A quick plug – if you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my guest post on my good friend Annie Petersen’s blog: Towards a Unified Theory of Beard Acting. Annie’s blog (Celebrity Gossip: Academic Style) is pretty awesome, and she writes about celebrity gossip (and celebrity, more generally) in the 21st Century.
So far, I’ve mostly talked about shows that I watch with my wife that I don’t mind watching. For the most part, they’re pretty harmless. They neither offend, nor do they inspire me. But I haven’t mentioned my wife’s favourite TLC shows, What Not to Wear and Say Yes to the Dress, neither of which I like.
I’ll get to What not to Wear in a later post. Say Yes to the Dress is popular in the house because a) it’s short (22 minutes) and b) it’s available on-demand making it the perfect lunchtime viewing.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, the show is basically about 3(ish) brides as they try and fit their ideal wedding dresses and the drama in front and behind the scenes. We are led through the experience by our helpful experts as they attempt to navigate what my wife says is an incredibly emotional experience.
Say Yes to the Dress also focuses on situations that are inherently dramatic. Like any good documentary, the event is supercharged with family drama, uncertainty and a character (a bride) who ultimately asks a narrative question – will she or won’t she find it?
All of this works for a pretty effective, compact viewing experience.
The show is also totally split along gender lines of a particular sort. It’s about weddings, particular kinds of women and the build-up to what the show presents as the most important moment of their lives. More than this, everyone is looking for the perfect dress, which often brings out the best and worst in people.
(poor, beleaguered staff…)
Maybe this is part of the reason that I don’t get it. I feel like the show provides my wife the opportunity to relive and revisit some of the emotions leading up to her own wedding and project her own emotions onto the participants on the show. Her personal experience becomes a constant reference point and place to compare with what she’s viewing.
For instance, when an overbearing grandmother attends the fittings, as occurs in this episode, she might say that I don’t understand what a vulnerable position that a potential dress wearer feels along with the exposure of being judged.
(note – this is nothing like my wife’s family)
Another constant on the show is when potential grooms show up to lend their “expertise.” At these times, she’ll look to me and say “I’m so glad that you weren’t there.”
I can’t help but agreeing. But occasionally, as with all the fashion-y shows that we watch together, I occasionally offer some terrible opinion of roucheing and other words I have never used before.
What’s interesting to me about the show is it seems to be an example of the self-generating franchise on Reality TV. Not only has it spawned a spin-off (Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta), but the cabal of TLC “stars” stop by to engage in cross-promotion. Just like that time when Michelle Duggar and the family stop by Kleinfeld’s.
Which brings me to 2 final points.
1) No matter what happens within the episode, no matter how horrible the people are to each other, and no matter how awful these people treat the staff, the emotional result of the ending is always the same.
There is always images of at least one wedding that packs an emotional wallop, and contains the show’s happy ending.
2) As we finish our lunch and the show winds down, my wife will turn to me and inevitably say something about wanting to redo our wedding all over again.
(I think that this implies a bigger budget. This doesn’t bother me.)
I wonder if other women feel the same way and whether the wedding is an event through which they compare other moments in their lives to.
This seems to be what happens with my wife, as she uses the show to negotiate her own life, happiness and scope of the wedding as a reference to the lives, happinesses and scale of the would-be brides in the show.
My theory is that all Reality TV works like this to some degree, as we measure the amount of talent, beauty, or perhaps incompetence against our own self-image. But this is definitely material for another post.