Sunday, May 14, 2006

Gateau de Ladette

Periodically, of a Sunday afternoon, I find myself rooting around the fridge and pantry, cobbling together something resembling a balanced lunch. If I've been good, and made it to the grocery store before this point, then choice abounds: turkey melt on whole grain with swiss and an apple? Fresh greens with sardines in olive oil and kalamata olives? If I haven't been good, however, and this is more often the case as the semester barrels along to a close, I'm rooting much deeper in said fridge and pantry, compelled by hunger to open dangerously old tupperware containers and consider a variety of unholy unions. Guess which one today was?

Right. So I sit down in front of the telly with some veggie riblets, cottage cheese, spicy blue corn chips and an apple (you know, on screen that doesn't sound nearly as desperate as it did when I put it together...), and channel surf for something appropriately eclectic to match my repast.

The question now, of course, is HAS ANYONE BEEN WATCHING THIS LADETTE TO LADY BUSINESS ON THE SUNDANCE CHANNEL? Go ahead, take a second and click on the link. You know you want to.

Back now? Right, well, it just doesn't do it justice, not in the least. So here's the idea:
Upon their arrival, the girls' regular uniforms of croptops, spray on jeans and stilettos is binned and replaced by traditional twin sets and pearls as their institutionalisation begins. Challenges face them every step of the way, and a series of tasks have to be completed successfully in order for them to avoid elimination, and be crowned a real lady.

Aside from the webpage's appalling inability to make nouns and verbs agree ("the girls' regular uniforms...ARE binned, ARE binned, dammit!), notice how the author buries the word "institutioalisation," in all of its British spelling, right in the middle of that paragraph?

Get on point, Kfluff, you say. Agreed. Perhaps it helps to paint a picture. The establishing shot is generally of the stately British manor house Eggleston Hall, in the verdant countryside, all very Gosford Park. This charmant scene is generally interrupted by shots of the various "girls" in their lives prior to "institutionalisation." Their horrendous actions include everything from drinking to snogging in bars, wearing coveralls and drinking, smoking and drinking. I did mention drinking, yes? Return to Eggleston Hall, scene of calm, pastures, formal sitting rooms and twinsets.

Ah, says Kultur, wunderbar! The "girls" (seriously, they're in their twenties) learn elocution! Gourmet cooking! Flower arranging!

Bah, says Fluff. It's yet another reality television show, where women compete for a rather paltry prize (a sports car, which they don't even discover until the final episode). What do the ladettes have that any season of the Real World does not?
[Well, for men, for the most part, although bachelors are trotted out on occasion so that the girls can learn to behave themselves appropriately.]

But here is where you're both right! And therein lies the frightening appeal of the show! Because, as you've probably ascertained by now, the skills that the Ladettes struggle, competitively, to attain, are those markers of cultural capital, wrapped up in a bow of domesticity. It's no mistake that they're training to be "ladies"--at the end of the season, I fully expected to have the epilogue describing the ways that the winner stuffed Prince Harry full of her blue-ribbon Linzer Torte, and, dazzled by her exceptional deportment, proposed immediately. Not bad for Clare, the "amateur pole dancer!" [Clare's not the winner, by the way.] The implicit bride-training is nauseating, for sure--in the second-to-last episode, they wear CORSETS, for God's sake. I'm fumbling for the remote, complete with barbeque sauce on my grimy mitts. And yet, there's something not all wrong here.

Perhaps I'm sucked in, I admit it. But what do you do with the girls who claim that they receive a sense of "self-worth" from the finishing school curriculum? Interpellation aside, there's something here. Isn't she, in a way, right? Could it be that the show, for all of its New Victorianism, is enacting some sort of Henry Higgins subversion? Taking the girl out of South London and training her to perform posh? Or is all of it to show that you can't, in fact, make a lady out of a guttersnipe?

Hurumph. In the end, I can't get past the fact that the teachers punish the girls for drinking. Whether they move to Buckingham Palace or flash their thongs in Brixton, they're going to need a cocktail or two--such is the shared fate of Ladettes and Ladies.

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