ANTM: Beyond the pale.

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I have had no time at all for television this week, and I can’t handle America’s Next Top Model even on the days I’m most inclined to wallow and couldn’t care less what noise is distracting me from my thoughts. I came across these photos on the internet, however, and could not let them pass without comment. Apparently, the most recent “theme” of a photo shoot was “Crime Scene shots”.

Warning: Very disturbing [pictures now private]

Even worse [pictures now private]

I am completely and totally at a loss as to what to say about these, or to even imagine why anyone with brain enough to form sentences could think of this as remotely a good idea–the probability of publicity, to which I am adding, is entirely beside the point here. This is a blatant sexualization of murdered women. It’s not just the obvious conflation of violence and sex, it’s the cultivation of an image of beauty in brokenness, in the emptiness on their faces, in the absolute powerlessness of their positions–they’re dead, for God’s sake. I am only imagining Tyra Banks et al. critiquing the contestants at panel on how well they were managing to look sexy and alluring and at the same time…dead. The more disturbing of the two, to me, is much more evocative of rape, and the lack of blood makes it less obviously violent. She’s looks dead, but in a mannequin, sexual fantasy, manipulable way, not in a horrific, gory way.

Nothing about either of them, or any of the others, is in any way acceptable of course, nor do I generally hold “Top Model” up as a paragon of feminism. I feel like any sense of optimism I had been building has been shattered.

Comments

  1. Jennifer Kesler says

    I remember some Christian Dior makeup spreads in Vogue and the like back in the 80’s. The women weren’t obviously dead, but their skin had a blue tone and their eyes were vacant and it just reminded me of frozen corpses.

    The second one particularly makes me think of those.

    Thing is, I don’t even know what these are trying to appeal to. What’s sexy about a dead body? That she’s even less threatening than a “bimbo”?

  2. SunlessNick says

    They’re easy to have? The male viewers get to identify with the (it must be a) man who broke them? Or just the ultimate in weakness-as-beauty – they’ve been made beautiful by their destruction?

    Ugh.

  3. Purtek says

    Yeah, the modeling trope of the hollowed out woman is pretty common, and it’s always really bothersome. As to why, I think SunlessNick has it right on, both in the sense that it appeals to a violent fantasy some men may have, and in the beautiful because they’re destroyed.

    I just commented on Betacandy’s “Mrs. Robinson” post about how covert misogyny doesn’t necessarily mean actual hatred of women, but I feel like this is different. I feel like this is a representation of a sexualized desire to see women violated and broken, and while violent pornography is nothing new, this is being shown on network television at 8 p.m. (as a side note, the contradictions in censorship standards truly astound me). This is mainstream, this is a show primarily watched by young women, not niche internet porn most people wouldn’t admit to looking at.

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    I just commented on Betacandy’s “Mrs. Robinson” post about how covert misogyny doesn’t necessarily mean actual hatred of women, but I feel like this is different.

    Oh, this is very different. Could you possibly enjoy seeing someone dead without hating them, or hating a group they represent in your mind?

    this is being shown on network television at 8 p.m. (as a side note, the contradictions in censorship standards truly astound me).

    Me, too. Years ago, an episode of “Designing Women” pointed out that censors wouldn’t allow a scene where someone kicked a man in a crotch, but a scene where a woman was raped? Straight to prime time, no problem! The irony this led to was that you could show a woman being raped, but you couldn’t show her kicking a guy in a crotch to prevent being raped. Hmm. The meta-message is in 50-foot neon letters: women, if a man decides to rape you, just accept it gracefully and don’t be rude.

    The images linked to in your post are an extension of that logic.

  5. DNi says

    I get what you’re saying, and I understand why you would take umbrage with these pictures; however, I don’t think you quite understand, but, to certain artists:

    “This is a blatant sexualization of murdered women. It’s not just the obvious conflation of violence and sex, it’s the cultivation of an image of beauty in brokenness, in the emptiness on their faces, in the absolute powerlessness of their positions – they’re dead, for God’s sake. [...] The more disturbing of the two, to me, is much more evocative of rape, and the lack of blood makes it less obviously violent. She looks dead, but in a mannequin, sexual fantasy, manipulable way, not in a horrific, gory way.”

    Is actually every reason to do it. Self-conflicting imagery is often very powerful, and is able to evoke strong emotions from its viewers, or force them to question their own beliefs on such matters.

    And I don’t think it’s right to demonize the artists responsible for these pictures as violent misogynists. Hell, knowing the female artists that I know, the artist who came up with these pictures might actually very well probably have been a woman.

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    Women can be misogynists, too, so it really doesn’t matter what gender the artist was. I also didn’t see any humans involved here getting “demonized” – only the concept behind the images as a marketing tool, not art.

    These images aren’t intended to force anyone to question beliefs. Hang them in an art gallery, and that might well be the case and then I would agree with you. But we’re talking about images to be put in fashion magazines to inspire people to buy stuff, nothing more. That’s where I find myself wondering WTF about this image is going to make someone want to buy a product?

    It’s also worth mentioning that in an art gallery, you stand half a chance of running into similarly disturbing images of men. In a fashion magazine? Not holding my breath.

  7. Purtek says

    And I don’t think it’s right to demonize the artists responsible for these pictures as violent misogynists.

    Betacandy made a lot of the points I would have made about this, but I must also reiterate that we’re talking about America’s Next Top Model here. There’s plenty of actual art that makes me uncomfortable and really is about deconstructing sex, violence and gender roles, but I can’t imagine this show taking any time to offer even the most basic acknowledgment of the incongruity of the images. Again, I reiterate that I didn’t watch the episode, but Tyra Banks and her judging panel most likely focused entirely on how well the contestants were managing to look appealingly dead. It’s marketing, and it’s marketing that doesn’t even acknowledge itself as such explicitly.

    As the above comments between Betacandy and myself also allude to, we talk a lot on this site about the kind of under-the-radar meta-messages of misogyny (and, in my case, particularly minimization of sexual violence) that are all over the media, and for the most part, I think the writers and artists involved are just too absorbed in the culture itself to recognize the implications of what TV and movies show us about women, over and over and over again. That’s not demonizing the individuals or picturing them drumming their fingers all Mr. Burns-esque as they come up with new ways to bring down the woman. But this really does strike me as different–even DNi’s apologetics for the photos acknowledge that images like this have to evoke some emotional reaction to the violence, so it seems to me impossible that it didn’t occur to anyone that there was this element to the images. And without contextualizing (like in an art gallery) or commenting (which I’ve said I can’t imagine having happened on the show), the idea of marketing fashion and beauty with shots of murdered women seems to me something that can only represent real, serious levels of, if not hatred for women, absolute wanton disregard for their condition as human beings.

  8. Jennifer Kesler says

    I’ve often thought the case of Elizabeth Short (Black Dahlia) was being marketed as a sort of sexy, almost romantic tale. To me, it’s a horror story: the body was cut in half, drained of blood, and left in a field. But sometimes documentaries – and even the press coverage at the time – romanticize her life and the events leading up to the death in such a way that you’d expect to find a “beautiful corpse” at the end of it. Like the ones in this spread.

    Certainly not like what was left of the woman in reality.

  9. SunlessNick says

    According to the TWoP recap: “Which, of course, is awesome for Jael, whose friend just died.”

    Do they producers get extra bonus demerits for this?

  10. Ide Cyan says

    The episode in question reruns tonight, at least on the local Fox affiliate for me. Just in case you’re interested in what Tyra & co *did* say at the judging panel.

  11. Jennifer Kesler says

    I didn’t find any re-run in my market, but I did find a couple of quotes and some very detailed coverage of the episode:

    America’s Next Top Disembowled Corpse

    “You just don’t look dead to me,” said noted fashion photographer Nigel Barker; “She’s got no OOMPH!” added celebrity supermodel Twiggy.)

    That article also contains some comparisons to Law & Order: SVU and how the post author (and several commenters) feel it treats corpses and victim recounts.

    And here’s the detailed coverage from a site for reality TV fans:

    Death Becomes Them

    You know, the more I think about this and dNI’s remarks… if this photo shoot was unique, I’m not sure there’d have been a reason to post about it. The problem from my perspective is: I already know there’s supposed to be something attractive about a dead, pretty woman because I see these sorts of images throughout TV and film history. I never see pretty male corpses. They’re either more gory or less gory, but they’re never angelically posed for admirers to worship, hats off.

    This all reminds me of a Madonna video – “Bad Girl”. At the end, she finally goes home with the random stranger who turns out to be Jack the Ripper. She leaves a beautiful corpse, and becomes an angel. The bad girl is redeemed through death.

  12. Purtek says

    You know, the more I think about this and dNI’s remarks: if this photo shoot was unique, I’m not sure there’d have been a reason to post about it.

    And therein lies the purpose statement of this website. If all of this stuff weren’t systemic, if images of sexy dead women were something I didn’t already know about and if they didn’t reflect and foster a real-world attitude of complacency, then we could all dismiss it as irrelevant fringe.

    The flippancy of the comments by Twiggy and Nigel Barker is exactly what I feared.

  13. Jennifer Kesler says

    If all of this stuff weren’t systemic, if images of sexy dead women were something I didn’t already know about and if they didn’t reflect and foster a real-world attitude of complacency, then we could all dismiss it as irrelevant fringe.

    Or highbrow art, as the case may be.

    What you said here is exactly the point. Most of the individual episodes and movies and elements we write about wouldn’t be bad if they didn’t represent an institutionalized point of view that is way more popular than points of view like, “Women are human, too.”

  14. SunlessNick says

    “You just don’t look dead to me,” said noted fashion photographer Nigel Barker

    “Oh, I’m terribly sorry. Should I lose all skin tone, bloat with gas, and start smelling of rot? That should be all pretty and alluring.”

    Hm.

  15. Jennifer Kesler says

    But then you wouldn’t have enough “oomph” for Twiggie, Nick! It’s a tough balancing act, looking dead yet sexy. /rolleyes

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