Date of Award

12-2008

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication

Advisor

Laura Lindenfeld

Second Committee Member

Nathan E. Stormer

Third Committee Member

Sandra Sigmon

Abstract

In this project I undertake a rhetorical and ideological criticism of The Learning Channel's (TLC) popular new program, Big Medicine (2007). Approaching this analysis from a critical/cultural studies perspective grounded in feminist theory I explore the gendered and racialized hierarchies established by the program through its representations of gastric bypass surgery candidates and their ability/inability to cope with radically changing their bodies and lives. I argue that Big Medicine (2007) relies on the rhetoric of America's "obesity epidemic" in order to justify the treatment of its "unfit" patients and works to position its successful patients as good cultural citizens. In order to do make this argument I examine the social context in which Big Medicine was created through a historical consideration of diet and weight loss policies created in the U.S. in the 20th and 21st centuries. Following this I enact a discursive ideological critique to further interrogate the social ramifications of Big Medicine and focus on the show's potential "social and political goals" (Hart & Daughton, 2005, p.309). Finally, I conduct a thorough close-textual analysis of the program with focus on the mise-en-scene, cinematography, and narrative of the selected episodes. Through this close textual analysis I explore the implications of representing fatness and weight loss on mainstream U.S. television through the lens of this specific program. Through this analysis I conclude that Big Medicine, as an interpellative force, works to (re)establish hierarchies of power regarding race, gender, and socio-economic status by enforcing (literally and figuratively) the "rules" imposed by U.S. hegemony. In order to do so, the show praises patients who "play by the rules" (i.e. middle-upper class whites) and reassures viewers these patients will inevitably see full recovery. Meanwhile, those who do not capitulate to the bulimic nature of U.S. society (i.e. lowerclass, non-whites) are left to suffer and, in some cases, die from the "disease." In illustrating recovery opportunities in this way the show provokes, as LeBesco (2004) explains, the "racist anxieties" that are associated with "big, profusely round bodies" (p.56) and further stigmatizes obese/overweight individuals.

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