'Of Swans and Ugly Ducklings: Bioethics between Humans, Animals and Machines'

Zylinska, Joanna. 2007. 'Of Swans and Ugly Ducklings: Bioethics between Humans, Animals and Machines'. Configurations, 15(2), pp. 125-150. ISSN 1063-1801 [Article]

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Reality Made Over, part II, special issue of the journal Configurations edited by Bernadette Wegenstein

This article takes as its starting point a consideration of the extreme makeover show The Swan-in which contestants undergo a "total transformation" via radical cosmetic surgery as well as confidence training-within the context of Michel Foucault's and Giorgio Agamben's work on biopolitics. Biopolitics is a form of political regime under which the bodies and minds of citizens are administered and life is "managed." I want to argue that what is at stake in shows such as The Swan is precisely the subjection of the participants' bodies and lives to the disciplinary techniques applied by the dominant sociopolitical institutions. The recently popularized genre of "extreme makeover TV" treats post-Big Brother audiences to documentaries featuring the remodeling of real people's homes, gardens, wardrobes, and-as has been the case with shows such as ABC's Extreme Makeover, MTV's I Want a Famous Face, and Fox's The Swan-bodies.2 There is, however, something unique about the way in which The Swan treats the subject of makeover by framing it in biozoological terms, and by introducing the survival of the fittest as its principle of entertainment. The program is designed as a competition between a group of average-looking women, who are all undergoing a three month long "total transformation" that involves cosmetic surgery, a weight-loss program, and "personality training"-all undertaken without being able to see themselves in a mirror. Each episode features two competitors who are judged by a panel of experts on the success of their transformation, with the overall winner of the series being crowned "the Swan."

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies



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26 Oct 2015 12:15

Last Modified:

27 Jun 2017 15:13

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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