But as far as standards of beauty in the U.S., you'd learn that you've got to be thin, and you don't want to be short. You're better off if you have light skin and lighter-colored hair. They repeatedly, each time there's a makeover, bleach someone's hair crazy-blonde. You'd learn that it's better to be tall, and that curves are very rarely considered good—at least in the modeling world. If this is the only exposure you have to the United States and you're a curvy woman, you're going to think you're hideous. And that's not totally fair, because Tyra herself is curvy—she's busty for a model. But she's also very tall, and for the most part, she's very slim, as well.
I think you would think the norm in American society is that homosexuality is just very openly accepted in this country, too. On the show, over and over again, the gay men who help in every aspect of the show, Tyra repeatedly tells the contestants that "without the gay men, we wouldn't be able to do this." In the ANTM world, it's very accepted.
In your dissertation, you raise the question of how Britain's, Australia's, and America's Next Top Model "enforce or resist hegemony." That's a huge, heady topic, of course, but what are just a few of the ways ANTM addresses hegemony, like hegemonic masculinity or patriarchy?
Well, the open acceptance of gays and lesbians. Certainly what I noticed in the Australian and British versions was that being gay wasn't that big of a deal; it wasn't something the host would point out. Whereas Tyra pointed it out repeatedly. But in terms of hegemony in the American version, there was a hegemonic construct on America's Next Top Model that didn't necessarily match up with U.S. society as a whole: On the show, gay people were respected and revered.
Tall, skinny, sort of nerdy-looking girls were eagerly embraced, too, whereas they might otherwise be ignored in average U.S. society.
And in terms of patriarchy—well, America's Next Top Model, to me, always seemed like an example of a matriarchy. Tyra's in charge—Tyra edits the photos, she counsels the women, she's sort of the tough-love mom. The show was essentially Tyra's idea, so she was in charge of everything. You know: She would assign a new look to a contestant on Makeover Day, and if that look wasn't working, Mr. Jay [Manuel] and Miss J. [Alexander] would always call Tyra to get her—well, you could say her opinion, but I would say it's her permission—to do something differently from how she'd intended. But I think that's part of what I liked about the show; it did seem like a matriarchal society. The hegemonic construct she created was that women were in charge here. Women and gay men.
Flips the script a little, doesn't it?
Yeah, it does. In a good way.
Certain parts of the show have just become entrenched in pop culture—like "smize," for instance, which became pretty common jargon once Tyra said it on Top Model. What do you think made ANTM resonate with American viewers the way it did?