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Ambivalent but oddly fascinated

Through the vagaries of TiVo, this morning I ran across a show called Dance Your Ass Off on Oxygen. Rather than the straight-up SYTYCD clone I expected, it promptly proved to be a bizarre hybrid of SYTYCD and The Biggest Loser.

If your gut response to that is "train wreck," you're exactly where I was. And it is, partly. But partly very much not.

On the one hand, there's the competition/elimination structure that just never fails to annoy me on these shows, compounded by the problematic way they figure weight loss into the scoring. Case in point: In this clip from an earlier episode, a contestant has lost ELEVEN pounds -- four-point-something percent of her body weight -- in a single week. And predictably gets wild cheers and applause when the number is announced. Granted, it's early in the process, and probably not dangerous as long as it doesn't continue that way. But it's still a lot for one week.

On the other hand, there's a refreshing focus on the work being about what the body can do, not solely obsessing over the number on the scale. More importantly, the contestants are getting clear signals -- from the judges, the host, and the audience -- that they are talented, attractive and generally worthy. Not that they will be when they achieve their goals, but that they are now. That's pretty jawdropping in our culture.

The ep I ran across today had a pole-dance challenge, which of course is a whole other layer of problematic. (I'm in awe of proficient practitioners of the form -- like shanmonster, I defy you not to be impressed by this -- but aware that exotic dance is... fraught.) It's too bad there aren't clips from it available yet, though, because I was really struck by the creative partnering a couple of the partner/coaches came up with that made use of the pole. There was also at least one beautiful free lift that gave the lie to the fallacy that a girl has to be tiny to be liftable. (Only true to the extent that dancers lack technique -- the lifter to make leverage work in his favor, the liftee to contribute her strength and balance.)

I don't know that I'm hooked enough to actually seek the show out to watch in the future, with all the other stuff going on. But I'm definitely curious and found it worth commenting.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
sarajlarson
Jul. 27th, 2009 12:58 pm (UTC)
What I would like to see them do one of these "reality" shows is cooperate, not compete. But I suppose that wouldn't be good television.

Am I going to see you this weekend?
wiliqueen
Jul. 27th, 2009 01:21 pm (UTC)
I ran across a kids' one once, I think on Nickelodeon, that scored them on teamwork, etc. I suspect that's the closest we'll ever get. But then, that's why I mostly don't watch them.

I'm not performing this year, but will hopefully make it out for a few hours as a patron. Will definitely stop by and say hi!
studiesinlight
Jul. 28th, 2009 06:57 am (UTC)
I saw ads for this show while I watched a movie on Oxygen on Saturday night. From the ad, I had mixed feelings about it, but the fact that my feelings were genuinely mixed, with hope and not just fear, is a step forward for this sort of thing.

Then tonight, I saw an advertisement on a network channel for a version of The Bachelor in which all the women are plus-sized. Again, I have mixed feelings, because on the one hand, The Bachelor is a horrible concept all around -- parallel seasons of The Bachelorette do not make it all right -- but on the other hand, the ad points out that most real American woman are sizes 12-18, while most "reality show" contestants are size 2, and the "bachelor" guy seemed, in the commercial, genuinely thrilled (and why shouldn't he? to have dozens of women competing for his attention).
wiliqueen
Jul. 28th, 2009 11:41 am (UTC)
I sampled some blog posts yesterday (how quickly Google's site-type-specific search has become a necessity!), being more curious about people's reaction to the show than anything else. Also skimmed the comment thread on Oxygen's own site, which had some of the inevitable depressing "these people are disgusting and shouldn't be wearing that/doing that/on my TV at all" troll-spew.

Away from there, the bloggers reviewing it seemed to be mostly in two categories: fitness and/or diet enthusiasts, and large people who blog partly or mostly about being large. It scored high with both, with generally fewer reservations from the latter.

Anecdotally, the diet/fitness blogs were where I found the most commenters likely to (a) find the costumes inappropriate, and (b) accuse the show of mocking the contestants. I don't think I saw a single fat blogger or commenter do so, though on one post in particular quite a few had been planning to avoid the show until they read the blogger's review. One commenter on that post, who did watch it, mentioned that she had seen people accuse it of mocking and disagreed.

I think that might be the most interesting and telling reaction. The implication is that we're conditioned to think that anything that puts fat people front and center, especially in a flashy way, must be making buffoons of them because that's pretty much all we ever see. It directly opposes the cultural drive to make them invisible, and there's a lot of discomfort with that.

Some commenters spew that discomfort on the Oxygen board (which some contestants read and participate in), others assume that the show is making fun of the contestants. In fact, despite the problematic aspects of the public weigh-in, it's doing anything but. It's just making these people decidedly not invisible. Which exposes them to inevitable mockery, but that onus is on the public, not on the show. And it's very interesting to see where the opinion divide falls on whether that's a mark against the show itself. Blog commenters who face disapproval and mockery every time they step out the door don't seem to think so.

Edited at 2009-07-28 11:43 am (UTC)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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