Construction of story by narrator
Within Ladette to Lady, the narrator is the driving force of the story line whom introduces new scenes and imbeds reflections and flashbacks within these scenes. Especially, the latter are central in the show and form a constant reminder to the girls’ past. From the final episode, an excerpt has been made of one of the narratives created around the finalist. This storyline represents the general construction of the narrative.
Figure 1 shows the introduction to the narrative of ladette Nicole and her ‘journey’ so far. The elements of the text have been labelled narrative, current event or frame. The general, explicit narrative is constructed by the narrator who connects everything. The current event (teacher calling the girls ‘dogs dragged out of the ditch’) is explained by introducing the narrative of Nicole. The frames seem to be chronologically ordered and show the events that have occurred that lead up to this point. Within the frames, the metamorphosis must be explicitly illustrated. Therefore, the participants’ initial rebellion is showcased, mostly followed by an intervention of one of the teachers, afterwards the participants have gained elevated consciousness and a particular event has been selected which signals the turning point. After the turning point, mostly another reflection by the teachers is introduced, after which the personal narrative transforms into the general narrative again.
These structures in the narrative are only displaying what the narrator wants to tell, namely the story of great personal growth of the girls with the help of their teachers. The motives behind the girls’ rebellion are not highlighted. Thereby, only the grand fairy tale of the transformation of ‘ladette’ to ‘lady’ is highlighted. Furthermore, the structure of the show also sends a mixed message concerning social mobility. The excessive use of flashbacks in the show constantly reminds the viewer of the girls’ misdemeanours in the past. Thereby, the ‘true’ transformation of the girls is put under scrutiny. Besides, due to the competition format, it is communicated that some girls are not able to be transformed.
Figure 1 Example of Narrative Construction
The evolution of hegemonic discourses
The analysis of the discourses in Ladette to Lady have been guided by the themes of regulation, self as project and social mobility. The following sections will be structured accordingly. Moreover, within the findings, the general discourse and the evolution of the discourse will be discussed.
Within Ladette to Lady, the theme of regulation is continuously expressed. In Figure 2 the categories and sub-categories are listed. Self-control mainly consists of regulating one’s emotions, thinking as a rational human being, moderating your consumption and being able to resist temptation. The main goal of the school was to teach the girls self-control: “At Egglestone hall, you have to learn to be demure, graceful and control yourself (Mrs Schraeder)”. Loosing control is the standard phenomenon in Ladette to Lady, especially when supervision is lacking: “But as soon as their backs are turned, Zoe breaks her promise (Narrator)”. The discourse of self-control evolves during the narrative. This is especially noticeable in the ladettes who become finalists (see Figure 3). In the beginning, the girls are struggling with self-control, but after their misdemeanours, they still want to stay. One of the girls, Nicole, emphasised the need to proof herself: “give me another chance, so I can prove to you that I can do better than that”. As the narrative evolves, the teachers are giving more freedom, but also more responsibility to the girls. Noticeable is that the girls do take responsibility, but not for themselves, instead they want to keep the teachers trust. In the finale, the girls are not controlling themselves anymore for the teachers. They are regulating themselves in the absence of supervision and in their speeches they all highlighting how they have “learned that there was self-control … that really needed to be found (Nicole)”.
The teachers have emphasised their goal of self-control from the start. Noticeable is that during the training of the girls, the teachers are guiding the girls in how to think through rationality and subjectivity. When the girls resist their teaching methods, they accentuate how they have to think about benefits or how their personal situation is influencing them. In the finale, the teachers are overjoyed with the transformation the girls have been through. Positive appraisal is focused upon how the girls are in control.
Docility within the girls is procured by the teachers through several means. The tactics shift throughout the narrative. In the beginning, the teaching methods are very strict. Noticeable is how the teachers are creating a clear divide between them and the girls. The hierarchy immediately becomes clear and the girls are frequently disregarded: “You are a little piece of scum (Mrs Brewer)”. In this initial stage, the teachers are supervising the girls from up close and from a distance. Besides the negative appraisal, the girls are also stimulated by positive appraisal such as honour. They are making the girls do undesirable tasks with grace. In the middle of their training, the girls are still degraded and disciplined. However, two changes occur. Firstly, the supervision of the girls doesn’t happen up close anymore, instead the teachers are governing at a distance. Especially, the masked ball is exemplary for this phenomenon, as they are incognito, but present. Secondly, the girls bodies are made docile.
Narrator: Mrs Harbor decided that progress haven't come far enough. Mrs Harbor: Can you take off the jackets please. (Correction outfit) Narrator: A device they must wear at all times.
In the final stage, the teachers are less outspoken in their assessments. Moreover, the degradation of the girls is no longer present. For the first time, the girls’ opinion is sought after: “Do you believe in discipline now? (Mrs Schraeder)”. This shift exemplifies how the disciplining has moved from the teachers to the girls, whom are also accentuating now that they really needed discipline: “It was difficult at first, but I wish I had discipline beforehand. (Sky)”
Resistance to regulation is not lacking in the show. In the beginning and middle of the narrative, the ladettes are frequently questioning authority, making fun of the teachers, making provocative statements, disregarding the teachers’ opinions and sharing negative feelings about their experience. One of the most rebellious candidates, Sara, expressed rebellious opinion several times:
“I feel like I am a fucking dog on a leash at the moment. It is just ridiculous” and “I feel like that you are trying to turn us into decorated fuck dolls for the pleasure of men, Mrs. Schraeder”.
In the finale, there was a complete lack of resistance, as all the rebellious candidates were expelled. Although, the ultimate rebel, Sara, was invited to deliver a message to Nicole. This actually resembled that Sara too had changed. Thereby, resistance was eliminated in the finale episode.
Self as project
The self as project is the basis for Reality TV (McMurria, 2008). Consequently, the discourse in the show did not change during the narrative. In Figure 4 the components of the self as project can be identified. First of all, self-improvement was central. The norm was to “better yourself (Mrs Harbor)”, to overcome challenges and face your problems. Also for the ladettes, self-improvement was often noted as their reason for participation. Yet, noticeable is that although the girls have come a long way in their “journeys (Mrs Harbor)”, they never seem to be the finished project. They are still lacking something according to the teachers or they are saying themselves: “I feel I have improved, but I don’t feel I am at my peak. (Sky)”.
Secondly, two interrelated categories were dominant. During the show, the role of the expert and feedback were central for personal growth. Not only did the experts needed to give the proper example, they were also essential in giving the input that was necessary for the girls to grow. “If we can’t get through to you, how can you grow? (Mrs Schraeder)”. Their way of giving input was through feedback. This in turn, consisted our of critique and assessment. “The critical appraisal has been rigorous and now it is anybody’s guess who will win (Narrator)”. Similarly as the expert, critique was deemed essential for the growth process: “If you can't take criticism, you are not going to get forward (Mrs Brewer)”.
The self as project did not only exist out of critique and negative appraisal, moments of empowerment could also be identified. The goal of the finishing school was not only self-control, but also confidence, self-respect and finding one’s true self. When the girls are upset, often the teachers express their belief in the girls and stimulate perseverance.
“I believe in you, so do not give up yourself now, you have already worked so hard. Don’t! I really believe in you, sweetheart (Mrs Schraeder)”
In Figure 5 the components of social mobility are displayed. The show’s title indicates the centrality of this theme. However, when considering the discourse in the show, it becomes clear that social mobility is not achievable, despite the desire of the ladettes. Who become more enthusiastic over time about the chances they are granted: “The world is our oyster and I have the feeling that I’ve just discovered the pearl (Sky)”.
First of all, the show clearly makes a distinction between the elite teachers and the working class ladettes. In the beginning of the show, this distinction is mainly made by the teachers whom are reprimanding the girls: “you are a menace to society (Mrs Brewer)”. However, counter voices are also present, some of the girls highlight the similarities between classes:“I don’t find them gentlemen at all. That is men that I know I am used to (Nicole)”. As the narrative continues, the narrator becomes an important creator of distinction: “The girls will know whether they are made of the right stuff” and “The only thing that Kirsten doesn't possess is a conscious.”. The former statement could be considered a form of essentialism, as it is not about what kind of capabilities the girls have, but what kind of capabilities they have been granted. Moreover, the girls are constantly reminded of their past, which creates distinction yet again:
“You arrived almost like a bunch of dogs dragged out of ditch. You have to be honest and you have to try and impress upon people how and why you have changed (Mrs Brewer)”.
In the final episode, it becomes most clear that social mobility is a very difficult process. Firstly, the girls need the acceptance of the teachers and the aristocracy to complete their transformation: “The ladettes have come a long way, but have they come far enough to convince the aristocracy? (Narrator)”. Their training has shown that splendid efforts do not always result in acceptance, as another point of critique can be found (e.g. personality). Secondly, the final episode shows how the bar has been raised yet again. Although, they have successfully completed all their prior tasks, now they fail because they cannot meet the heightened expectations.
Finally, the possibility of social mobility is questioned implicitly. “I wish I could wave a magic wand and launch that little girl into a lovely life (Mrs Harbor)”. It reveals that magic is needed to launch the girl into a different life. Besides, the show emphasises how the girls should leave their past behind, but what becomes clear from the constant reminders is that the girls cannot leave their pasts behind. As visualised in Figure 6 the question becomes: are the girls ever good enough for social mobility?
Discussion and conclusion
In the findings, the construction of the narrative, hegemonic discourses and the evolution of these discourses have been scrutinised. It has become clear that regulation, the self as project and social mobility are part of the grand narrative of Ladette to Lady. In this section, the relationship between the shows’ hegemonic discourses and governmentality will be elucidated.
As has been established in the theoretical framework, hegemonic discourses and governmentality are intrinsically connected. The hegemonic discourses are a technology of governance, as they are able to guide our thinking (Rose & Miller, 2000). One of the main tenets that drives neoliberalism is freedom. This is not only a discourse present in neoliberalism, but also one of the ways in which people are actually governed (see Figure 7). The freedom is namely connected with responsibility for the individual, as institutions can no longer be blamed for your choices (Redden, 2007). Consequently, we can see a shift from the governing through institutions to governing oneself.
This type of shift is vividly portrayed in Ladette to Lady. The discourse of self-control has evolved throughout story. Firstly, the ladettes felt they needed to prove themselves to the institution (the teachers). Secondly, they were granted more responsibility and freedom. This led to the need to take responsibility in order to satisfy the institution. Lastly, the Ladettes took upon responsibility for themselves and the self-control that belonged to it. Throughout the story, a shift in mentality can be observed in which the girls are increasingly governing themselves for ‘themselves’.
The teachers similarly shift their strategies during the narrative. Whereas in the beginning, they are very strict and emphasise discipline, near the end, the disciplinary means become more subtle and positive. The masked ball functions as a type of panopticon in Ladette to Lady. The teachers are incognito and unrecognisable for the ladettes who know they will be under close scrutiny all night and anywhere. Yet, also the governing at a distance as described by Deleuze (1992) is exemplified. Some of the girls are thinking about what the teachers would say or feel when they show certain behaviour. Thereby, also in the absence of the the teachers, the girls can be governed. Hence, the discourses of regulation (self-control and docility) in Ladette to Lady revealed how modes of governance can shift by means of freedom and how through this shift the mentality of subjects can be changed.
Within the show, two elements of the neoliberal discourse of freedom surface: meritocracy and responsibility. These elements can be connected to social mobility and the self as project. Within the neoliberal society, people assume that the only thing that counts is one’s merits. Yet, thereby often the structural constraints of one’s social-economic position, gender or sexuality are neglected. Due to this neglect, the responsibility for actions and outcomes is completely laid upon the individual.
Within Ladette to Lady, the discourse of social mobility is rather paradoxical. On the one hand, the show is about social mobility because it wants to transform working class girls to elite ladies. Yet, the structure of the show and the discourse of the show, continuously highlight the impossibility of this mobility due to the clear distinctions between classes. This contrast is used to show the transformation, but instead, it shows the impossibility to reconcile these worlds. Even in the final episode, continuously the question is asked whether they have come far enough to convince the society. Hence, Ladette to Lady is representative of how the meritocracy seems to be in place, but actually doesn’t function the way it proclaims to function. The mixed signals the show sends regarding social mobility could lead to different readings.
The other discourse of responsibility is present in the girls and teachers. The teachers have the obligation to motivate the ladettes the best they can. The ladettes in turn have the obligation to always improve themselves. Besides, the self as project contained the most positive language in the series, as often the girls were motivated through empowerment. This is in accordance with Gramsci (1929/1972) and Foucault (1980), who both state that power does not only function through the means of violence. It also acts through positive, voluntary language to which people consent.
Although, the hegemonic discourses in Ladette to Lady clearly illustrate what is expected of the good neoliberal citizen, resistance to this discourse was abundantly present. The disciplinary acts of the teachers invoked resistance and rebellion in the girls. At times, the girls were even constructing a counter-hegemonic discourse, in which they offered a counter-reading of the institutions’ events. However, despite the moments of rebellion, the show’s structure quickly exterminated resistance through harsh force (expulsion). Thereby, the display of power through coercion has also been vividly represented.
To conclude, Ladette to Lady is a technology of neoliberal governmentality because it broadcasts a hegemonic discourse in congruence with neoliberalism. Within the show, the themes of social mobility, the self as project and regulation have been central. By studying not only the discourse, but also the narrative of the show, more insight is gained regarding the process through which subjects become governed and in turn govern themselves. Moreover, the show has also illustrated the continued presence of classed culture and how working class girls are downgraded. Despite the presence of a hegemonic discourse, still contradictory messages were present in the series. Fortunately, this allows for counter-hegemonic discourses and new modes of thinking.
In this document, you will find the full version with references and coding schemes.