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Friday, February 24, 2006

The voice of the patriarchy?

Last night I was watching Ten Years Younger, one of the most terrifying programmes on TV at the moment. For those who haven’t seen it, Ten Years Younger takes ‘old and tired’ women, mainly, and transforms them through cosmetic surgery and dentistry, make-up, hair styles and new clothes. It’s probably the most extreme makeover show made in the UK (I have seen US made Extreme Makeover – and that’s pretty fucking horrifying too). However I’m not going to go on about cosmetic surgery and perception of old age etc, I’m actually interested in the male narrator of the show.

Ten Years Younger is presented by a woman (who is early 30s max), and it is narrated by a man. The show does occasionally ‘make over’ men (I think, though I’ve never seen one myself) but the overwhelming majority of its makeover candidates are women.

The choice to use a male narrator is interesting in this context. Is he the ‘voice of the patriarchy’ passing male judgement over these women who may be going through this makeover for culturally, and thus patriarchally, defined reasons?

I am not opposed to male narration of such shows per se, just interested in why such a choice was made. I don’t think that they should change narrator or presenter to suit the gender of the makeover subject, but due to the larger number of women subjects on this particular show the choice of narrator initially is cause for thought.

A technique employed in this show is for the narrator to be the bridge to the viewer, and as such often the voice of the viewer, reflecting what the shows creators think the audience may be thinking about the show at any given moment.

For example he may make comments such as:
“As women know, makeup can be our best friend”

This is a strange sentence construction to come from a man – firstly he’s not a woman and the pronouns don’t match as they would if a woman read this sentence, and he also refers to makeup as ‘our’ best friend, thus including himself. He also refers to ‘us’ throughout the show when talking about a female makeover candidate and the procedures she goes through such as cosmetic surgery, makeovers, haircuts. Viewers know that men generally do not wear makeup – so by including himself in this statement via the word ‘our’ this narrator is familiarising himself with women and their bodies, whilst being obviously removed from their experieinces.

This kind of construction continues through out the show, the male narrator reading lines that sound as if they were written to be read by a woman.

I am interested now to see how many other makeover shows, with a focus more heavily on women, are narrated by men. Is this a constant? Does the male narrator function as the judging ‘male’ the woman is trying to appease?

It would be interesting to see what the audience viewing figures for the show are by gender. I would guess that mostly women watch it, but maybe I am wrong. Maybe men watch it predominantly, thus the male narrator, or maybe they hope more men will watch it, and the male narrator has been chosen in a attempt to make it more relevant to them.


Laura said...

As far as I can see, the male narrator serves mainly to mock the woman involved and to judge her before and after - def the voice of the patriarchy I think. I've stopped watching the damn show anyway, it makes me intensely angry and I don't stop shouting at the TV for an entire hour. Plus that's one viewer less (not that it makes a difference, sigh).

yclepta said...

It's an awful show and yet compelling. I always shout at it too! Sometimes the things "he" says are just such otter shit it's incredible. I see it as the patriarchy - the pernicious thing is it comes across as so acceptably normal. In a way I find it most difficult to deal with that awful american woman who takes the "victim" around to all the men who do things to them. She's the fashion guru. How can she do that?

damagecontrol said...

ugh ugh ugh. i hate this show, in fact when they started showing the haggard state she would become as she aged, holy shit, that evil natural process, i got up and left the room chuntering saying things like "fucking stupid society fucking itself up for fucking nothing"

if you dont want to look like shit look after yourself. thats what id say to start with, how lazy is this society that they think fucking kinves and dentsist can change their life.

and second, what the fuck is wrong with wrinkles, whats wrong with looking old. i attatch older appearance to that comferting older person, to my grandparents, my parents. im not disgusted by the way the world wears their face because its theirs.

and by the fucking way, being a good housewife with the anthea turner.... expect a blog soon

Winter said...

I've never watched this show. I probably should just to educate myself. I'd like to bet it's women who watch it though.

spotted elephant said...

All the shows of this type are disgusting. You're right about the narrator-the choice of a man makes the patriarchy's message clear. Women can understand heady statements such as “As women know, makeup can be our best friend” best if they're coming from a "wise man".

Girl, Uninterrupted said...

So true!

I have seen this program a few times, and found the sneering sarcasm of the narrator the most disturbing part of all. How far can these people go without actually saying,'women's bodies are inherently disgusting'?

You can imagine how some creative feminist film makers might have got together to expose the media's constant enforcement of this message, and come up with an exaggerated, mock show that would be almost identical to this one.

Unfortunately we have the real thing, on prime time television, which is no joke at all.


PS. Same goes for Perfect Housewife. Who is making this shit in 2006?

Michelle said...

Great post- I agree with you that the male voice-over does 'represent the patriarchy' what irks me even more is how flippant and mocking his tone is! I wrote a piece for the The F Word not long ago about Ten Years Younger if you're interested in having a look. Since writing that piece I've found out that the show was originated and is produced and directed by a wholly female production team. If women are producing these programmes which are selling such a false and perverted concept of womanhood, what hope is there?!

TP said...

I'll hop on over and see if I can find it - thanks Michelle.

Anonymous said...

I saw (what I assume is) an American version of this program once, and it was awful. They put a woman behind a one-way glass on the street and asked passerbys to guess her age. That the presenter was acting like these hostile, superficial, judgemental comments were valid and normal was part of what disturbed me. The show's viewpoint was that this nastiness was for the woman's own good (and by implication, all women should submit to this kind of judging.

Some of the comments were quite moronic, as well. One person said "I can tell she's over 50 by the shoes she's wearing". Huh?

The poor woman was reduced to tears. Then they were off to several invasive surgical and dental procedures.