The Price Is Right: Equal opportunity objectifier?

TV’s longest-running game show is boldly breaking sexist barriers by announcing its plan to hire its first-ever male model.

That’s it. Just one. The Price Is Right has announced its plans to hold a male model search as part of a five-episode web series where contestants are judged on their verbal skills, posing proficiency, and ability to showcase overvalued prizes. After being narrowed down to a pool of six contenders chosen by the show’s female models, viewers will elect the winner via online vote. One lucky lad will then be granted a one-week gig to flash his beguiling grin alongside a Bose stereo or luxury sedan.

My guess is that adding a male model to the showcase clan is just a tepid attempt to broaden its demographic appeal beyond the stereotypical senior citizen audience. If ratings indicate a substantial boost in viewership after Mr. Model’s weekly stint, it is likely that he will become a show staple.

The males will likely be kept in small numbers, since the female models, called “Barker’s Beauties”, have been around since the first airing. At this time the models were actual pseudo-personalities on the show with names and voices. Don’t get me wrong, these sparse dialogues were also steeped in sexism, but at least they acknowledged the women as people.

As the show evolved, the interactions with the women were dropped, as were their names and any sort of reference to them as multi-faceted individuals. They became what we see today: models that are as much products of the show as the merchandise they highlight. The history of The Price Is Right speaks for itself, and allowing a male model to join the cast for a mere one week sends a message, too. We like women to be the consumer candy as a default, but we’re willing to give one man a shot for the sake of ratings.

I’m interested to see how this new addition will be positioned and how his showcasing will differ from his female counterparts. Will he be outfitted in a sailor’s suit if he’s featuring a boat? Pressed polos and golf gear when simulating a tee off? I have a sneaking suspicion that the show will play on some sad stereotype about men, and end up being exploitative to the individual. My guess is either campy chap (think a Paris trip, berets, and backdrops of the Eiffel Tower) or Man Candy, a la Magic Mike. All of this remains to be seen. But what I am sure of is that one lone male model in a sea of sexism does not an on-screen revolution make.

Let’s not forget that less than a year ago, one model filed a harassment lawsuit against two of the show’s producers, who she said used their senior level to berate and humiliate her in front of others on the set. I am all for equality and fair treatment in a work environment, regardless of occupation, but my fear is that in these settings where appearance is so inextricably linked to the job description, the line between instruction and objectification can be easily blurred. Females modeling beside products are deeply woven into the history of early game shows and the ad industry in general.

Is this something that you think could or should be changed? Is it an innocuous remnant of early advertising or a detrimental indicator of continued marginalization of women? More so, does adding a male to the mix do anything other than reinforce the purpose of the women on the show as interchangeable bodies and nameless faces?

Adding one male in for a week long gig does little for the show besides allowing it to be an equal opportunity objectifier and stepping out of the box for five days of air time. If we removed the winsome women from the “cast”, would Drew Carey have the comic prowess to overcompensate for the lack of pretty faces flanking consumer goods? My guess is that he does not, and that asking a lone stallion to “come on down” for one week contributes more to the problem than to the solution. Ladies and gentlemen, the price is still wrong.

Heather Klem spends her days working in the corporate business world, and can be found sharing her own experience, insights, and pop culture commentary at www.msmettle.com.

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