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March 22, 2012

As with terrible junk food, when I saw the promos for ‘make-under’ reality TV show Snog/Marry/Avoid, I knew I’d avidly consume it and hate myself afterwards.

The premise is simple: a talking ‘computer’ called POD (Personal Overhaul Device) bullies the participant about his or her – usually her – tacky wardrobe and makeup choices. It then shows the victim the results of a vox pop in which men on the street were shown a photo of her and asked if they’d snog, marry or avoid her. If the girl wears a lot of makeup, the men are usually asked what age they think she is, and almost always overestimate it. This is frequently the most demoralising part of the process for the victim. POD then tells the girl – or boy – to select a more tastefully-clad celebrity in whose image they will be remodelled. Human presenter Jenny Frost provides the good-cop counterbalance, following up participants a few months later to see if they’ve stuck with their new look.

I must admit, the results are often an improvement.

The show’s participants fall into two broad categories: slappers and freaks. For the former, who are addicted to pancake makeup, fake tan, false eyelashes, hair extensions and tiny, tiny clothes, the process often unearths a fresh-faced 19-23 year old (the show’s producers are obviously careful to select naturally-attractive people who would not be ‘avoided’ for any other reason than their bad dress sense). They’ve usually been volunteered for inclusion by desperate mums, friends or boyfriends.

The freaks are another matter. Punks, histers, emos and fluro-ravers, they tend to sport multiple facial piercings, mohawks, floor-length PVC coats and ripped tartan minis or gelato-coloured hair, reflective vests, Hello Kitty T-shirts and fun-fur legwarmers. When asked why they’ve volunteered for the show they tend to say ‘I just want to see what I’d look like normal’. Fair enough, although I’m not sure why they need a reality-TV show to accomplish this for them; I would have thought a pack of cotton balls and a box of Clairol Auburn Highlights would have done the trick. Once kitted them out to look like Kate Winslet or Brad Pitt or whoever, they tend to shriek with horrified glee, then rush out of the studio and straight back into their subculture uniform.

The slappers, on the other hand, seem oddly relieved that someone has finally told them it’s okay to stop dressing like a stripper. Despite their slutty clothes, most of them are actually very normal (‘But I’m a nice girl!’ one of them pouts when told that a high percentage of men have voted to avoid her.) It’s just that the message they receive from the media is that they’re supposed to look like Bratz dolls, and this message is more powerful than anything their friends, lovers or family are telling them. Asked who their style icons are, most nominate reality TV show stars or footballer WAGS – women who are famous for doing little apart from looking trashy and being richly rewarded for it. Small wonder the girls are making themselves over in these celebrity images. Except when you’re barmaid or a secretary on a night out clubbing in a feathery bra and panties or a strip of gaffa tape, the effect tends to backfire. Several contestants said their reason for joining in the show had to do with unwanted attention they were getting from dodgy men. What did these chicks think was going to happen? Then again, they’re not necessarily the sharpest tacks in the box. Sample dialogue:

POD: I am POD.
Blond bimbo: Hello Todd.
POD: I am POD – Personal Overhaul Device.
Blond bimbo: Hello Todd, Personal Overhaul Device.

Okay, I admit it: I tuned in to mock, and wasn’t disappointed. There’s plenty to fuel a smug sense of superiority, of the ‘Oh-my-gawd-what-is-she-wearing’ variety. After a while though, I started to feel queasy, just like I knew I would. Many of these girls are from a low socioeconomic background, and by aping rich and famous versions of themselves and then going on telly they are being aspirational, albeit in a misguided way. But they’re playing a rigged game, because the only way they can achieve even momentary fame is to set themselves up for ridicule.

I won’t be tuning in to Snub/Worry/Degrade again, and wouldn’t recommend you do either, unless you want to hate yourself in the morning.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Shane permalink
    March 22, 2012 8:28 am

    Is it viewing akin to The Biggest Loser, whereby we see an extreme version of what we hate about ourselves and are meant to be (in equal parts) inspired by their transformation and relieved we never let things get that far?

    By proxy, it may also explain why reality TV cooking shows are so popular; it is one of the few reality TV themes that are not transfixed on “correcting” a person perceived by society as “broken”.

    I guess critical social theoretical approaches can be applied to almost any medium.

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