April 1, 2010

This Is Baywatch

Three of the women in this picture don't exist

(An article from 1995.  I edited it and added some pictures.)


"Baywatch supports impossible standards that women are pressured to follow."

Everyone knows these women were selected because they are hot, that's the point.  They represent ideals of a certain kind.  How badly will "regular" women's self-esteem be mangled if they can't be ideals?  I think they'll be fine.

Will more women want to dye their hair blonde?  Get implants?  Probably.  Will this end up destroying America?  Probably not.  Will it set impossible standards for women, turn men impotent when confronted by A cups?  No.  Why would Baywatch do it if pornography can't?

Pamela Anderson isn't the problem.  CJ is the problem.  She doesn't exist.

It's conceivable that with the right supplies, you could look like Pamela Anderson.  This won't destroy society.  What women can't do is look and live like CJ on a lifeguard's income.

But Baywatch convinces people that there is a certain level of ordinary materialism that everyone can have.  "This is what it $20,000 a year looks like."

That's what's going to destroy America.


How much does it cost to be CJ?  Not Pamela Anderson-- CJ.  So, not how much are  implants, a nose job and a personal trainer; but how much are CJ's nail appointments, and hair?  How much does her (or any of the characters') makeup cost?  The car lease?  Her CD player and apartment in Malibu?  The sofas?  CJ and the gals never wear the same clothes in two shows.  Never the same shoes.  How much does that cost?  They don't shop at Sears, right?

Baywatch, along with Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place, is changing America in ways you don't notice-- precisely because you don't notice.  In prior TV and movies any incongruous displays of wealth had an explanation, however cliched.  Magnum PI lived off the kindness of Higgins.  Rachel on Friends has rich parents.   But with rare exceptions, the characters in the new crop of 20 something TV have access to material goods way outside their pay range, but they are made so ordinary you never think to question it.  We know very well how Pamela Anderson affords it.  But it's made axiomatic that CJ can.

You are so busy wrestling with the sexuality of the show that you don't realize that a certain material lifestyle is being made normal.


Pretend one of the shows was about interracial dating.  Say, Guido gets upset that CJ could be with a Black Man whom he assumes is a thug because he listens to rap.  Following a standard script, Guido gets into trouble and is saved by The Black Man, and so learns that "it's the person inside that counts" and thus there is nothing wrong with interracial dating.  Ok-- let's say you disagree.  Let's say you're willing to accept that not all black people are criminals, but you still have some serious reservations about letting your daughter date white guys (see?)   "Oh," you think, "they're pushing a liberal agenda."  You assume that Hollywood is liberal.

Maybe-- but what's more important is that you just learned that the default is that there is nothing wrong with interracial dating.  The show said: this is how most of the world thinks.   If you disagree with this position, it's up to you to explain why-- not up to them to defend it.

Well, that's what the show does to leather sofas.  It makes having a big TV or new shoes the obvious and default.  You can protect yourself from the emotional damage of not looking like Pamela Anderson because you know she's "impossible."  But you have no defense against new shoes because they're ordinary. You've incorporated a certain level of materialism into your identity and you can't ever shake it.

Baywatch  will end up selling more clothes than breast implants.


Let's close our eyes and imagine, as I do frequently, peeling off CJ's red lycra one-piece.  I like to stand behind her when I do it.   What do you see that's impossible?  Oh, the lack of tan lines.

It seems like a trivial point, but it's not.  No matter what enhancements you do to your body, after days and days on the beach tan lines are inevitable.  So either she goes to a tanning studio as well, or her existence is impossible. 

Pamela Anderson with no tan lines makes sense, and so you being different is explainable.  But when CJ doesn't have them, then you're not going to have them either.

It's wrong to look at the Baywatch women as pornography, especially during a time when actual pornography is becoming so easy to acquire.  The real pornography is the surrounding materialism, the casual display of impossible lifestyles and unattainable goods as if they are ordinary commodities.  After ten hours of porn, a breast flash doesn't seem like a big deal.  After ten hours of Baywatch, leasing a car doesn't, either.

In twenty years, Pamela Anderson probably won't look like she does now, but she'll still have her money.  But what's going to happen to the 20 somethings who expect a certain basic level of luxury? Baywatch is popular all over the world, so this won't be limited to Americans.  What's coming is a worldwide generation of future 40 year olds who will not be able to afford what they are now being conditioned to expect.

gina nolin and stroller.JPG
Right now the solution is easy-- debt.  Because that's what everyone does to afford what they assume is basic standard of living-- e.g. cable TV.  Besides, the 20 somethings always have the future-- the promise of a better job, more money.  I wouldn't be surprised if in ten years it will be completely normal to be two or three annual salaries in debt.

The debts will come due, and they will come due the moment the 40 somethings realize that this is the most they will ever make; that they can't take on more debt; they can't live the lifestyle that they thought was ordinary.

I'm prepared to deal with the awesome social consequences of a generation of women with breast implants.  But how can I, or anyone, live in a world where it is expected that you live well outside your means?




As a full-time lifeguard fo... (Below threshold)

April 2, 2010 1:32 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

As a full-time lifeguard for LA County putting in 1000 hours of overtime per year, you can expect to be earning about 80k - 150k in as much time depending on seniority. What makes CJ, and the show, fake is the lack of drugs and alcohol that generally permeate her job's culture. Did I miss the coke/pot-fueled coworker orgy eppisode?

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I've noticed the things you... (Below threshold)

April 2, 2010 3:18 PM | Posted by Jess: | Reply

I've noticed the things you point out. My comments have led to snarky comments from my wife when watching television. Her advice is to watch the show and not think about how unrealistic it actually is, although the show "Celebrity Rehab" has received her attention. Her experience with rehab wasn't glamorous, and the hospital was far from having the comforts of home.(It was expensive, too. Nobody picked up the tab for television rights)

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Wow, cool. Got any from eve... (Below threshold)

April 2, 2010 4:54 PM | Posted by Matt: | Reply

Wow, cool. Got any from even further back? "McCarthy may be slandering actors and writers, but the problem is you."

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Can you reconcile this with... (Below threshold)

April 2, 2010 5:09 PM | Posted by droog: | Reply

Can you reconcile this with your position on income inequality?

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"Let's close our eyes and i... (Below threshold)

April 2, 2010 5:22 PM | Posted by Serious Cat: | Reply

"Let's close our eyes and imagine, as I do frequently, peeling off CJ's red lycra one-piece."


Preemptively, please do not comment on this unless you are "funny" or understand what "funny" is. Jokes have been known to cause hypertension and outbreaks of rage in those who take jokes seriously, or as a reflection of TLPs character.

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Dear LP,I have no ... (Below threshold)

April 2, 2010 6:42 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Dear LP,

I have no idea why you quote Wittgenstein's prop 7, you're certainly not frugal with words :)

I find your basic premise (that people watch TV in order to get ideas about how to improve(!) their lifestyle) deeply flawed. TV is not about reality, it never was. What TV and the media are all about, is escapism. Now you may equate escapism with pornography (a fair point in my view) but whatever the case, if Baywatch wasn't alien to your daily life, would you ever bother watching it? I think not...

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What about the lende... (Below threshold)

April 2, 2010 7:51 PM | Posted by TheUnderwearBandit: | Reply

What about the lender's decision to make the loan? People can only go into debt if creditors have an expectation of getting their money (plus interest) back.

Then again, if people believe that they have a right to say home ownership, then the gov't has an incentive to lean on the lenders to provide it. Disaster can then occur.

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To anonymous:Your ... (Below threshold)

April 2, 2010 8:12 PM | Posted by Sean: | Reply

To anonymous:

Your basic premise is more flawed. You are making 3 assumptions:

1) Everyone watches TV to escape.
2) Nobody watches TV to get ideas about life (quite honestly, I think you are vastly over-estimating the general intelligence of your average human being.)
3) You are assuming that what our culture presents to us through various media (in this case, TV/Baywatch) as a total given does not seep into people's minds, which is simply not the case. If something is repeatedly presented as natural, it comes to be taken as natural. It's not that people necessarily look for ideas about how to improve, it's that they are presented with a depiction that shows people of an equal social status who nonetheless have more stuff (than the watcher.) This seeps into our minds and becomes a part of what we consider when purchasing/consuming/whatever. It's not that we think "Hey, that babe on Baywatch had a nice leather couch, I should have one too." It's that media depicts nice couches as what people of a certain station have, and so people think "Leather couch is what someone like me should have." The problem is "someone like me." Their consideration of what is good for them as an individual becomes not what they really want/need/can afford, but what a media image (modern form of presenting social archetypes) has.

If you don't think that people are easily impressed (as in, impressionable) by media, you have not looked at contemporary North American youth culture, ever.

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Note: At the end when I sai... (Below threshold)

April 2, 2010 8:14 PM | Posted by Sean: | Reply

Note: At the end when I said: "what a media image has", what I mean is, an overall media image of a type of person, not a specific one from a specific show.

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I never watched Baywatch. ... (Below threshold)

April 2, 2010 11:20 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I never watched Baywatch. I feel so out of the loop.

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Thanks for this. The discon... (Below threshold)

April 3, 2010 1:42 AM | Posted by Jim: | Reply

Thanks for this. The disconnect between TV characters' professions and lifestyles drives me nuts. This is partly why I'm currently watching "In Plain Sight", whose protagonist drives a Ford Probe; and old episodes of "The Rockford Files". Although James Rockford lives in a trailer, I've recently noticed his wardrobe must have cost a fortune.

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You have "rum" sentence str... (Below threshold)

April 3, 2010 5:16 AM | Posted by Rum: | Reply

You have "rum" sentence structure. I approve.

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Alone's response... (Below threshold)

April 3, 2010 3:41 PM | Posted, in reply to droog's comment, by Alone: | Reply

Alone's response

I dug this up because someone had accused me of being a "misogynist" because I only like/dislike a woman based on my own "needs" (sexual, emotional, etc), and that 20 years ago my post about Pam Anderson and Kate Gosselin wouldn't have existed because at that time Pam was hot and I would have liked her, and thus never criticized her. (I think that was the point.) While it is very true I thought/think she is/was hot, as you can see my concern at that time was about, well, the same thing my concern is nowadays.

Also, I would never post a comment except as me (Alone). However, if you want to completely freak yourself out, how would you feel if I told you that every single comment on this blog is mine except the ones _you_ wrote? That there is only one real commenter, and it is you. Yes, you. I know who you are: if you're reading this, it's for you.


That would be a truly awesome idea for a movie or book (or, dare I say it, blog)-- you capture one single unsuspecting reader into a multi- year multi person dialogue. There was a performance art troupe that did this to someone, once (if you remember the name, please comment)-- I hear about it on NPR: a bar full of people all pretended to be this guy's friend, and had gathered to celebrate his birthday, and of course he had never met any of them but they all seemed to know him so well...

Also, it's spelled m-i-s-a-n-t-h-r-o-p-e.

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This American Life Episode ... (Below threshold)

April 3, 2010 9:07 PM | Posted by Max: | Reply

This American Life Episode #286 "Mind Games"

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Reconcile this with income ... (Below threshold)

April 4, 2010 3:54 PM | Posted, in reply to droog's comment, by MH: | Reply

Reconcile this with income inequality? Easy. You don't have as much money, so you don't get as much stuff. Boo hoo. I bought a used couch for $25. Its not designer, that's for sure. But its fair.

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The premise is utterly inan... (Below threshold)

April 4, 2010 4:03 PM | Posted by insane_jane: | Reply

The premise is utterly inane. The assumption that our (subconscious and otherwise) purchase decisions are *largely* influenced by the media is simply false. Do those who don't watch television feel similar pressures to have what has been deemed the normal or typical material possessions as portrayed in the media? Of course they do. This is not because of the media and its glossy, big-breasted babes with unrealistic material wealth (or the rough equivalents), but because of a larger, unending sociocultural force of consumption, which has pervaded this country since the dusk of the industrial revolution. In other words, portrayals in the media are a reflection of what we already are. We get what we expect when we watch this crap. Those who make these shows are just preaching to the choir. It's no wonder we look to celebrities for fashion cues, and use the norms and morals reflected in popular media to keep our own in check.

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Interesting posts, parts se... (Below threshold)

April 4, 2010 5:05 PM | Posted by Name:: | Reply

Interesting posts, parts seemed repetitive, but this:

"I'm prepared to deal with the awesome social consequences of a generation of women with breast implants."

is a classic. Thanks for the laugh TLP.

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"However, if you want to co... (Below threshold)

April 4, 2010 5:14 PM | Posted by GT: | Reply

"However, if you want to completely freak yourself out, how would you feel if I told you that every single comment on this blog is mine except the ones _you_ wrote? That there is only one real commenter, and it is you. Yes, you. I know who you are: if you're reading this, it's for you."

OK, now I feel weird.

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"As a full-time lifeguard f... (Below threshold)

April 4, 2010 5:25 PM | Posted by GT: | Reply

"As a full-time lifeguard for LA County putting in 1000 hours of overtime per year, you can expect to be earning about 80k - 150k in as much time depending on seniority."

I calculated about $22.35/hour pay rate according to the following equation:

2080*X + 1.5*X*1000 = 80000
where X=pay rate.

So the question is....how much seniority did CJ have?

Using a cost of living calculator $80K in LA is about equal to $50K (US Average COL) so on average, could CJ live comparable at an average city with $50K/year (not forgetting she has to work 1000 hours of overtime every year to make that 50K). I doubt it. Working 60 hours per week is pretty tiring and not that glamorous from where I am sitting.

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That's an interesting way o... (Below threshold)

April 4, 2010 7:03 PM | Posted, in reply to insane_jane's comment, by DCP: | Reply

That's an interesting way of looking at it.

Ultimately whether it's life imitating art of vice versa, we end up in a society full of people buying nice things they can't afford.

The result (as I've experienced it at least) is that you are forced to choose between keeping up with the Joneses and going into debt or being fiscally responsible and feeling like you are culturally inferior.

Personally, I'm in my late twenties and have saved up a good chunk of money by being fiscally responsible ... but even though I have the comfort of not living under debt, I experience a feeling I can best describe as "not living life to the fullest" when I see friends of mine taking nice vacations, buying nice objects and going out to nice restaurants and clubs. Then, when I (rarely) turn on my TV, the notion that living in a 2000 sq ft furnished apt in NYC can be done on an up and coming writer's salary is subtly reinforced. Man... what a loser I am living in this studio in Jersey, I'm really missing out. For me it stings, but it's better than getting collections calls.

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I recall a line from the "T... (Below threshold)

April 4, 2010 7:11 PM | Posted by Felan: | Reply

I recall a line from the "The Simpsons" made by a tv producer when considering Moe for a role on a tv show, "I wanted 'Maryanne on Gilligan's Island' ugly, not 'Cornelius on The Planet of the Apes' ugly. T.V. ugly, not ugly ugly."

Was "Leave it to Beaver", "Eight is Enough", "The Brady Bunch", "Ponderosa", "Little House on the Prairie", or some other show from the by gone days an reasonable depiction of the material possessions or attractiveness of the characters?

Even in the pre-television story of Jack and the bean stalk, I think Jack and his widowed (of some years) mother must have been fairly well off to have had a cow and cottage. A this is a story with poverty being a central theme. With some enthusiastic creativity you could pick any number of stories from antiquity and make the same points you make about Baywatch.
Story-telling as a medium is as old as language (perhaps even grunting).

The Odyssey would be an unremembered tale if Homer had included the mundane details of the ten year journey. Day 546, "We spent ten hours fishing till we had enough food for a couple of days. Lost 3 lines, one pole, and Decimus fell overboard ... again."

I find myself wondering if we are really changing or have even changed that much. I don't have empirical evidence but there is the adage/cliche of "The more things change the more they stay the same."

I would be interested in how we can discern between television (story-telling) as the instigator of living beyond your means versus a agent of revealing/commercializing the propensity of people to live beyond their means.

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GT, given that last I heard... (Below threshold)

April 4, 2010 11:44 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

GT, given that last I heard a full-timer's payrate increases with each 3000hr increment worked (creating massive incentive for overtime), I have no idea what her seniority was. Where you're sitting also might not be a lifeguard tower overlooking the coastline. Or maybe it is. Good for you. My only point is that it's television and if it's unrealism you're looking for there's other things to observe than the obvious (i.e. set design does not mimic modern afforable living). I actually agree with Alone's point and enjoyed the read. It's a good thing the schizophrenia went away otherwise I'd be feeling pretty weird, too.

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I watched one episode of Ba... (Below threshold)

April 5, 2010 9:51 AM | Posted by medsvstherapy: | Reply

I watched one episode of Baywatch! It had the guy lifeguard dating a woman who had two personalities! Just imagine!! The good one was cool, but the evil one tried to kill him, until the good one re-emerged just in time to save him!!!

Now, that is proper mingling of psychiatry and media.

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To Sean:1) So what... (Below threshold)

April 6, 2010 10:39 PM | Posted, in reply to Sean's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

To Sean:

1) So what is the reason you suggest that people watch "Baywatch" for if not entertainment - education?

2) Ok, let's assume that people watch "Baywatch" in order to get ideas about how to live their life, as opposed to simply escaping it. So you watch "Baywatch" in order to better understand yourself (personal identity), in order to better integrate yourself into society and improve your social standing and interactions (social identity), and in order to improve your overall understanding of how the world works (knowledge enhancement and consolidation) - have I left out anything? You can't include substitute for real-life companionship, relaxation, emotional release, sexual arousal, escaping/being diverted from real life problems or filling time - all that falls under the category of 'entertainment'. Does this qualify as reductio ad absurdum yet or do I have to go on :)

3) See 2).

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Forget the nose, look at hi... (Below threshold)

April 13, 2010 5:14 AM | Posted by Baley: | Reply

Forget the nose, look at his arms! Man, I love when you can see the veins like that.

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karen james baywatch offe... (Below threshold)

September 13, 2010 7:12 PM | Posted by karenjames names the acussed celebrity: | Reply

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police under karenjames inv... (Below threshold)

December 13, 2010 11:05 PM | Posted by karenjames: | Reply

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