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Fashioning Race for the Free Market on America's Next Top Model

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Although reality TV offers more representations of women and racial diversity than most other mainstream television, there are still few studies that investigate gendered racial representation in the genre. I argue that the abundance of discourses about feminine racialization on America's Next Top Model signals a new neoliberal rhetoric of race in popular culture in which instead of silently and superficially representing racial difference, the show's explicit discussions about race and racialized identity transformations are promoted as a valuable commodity. In particular, African American model Danielle's struggle to change her rural Southern accent is a key narrative arc on the show. Positioning feminine racialization as a lucrative flexible personal asset, the show ensures that the women of color are doubly commodified—for their eroticized physical attractiveness and for their marketable personal narratives of racial self-transformation. I contend that the racial rhetoric of Top Model makes race hyper-visible as a malleable commodity and confirms the neoliberal fantasy of the structural irrelevance of race and class in the US by satisfying the demand for recognizable tropes of racialized feminine beauty that only reference hardship or disadvantage as something that can be overcome through hard work.
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Keywords: America's Next Top Model; Gender; Neoliberalism; Race; Reality TV

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2008-08-01

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