Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Reality TV and Messages About Gender and Sexuality

“A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila” is a reality television show on MTV. The show is about a bisexual woman looking to find love. The show’s cast consists of 16 male and 16 female contestants. As the program begins, the male contestants believe Tila is heterosexual and they will be the only contestants competing for her love. The female contestants also are led to believe they will be the only individuals competing for Tila’s love, but they perceive that she is a lesbian. After meeting all the characters separately, Tila surprises all the contestants by “coming out” as a bisexual. This is the first time she has admitted her sexual identity publicly. Tila’s character disseminates messages about gender and sexuality since she is a bisexual which is considered “the other” in our heteronormative society.

First, Tila “fits” the concepts related to the normative definition of femininity. Her character on the show is portrayed as beautiful, caring, considerate, and emotional. For example, when a fight brakes out over her between two of the masculine characters, Tila gets upset and cries. She then allows herself to be rescued by one of the feminine characters to have a one-on-one emotional conversation. From this scenario, the viewer can conclude Tila is not afraid to show her emotions. Tila only partially displays the normative definition of femininity and sexuality. She has heterosexual tendencies as well as homosexual tendencies since she is attracted to both the male and female characters. The normative definition of femininity would only involve the character/individual being heterosexual and attracted to men.

Furthermore, one would consider Tila to be a non-ideal pathological feminine subject due to her bisexuality since our society has a heteronormative nature. Compulsory heterosexuality (or what some have called heteronormativity) is when popular culture will tend to portray heterosexuality as if it were natural and inevitable and to position alternate forms of sexuality as “other” (Raymond 103). Tila’s character is depicted as confused and unsure of herself since this is the first time she is coming out as a bisexual. In the show she states, “I’m wearing my heart on my sleeve here doing this” and she feels took a risk in participating in the show in order to find love. This trait is common because as Newman states in chapter 4, “self-proclaimed bisexuals initially face a period of confusion and doubt as they struggle with an identity that doesn’t fit into preexisting categories” (125). These points spread the message that heterosexuality is the normative sexual identity because of hegemony, yet, through the media other sexual identities are appearing and becoming more known. The media coverage of televising alternative lifestyles is a step closer for bisexuality to be more accepted. Individuals learn more about the sexual identity of a bisexual and those that deny their true sexual identity eventually will be less afraid to hide since they will realize similar oriented individuals exist and they are not afraid to show who they are.

The fact that Tila is a bisexual and has an attraction to men and women is in itself a disruption of the relationship between gender and sexuality. The norm/stereotype/ideal feminine person is attracted to men. Tila’s character deviates from the norm and debunks the stereotype of the norm/ideal feminine individual. In one particular segment, Tila expresses her attraction to the “lipstick lesbian”. She is quite contradictory as she shows an attraction and acceptance to one of the “butch” female characters (the firefighter) and invites her to have some one-on-one time to get to know the firefighter better. Shortly after showing her interest/attraction to the “butch” firefighter individual Tila continually displays conflict in her attractions. She provides the handsome male character, who was accused of cheating in the “group” bed another second chance to stay at her house for further interaction if he “promises to be good”.

In the past couple of years the media has looked beyond heteronormativity and seeks to show other sexual identities (like homosexuality or bisexuality). With utilizing Tila and the other characters on the program, the media tries to break the hegemonic norm, where the heterosexual male group is dominant over not only females, but homosexuals as well, by including lesbians and a bisexual on the show. Also, the media attempts to delegate equal air/viewing time to the heterosexual males, lesbian women, and Tila (bisexual woman). As James Lull explains, “Audience interpretations and uses of media imagery also eat away at hegemony. Hegemony fails when dominant ideology is weaker than social resistance” (65). The media construction permits equal participation allowances on the part of the heterosexual contestants and homosexual contestants. Tila engages in different scenarios with both groups in an equal time frame, and addresses both groups similarly. To further Lull’s perspective that hegemony fails when social resistance is stronger is MTV’s use of the character, Tila a bisexual woman. In this program, the media expects the character of Tila to attract a variety of viewers by using a bisexual woman which deviates from the normative television programming. Viewers are intrigued by the unknown and unfamiliar, therefore they are interested in viewing the program.

Another media construction illustrated through “A Shot at Love” is the sexual angle. Tila is depicted as “the sex object” image. On the show, Tila is always dressed provocatively showing large amounts of cleavage and skin. As Pozner explains in her article, the reality show “genre teaches us that women categorically “are” certain things- for example, no matter their age, they’re “hot girls,” not self aware or intelligent adults. Not only is Tila pegged with the hot girl image since she is beautiful and sends the messages woman are just things, but she is also perceived as very sexual. In many instances on the show Tila moves, dances, and poses sexually. She often is kissing, touching, massaging, and implying she wants some sort of sexual relationship with the other cast members. This is an example of the stereotypical gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community described by Newman in chapter 3, “despite their growing media presence and influence, one subtle but powerfully stereotypical theme remains: that gays and lesbians are either extremely or at least moderately preoccupied with sex”(99). Although homosexual and bisexual characters have become more common place in the media, they are still depicted with overtly demeaning characteristics.

Tila Tequila disseminates multiple messages about gender and sexuality. Although, she attempts to portray herself positively and confidently, she is often quite conflicted and confused. She continually dresses provocatively and speaks and behaves similarly. The media chose a controversial character to attract and appeal to a wide viewing audience.

Works Cited

"Episodes 1, 2, 3." A Shot At Love with Tila Tequila. MTV.

Lull, James. "Hegemony." Gender, Race, and Class in Media a Text Reader. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 2003. 61-65.

Newman, David. Identities and Inequalities. NY, NY: McGraw Hill, 2007. 71-125.

Pozner, Jennifer L. "The Unreal World." Women Images and Realities a Multicultural Anthology. NY, NY: McGraw Hill, 2003. 97-99.

Raymond, Diane. "Popular Culture and Queer Representation." Gender, Race, and Class in Media a Text Reader. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 2003. 98-109.


Jessie said...

Nice job with this post Katie.

The quotes chosen were very appropriate and certainly aided in backing up the points you made about the TV show.

One issue with the analysis is the competing/conflicting messages about gender and sexuality. The current heteronormative cultural climate has incorporated a girl/girl fantasy into the normative sexual fantasy by men. The show certainly aids in this hegemonic fantasy that's rooted in heteronormative stereotypes. However, the women "competing" for Tila are all lesbian, with absolutely no desire to reinforce this stereotype for their male counterparts on the show or for the audience--here's a great example of the confrontation of a norm. Additionally, the show's depiction of Tila with each of the women in competition could be seen as a reinforcement of this same norm at various points. Therefore, the conflicting/competing messages are everywhere--it's important to try to grapple with this conflict in your analysis.

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