TABLE OF CONTENTS 1. INTRODUCTION 1. 1 PURPOSE 1. 2 DATA DESCRIPTION 2. BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO CHILD BEAUTY PAGEANTS AND TODDLERS & TIARAS 3. TELEVISION AND REALITY TV AS A MEDIUM 4. REALITY TV RESEARCH 4. 1 MEDIA SPECTACLES 4. 2 OBSCENITY OF TODDLERS AND TIARAS 4. 3 USES AND GRATIFICATIONS THEORY 4. 4 STUART HALL’S ENCODING-DECODING MODEL 5. METHOD 6. FINDINGS 7. SUMMARY OF THE FINDINGS 7. 1 LIMITATIONS 8. CONCLUSION 2 2 2 3 4 5 5 7 9 10 11 13 29 31 31 33 ERROR! BOOKMARK NOT DEFINED. ERROR! BOOKMARK NOT DEFINED.
ERROR! BOOKMARK NOT DEFINED. ERROR! BOOKMARK NOT DEFINED. 9. REFERENCES 10. APPENDIX 10. 1 PAPER DIVISION 10. 2 INTERVIEW QUESTIONS 10. 3 INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTS 1. Introduction Ever since the advent of reality TV at the end of 1990’s, television producers started to look for controversial subjects, which would capture the viewer, and make this new format a hit. This was also the case with the child beauty pageants industry, which has been a frequently discussed topic in the United States for decades.
Nevertheless, after the emergence of the Reality TV (RTV) show, Toddlers and Tiaras, produced by the American broadcaster TLC, the controversy about this particular industry and children on television has increased rapidly. Toddlers and Tiaras is a show which might seem strange to people who do not know and have never heard of child beauty pageants. Especially the emphasis on making a girl look older, than her actual age, is hard to understand for many people. However, these shocking scenes that often cause certain emotions among the audience, is exactly how RTV producers are trying to capture and interest its audience.
Toddlers and Tiaras might be a show that is judged rapidly due to the controversial nature of child beauty pageants, however the ratings of TLC prove that it is also a program which people enjoy watching and like to talk about. 1. 1 Purpose The purpose of this research paper is to investigate what people think about a show that features little girls who are turned into beauty queens, how they perceive the characters as well as child beauty pageants in general. Furthermore, due to the fact that this phenomenon clearly reflects the American society, it is interesting to find out what European’s actually think of this concept. . 2 Data description Most of the data collected in this research comes from academic articles used in the course, and books from the SDU library. Furthermore, online desk research played a major role, including research papers from the scholar. google search engine. Since Toddlers and Tiaras is a show that has only been broadcasted since a few years and has just entered the European market it seems to be a very current topic. This helped us in our research to find up-to-date information about the Reality TV show, as well as the child beauty pageant industry.
Moreover, ten in-depth interviews served as a qualitative research method and added highly valuable information to our research. 2 2. Brief introduction to child beauty Pageants and Toddlers & Tiaras Only in a climate of denial could hysteria over satanic rituals at daycare centers coexist with a failure to grasp the full extent of child abuse. (More than 8. 5 million women and men are survivors. ) Only in a culture that represses the evidence of the senses could child pageantry grow into a $5 billion dollar industry without anyone noticing.
Only in a nation of promiscuous puritans could it be a good career move to equip a six-year-old with bedroom eyes (Richard Goldstein, 1997). Child beauty pageants have in the past few decades grown into a multi-billion dollar industry, sponsored by multinationals such as Proctor and Gamble and Hawaiian Tropics. In the United States approximately, five thousand child pageants are held every year, with a subscription fee between $250 to $800 dollars, especially when competing on a national level (Giroux, 1998: 39). Pageants are held both on a local and national level.
Whereas the local level is mainly meant for working class families, the national competitions are dominated by the middle-and upper class, who have the resources to afford expensive clothes, pageant coaches, dance lessons, travel expenses and etc (Giroux, 1998: 39/40). The popularity growth of child beauty pageants did not go unnoticed and after the rising interest for pageant magazines such Pageantry, The Learning Channel (TLC) decided to launch the reality-based docudrama ‘’Toddlers and Tiaras’’ in February 2009. Now four years later, due to high audience ratings TLC has recently premiered its 5th season.
The protagonists of Toddlers and Tiaras are children as young as two years old and their mothers, competing in beauty pageants. The show follows the little beauty queens and their families in their homes and backstage in order to document the preparation the girls have to go through to get the required ‘Barbie-look’ for the contests. Pageants are a lucrative business, not only for the promoters who are making approximately $100,000 per event but also for the contestants who are able to win high money prices as well as holidays and cars (Giroux 1998: 40).
Nevertheless, besides the fact that a lot of money can be earned, the costs of competing in child beauty pageants add up quickly. Those high amounts of money indicate that the participation at such beauty contests demands much commitment and a high level of professionalism from the little girls. Hours of training for a flawless dance routine to impress the judges, as well as a healthy diet to be thin for the upcoming pageants are the rule (Sheridan, 2011). 3 Furthermore, there are two different categories of pageants, the Glitz pageants and the natural pageants.
Especially the Glitz pageants have led to extreme discussions and outrage in the US. From fake eye lashes to fake spray tan, from provocative outfits to overlays for teeth (the so-called ‘flippers’ to hide the little girl’s tooth gaps, and give them a million-dollar smile), the TV show Toddlers and Tiaras documents every single step of the pageant preparation, and has increased the controversy about the sexualization of children on television (Sheridan, 2011).
Another controversial point of the TV show, are the mothers of the little beauty queens, who are faced with the accusation of using their children to make their own dreams come true. According to what you see on the show, they push their little girls to practice several hours a day, and use beauty treatments, like spray tanning to increase their chances of winning (Heltsley & Calhoun, 2003: 82). According to experts, the consequences these competitions can have on little girls are extremely negative. Indeed, “it can be harmful to girls, teaching them that their self-worth is measured by how pretty they are” (Schultz & Murphy, 2012).
Moreover, as a result of the pageants, the girls can develop lifetime problems, including depression, perfectionism, eating disorders, and body shame (Sheridan, 2011). 3. Television and Reality TV as a Medium If our culture in the second half of the twentieth century is influenced by one medium, then it is television. Via TV, people were for the first time able to witness the horrors of warfare. However, the TV also brought new forms of amusement, music, cabaret and the glitter and glamour of big show programs. In other words, television caused that awareness, grief and appiness have become public issues (Hermes & Reesink 2003: 2). Furthermore, even though in recent years the Internet has started to take over television as the most penetrating medium, television is still often seen as one of the most intrusive one, due to the fact that it uses both visual and auditory stimuli. Moreover, media is used by different people for different reasons. Whereas one person would use the medium television or another medium in general, to gather information, others will turn on the television pure for entertainment (Asseldonk 2005: 10).
One trend which can be described as pure entertainment is RTV, which can be referred to as a ‘’catch-all category that includes a wide range of entertainment programs about real people’’. This form of entertainment has become a firm part of the daily television programing since the 1999s/2000s worldwide. Reality TV nowadays portrays everything and anything, from dating to weight loss, from healthcare to children beauty pageants (Hill, 2005: 2). Moreover, reality TV can be funny, dramatic, exciting and even 4 educating.
A reality TV show does not tell its audience how they have to feel about what they see, which is why the opinions about popular programs, such as Big Brother or Toddlers and Tiaras, differ widely. The very first reality TV shows were totally different from what we see today. In fact, the shows followed mainly policemen, firefighters or ambulance drivers and did not invade the private space of a person (J. Bignell, p. 28). According to Hermes & Reesink (2003) RTV can be divided into three different forms; emotional-TV, real life soaps and docusoaps.
Toddlers and Tiaras can be referred to as a docusoap, meaning that a fixed group of people and their daily activities are being recorded at school, work and etc. The emphasis of these formats is mainly based on the recognition and identification of the people and events portrayed on the show (Mast, 2003). Furthermore, the paper will continue to concentrate on the medium within the medium reality television or more specifically the RTV show Toddlers and Tiaras. Hereby the next chapter will take a closer look at both Media spectacles, the Use and Gratification theory and the encoding-decoding model n relation to child beauty pageants portrayed on the show. 4. Reality TV Research The following chapter focusses on four different theories related to television including; Media Spectacles, Obscenity, Hall’s Encoding and Decoding model and Uses and Gratification theory. 4. 1 Media spectacles Today’s society can be described as ‘society of the spectacle’. In fact; “Spectacles are those phenomena of media culture which embody contemporary society’s basic values, serve to enculturate individuals into its way of life, and dramatize its controversies and struggles, as well as its modes of conflict resolution.
They include media extravaganzas, sports events, political happenings, and those attention-grabbing occurrences that we call news — a phenomena that itself has been subjected to the logic of spectacle and tabloidization in the era of the media sensationalism, political scandal and contestation, seemingly unending cultural war” (Kellner, 2003: 27). Sports, such as the Super Bowl or the Olympics are important media spectacles (p. 5). Moreover, the entertainment industry is providing major spectacles itself, such as the Oscars or popular film spectacles like the Harry Potter series (p. ). Furthermore, politics also play a major role in the media, and the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, with the following war against terrorism, has clearly been the mega 5 spectacle of the 21st century (p20). Besides, those serious topics, reality TV has become part of this phenomenon as well. Starting with hit-series like Big Brother, Survivor, and the Bachelor, RTV soon turned into a major spectacle, with a constantly growing fan crowd. In addition, RTV reached a ew stage, when MTV started to broadcast the faux-reality series about the rocker Ozzy Osbourne and his family, which documented their somewhat ordinary family life. However, this new kind of ‘realitainment’ was a huge success, and fascinated massive television audiences around the world (p. 19). “Thus, the new millennium is marked by a diversity of spectacles in the field of politics, culture, entertainment, and every realm of social life” (Kellner, 2003: 27) Andy Warhol said in 1968: “In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes” (phrasefinder). Nowadays, the world has many celebrities, such as actors, writers or singers.
However, it seems that more and more people want to be part of the rich and beautiful, and decide to turn their lives into televisual spectacles to achieve those 15 minutes of fame. The participants of Toddlers and Tiaras often say during the show that they would like their children to become a celebrity when they grow up. The most common wishes are to turn the girls into a future a Miss America, singers or actresses, with idols such as Selena Gomez, who both started their careers at a very young age (Hollywoodlife, 2011). Clearly Toddlers and Tiaras is a special kind of spectacle that draws a lot of attention and discussions.
The show has been debated on big TV channels, such as CNN, ABC and CW, who have invited various mothers and daughters portrayed on the show, in order to discuss the repeated accusations of child abuse (Canning & Behrendt, 2012: 1). Nevertheless, the first time (Glitz) beauty pageants attracted national attention was after the alleged sexual abuse and murder of the six-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey in 1996. The public was shocked, and saw a clear connection between the murder and the pageants, saying the perpetrator had used the children beauty pageant competition to choose his victim (Giroux, 1998: 2).
Paul Peterson, a member of ‘A minor Consideration’ that tries to change the children entertainment industry said about the pageants: “This is feeding the sex industry. There is a tremendous trade within juvenile modeling” (ABCnews, 2011). However, at the time of JonBenet’s murder, no TV show had been documented about the children beauty pageant circus yet. JonBenet who was competing in various beauty pageants, was found abused and murdered in her basement.
Not only the public but also the media blamed the beauty pageants for attracting pedophiles and accused JonBenet’s parents of violating their parental duties by dressing JonBenet too sexy and letting her 6 participate in those contests. The murder of JonBenet turned into a mega spectacle with the parents and beauty pageants at the center of national news reports. Nights in a row all major networks showed the public, video’s in which JonBenet was seen wearing sexy adult clothing, red lipstick, curled and bleached hair giving the audience a seductive look in order to impress the judges (Giroux, 1998: 37).
According to Giroux, this case presented the American viewer ‘’a spectacle in which it became both a voyeur and a witness to its refusal to address the broader conditions that contribute to the sexualiation and commodification of kids in the larger culture’’ (Giroux, 1998: 37). The case did not only caught the attention of the major networks but also of important American television figures such as Oprah Winfrey, who showed the public that child abuse frequently occurs at home and that the idea people have about that a child molester is most often an outsider is not so credible.
The Ramsey case clearly showed this phenomenon of a ‘’unsafe home’’, not necessarily in the way of physical abuse but more looking at the fact that JonBenet parents forced their dreams and fantasies on their little girl, which resulted in the fact that they denied her a personality appropriate for a six-year old. Despite this terrible event and the enormous controversy towards child beauty pageants, TLC decided to broadcast a program dedicated to exactly this. Even though the controversy remains, the program has high audience rates and has turned into yet another reality television spectacle. 4. 2
Obscenity of Toddlers and Tiaras According to the Cambridge dictionary, obscenity or when someone or something is obscene is also referred to as ‘’an offensive and shocking situation or event’’ (Cambridge dictionary online). The commercialization of major broadcasters has according to several theorists led to negative changes in what kind of media content is offered nowadays (De Bens, 1994; Dovey, 2000). De Bens calls the tendency towards First Person Media also tabloidization, due to the fact that the media nowadays offers more and more entertainment that makes the public dumber (Jansen, 2011: 17).
Especially in RTV programs the cameras have started to intrude in people’s private lives, in order to satisfy the viewer’s desire towards sensation and spectacles. It is often said that viewer’s currently, have gotten an increasingly narrowminded and stereotype image of what kind of problems are going on in society (Mast, 2003). The stories and images portrayed in the media, of individuals sharing their intimacies is getting crazier every time. The public has gotten used to the fact that the public domain has turned into a freak show. 7
When the first Big-Brother came out and the contestants were having sex on life TV, people started to wonder where the limit is. According to Hermes & Reesink (2003), fear arose that RTV would continue to stretch its limits and would become more and more inappropriate and revolting (p. 229). When looking at the RTV program Toddlers and Tiaras and the Cambridge definition of obscenity, the program is often seen as both offensive and shocking. Ever since Toddlers and Tiaras debuted on TLC in 2009, it has been a show that caused much controversy in the US (realitytvworld, 2009).
Children beauty pageants were nothing new in the US at that time, since the very first pageants already took place in the 1960s; however this new RTV show documented very closely to what extremes the mothers go to make their daughters win (Huffingtonpost, 2011). The mothers participating in Toddlers and Tiaras have earned the nickname ‘pageant-moms’ in the US, and there is even an overall term to define their often shocking behavior, namely the ‘pageant mom’ phenomenon (ABCnews, 2012: 3). By definition, ‘Pageant moms’ aggressively market their daughters in beauty contests.
Those mothers often function as managers and might have a less positive and stable relationship with their children, than mothers that separate business from family. Toddlers and Tiaras heated up the discussions about the ‘pageant mom’ phenomenon, and uses the overly competitive mothers very successfully, to increase the interest in the program. Some of the show’s protagonists achieved a very questionable fame in the US and are highly criticized for their behavior. For most critics, the main problem is not even the actual beauty pageant, but the preparation that comes with it.
TLC concentrates greatly on filming the beauty treatments, such as spray tanning or heavy make-up, since those are the moments when the children most often defend themselves against their mother’s treatment. The complaints made by these crying little girls often hits a nerve of the public and generated more than once a fundamental discussion about child abuse (McKay, 2010). Moreover, the debate about sexualizing children on television has increased extremely since Toddlers and Tiaras started broadcasting.
This is, due to the fact that many mothers select provocative costumes to attract attention, and to improve the winning chances of their daughters. However, together with the heavy make-up and professional hairdos, the little girls look extremely mature. This is where the problem for many starts, as a children psychologist shares: “When you have them looking older, for a lot of people that means looking sexier…If you’re telling a 6-year-old to act like a 16-year-old, you’re telling her to be seductive and to be sexy” (Schultz & Murphey, 2012: 2).
In fact one pageant mom on Toddles and Tiaras has gone as far as to dress her 3-year-old in the same costume that Julia Roberts’ prostitute character wore in the movie ‘Pretty Women’ (Thompson, 2011: 1). This performance was followed by much public out8 rage and a complaint, which was filed by the Parents Television Council against TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras saying: “We have a serious problem when The Learning Channel features a toddler, who probably hasn’t even learned to read, dressed as a prostitute showing off her sexy strut” (Thompson, 2011: 1).
However, exactly those provocations and shocking scenes has made Toddlers and Tiaras one of the most successful Reality TV shows featuring children. Moreover, the pageant moms get much attention in the hit-series Toddlers and Tiaras and sometimes become even more popular than their own daughters. Many critics say that the mothers push the girls to participate in pageants and on Toddlers and Tiaras only to be in the spotlight themselves. However, not every pageant mom can automatically be accused to be a bad mother.
In short, Toddlers and Tiaras create a lot of shocking and controversial moments and discussions. During the in-depth interviews the research will continue to concentrate what the opinions of the participants are and whether according to them this program can be seen as obscenity. 4. 3 Uses and gratifications theory Within the uses and gratifications theory the central idea is that it is necessary to know how and why people use media in order to see what kind of force that certain medium has on people (Vettehen, 1998: 6).
Media use is linked to the needs people want to satisfy and the gratification they think they will get from it. The uses and gratifications approach, studies the social, psychological and cultural origin of the needs media users have. People generally use media because it fulfills and satisfies these needs (Vettehen, 1998: 6). The uses and gratification approach is in research frequently used to trace the functions of people’s media use. When applying uses and gratifications on RTV, it helps to understand the watcher’s motives and preferences.
This is done by placing RTV on the greater spectrum of communication channels which are somewhat accessible to audiences, with the understanding that people are often, but not constantly, actively involved in the selection of media content (Papacharissi & Mendelson, 2007: 356). According to A. Rubin (1983) nine different motives for watching television could be identified including; ‘’relaxation, companionship, entertainment, social interaction, information, habit, pass time, arousal and escape’’ (Papacharissi & Mendelson, 2007: 359). Moreover, three additional otives were added, including parasocial interaction of watching the news and ‘’surveillance and voyeurism for certain program types’’ (359). Furthermore, according to Papacharissi & Mendelson quantitative research, RTV is mainly watched for entertainment, to pass time or because it has become a habit. In contrast to these three main 9 objectives of watching RTV, voyeurism seems the least mentioned motive. According to Crew’s study (2006), this has several reasons. First of all, people are nowadays, used to the concept of watching RTV programs.
Secondly, social desirability may also play a role in this, due to the fact that people rather not admit that they like to spy on other people. People however, seem to be very interested in the game element and the group dynamic of a program, due to the fact that this often gives excitement to the program (Crew, 2006: 71). Furthermore, despite the fact that according to De Kloet & Chow (2000), it is impossible for a RTV participant to completely be themselves, the viewer often does not see it that way. Therefore, besides entertainment, the authenticity of the personages as well as their emotions also plays an important role.
By using RTV programs as a means of identification a higher degree of involvement finds place. In different studies about watching reality television, divergent motives are being mentioned as the most important motive to watch this genre. The question however, is which of these motives apply to Toddlers and Tiaras. Even though, a wide variety of the viewers of Toddlers & Tiaras cannot directly identify themselves with these little girls or their mothers, the program does strongly play into the emotions of the viewer as well as concentrating on the game factor of which child will win this episodes pageant.
During the qualitative interviews the research paper will focus on finding out which of the 12 earlier mentioned motives, according to the 12 respondents are most relevant to Toddlers & Tiaras. 4. 4 Stuart Hall’s Encoding-decoding model Hall’s encoding and decoding model focuses on the interpretation of media messages, a process that finds place when the media messages are being received. An individual gives meaning to messages by looking, reading and or listening, through which the person can feel emotionally involved or has the feeling that he or she can identify him or herself with the personage portrayed (De Boer & Brennecke, 2003: 114).
Furthermore, Hall’s model states that there are two central processes who decide which meaning a media product has. Encoding refers to the producer’s role who formulates a media message within its own abilities and restrictions. Social background, gender, age, education and organizational structure all play an important role in this. Decoding on the other hand, refers to the public who receives a message and depending on its own knowledge and common sense interprets the message in its own way (Jansen, 2011: 32).
Both daily life experiences as well as what the public sees and hears in the media are of importance when giving meaning to a message (Fiske & Hartley, 2003: 81). This means that both on the encoding and decoding side, different meanings of media-messages arise due to the fact that people generally differ widely from each other (Hermes & Reesink, 2003: 33). 10 According to Hall there are three different ways to read a media text such as for instance a television program, including; dominant (or ‘hegemonic’), negotiated and oppositional (‘counter-hegemonic’) reading.
The dominant reading exists of the message the producer meant to send to the public. Negotiated reading means that the viewer understands the producer’s message but partly also gives its own interpretation which fits the situation better. Lastly, with oppositional reading the viewer rejects the message. In addition studies of signification start when the medium and public meet. The origin of these studies all come from Hall’s encoding and decoding model.
Hereby it is assumed that different people, possibly all give a different meaning to a specific media message. Two common perspectives of these studies in terms of RTV are; identification and disapproval. Identification finds place when people can relate the story line to their own life, whereas disapproval finds place when people are distant towards what they see and find it unrealistic (Liebes & Katz, 1990). Both theorists and viewers describe reality television in a different manner.
According to research on the signification of RTV it appears that the viewer realizes that the images they see are copied-pasted by the producer’s as well as that conversations are often manipulated in a way that it changes the context (Jansen, 2011: 33). For the viewer it is especially important to identify themselves with the different personages, in which authenticity plays an important role (Hautakangas, 2010: 237). Besides, identification, emotional empathy as well as using the program as a reference framework are ways to give meaning to a RTV program.
In the case of Toddlers and Tiaras, the viewer might feel empathy when seeing how the eyebrows or legs of 4-6 year olds are being plugged and waxed. These kinds of images are often supported by voice overs in the form of interviews or dialogues with either the mum or the children themselves. Due to these dialogues and interviews, the viewer is enabled to empathize with what the personages are feeling (Hermes & Reesink, 2003: 224). In which way the viewers of Toddlers and Tiaras give meaning to the program will become clearer during the in-depth interviews. 5. Method
As mentioned in the introduction the purpose of this research is to find out, what people think about the show Toddlers and Tiaras, how they perceive the characters as well as child beauty pageants in general. Furthermore, due to the fact that this phenomenon clearly reflects the American society, it is interesting to find out what European’s actually think of this concept. The variety of data used for this research and the 11 diverse number of sources from which they were collected made both the use of qualitative and quantitative research methods of collecting data suitable or this research. We therefore, decided to mix these two methods of data collection. Qualitative research is often used ‘’to study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or to interpret, phenomena in terms of meanings people bring to them’’ (Denzin & Lincoln, 2002: 3). Furthermore, qualitative research questions are often ‘’how and what’’ questions trying to find out information about the respondents experiences, strategies, feelings, behavior, perceptions and motivations (Evers & de Boer, 2007: 18).
This research paper makes use of the qualitative research method; interviewing, which according to Evers & de Boer (2007) is the most common data collection strategy. Qualitative interviewing exists of various types, including individual interviews and group interviews. For this paper we have chosen to focus on individual in-depth interviewing. An important reason why we have chosen for this is due to the fact that it has a more personal setting and in this way we can get more honest and extensive responds from the participants than when for instance distributing a quantitative research survey.
In addition, the interviews were held in an informal setting often on the couch of either one of the interviewers or of the respondents, to give the participants a relaxed feeling so that they would feel open towards the questions asked. Before the interview, the participants were also asked to watch a 42 minute episode of Toddlers and Tiaras at home so that in case they had never seen the program before, they had a clearer overview of what it is about.
Right before the interview, the participants were shown another short 2 minute video clip about a famous Toddlers and Tiaras participant who is well known in the United States for drinking the so called ‘’go-go Juice’’, which is a mix of two different caffeine drinks. Furthermore, the in-depth interviews were held on the basis of the theoretical framework of chapter four, focusing on the following topics; uses and gratifications, obscenity, signification/encoding and decoding and child beauty pageants in general.
For this research, a total of 10 international master students (five men and five women) from the University of Southern Denmark were interviewed about their viewing of the American RTV program Toddlers and Tiaras. The interviews existing of 16 different open questions took between approximately, 11 and 21 minutes, depending on how much the respondent knew about the program. The fact that the sample included both 5 female and 5 male respondents was done purposely, in order to be able to examine whether gender plays a role in how people perceive the program.
About the author
This sample paper is done by Joseph, whose major is Psychology at Arizona State University. All the content of this work is his research and thoughts on Media Analysis Example and can be used only as a source of ideas for a similar topic.
Here are other papers written by Joseph: