America’s Next Top Corpse?

In season 8 of America’s Next Top Model, executive producer Tyra Banks received extensive criticism for her crime scene photo shoot, in which she made contestants pose as brutally murdered corpses dressed in glamorous clothing. The premise of the photo shoot was as follows: one contestant becomes jealous of the success of another and subsequently decides to strangle, stab, or mangle her opponent. The result? An edgy photograph, editorial enough to be in the pages of Vogue.

For a slideshow of the photographs, click here.

But it was not the concept of the photo shoot itself that critics found disturbing, rather, it was the shoot’s glorification of the violence and abuse against women. According to blogger Sabine Hikel, “Spliced together, the photos become a pornographic assemblage of horror; perhaps this is the point. Interspersed with very disturbing facts about violence against women, the effect of the photos is intensified.” The pictures, in a sense, represent the types of extreme violence that women most often face. In some photos, for example, the women are sprawled on the floor or over a bed, half naked or in ripped lingerie. This positioning seems to imply that these women died after experiencing some form of domestic abuse or rape. Additionally, their seductive poses and partial nudity indicate their roles as sexual objects. Because the contestants are modeling death, the pictures become much more about the makeup, clothes, and styling of the shot rather than the gruesome deaths each contestant was made to portray. Even during the elimination panel, Banks and the other judges make the point that regardless of the shot’s premise, the models must always remember to showcase the clothes. The message in these pictures is clear: alive or dead, women are glamorous objects, subject to the voyeuristic inclinations of the public.

Yet, the arguments of these critics seem overly one-sided. Yes, the women in these pictures are representing violent deaths, which seem lost in the beauty aspect of the photographs. However, the artistic value of these photos cannot be overlooked. From the photographer’s perspective, as well as that of the judges, these pictures are creative portrayals of taboo issues. Death, a process that is dark and scary, is reappropriated to an image that is beautiful and interesting. Of course, I am not condoning violent deaths or abuse toward women, but neither are these photos necessarily. Countless artists have used death as a motif in their artwork, and many more internet fetishists have come up with websites like “Suicide Girls” where they post pictures of girls who model suicide in provocative sexual positions. If these pictures really are just another type of creative outlet, then what’s the harm of posting them? Can death only be portrayed in a horrific and mortifying way? Additionally, does it make a difference that women are the objects of these pictures? Would our criticisms still hold true if the subjects of these pictures were men? Regardless of what we think, however, there’s no denying that Banks pushed the envelope. She definitely got our attention.

For Hikel’s article, click here.
For another similar article click here.
Finally, copy and paste this link for an article looking at violence against women in high fashion <www.rymaec.org/files/TV.Fall_.SayWhat.Final_.pdf>.

~Tiken S.

 

3 responses to “America’s Next Top Corpse?

  1. Liv G. Nilsson Stutz

    This post raises so many interesting questions, and you point to several of them, including the limits that our society sets to how we may or may not portray death. It reminded me of the passages earlier in the course when we talked about the erotization of dead bodies. You also raise this interesting question about how we automatically see the female body as a victim of circumstances and therefore view these images as more problematic than if it were males that were portrayed. Finally this also made me think about the work by Cindy Sherman, who is a famous photographer known for taking pictures of herself in different situations and as different personas. During one phase she created images in which she was a murder victim. Those photographs were viewed as initiated comments on the violence against women. They were art and they were created by a female and feminist artist in control of the creative process. For some reason we do not give the same status to the images you write about here – they are part of what we view as a more superficial world of fashion and the models are giggly, screaming girls in a reality show. But – does that judgement not simply betray our deeply engrained prejudice against both a former model’s vision (slight misogyny there), a world of “girls” (the tv show) and the “superficial” world of fashion. The fashion world is making great strides into becoming integral with “high” culture, but it seems like it still has a distance to go before we automatically view these images as art and social commentary. That is both interesting and a bit sad. Thanks for a very interesting and insightful post!

  2. Rachael Kathleen Cogbill

    This post is extremely interesting, for a lot of reasons that have already been pointed out, and I definitely think that these photos say a lot more than it appears initially, or even more than what critics point out. I feel that the combination of violence, death and sex is something that appears quite often in our culture (especially with the “Twilight” phenomenon, though shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer explored these topics way before Twilight did), so it’s interesting to see the world of high fashion, which is usually set apart from the mainstream, tackle a topic that is quickly integrating itself into American culture. And while I do think that fashion is art, there is still something about these images (probably connected to the fact that they are part of a reality show full of giggling models) that feels as though they are trivializing not only women (which a lot of people feel fashion does anyway), but also violence against women. Maybe I would feel differently if these images were intended or utilized to make a statement against violence, but as it stands I do find them a bit offensive. Really interesting post!

  3. After looking through the slideshow of pictures, I felt a series of mixed emotions. At first, the actual models caught my eye as a subject of beauty. However, when I read the description on the side of how the model was “killed”, it had then occurred to me that they were portraying victims of a murder. I do not think that the pictures necessarily portray death in a negative way but more so the actual concept of the photo shoot. I understand why Tyra Banks received much criticism for her choice in focus of the shoot. She essentially used beauty and the models to make death beautiful. Yes it is their job to sell the clothing but I think that the main focus of this can cause disagreement. I believe that the photos ultimately exploit the dead and do not show much respect. The models look like they were literally victims of a murder and in my eye, I do not think this is acceptable for public television and I do not think it is acceptable to make a “competition of death”. It is true that in society today images such as these are becoming more mainstream with an increased amount of provocativeness, but can often cause opposing opinions among viewers.

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