Ugly Humanity

June 21, 2010

Unless you’ve been living in a cavern in Mongolia listening to The Beatles ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ over and over for the past few years, you may have heard of a popular show called ‘Ugly Betty.’

Whilst it numbers amongst the most grotesque attempts at a TV serial known to man, there is, beneath the myriad layers of cliché and skunk afterbirth, some small sparkle of substance.

There is a lot of debate around ethics in the magazine world, most of which ‘Ugly Betty’ is shoehorning in by the bucket load, as though it was the last day of the ethics January sales.

Episode 3 of season 1, ‘The Box and the Bunny’ decides to tackle the issue of airbrushing pictures. Despite the bile-spattered storyline generally regarding the treatment of the least ugly ugly person ever, a sub-plot of whether doctored photos should be published is brought up. This leads to a variety of questions about how truthful journalism, especially the hateful world of fashion journalism, really is.

As the TV Presenter within the show says: ‘Remember, we only make others feel bad to make you feel good.’ The world of fashion remains a dangerous warzone.

Take Daniel, one of the blander characters of the series, who edits the fictional magazine ‘Mode’ within the show. His major concern is the magazine and how well it sells, and throughout the episode he heavily advocates the use of fake images. The more venomous characters also advocate the images, and try to use original photos for their own vile ends, albeit with an ultra camp malevolence befitting an amateur dramatics Christmas pantomime.

The whole episode leads to a highly predictable conclusion. Daniel uses the false images after a sequence regarding truth telling about as subtle as half a brick through a shop front window.

The truth is a second ethical crisis within the episode. Should Betty reveal that it’s her fault the original images are in the magazine about to go to print? Should Daniel take the blame, as it’s his responsibility in the end? When the book (the final layout of the magazine before it hits the stands) goes missing, should Betty lie and say that she has it? In fact, should she have taken it home for safe keeping in the first place?

As Daniel himself would say, ‘Go with the vibe in the room.’ Roll over and play dead would be more appropriate, with the overtones of do what’s necessary for the magazine, despite personal opinion, a huge leap towards Utilitarianism. So maybe there are serious ethical and philosophical thoughts buried beneath the excrement of the storyline.

All of the characters have their own philosophies. Daniel is a utilitarian, looking out for the magazine. Betty is just trying to fit in and be helpful, and as a result is remarkably apathetic, a Christ-like view of ‘Do unto others.’

Wilhemina, the antagonist of the episode, has a distinctly Nietzschen view, that she is looking out for herself and nobody else. This leads her to become a Niccolo Machiavelli type, manipulating others to move herself higher up a social ladder so twisted it could be seen as the tapeworm in the fetid guts of society.

Betty, and to an extent her family, would count as the most virtuous characters in many people’s eyes. They look out for each other in a display of typical American sitcom family values, and share similar interests in fashion. The exception to this is Betty’s father, Ignacio, who seems to hold no interest in fashion, instead choosing to cook:

Ignacio: I’ll make you some eggs!
Betty: Dad! What is food going to do for me right now?
Ignacio: It’s a crisis – I cook.

The rest of the magazine team are essentially fillers, but the whole thing seems like an organism all of it’s own, living and breathing, and pondering whether to lie or to be truthful.

Compare this to real life. Looking through any cross section of magazines reveals either impossibly perfect pseudo people, or cheaper, grainier paparazzi shots with beer guts and cellulite allowed to roam free like herds of celebrity wildebeest on the African savannah.

Which of these is more ethical? The hated truth of imperfection? Or the doctored images which look better and lead teenage girls to size zero, crash diets and eating disorders? ‘Rest rooms for purging customers only.’

On the surface, the decision seems obvious.

But, of course, we come spiralling back, crashing headlong into ‘Ugly Betty’ like a Top Gear stunt gone wrong.

The use of doctored images is seen as right and good throughout the episode. Series troublemaker Mina says, in a speech so loaded with malice that it could rival Nick Griffin:

“Natalie, you are absolutely right, you look normal, wonderfully so, and if this was any other magazine that would be fine. But, this is Mode and we are not about normal – we are about aspirations. So why not, with the help of modern technology give yourself the opportunity to look as stunning as you possibly could.”

One of the lower ranking characters also has a point to make: ‘Perfection sells fashion. It’s all fake and unattainable, but no one seems to get it.’

Aspiration. A way of showing a public, who must be a dimwit collection of bleating lambs and castrated hounds, just what they must aspire too, what they must become.

The whole process is truly foul. The lambs see what the great fashion Gods want them to be, and line up to be shaved and slaughtered. In the end humanity is left with a butcher’s shop full of beautifully and immaculately laid out carrion, but the carrion is still dead. Mentally and ethically deceased, and abandoned to rot on a derelict catwalk.