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Shmake-over television
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Shmake-over television

Makeover TV is a recognised popular sub-genre of reality TV. Find out what critical term Sarah Olive proposes for the likes of Shakespeare Unlocked.
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Reality television picturing children engaged in learning activities offers public service broadcasters, internationally, the opportunity
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to fulfil their dual imperatives of education and entertainment: aims that are frequently constructed as in tension with each other, if not downright contradictory. This session considered three examples of children learning and performing Shakespeare
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on the BBC in the last decade: When Romeo Met Juliet, Macbeth,
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the movie star and me, and Off By Heart: Shakespeare. It demonstrated the programmes’ fit with the reality genre, through their common ingredients of experts, fallible and flawed participants, as well as the articulation and reconciliation of social differences. Moreover, all three programmes demonstrably share an emphasis
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on a reality television staple: transformation, in terms of the participants’ knowledge, skills and personal growth, but also in relation to television audiences. The programmes might be understood as a Shakespeare-themed, child-centered extension of a reality television subgenre, evolving in public service broadcasting since the late 1970s. Let’s call it Shmake-over.

This session considered three examples of children learning and performing Shakespeare on the BBC: When Romeo Met Juliet (2010), Macbeth, the movie star and me, and Off By Heart: Shakespeare (2012).

We demonstrated the programmes’ fit with the reality genre, through their common ingredients of experts, fallible and flawed participants, the articulation and reconciliation of social differences, and transformation, also known as make-over. Make-over is an extremely popular category in reality television internationally. Consider these facts from Brenda Weber about the American context for make-over television: ‘In 2004, roughly 25 makeover-themed reality shows aired on U.S. television. By 2009, there were more than 250, from What Not to Wear and The Biggest Loser to Dog Whisperer and Pimp My Ride’.

Perhaps, as suggested in the video above, we could propose the term ‘Shmake-over’ to describe the sorts of programmes that we examined? To test whether that will work, try reading through this overview of Weber’s book Makeover TV replacing the words ‘makeover’ with ‘Shmake-over’ and ‘body’ with ‘youth’ or ‘child’:

…whether depicting transformations of bodies, trucks, finances, relationships, kids, or homes, makeover shows posit a self achievable only in the transition from the “Before-body”—the overweight figure, the decrepit jalopy, the cluttered home—to the “After-body,” one filled with confidence, coded with celebrity, and imbued with a renewed faith in the powers of meritocracy. The rationales and tactics invoked to achieve the After-body vary widely…The genre is unified by its contradictions: to uncover your “true self,” you must be reinvented; to be empowered, you must surrender to experts; to be special, you must look and act like everyone else.

Did it work? Are there any ways in which ‘Shmake-over’ does not easily map onto ‘makeover TV’ as defined by Weber? For example, do the young people in the television shows have to ‘look and act like everyone else’ or like people who are in some way out-of-the-ordinary or elite: Shakespearean actors or dream students?

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Pictures of Youth: An Introduction to Children’s Visual Culture

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