspect of this game is fairly tangible. To boot, every time one of the women open their mouths, I have to cringe.
The groups of beauties and geeks do include minorities- though the basis of the show is a heterosexual dating game of sorts. At least there is a range in the tight categories. But for the most part, the show is not about diversity. The contestants do not have religious beliefs, or out-of-the-norm sexualities. They are bread-and-butter people, simplified down to two pillars- brains and beauty.
What’s more upsetting to me than the premise that these two groups fall into clean stereotypes is the fact that during the challenges the characters of the show receive, they often fall into the stereotypes perfectly. I had to laugh when the geeks were forced to ask strangers on the street to rub suntan lotion on their backs, but I felt really sad when the beauties could not, for the life of them, find library books.
Predictably, the two most attractive and seemingly well adjusted of the geeks were able to get a stranger rub lotion on their back. In a later challenge, one of the beauties conducted an interview with the author of ‘Freakonomics’ and actually succeeded in asking questions that were relevant to the book. The judges (and other contestants) were all quite impressed- but when you take a step backward, you’d have to admit that any person that had a lick of sense could perform such an interview. In this, the show is telling us that the beauty can have brains, too- but the rest of the beauties fail miserably at the interview, and fall back into their stereotypical rut.
This show makes the women it features look bad. I have a lot of trouble with the concept of this show—beauty and brains are fundamentally different things, and they are by no means mutually exclusive. The worst a geek can do is say something smart, or fail to get a girl’s phone number, A beauty, however, can make it appear that her brain is made of Jell-O. I think the latter is much more dangerous to the masses of viewers. We shouldn’t be looking at women this way- it’s demeaning.
I don’t know whom this show is targeting—certainly, we all love to indulge our stereotypes. “Beauties?, “geeks?, and the rest of the population alike can enjoy the concept. The show is, after all, produced by pop-culture wunderkind Ashton Kutcher. The show is more than just entertainment, though. It feeds a fundamentally skewed idea that these two groups are separate. It keeps us believing that the geeks are losers, and the popular kids always win. We internalize much of what we see on TV- these thing in turn become a part of our socialization process. This show probably does more harm than good to impressionable youths. I like to think that I can see past the stereotypes- but maybe I’m wrong.