Legitimising the Rakhi Sawant model of creating success [YS Lounge]
There’s a chemical science to success. Between quick fixes and cheap thrills, we like our recipe for success straight-forward, numbered and reduced to a formula.
Now, there’s a new formula in town, and it’s left a sulphurous stink behind for the self-righteous amongst us: the reality television personality. Because, what really is the point of Lauren Conrad’s existence?
Reality television started its earnest beginning in the late 40s with Candid Camera. Since then, tens of shows have come and gone from panel shows to cop shows like America’s Most Wanted and Cops, (with the Inner Circle song Bad Boys theme). Those were simpler times. The trash TV we know, love and hate developed in the 90s and into the 2000s with Big Brother, The Bachelor or Paris Hilton’s The Simple Life (and, it’s many spin-offs).
It was with the descent of American socialites, celebrities and upper-class breed of the young and beautiful that this genre turned into the sleaze fest it is today, single-handedly championed by MTV (Cribs, Jersey Shore, The Hills, Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County). Fox and E! have their own string of reality shows, too.
The most popular shows are either based on mindless socialites, Hollywood has-beens or the sludge of society (Honey Boo Boo) making utter fools of themselves (or, being exploited) so we can have a haughty life.
India’s already in that direction, too. With the decade-old rise of reality television in India, greater is the opportunity for hundreds of socialites and Bollywood Z-listers to creep out from more obscurity to less obscurity. Very little of national importance has captured the Indian audience the way Bigg Boss has, where forgotten ‘stars’ (in its loosest definition) clash together. It’s a modern-day recreation of the Colosseum, where the audience watches behind a comfortable screen.
Even in these matters of success, the question of honour takes precedence. Have these individuals earned their keep honourably, modestly and righteously?
If you look at the career paths of stars like Rakhi Sawant, Kim Kardashian and Katie Price, you begin to wonder: are these women female caricatures, victims of exploitation, or is there more to them than we give credit?
Between starring in movies obnubilated by their own tack and dancing for item numbers, Sawant did not only find the leprechaun with the gold pot in reality television, she murdered him and raised her dominion over India’s ‘side’ entertainment. Most recently, the sex symbol was noticed dressed as a disturbing mash of Benazir Bhutto and Narendra Modi to win [unsuccessfully] people’s hearts the good ol’ fashioned way.
But, the genius of Rakhi Sawant is always undermined by the farce of Rakhi Sawant.
She may very well fade away, but Sawant never lets her audience OD and burn out on her. When the iron was hot, she struck with all of Hell’s fury, and created a business model for herself that was essentially ‘Me’. She’s enterprising, ready to use one incident to fuel another career choice. After contesting in a string of reality shows, Bigg Boss (Season 1) included, she cemented her identity as the home-made dynamite: dangerous, scandalous and volatile. Then, she put that identity on the market with Rakhi ka Swayamwar (based on The Bachelorette). Rakhi Sawant’s is an interesting story of a woman who conforms to every ‘illiterate lower-class woman’ stereotype in the way she dresses, talks and walks. Yet, she’s worth nearly Rs 15 crores today. She isn’t a feminist nightmare; she’s a hidden gem of some form of ironic feminism (like most women who make money off their basic existence on reality television).
Rakhi Sawant is a woman who did it her way. Rakhi ka Insaaf may very well be her own narrative against a world that has constantly undermined her success. Her wealth, fans, success and television projects are her personal justice against public prosecution.
Where Rakhi Sawant has a fiery personality and perverse charisma, Kim Kardashian is a vacant entity. There is a bland stupidity we assign to her. Born into a privileged family, the Kardashian family’s television entry came with ease. But, its success was largely due to an audience the Kardashians seemed to know only too well. Kim Kardashians sex tape put her on the map, but her smart way of constructing a marketable identity (born with) let her stay on the map long enough for her to create her own personal empire. You will buy what she sells, and she knows it.
Far from being any useful tool in the box, her genius lies in understanding where her strengths lie: in assuming the role of the quintessential blonde socialite bimbo. In times where cultures are degenerating into mindless celebrity worship, cheap thrills and pop sludge, Kim Kardashian is singularly responsibly for identifying the financially lucrative idiot in all of us. With childish confidence, she did something about it, like it couldn’t have been more obvious. If Rakhi Sawant obliviously practices ironic feminism, Kim Kardashian is the poster child for it.
Kardashian has been successfully enterprising on her publicly-televised experiences in life. She may not be an intelligent or shrewd woman, but a stupid woman doesn’t realise that ‘there’s more pressure to be famous for being yourself than if you’re being a character‘. Wise words from a woman worth nearly $50 million…
On the other side of the Atlantic that isn’t America, reality shows are spine-chillingly popular. Made in Chelsea, Big Brother, Embarrassing Bodies, Benefits Street, The Only Way Is Essex, etc., each is doubly gross than the previous, though none as disturbing as Jersey Shore replica Geordie Shore.
In the midst of all this the Katie Price phenomenon happened. Dubious defines Katie Price: from her dubious Page 3 modelling, dubious music career, dubious writing career, to her dubious fame for getting breast implants at 19. Katie Price was never the academic type. What she did know, however, was that she needed to succeed somehow. Numerous surgeries, bikini changes and one unsuccessful chat show later, Katie Price became a reality television staple with her stint on I’m a Celebrity [she wasn’t]… Get Me Out Of Here! A regular in British tabloids, Katie Price became her own subject. She starred in reality shows about her, documentaries about her and who knows… a future movie about her. Price threw herself to the wolves only to walk away as the lion.
Mediocrity sells, and she’s no plastic dame to pity or mock. She made herself worth £40 million in that process, and that’s no management magic or sheer dumb luck.
There is a commendable gall in people who continue to work towards success against a world that’s turned them into caricatures to mock. They’re the cautionary tales our mothers warn us about. In the face of constant backlash, people rubbishing their value and media disrespect, they persevere with steely resolve, single-mindedness and will to prove ‘sleaze’ has its own rightful place in society.
In the end, there are many avenues to success, and reality television doesn’t seem to be going anywhere south. Until then… it’s good night and good luck.