Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Bret Michaels Narrative: or never piss off a stripper redux


There have been some polite inquiries about the last blog post from gentle souls far too polite to post a comment. With your kind indulgence, I will expand a bit. The woman pictured on the blog page is "Heather" one of the two finalists in Rock of Love, Season One. And, yes, she is the "stripper who became pissed off". This clip shows her statements at her exit from the show and some rather interesting reasoning about what is owed to a woman who tattoos your name on the back of her neck.

I daresay my students were far more interested in other issues in the running of the show (the tattooing always releases loud hoots and jeers as does the general drunken debauchery and liberal use of stripper poles) but one of the fascinating aspects of the show for the interpretive anthropologist in me was the (no doubt, scripted) narrative that Bret Michaels employed week after week to dismiss the women in a way that reinforced the constructed image of him as a caring, sensitive man. Some of his successful themes included the repetition that had they had more "time to get to know each other" they may have made a match, that the "time" was just not right for each of them. (A former contestant from Season One who goes by the nickname of Rodeo, has been quoted many times as saying that she believes that they would be together today, if not for her having to leave the show prematurely to return to her son who had fallen ill.)

For Heather, widely and continually viewed by all the other contestants on the show (both Seasons one and two) as Bret's "natural" match, another narrative of rejection was employed. The song continually played on the show, his biggest hit, "Every Rose Has It's Thorn", was, supposedly written by Bret about his failed relationship with a stripper. And Heather was a stripper--meaning, she had been paid to act in that capacity. An important distinction, in a setting where the use of a stripper pole does not a stripper make. The label "stripper" comes to define the totality of Heather as a person and depending on your perspective prevents or saves her from becoming Bret's chosen one.

The final couple of episodes went out of their way to portray Heather as of questionable and, most certainly, out of control sexuality in much the same way that British Colonial society in Africa depicted African women; although, as is more fitting of our cultural context, it was the suggestion of bisexuality and a willingness to "share" Bret that was used to discredit Heather-- both of which Heather vehemently denies. And we arrive full circle at the anger that Heather experiences in losing control of her own identity and public image.

I will leave it to you to attach all the additional meanings you choose to the ongoing narrative. It is a fertile field. But students are able to tease out some of the meanings in regard to gender, love, and the codes of treatment we have internalized as members of a TV watching American society. And, yes, you can take it a bit further and suggest some personal ethics (as I tell them, I am a "mom" after all and with the label comes some territory).

1 comment:

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