Culture

Sad swans

Culture | The Swan is a reality show that does not stop at taking ordinary people and putting them in the Hollywood spotlight.

Issue: "George W. Bush: Gut check," April 24, 2004

The Swan is a reality show that does not stop at taking ordinary people and putting them in the Hollywood spotlight. This reality show from Fox actually changes ordinary people until they fit Hollywood standards. Sixteen "average" looking women are "transformed"-with the help of plastic surgery, liposuction, implants, a personal trainer, and even psychological counseling-until three months later they have been carved into "beauty queens."

The self-loathing shown by these women because they do not at first fit the Barbie-doll ideal is sad, even heart-wrenching. The show only reinforces the ideal that has made them so miserable.

The show implies that acquiring conventional good looks will improve their whole lives. One of the women is an emotional wreck, obsessively whiny, negative, and unhappy. Once she becomes beautiful, the show suggests, she will be able to "like herself." Another woman has a husband who is distant and apathetic. Once she is beautiful, the show suggests, her husband will love her.

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But will a change in external appearance really make up for internal problems? Hollywood is filled with beautiful women who are whiny, negative, and unhappy, their physical beauty adding pride to their unpleasant personalities, making them particularly obnoxious. Or will a man turn into a good husband just because his wife becomes prettier? Is the woman's physical change likely to transform someone else? Genuine love and the emotional support it brings require an inner connection.

These women's problems cannot be solved by plastic surgeons. T.S. Eliot describes Christ as "the wounded surgeon" who operates on people's hearts.

Swan takes its name from Hans Christian Andersen's classic tale The Ugly Duckling. But the show misses its point. The ugly duckling learns that he is a different kind of being from those petty ducklings that make fun of him because of his looks. He learns that he does not have to conform to the duck ideal, because he is something even better. The contestants on The Swan torture themselves to be like their fellow ducklings, looking like a duck and quacking like a duck. They are swans getting neck-reduction surgery and beak-jobs.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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