Transformational Tales: Media, Makeovers, and Material Culture

TLC's What Not to Wear

TLC’s What Not to Wear

This thesis probes into current American makeover culture, thorough three detailed case studies that represent an increasing confluence of commerce, entertainment, and, at times, spirituality. Each of the chapters is devoted to a niche media property, or genre, dedicated to the domestic sphere. The first chapter focuses on the genre of home decorating TV shows and practices of their consumption. The second centers on a single television program – TLC’s What Not to Wear, and the interpretative activities it provokes among viewers. The third chapter examines the FlyLady – a transmedia property with a strong internet base, described by its founder as a “behavior modification system” that coaches its subscribers in getting their houses in order. This study was driven, among other things, by the following questions: as the ‘commodity frontier’ gets increasingly intermingled with our daily lives, with the help of increasingly pervasive media, how do certain communities respond, and with what methods of meaning-making? What draws audiences to engage with media properties so intermingled with commerce in the first place? And, what constitutes these properties’ entertainment value as well as the other values audiences find in them? The answers vary with each case study, yet, there are many commonalities pertaining to meanings associated with consumer goods in late capitalism. The media properties described here capitalize on the movement of meaning from culture through consumer goods to individuals. At the same time these three chapters exemplify many cases of redirecting, filtering, and damming up the flow of meaning on the part of viewers and subscribers.

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