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March 24, 2007

America's Next Top Model: death watch

Pushed_downstairs_model America's Next Top Model is doing dead girls.
You can see the full gallery at Zap2It.

When did the high fashion dead girl trend start? I started noticing it on Flickr a few months ago, but I'm sure it's older than that.

The judges comments at Zap2It are really bizarre.

Regarding the picture of the garroted model, Nigel remarked, "All the other girls managed to have some sort of spark even in this sort of morbid situation. I think I look at you in this picture, and you actually just look dead. One of the simplest things, like acting dead, can be the most challenging. The problem is that you didn't do anything. You just gave up and thought that that was being dead."

Garrotted_model The judges can't figure out whether they want the girls to look dead or not.

This contestant, Whitney on the couch with the knife (below the fold), got chewed out for looking moribund rather than expired:

Nigel: I agree that this is a fashion shot, but you don't look dead to me. You look like you're dying.

Guest Judge Photographer Mike Rosenthal: Even though she doesn't look dead, I think she still came up with a great picture.



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This is entirely too creepy: America's Next Top Model is doing dead girls. No, really: You can see the full gallery at Zap2It. Not that you'd want to, necessarily: The lithe lot of 'em are arrayed in awkward, broken poses,... [Read More]



one can only hope that this is the show's "jump the shark" moment.

I'm almost unshockable when it comes to this stuff now; at least I have been, since the day I learned the top-selling porno films in Israel tend to have concentration-camp themes. Anyone wanting to beat off to images of dead young women can already get their fix from "Law and Order", anyway.

actually, the market for this sort of thing has been bubbling up for decades. i know this to be true because i follow the entertainment industries both at the meta-corporation & cottage industry level. If you look back, this sort of approach to marketing has been done since the dawn of printing. Edmund Burke comes immediately to mind when i view photography like this.

also for great reference check out:

The Philosophy of Horror -or Paradoxes of the Heart by Noel Carrol, 1990 (had a freshman level seminar course with this great book as part of an extensive reading list in 1991. fascinating book that i highly recommend.)


The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film by Michael Weldon. (the BIBLE for nearly every b-movie & make-up creation EVER made...this book a holy grail for horror enthusiasts like myself..)

for a while there in the 80s, i was morbidly collecting magazines like Fangoria because i was exploring sci-fi & horror movie make-up & staging effects.

the whole debate on this side of art is quite interesting really, and certainly takes the stigma of looking at grotesquely staged & photo'd situations into the abyss of society. but perhaps that's all the science fiction & media influence that's been poured into my brain when looking at the media through the lens of my experience and interests. i suppose i have been desensitized to it all. thus, in the eyes of the criminally minded social elite literati who find themselves moribund by such make-up and lighting display as art, i am a branded a dehumanized pariah.

The sublime beauty of rotting nature always strikes fancy & peril in the eye of the consumer.
this sort of thing always creates good word of mouth & office water-cooler advertising.

the irony is usually found in the intent of the producers. that's why i find some reality TV programming so much fun to watch.

this kind of stuff will always be profitable.

As Cass alludes to, I tie it in to the about 283 prime-time hour long shows that generally begin with a dead white woman, usually attractive, on a slab. After all, what are aspiring dead models but aspiring dead actresses?

It's the continuing fulfillment of white male fantasy: she just lies there. Dahmer was in to it first, which should tell the industry something, not that the industry cares.

Every now and then I think I’ll get myself a TV, then I’m reminded why I don’t.

It fits right in with the BushCo/Iraq/Walter Reed zeitgeist though. Fashionable army recruitment posters perhaps? Get a close-up shot of the fly eggs around the eyelashes. Great!

i suppose i have been desensitized to it all. thus, in the eyes of the criminally minded social elite literati who find themselves moribund by such make-up and lighting display as art, i am a branded a dehumanized pariah.

As someone who has seen real, actual, untouched crime scene photographs as part of a class, I can tell you -- dead bodies are not pretty like they are in movies and TV. Even in a gruesome, supposed to be "real" TV show like "CSI" or movie like House of 1,000 Corpses, they prettify what a dead body and rotting tissue actually looks like. They aestheticize death even when they claim not to.

If there really is a "high fashion dead girl trend" how about demonstrating it with recent advertisements, instead of a link-less reference to Flickr?

Well I can't testify as to what a corpse looks like, but Miss Pushed-Down-The-Stairs above looks kind of like a woman I knew once in a domestic violence shelter. I didn't say anything (not wanting to be insensitive) but I felt she looked kind of dead, too; definitely not enough spark. And a little too heavy to boot.

The first one on the stair landing looks dead to me, but the others just don't quite look deceased. Most humans are fascinated with death to one degree or another, hence all the rubbernecking that takes place when people drive by a gruesome accident scene. However, I still find it disturbing when people try to make death "sexy" in some way. As others have already mentioned, the sexy "victims" are almost invariably female. Is this some form of unconscious misogyny? In some cases I think so, but I really couldn't give you any definitive answers. Misogynistic or not, either way I don't think it's healthy. However, there are many, MANY unhealthy images to be seen in the world, so I wouldn't attempt to censor these images. I'd give them an "R" rating, I suppose. I know if my 8 yr. old son saw these pictures he'd have nightmares, but I'm guessing by the time he's in high school he'll probably be paying to see shitty horror movies with his friends that will contain similar imagery. If he's like me he'll grow bored with them real quickly, even if they do have some T&A in them.

it's ironic to hear people who belittle certain unpleasant subcultures of human art. movie & image makers draw from life experience to portray violence & death. you would be surprised by how much study goes into the architecture of the human body. nearly every graphic artist working on horror & sci-fi has extensively knowledge of the human anatomy. call it disgusting or what you will, but the great renaissance artists all studied the human form in detail, some more than than others...

while i am sure some crime scene photos & video are downright loathesome, nothing can beat the human imagination in terms of sheer ability to terrorize another person's thought. for reference, look at organized religion in all it's past & righteous glory throughout recorded history. the wars & death directly & indirectly caused by such inquisition of minds and souls.

for a more recent demonstration in media today, see 'The Hills Have Eyes 2'. the trailers as seen on TV were just edited down for content. the audio portions were, admittedly, a little more graphic than needed, but the movie trailer itself spurred a lot of pre-release viral marketing. again, it's just marketing. this is no big deal because someone paid for and has the right to broadcast this message, assuming the broadcaster is comfortable with the message on their network. that's how show-biz works.

overall, the movie is very well done from a cinematography & art perspective. the story itself is somewhat timely, as well. these important aspects fit perfectly into the horror genre in terms of visuals & audio imagery to create a sense of dread, in the name of profits.

do NOT make fun of this sort of stuff. you should also be both aware & vigilantly observant of it's power to influence. if you choose to ignore and belittle the brainpower (and the economic marketing angles) of the directors & writers in this genre, you are missing a critical component to the overall health of the advancement of art in general. you can't have the good without the bad. sometimes, the bad is really bad. most b-grade horror movies are brilliantly disappointing, but necessary artistic endeavors.

that's what Edmund Burke pointed out in the 1700s, although he had to portray much of his writing on the good & the bad as satire at a later time for political & career expediency.

this subject, i believe, is really about free artistic expression. the only problem is art from period to period is often destroyed or amalgamated into other cultures, which leaves us wondering today. think about the artistic messages of the ancient man...and what those messages were trying to tell us. but you should also consider the messages that never made it far enough to be recorded by 'modern man'. Most is filtered out of the 'proper thinking' literati who control & manipulate the societal strings.

Perhaps, just don't watch? We've got a TV that shows a few of hours of PBS per week (usually, the Friday night talking heads), plus sometimes Jeopardy and Wheel-O-Fortune, and that's it. Everytime I'm exposed to commercial television, I'm amazed at what is considered acceptable. So I turn it off. If you don't like it, so should you. And if the topic comes up in discussion, shut it down. 24? Doesn't that glorify torture? That's mental poison, keep it away, do not even look. Might as well have a series with a child molestor as a hero. This next model show? Sounds like they have some sick idea that beaten dead people is fashion -- who has time for that?

- who has time for that?

unfortunately, most americans, myself included, have plenty of time to sit on the couch watch TV 24/7. i view that free-time as a real victory for the common person in all of us.

how else can you explain the high ratings for American Idol? what is even more amazing is the show's marketing department's fantastic idea of inducing the audience to call in to vote for 99 cents a vote. you can vote on your portable cell-phone, or use your home phone, and that 99 cent charge is painless because you won't see it on your phone bill until next month, after sweeps week is long over.

That's marketing & capitalism & entertainment all happening at once...very very very american, if you ask me.

So women are now allowing themselves to become symbols of death.....Nothing like allowing oneself to become just another object for the media. Of course this only makes women look helpless, lifeless. Many men like that sort of thing, the weaker the women the better they like it.


-Of course this only makes women look helpless, lifeless. Many men like that sort of thing, the weaker the women the better they like it.

i would argue the opposite effect. i would bet those women who are involved with the process feel empowered. the women who want to learn about how that photograph was taken & set-up feel empowered.

it's a two way street, depending on the circumstance.

every time i see a war movie with 500 male extras getting make-up i think about photo-shoots like the above one displayed by Lindsay.

violence happens to everyone. opportunity does not.

there's a disparity because in real life the results of aggression tend to not be removed with ease. make-up however, comes off clean using the right products.

This is ugly, horrible, disgusting.

There would be no point in pseudointellecutalizing any of it. I'd have no respect to anyone who, directly or indirectly, had any role to play in the creation of this.

In earlier segment of the same episode, the girls were cast as super spies navigating a laser maze.

Will people criticizing the producers of ANTM for having the girls play dead during one segment, praise them for the earlier segment?

What would they deserve praise for, exactly?

It's the continuing fulfillment of white male fantasy: she just lies there. Dahmer was in to it first, which should tell the industry something, not that the industry cares.


1. Believe it or not, not all white men, or even all men generally, are attracted to women who 'just lie there'. Blanket generalizations about what people are into sexually are problematic.

2. From what I've heard, Dahmer was into dead young boys, not dead young girls.

Yes, it is disturbing. I don't like it either. I also don't like that Heroin Chic stuff.

The ANTM segment with the laser-maze seemed like something the Tom Cruise character would do in "Mission Impossible." The ANTM producers could theoretically be praised for casting girls in that usually male role.

I'm not sure how far the dead girl look has gone in real fashion, but the creepy nexus of models and violence has been in pop culture since a least "The Eyes of Laura Mars" which featured a modeling shoot set up as a massive bloody car wreck and a photographer who saw through the eyes of a serial killer. Given the period of that movie, I'd say this was influence by Helmut Newton and some of the other creepy fashion photos of the 70s/80s.

Speaking as a guy, and a fan of horror films and cop shows and laughing at America's Top Model, I'm stunned at the pseudointellectual blather and evasion being used to pretend this isn't creepy and sick.

ATM isn't a horror film or death metal album cover or some context where morbid sexuality is, if not justifiable, at least self-aware of exploring / exploiting a taboo.

ATM is the spectacle of somewhat unaware and desperate pretty girls in a competition of looks and intimate view of their insecurities - both of which are often humiliating. The show allows the thrill of judging them harshly with a gloss of concern about their issues, though it's assumed anyone shallow enough to tale part can be judged without guilt. Then Trya Banks adopts an Oprah empowerment pose on a program where big moments are more important than dignity.

There's a thesis papers paper or two in the conflicting messages and politics of ATM.

One thing which is clear is the girls have to take part in every photo shoot or lose and part of the entertainment is watching them work outside their comfort zone. These photos aren't about art, but testing the girls and amusing / shocking the audience.

So this is just the latest twist: telling the girls to play dead and having the judges coldly evaluate their corpses. As reality shows already treat human frailty as somewhat dehumanized plot points, producers choosing to symbolically murder the participants seems to play into the sociopath undertone just a wee too much.

Plus fashion has this whole submission / domination between model and photographer/designer issue anyway - a savagely murdered woman is about the most sickly submissive pose you can use.

I made a conscious choice to leave the commercial film industry, in part, because I was unwilling to sacrifice family life to the demands of the industry. Clients interrupted evenings and weekends and were disrespectful of the fact that I had two small children whom I was raising as a single dad. On occasion, there were phone calls at home from mercenary ingénues who would throw themselves at the filmmaker just to get a role. There is such a thing as the Lauren Hutton School of Self-Promotion.

At the risk of incurring someone's wrath, what I am trying to say is that these photos are not necessarily about gender debasement. There is, however, narcissism in pop culture and mass merchandising and the industry that drives it. The worker bees of this industry are models, art directors, designers, photographers, stylists, and writers, as examples, many of whom are women. If you were to ask them, “Do you feel debased by these photos,” they would respond with incredulity, or denial, and say “What?”

Advertisers create promotions to sell products, and the products in this case are not dead women fetishes but fashions. The advertising industry calls it “creativity.” There is competition for concepts and ideas, competition for jobs and recognition, competition for clients and audiences. Creative meetings are collaborative; these are not master-slave encounters. All who work this industry are supplicants in the Temple of Crass Commercialization. Competition pushes back the boundaries of taste and decorum farther into the wilderness.

Dead woman fetishes offend me too; frankly almost all advertising offends me. One cannot ignore how adverts diminish people and reduce them into degrading roles. Adverts turn people into ciphers, ridiculous little ironic mode caricatures, and Chaplineseque clowns that hardly rise to the level of humanity. Every product package framed in the camera becomes a monolith, and there are monkeys surrounding it, who want to touch it and evolve to the next plateau of middle class life. Yes, A1 Steak Sauce really is important as the camera frames a dog lapping water, but when the dog stops drinking, you realize the SFX of a dog lapping water is really the man licking his plate. Ergo, man reduced to dog. Whether one is selling corn chips or cable TV, notice how eager and excited are those silly little monkeys. That is how corporations see us, or perhaps more disturbing, that is how corporations want us to see ourselves: As obedient and compliant little consumers.

My feelings of indignation do not stop with simulated dead women. Many advertising messages are demeaning and dehumanizing, but advertising pervades our culture, so no one seems to notice or complain.

in reference to:

"I'm stunned at the pseudointellectual blather and evasion being used to pretend this isn't creepy and sick."

ok then...

Please tell me exactly where on the slippery slope of today's available media consumption does a show like "America's Next Top Model" fall compared to "Debbie Does Dallas, Again"?

I am talking about the new cable show that just debuted March 2007, not the 1994 sequel or any of the many other incarnations of that very profitable intellectual property. make no mistake, ANTM & DDD are indeed, properties intellectually. any good copyright attorney will back me up on that fact.

really, it's just something to pass the time away. sometimes when i watch bad dramas or bad films or bad reality TV programs based on silly concepts i wonder what just happened to that last hour or so i had literally spent witnessing the spectacle. Oh the joy of modern entertainment in a free world, if you can afford the entry fees & get past the cattle call audition process.

watching a show like ANTM is example of spending an hour of my life, and never getting a good return on my investment. this also applies to books, politicians, lawyers & salespeople.

it's ironic to hear people who belittle certain unpleasant subcultures of human art.

It's not a "subculture" when it's on the Fox TV network in prime time on "America's Next Top Model." It's not a "subculture" anymore when it comes out of TV shows and movies that are about violent death and into shows that are about pretty girls trying to make money.

Face it -- you are the culture. Your culture of making death beautiful is now our culture. No wonder people weren't all that horrified by Abu Ghraib -- after all, I saw much worse things in Hostel. Guys being ripped apart by guard dogs? No biggie. You should've seen what Baby did to that chick in The Devil's Rejects. That was hardcore, man.

And, yes, I am a horror fan. I love Mario Bava's films (like, say, Blood and Black Lace). But trying to pretend that people are dissing your "subculture" when this stuff is all over the culture at large is being disingenuous at best.

it's just a fad, kinda like soda fountains & bicycling. both, unfortunately are long out of style in america today.

once the forces of good get going and profitable again, i am sure the media will find a way to infiltrate good things into our mass culture.

from my perspective as an atheist, i have heard way too much good talk about good things that weren't really so good when properly analyzed the past several years. but maybe i am just not human enough to understand what's going on around me.

what would andy warhol or john milton do?

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