Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Genuine Ken: Episode 5 ("Limited Edition Ken")

This episode actually turned out to be the most entertaining of all so far. The contest this week was to take an assigned Ken identity (Dream Date Ken, Superstar Ken, Disco Ken...) and construct an outfit for a fashion show. Like the contests on America's Next Top Model, where the contestants have to shop for an outfit for a specific context in a limited amount of time, this proved hilarious. Some people are not good at dressing themselves. And that is funny.

So the boys set off on their task with a pump-up "1, 2, 3, G-K!" (they started showing this in the previous episode as well... and it just cracked me up. It's so like, sports-y, and they're in a Barbie competition. This suggests that the guys feel like they have to amp up their masculinity in some ways.)

As I've said, Chris is really the only contestant I like. The rest of them are just so ridiculous. Derek has been a serious NOT favorite of mine for the entire series, but he is just so out there that I can't help but look forward to the times that his commentary is included because he is so un-self-aware. As soon as any challenge is assigned, Derek's commentary shows him saying something along the lines of, "Oh, fashion show? I have great style. I can't wait to rock this competition." His tone is so arrogant that it is laughable, especially because it is so clear to everyone that he's delusional.

Shopping proved a challenge to these guys, even the ones who thought they were good at it, but here I saw an increase in their comments about how unsuited they were to this task. Not outright saying that shopping was something they thought was "feminine" or "gay," but the implication of their indignant, "Oh, what could I possibly do with this?"-comments brought out those thoughts for me, so I'm sure that other viewers thought this as well, or at least subconsciously.

Pre-fashion show, there was a montage of clips in black and white of the guys getting ready. The shots showed muscled arms, panned up their bodies, showed them putting their shirts on, and really did a sort of gender reverse on how bodies are treated on camera. The "male gaze" is something that's pretty well documented (the Victoria's Secret fashion show is pretty much the definition), but the "female gaze" is something that does not get as much attention but is also not really used in the media as much. Constructing these shots to be for the benefit of the female (or gay male) gaze I thought was a really interesting aspect of this episode. (Ohmygod, I just said that I thought this show was interesting. I'm embarrassed by myself.) Also, it gave me really my first clue into who the producers think is watching.

And of course, the guys' posturing during the fashion show was really hilarious and interesting. Some of them seemed very out-of-touch. Whitney Port actually said, "Oh my god. Oh my god oh my god," a couple times, which I thought was hilarious! There were a couple shots of her looking absolutely miserable and bored and made me realize that she probably really hates this job.

In comparison to past challenges, the inclusion of the fashion show challenge poses a really interesting question in respect to how this show was constructed. The challenges are talked about by the judges as something to help them determine who would make the best impression on their date (they do refer to the hypothetical date as a woman) in a certain context. Some of the contests, like the surfing contest, are implicitly treated as challenges of masculinity, saying that the masculinity of the men on the show is constructed through physical tasks that show skill and athletic prowess, a "traditional" aspect of masculinity. Other contests, like making an outfit for a fashion show or decorating a bachelor pad, are challenges to masculinity, in which they can succeed by impressing a hypothetical girlfriend with their command over activities that lie outside the masculine norm. While being a fashionista is not constructed as inherently male, the ability to overcome the non-masculine (whether it be thought of as feminine or homosexual) implies a heightened command of masculinity, and power over an identity that isn't an implicit part of them.

As Michael Kimmel says in "Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity" from Theorizing Masculinities,
Manhood is neither static nor timeless; it is historical. Manhood is not the manifestation of an inner essence; it is socially constructed. Manhood does not bubble up to consciousness from our biological makeup; it is created in culture. Manhood means different things at different times to different people. We come to know what it means to be a man in our culture by setting our definitions in opposition to a set of "others"--racial minorities, sexual minorities, and above all, women (120).
Although manhood/masculinity are viewed as static, unchanging, and inherit qualities of a "real" man, the things we perceive as masculine are actually highly constructed social markers that have to be performed, repeated, and recognized--mainly by other men. Gender is a performance, and the range of "gendered" identity markers that exist help us identify what "kind" of man (or woman, or any gender identity because it's a performance for everyone) someone is. Think about what you would assume about the manhood of the men pictured below:

How is gender being performed in these pictures?
How do these men rate on a (subjective) scale of American masculinity?
Could you rate these pictures on a scale of "most masculine" to "least masculine?"
Could you explain why one picture is more (or less) "masculine" than another?
What stereotypes do these pictures fit about men and masculinity?
What stereotypes do they break? How is gender being performed in these pictures?
Is there any picture (or pictures) that you would have difficulty talking about in respect to gender performance or masculinity?

These are difficult questions, but are definitely important and interesting when considering how masculinity is constructed and why. I welcome any comments with your input on any of those questions!

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