Is it still exploitation if...?

While flipping the through the stations last night, I came across “Extreme Makeover” on ABC. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a reality show where a couple of people are picked to undergo plastic surgery and they present the whole before/after drama.

Anyway, this woman was being interviewed and she’s sobbing as she’s describing the impact her appearance has had toward on her life. She believed that she was ugly and had low self-esteem and so on.

I was instantly revolted by this show because it is so obviously exploitive that it turned my stomach. I simply could not watch more than five minutes.

And I wondered if these people have any idea that they are vulnerable and are being exploited.

And then I wondered if they cared.

And I thought it ironic that the mass media that is largely responsible for “image issues” in consumers is now making a buck by curing them of these issues.

So, the question is: is it still exploitation if the person being exploited either agrees to be exploited or doesn’t realize they’re being exploited? I think you can apply this to any reality show, from Survivor to Cops.

To me, the more relevent question is: Is it exploitation if the person gets what they want or need?

Plastic surgery scares me, so the show scares me. I watched a few minutes of it one night and saw that the two women on that episode were, to be frank, extremely plain. Now, I didn’t think the plastic surgery really helped either of them much, but if they feel it did, are they really being exploited?


Right, that’s my question. I’d say it is.

And just so the mods don’t move this thread to Cafe Society, consider any non-television exploitive situation: welfare mothers forced to work for state mandated programs, for example.

In the end of the movie “Everything about my mother” by Almodovar… the transvestite actually made a good point on plastic cirgury… it went something like… Everyone has the right to dream… and everyone has the right to appear the way they would like. (my memory sucks thou).

So even if they are being exploited … they are getting what they want. Free surgery. Now if this induces other women into getting their own surgeries… now that is a problem I think.

I watched one show, And I feel the people on there got such a benefit, one they would have never gotten without the show IMHO, that exploitation is probably their last thought. They got the whole package, all major cosmetic surgury, dental work, and a professional trainer. And all free afaik.

And they did look better. And they looked much happier for it.

Right? Hardly what I’d call a right. A right is something that one is supposed to be willing to raise up arms and fight to the very end to defend. There is a right to freedom of speech. There is a right to freedom of movement. Mere vanity is no right.

I’m sympathetic to elective cosmetic surgery because the reassignment surgery I want is still categorized as “elective cosmetic surgery” by most insurers. If someone offered to pay for mine in exchange for doing a documentary television show, I’d jump for the chance and not even consider it remotely exploitative. I don’t see how it’s exploitative when everyone involved gets what they want and nobody is clearly harmed by it. It would be exploitative if the patient had to do something they didn’t want to do (say, have sex with the doctor) in order to get the surgery, or if the doctor refused to waive his usual professional fee.

The concern about encouraging others to have surgery is real, but I think calling that “exploitation” is incorrect. Yes, such documentaries are advertising for the doctor, but I don’t see anything wrong with doctor’s advertising as long as the advertisements are not misleading.

I don’t think there’s a good comparison with welfare programs here, and I’d like whoever made that comparison to explain it cuz I don’t get it.

I strongly question this assertion, the same as I did when it cropped up in the Pit a couple of weeks ago in the “celebrity adulation” thread.

The media in a free market offer what they think will sell magazines or garner ratings. If people choose not to consume it, it goes away.

Would Friends have been such a big hit if the cast didn’t look like models but instead resembled your database and network administration team two floors down? (And yes, there are exceptions, like Roseanne. The fact that the couple of shows that break the pattern leap quickly to mind merely underlines the fact that they’re exceptions.)

Sure, an argument can be made that there’s a feedback loop in effect, but it requires that viewers and consumers are complicit in the system. It ain’t just the media’s fault.

In short: We like looking at pretty people much more than we like looking at not-so-pretty people, and along with it (it’s arguable whether it’s cause or effect), we wish we ourselves were prettier. Hence, the media feed our desires, because in a profit-based environment feeding desires is what makes money.

Is the “Extreme Makeover” show exploitative? Probably. But as long as the media are in the business of making money, their product will always be exploitative to some extent. It’s unavoidable.

I was hoping to start a thread about exploitation - not reality TV or cosmetic surgery. “Extreme Makeovers” seemed like an apt example.

Regarding the welfare to work example, Kelly, I was hoping to provide another example of exploitation that didn’t involve a television program. I’ll try to explain it a bit though.

In many states, it is becoming increasingly popular to mandate that welfare recipients go to work - either by a prescribed deadline, or while they are actually receiving the benefit, in order to remain eligible. So the state strikes deals with companies willing to participate in the program and provide minimum wage jobs to these welfare recipients.

So, the recipient (single moms, typically) is forced to take the job or risk being dropped from the roll. (See “Bowling For Columbine” for a good example of this policy in action.)

In my view, this is exploitation.

You could argue that each party benefits by gaining something, but as I see it, anytime someone with power forces someone powerless and/or vulnerable to do something, that’s exploitation. And that’s why I thought “Extreme Makeovers” was an interesting example. I intuitively know those people are being exploited, yet no one has forced them to do anything.

Yes, consumers are complicit - but only because they are so utterly overwhelmed IMHO. Was anorexia nervosa known before the advent of television?

I wish I had facts to present Cervaise, but I just don’t.

Welfare-to-work programs are somewhat exploitative in that the poor are being exploited by government for the benefit of corporations. But a major function of government is to facilitate efficient exploitating of resources in the public interest, and so this might not be a bad thing, depending on your definition of “public interest.”

Exploitation is not necessarily bad. People exploit other people all the time. It’s only when it’s unwilling, or under circumstances of duress, or where the equities are seriously imbalanced, that it’s wrong. Since wanting cosmetic surgery isn’t “duress”, I don’t have a problem at all. And I wouldn’t have a problem with the welfare-to-work programs if they were actually trying to move people toward self-sufficiency so that the programs really would be in the public interest.

I’ll add a bit to this… two months ago, I applied for welfare, and was informed that to receive approx. $300 a month in cash assistance (to cover diapers, utility bills, transportation, etc. – not including food stamps, medical or housing assistance) I would be required to work 30 hours a week at the Public Aid office, doing filing or whatever little office tasks they wanted me to do. Sure, I would have to agree to do this to receive that cash assistance. Is that exploitation? I certainly think so, considering minumum-wage standards. But had I done so, I would have agreed of my own free will. Nonetheless, still exploitative.

Fortunately, I was able to tell them where to stick their “assistance,” because I found a job a few weeks later. Now I know how they’re using desperate people for cheap labor. I don’t see how it is anything other than exploitation, even though the poor people agree to do it.

I’m not so sure. What is the emotional state of someone who is willing to allow a doctor to take a knife to their face, and without being overly dramatic I hope, risk death/disfigurement to look a little better? The woman on last night’s show was sobbing. You could see the self-loathing and humiliation. This is the vulnerability that the network is exploiting IMHO.

sailorbychance, I’m waiting not so patiently for the day that I can afford to pay a doctor $15,000 or so to cut up my nether regions in what will be a painful and dangerous procedure that might leave me incontinent and make sex painful. I’m very scared at the prospect. I can understand being scared, and I’m not sure that sobbing is proof of “self-loathing” or of unhealthy “exploitation”.

I think the reason why cosmetic surgery is so controversial, Kelly, is because for a lot of people, it’s seen as the answer to everything.

My life sucks, I’m ugly, stupid, smelly, unpopular-but if I get breast implants and a nose job, everyone will love me!

A lot of people place such a high importance on this sort of thing. A little tweaking is all fine, but some people seem to think it will fix everything that’s wrong in their lives-which it won’t.

In your case, I wouldn’t call what you’re after “cosmetic”, since you’re simply correcting a problem. (IE, you’re a woman, but nature gave you the wrong plumbing, to be blunt). That’s different from Suzy Q thinking her husband won’t divorce her or cheat on her if she gets a face lift.

Plus in our society, we have such a huge cult towards vanity-look at how people are treated in the entertainment business for gaining half a pound. It’s very disturbing at times.

Guinastasia, I honestly think programs like these do less to contribute to that than do soap operas and People Magazine.

Of course they do. I haven’t seen the program in question, so I can’t say if it is exploitive or if it isn’t.

Just that I find the whole mindset of our society when it comes to physical appearance very sordid.