As you may have heard, Fox is planning to revive their ugsploitation plastic surgery pageant hit The Swan (if there are any time travelers here from the year 1994, yes, that is literally a genre now and please move your arm so I can defibrillate you), but with an extra depressing twist: it's Celebrity Swan. CELEBRITIES. As in, female celebrities who are desperate enough to reclaim some scraps of fame that they're willing to let one of Fox's house surgeons cut their faces open and rearrange their features and then compete with other sad celebrities for the title of "Miss Least Most Depressing D-Lister With a Weird Face Now." What kind of celebrity—who's spent years professionally guarding and honing her image—would sign on for something so humiliating? Only the most fucked up celebrities of them all! Let's laugh at their pain!
I know I shouldn't feel worse for celebrities than I do for the average everyday ladies exploited by the original two seasons of the Swan (boo hoo to the privileged, I get it), but somehow I do. Maybe it's because celebrities are supposed to already be Swans—that's why we celebrate them—and a fall from grace into nothingness is always more depressing than the run-of-the-mill mediocrity that the rest of us grapple with. Plus, the lust to watch shit like this implies some serious schadenfreude on the part of the viewing public: we want to see famous women debased and exploited because they got what we're all taught to want. And they lost it. It's basic jealousy and it's ugly. (To be clear, because there is always confusion, when I say "we" here I am not talking about you specifically. Or even me specifically, although I am willing to allow that we all, myself included, have some dark subconscious biases that could be helped by shining a flashlight down there. I am talking about the larger cultural "we" that is powerful enough to get shows like this on the air in the first place.)
And, of course, our dearest wish is to confirm that "ugly" people can transform into "pretty" people, because we all secretly believe that we are ugly and our Swan moment is just around the corner (next year! Next year I'll Zumba myself into my dream marriage!)—thanks to a system that the celebrity machine helps perpetuate. And so, to see women who previously profited from that machine now being victimized by it—Just Like Us!—is vindicating somehow. Basically, UUUUUUUUUGH.
Former civilian Swan contestants have mixed feelings on the show's aftermath:
Ex-"Swan" Lorrie Arias now says she suffers from bipolar disorder, lupus, depression and has become a prisoner in her Southern California home since receiving a $300,000 cosmetic overhaul on the original series.
"I am agoraphobic, on meds and unable to enjoy life," she tells The Post.
Other women say their lives are better for the experience - though eight years after the show, almost all the former Swans, it turns out, are divorced.
...Some ex-Swans had been planning to take their grievances to the media soon after the show ended, says former contestant Tawnya Cooke - who wrote a tell-all "The Swan Diaries: Dirt Behind The Scenes of Reality TV" about the show.
But ultimately they changed their minds, she says.
"You can't keep blaming some particular event for the rest of your life," she says.
"I don't know what happened to Lorrie. But for the rest of us, it was scary and the followup was sh-tty, but as far as making people freaky? I don't think so."
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Now, I'm pretty sure the Swan didn't give Lorrie lupus, but the rest of it? Fuck yeah I think a show like this could contribute to some serious mental health issues. First of all, as numerous weight loss "success" stories can attest, solving physical "problems" isn't some magic cure-all for emotional problems. That shiny TV dentist and bariatric surgeon to the stars can't fix your emotional pain (only Dr. Drew can do that!—wait, no). Second of all, I'd wager that any "celebrity" willing to get plastic surgery on television and then dance around like a monkey in a Pathos Pageant for the sake of Fox's profit margin doesn't need a physical makeover, they need a career makeover. And therapy. And possibly rehab. And third of all, case in point, the two celebrities who've been named so far as possible candidates for Celebrity Swan are Monica Lewinsky (frowny-face) and Erin Moran, who is literally a homeless person.
I'm not even the type to wring my hands over reality TV. I think Honey Boo Boo is harmless and even life-affirming in some ways. I watched every iteration of First One to Diarrhea on the Stairs Gets to Touch Flavor Flav's Penis! I believe that, within reasonable limits, we should trust people's ability to manage and profit from their own image, even if it appears to us to be uncomfortably close to exploitation. But Celebrity Swan might be the line. Like, hey Fox, just skip straight to Celebrity Junkie Sex Prison and get some real ratings. You know you want to.
Rearview mirror: The ‘most sadistic reality series of the decade' is back [NYP]