Pardon me while I rant for a minute. I was reading my newspaper the other day and hit a story that just made me sick. I don't watch a lot of commercial television and, somehow, I had missed one of the hot shows in the tornado of "reality TV" programming. I refer to "The Swan," from those cultural conservatives at Fox.
Years ago, I saw a bumper sticker -- I think it was from Feminists For Life -- with this slogan: "Better lives for men through surgery on women." That's what I thought of as I read the Washington Post report by Kathy Blumenstock entitled "Yet again, contestants flock to Swan for `life transformation.' "
So, you ask, is this really a "religion story"? From my perspective -- hell yes.
This show performs miracles in the lives of women, helps them exorcize their inner demons through secular forms of confession and produces transformations that could only be called "born again" experiences. Oh, there's lots of ritual cutting involved, too. Blood must be shed, if you want a new life. Here's the opening of the story:
Rachel Love-Fraser, crowned The Swan last season on Fox's combination reality show-beauty pageant, has some advice for this season's swans: Surrender to the process.
"You can't be resistant to change," she said. "That is what you are there to do. People say they want to make a change, but there is no magic wand. The entire group that they have assembled is not going to change your life. Some people can be given the world and still can't change. It's up to you."
Love-Fraser should know. She totally remodeled her life and her looks -- thanks largely to the show's litany of "life transformation" options. In addition to fitness training, nutritional guidance and therapy, Love-Fraser also opted for a nose job, lip enhancement, liposuction, a chin implant, a brow lift and a breast lift.
The change isn't skin deep, you see. But, in the end, the goal is a kind of post-feminist leap into a super-hot self image that -- truth be told -- just doesn't happen without a face and a body that can cut it in the post-Sex and the City marketplace. It's not about plastic surgery. But how do you achieve this miracle without it?
Nely Galan, the "Ugly Duckling" fan who created the show, defends "The Swan" with one overwhelming statistical reality -- 500,000 women applied to be on the sequel. How can old-fashioned people argue with that? It's marketplace morality.
Galan said the common denominator for participants is that they feel stuck in their lives, wishing for change but unsure how to achieve it. "Most people don't have the resources to know what to do. ...
"But I am saying, pick whatever you want. If you want to become a vegan, knock yourself out. If you've had a bunch of kids and your stomach sags, it's not a big deal if you want help with that. Life is really short and really hard for women, and whatever is going to make you feel better about yourself, do it."
I wonder if many female journalists are watching this show and, if so, are they (a) thrilled, (b) mortified or (c) sincerely interested in the realities that would cause women to yearn for this kind of religious experience. What is the message to young girls?
I hope journalists get interested and manage to convince their editors -- male and female -- to take a look.