BBCAmerica runs a show called Love Soup about social misfits looking for real love (though there’s more to it than that). I’ve only seen one episode, but it made an interesting point about the cult of beauty: just who does it serve?
Our plain Jane lead – Alice – works in cosmetics. She’s surrounded by superficial people she can’t relate to. In this episode, she attended a cosmetics convention, and had to share a hotel room with a woman – Rochelle – who’s got exactly the body, the lips, the eyes, the hair that the media presents as ideal for women (interestingly enough, her breasts were just average, but I’m not sure Britain shares the US’s breast inflation obsession). As Alice notes in voiceover, Rochelle has no warmth, no humor, no personality (though she is at least reasonably intelligent). “It’s as if nature decided there is no need for a mind in a body like that.” Or words to that effect.
Alice and Rochelle are asked to give a presentation in which they repeat the catch phrase made famous by Martin Luther King, Jr., “I have a dream.” Only, instead of the dream of freedom and equality for a marginalized race, this presentation dreams that “every wife, lover, mistress and girlfriend” will wake up to find the company’s fragrance kit in her Christmas stocking. Alice finds the whole thing so offensive that she eventually tells her boss she won’t read it, even though the boss makes it clear she may well fire Alice if she doesn’t.
Later in the hotel room, Alice tells Rochelle what she did. Rochelle just cannot comprehend what could matter so much to Alice that she would risk her job – Rochelle doesn’t have passions like that. Nor does Rochelle have a clue where “I have a dream” came from.
The next morning, the presentation airs with Rochelle and the boss reading the script. A film plays behind them, showing products. Except for a few frames, which have been replaced with a photograph of two African-American men hung from a tree while the lynching crowd celebrates. Naturally, the boss accuses Alice, who pleads both innocence and lack of technical knowledge to make the switch. The audience begins to suspect the guy on the team, who agreed with Alice and has the tech skills.
But Rochelle announces she did it. I thought she was just taking the blame for the guy, which was reasonably cool. But she explains that Alice’s display of character in refusing to read the speech haunted her until she went online to find out what was so offensive about the speech. When she saw the photo of the lynching, she realized it “had to be seen”. And then, in a sort of impassioned daze, she leaves to go disseminate the photo further.
Rochelle had a mind, after all; it just needed a fire set under it. But who was going to bother? Who wouldn’t be too busy underestimating, envying, or drooling at her to connect with her as a person? It wasn’t nature that decided a body like Rochelle’s didn’t need a mind: it was humankind.