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It's a right royal pain: reality TV and dreams of enchantment

By Rachel Hills - posted Wednesday, 19 October 2005


With the excitement surrounding Ariel Levy's book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, you'd be forgiven for thinking Australia had been overtaken by young women hell-bent on transforming themselves into a cross between Paris Hilton and a Pussycat Doll.

Hilton's homemade porn video and the Dolls' burlesque shows and tuneless No. 1 single aside, if you're looking to popular culture as an indicator of social trends, there is something worse to worry about.

She's poised, adept at discussing the weather, and she knows just how to pour the perfect cup of tea. She's been described as "the biggest role model any young girl has". No, she's not Nicole Kidman rehearsing for a sequel to The Stepford Wives: she's a princess.

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Despite our egalitarian tradition and brief flirtation with republicanism, Australia has long held a certain affection for pretty young royals. And given the media frenzy that accompanied Mary Donaldson's March visit it was only a matter of time before someone turned it into a reality TV show.

And why not? The narrative certainly fits the reality television genre. Like Australian Idol or Extreme Makeover, fairytales are stories of transformation, of ordinary girls plucked from obscurity into a more glamorous, more interesting existence.

And so we have Australian Princess, offering its mostly 20-something female contestants a dance with a prince rather than a recording contract as the prize.

Instead of running an obstacle course or solving a puzzle, they are asked to do laps of the sitting room carrying a champagne glass. It's a show on which you can be told by a "beauty guru" that you might want to go for a run.

What is most striking about the show is how tedious it all is. It may be straight out of a fairytale, but if Australian Princess is anything to go by, being a princess is a royal pain.

The snobby advisers constantly biting at your heels, conversation so unerringly polite and predictable that it may as well not be had, and lessons on subjects as gripping as the name of the queen's boat. A day on a yacht or a glamorous new dress hardly seem worth the trouble.

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But despite the contestants' outward willingness to learn the right way to hold a champagne glass, eat a banana or butter a scone, it's not hard to get the sense that they don't just admire princesses for their manners. Being a princess is also a sure-fire way to become a "star".

And that's one way in which princesses and Pussycat Dolls aren't so different after all: they're all required to turn themselves into something not quite human to maintain the enchantment. Princess Mary's transformation from a bright, attractive girl into a bright, attractive and almost alarmingly well-packaged princess has been well documented. Few would aspire to the loneliness and depression of Princess Diana's royal life.

Similarly, Levy's beef with raunch culture isn't that it draws too much attention to female sexuality, but that it turns female sexuality into something plastic and predictable - something women perform rather than experience.

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First published in the Sydney Morning Herald on October 18, 2005.



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About the Author

Rachel Hills is Managing Editor of Vibewire.nets print projects division and a freelance writer based in Sydney.

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