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Popular culture is a coordinated system where society believes in some aspect of life daily. Media objects, entertainment sources, leisure activities, trending fashions, and the community’s language are common forms and pop culture elements (Fiske 114). The mass culture, which is often associated with pop culture, makes people view popular culture in the Gender Theory setup. When viewed from this perspective, popular culture represents a collection of commodities produced through the idea of capitalism and sold to the final consumers at a price. The given argumentative analysis will primarily focus on the portrayal of men and women in Baywatch (2017). The research is of paramount importance since the influence of the global entertainment industry is widespread and impactful, and the selected film is a prime example of it. The theoretical framework for the analysis and argumentation will be mainly focused on Gender Theory, which explains how the recent improvements in the industry did not affect the beauty standards depicted in Baywatch (2017) and their damaging effects. Therefore, despite the recent improvement in the industry, the area of unrealistic beauty standards worsened and became more damaging partly due to technological advancements.
Beauty Standards in the Film
People have always been affected by the popular culture of movies and TV at some point in their lives. The given form of media constantly exposes young people to content, graphics, and trends from various parts of the world. The media’s definition of popular culture is simply how one dresses, what they listen to, and how they look through the movies, magazines, music, billboards, and how the media portrays someone’s appearance. It is a culture that has a significantly major impact on the lives of people across the globe. Thus, it is critical to have a better understanding of how a movie, such as Baywatch (2017), can set unrealistic beauty standards and lead to insecurities among both genders. The film focuses on a team of lifeguards who solve a crime without the intervention of the police. The actor involved in the film are all can be stated as “beautiful,” with the main men actors being Zac Efron and Dwayne Johnson, and female actors including Priyanka Chopra and Alexandra Daddario (Gordon). All of these actors and actresses are highly physically fit and oversexualized through a wide range of measures. Firstly, they are professionally trained for their roles, the actors, especially females, are dressed in an eroticized manner, and visual enhancements are utilized through lighting and post-production. By depicting the main characters with the use of highly attractive and visually enhanced actors, the general population, especially young females, can develop major body image problems and insecurities, which, in some cases, can lead to depression (Levine 141). The film is a prime example of such standards since both men and women are played by hyper-sexualized and unrealistically attractive actors. Therefore, many viewers, especially younger ones, can fall victim to these subliminal messages, which might lead to body image issues.
Gender theory is among the most relevant and plausible theoretical frameworks to analyze the beauty standards set by the entertainment industry specializing in the production of movies, such as Baywatch (2017). It is stated that the portrayal of patriarchy and its core agenda are core elements of many Hollywood products despite recent shifts and changes in the narratives (Traube 97). The “Cinderella Complex” is a term used to describe a person who desires to be taken care of by others, which is usually utilized to define women’s role in a patriarchal society. It is stated that an “analysis of thousands of movies and books reveals how these cultural products weave stereotypical gender roles into morality tales and perpetuate gender inequality through storytelling” (Xu et al. 1). For example, the movie contains scenes where female characters are exhibiting such a complex to earn the attention of male characters.
In addition, despite the recent improvements, for the majority of history, a portrayal of female characters was primarily manifested in excessively feminine features, whereas male characters were first at being depicted in a broader range of gender and sexual characteristics (Hine et al. 245). In other words, gender roles were exacerbated, which is highly evident in Baywatch (2017), where the notions of masculinity and femininity were demonstrated in the most traditional terms of a patriarchic system. For example, both main male characters act as leaders of the team, whereas the female characters only support them in their endeavors (Gordon). However, it is also important to add that the current trends are shifting towards bringing more representation and diversity of imagery by depicting more people of color, minorities, masculine women, and feminine men. Although all these changes are improvements in regards to gradually abandoning the patriarchal structures, the problem of unrealistic beauty standards is still persistent and pervasive, with no significant changes in this regard.
Portrayal of Women
All actresses in Baywatch (2017) spent a large portion of their days engaged in activities that shape or manipulate their bodies, and images of models and media personalities are always modified or enhanced in some way to hide their flaws and present them as perfections. For this reason, it is nearly impossible to achieve what is shown on the screens and billboards as the images are not a true reflection of the actual owners. Even though the exaggerations of the media’s models are public knowledge, females of all ages constantly remain on the mission to achieve the exact looks from the images portrayed by movies, such as Baywatch (2017). It is common to find young ladies foregoing meals and taking drugs to enhance their bodies.
Other common practices by women include dieting and surgery to change some of the body parts that they feel are not perfect. Challenges such as mental illness arise when individuals fail to adjust their bodies into the desired shapes and sizes. Stress and depression are among the major consequences associated with physical expectations especially relating to women in contemporary times. Therefore, despite the positive influence of pop culture on people, it also bears some significant drawbacks.
Similar to many movies, Baywatch (2017) depicts women as having attractive bodies. This view of women reduces their value in society since they are only seen as objects to be observed. For this reason, sexism is a regular occurrence for young girls, making their innocence to be questioned. For example, the movie contains a scene when Zac Efron’s character stares at Alexandra Daddario’s character’s breasts, which is sexual harassment, and it is played out as something comedic and fun. In other words, the film normalizes sexual harassment by making jokes about such an act. The film and its filmmakers are well aware that the viewers might not perceive the scene as outrageous since the tone is lightened and the actors are attractive, which makes it less creepy. However, in real life, sexual harassment is not a fun experience because it can leave serious psychological harm to a victim.
Portrayal of Men
Men can also be victims of unrealistic beauty standards set by Baywatch (2017). It is stated that “hundreds of TV shows, movies, and commercials targeting men on the airwaves. Even though the character does not depict the true identification of such men. “(Hargreaves et al. 109). For example, film actively demonstrates that masculinity is rooted in one’s muscularity and reckless behavior. The scene, when Dwayne Johnson’s character and Zac Efron’s character compete for leadership through workout is a manifestation of how masculinity can only be achieved through being muscular. Many of these male actors adhere to or undergo cycles of anabolic steroids in order to obtain such a physique. These narratives were established most prominently in the masculinity of early cinema in Hollywood (Benshoff and Griffin 259). This can damage men’s self-esteem and body image as well by linking masculinity to muscular bodies and aggressive behaviors, which are not practical and harmful in real life. In Baywatch (2017), the best-looking men are depicted as charming, and they win the hearts of the most beautiful women. Therefore, the desire to be in a good relationship is not something they envy because of how the media portrays them (Jones et al. 85). This significantly shows the negative impact which pop culture has on males in contemporary society.
Baywatch (2017) has a significant impact and contribution to how the media portrays people in society. Cases of low self-esteem have been recorded among men and women who cannot match the expected standard of society. The negative body image has got adverse effects on females than it has on males. The high number of suicide risks among women compared to men can be attributed to the negative body image. It is evident women are more concerned with body shape and size than men. Men’s view also creates some deceiving expectations; women can quickly turn down men who consider not to have standard body structure. Men who women redetect because their body structures are not ideal develop significant low self-esteem.
Effects of the Film
The flip side of adoring the most attractive women and men can become prejudiced against them as cold and inaccessible. Highly rated beauty may be associated with increased infidelity, low self-responsibility, vanity, destructive conceit, and general neurotic behavior. All this on the sociocultural scale is located at the very bottom as the opposite of positive values, such as emotional stability, nepotism, everyday adequacy, prudence, and attention to others. Thus, women who are overweight and less attractive are preferable, which means that the relationship between beauty and success in life turns out to be problematic (Fiske 132). In addition, especially good-looking individuals tend to regard their sexual success as their profession and attribute it primarily or exclusively to their physical appearance. Then their “I,” since it cannot be definitively identified with physical appearance, benefits little from such successes.
The specific obsession with the beauty of the film is a matter of concern because it only breeds an underestimation of one’s capabilities and increasingly generates negative self-esteem. Systematic underestimations of one’s appearance are possible in comparison with the imaginary fantasy of a slender and muscular body. However, even the one who is close to the ideal of perfection painfully experiences one’s shortcomings as misfortunes, he or she can be oppressed by any trifle, and a more beautiful person might not make him or her feel any satisfaction from the appearance (Benshoff and Griffin 112). There may be a negative correspondence between the conscious concern for one’s beauty and the experienced sexuality. The more beautiful the individual and the more one cares about his beauty, the greater the danger that all the advantages of one’s dazzling appearance will be bought at the cost of the neurotic consequences of sexual relations.
In conclusion, the entertainment industry of movies, such as Baywatch (2017), made major improvements in regards to bringing more diversity and equality to the narrative, which enables a gradual shift from traditional patriarchal structures. However, the problem of gender stereotypes and unrealistic beauty standards are still persistent in the film, as in many others, which hurts both the audience and actors, who are forced to adhere to these standards. Depicting unhealthy and unattainable beauty became more and more damaging due to the advancements in technology, which allows to post-process visual elements by enhancing the overall look of actors. Many devoted fans and average viewers became subliminally affected by such standards, which makes them either desire such a look by implementing extreme measures or feel inadequate. Many traditionally attractive traits for females can lead to the development of the “Cinderella Complex,” and many traditionally attractive male traits promote toxic masculinity and patriarchal gender roles.
Benshoff, Harry M., and Sean Griffin. America on Film: Representing Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality at the Movies. Wiley, 2021.
Fiske, John. Understanding popular culture. Routledge, 2010.
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