Readers of this blog will know that I am an avid consumer of all things media. What you may not know is that I am a sponge for reality television. Not in the sense of rose distribution but if it’s a skills based show – like Top Chef Canada – I will be watching it. That is, until last night.
In an episode aired on May 27, 2013, Hostess Lisa Ray declared a contestants dish to be “working class”. The Bollywood actress and model did not mean the comment in a positive sense and when the chef in question took issue with it, he was summarily beaten down by the judges. My question, which I did pose on the Facebook page along with other viewers, who do they think is watching the show? The comment and subsequent upset online shows that Lisa Ray and the producers of Top Chef are sharply disconnected from the viewers watching in their living rooms.
When President George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004, Jon Stewart said in an episode of The Daily Show that what the election had taught him was how removed, as a celebrity, he was from the heartland of America. There was an idea of “Because this is what I think, this is what we all think” that can be abrasive to the consumer. The goal of a media personality should not be to alienate their greatest potential fan base and Stewart did not. He acquiesced to defeat and went on with his business which is to mock the political machine in the U.S.
Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, is in a business to sell clothing. He recently said in a statement that he didn’t want core customers to see people who aren’t as hot as those wearing his clothes. My first reaction to reading the article was one of dismay. Is he really delusional enough to think that he can pick and choose his customer base? Will his brand survive if the fat moms of the hot people won’t buy his clothes for them? Does this dude own a mirror?
If Lisa Ray was working on a different sort of program, her comment would not have caused the ripple effect that it has. The average person cannot afford to go out and drop $1,000 on a meal but I have news for Ms. Ray. If she cruises around the celebrity chef websites (linked is a favorite—Paula Deen—who admittedly is at a lower price point than most. Her career began when she couldn’t afford to feed her children and she does down home-style food) she will find plenty of chefs who have made their brand of cooking accessible to the working class. The working class is growing while the elite class is shrinking. Perhaps she thinks Fortune 500 CEOs are sitting home on a Monday night watching Top Chef and while they may be so am I, an office manager living in southern Ontario in my perfectly normal home with my perfectly normal 11-year-old kid and my perfectly normal cheap bag of cheese doodles from the local Price Choppers.
Can a company or program who disdains their fan base survive?
For Tammy Dewhirst, I have removed this show from my PVR. There are lots of reality shows out there and while my absence from their viewing audience won’t cripple them, I feel better about not spending my evenings with people who wouldn’t want me there. As it happens, I’m not the only person to jump ship over this gaffe. Perhaps if she hears of the feedback to her comment on the Top Chef Canada facebook page, the wonderfully beautiful and sophisticated Ray will wave a well manicured hand and say good riddance to those who took offense. I imagine most of us won’t be there to see it.