I mini-marathoned all six aired so far eps of Beauty & the Geek 2, the show exec produced by Ashton Kutcher which pairs supposedly “hot” (skinny and heavily made up) girls with geeky (smart, socially awkward) guys. The guys learn about fashion and grooming, the girls learn there’s more to life than shoes and gossip magazines, and at least one pair hooks up. Game over.
It’s actually a pretty entertaining show. They’re clearly casting for personalities, since pretty much any bimboid girl would fit the “hot” archetype. The geeks are a bit trickier, but they have a bunch of programmers, MIT grad students, yada yada, what you’d expect. All these kids are really young, undergraduate age, and there are some fairly touching moments when the girls actually start believing they have more to offer the world than their looks, or when the guys realize they can participate in normal college-ish activities without being permanently shunned.
But it’s so predicated on predictable, sexist stereotypes. I’ve spent the last few days musing over how they could flip the casting for Beauty & the Geek 3: geeky girls and hot guys. It’s really difficult to figure out how this could work and not be insanely subversive, since so much of the “hot girl” / “geeky guy” dichotomy depends on really gender-specific things:
- The girls have to be nurturing and willing to gently teach the guys stuff and help them open up.
- The idea that a dorky or overweight guy could be a sex object is not completely out of the realm of possibility on television.
- The girls have to be superficial, but not mean.
OK: Flip to socially awkward, supersmart girls and himbo, A&F chest-waxing dudes. The assumption is that the “hot” guys are just going to be complete assholes to the “dorky” girls. The idea that a woman might have something to offer the world other than her looks just goes against every single presupposition of reality television, not to mention consumer culture overall.
There really isn’t a way to make the relationship between a conventionally attractive man and a conventionally unattractive woman who’s smarter than the guy palatable to the majority discourse on television. We just don’t see that. We don’t see that many smart women, period, and we certainly don’t see them if they’re not perfectly coiffed, shaved, toned, plucked, and manicured. Imagine some hypernerd tough chick programmer who lifts weights and reads sci-fi and goes to LOTR conventions. Can we really imagine her neutering herself into a well-spoken, polite bimbo? “Geekiness” for women can sometimes be an extremely powerful form of opting out of mainstream beauty culture in a very effective, self-aware way.
Maybe I’m not giving the hot guys of the world enough credit, but from my experience with narcissistic men who don’t have much going on upstairs, they generally aren’t really into seeing women as people. Women are ranked on their looks and fit into very specific, sexist types, and if they don’t fit those types, they’re not sexual objects, and so they’re non-people. Television generally doesn’t have much time for women who aren’t “hot”, and the idea that a fat girl, or a girl who doesn’t wear makeup, or a girl who doesn’t dress trendily could be “hot” isn’t very common either.
I’m not saying this doesn’t happen in real life. But I am saying that on television targeted towards teenagers, switching the roles on this show would require a great deal of backpedaling and shifting in order to create something that would be acceptable to advertisers, etc. Seeing “hot” girls learning BASIC FACTS (Who is John Kerry?) isn’t threatening. Seeing a whipsmart, weird, awkward girl gaining confidence in herself and being constantly validated is. I really hope I’m wrong because I am DYING to see this show.
(Gossip: Wes from B&G2 is total slimeball! Check out the MySpace group: http://groups.myspace.com/wesislame. He’s a faker, dude, totally recruited by Ashton to geek out so he could be hottied up. And he cheated on his “real” girlfriend and his TV girlfriend. OH SNAP, you are so busted Wes!)