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Plastic Surgery Becomes Spectacle

February 27, 2004

ROME – Italy is a country, let us not forget, where the prime minister recently took a month off, shelving economic crises and regional political demands, to have a face lift.

So it would seem a natural fit that Italian TV viewers be treated to a weekly “reality” show on plastic surgery, with contestants who are given nose jobs, tummy tucks and breast lifts in fullfrontal detail. But the show, “Scalpel: No One Is Perfect” – an over-the-top version of the U.S.’s already over-the-top “Extreme Makeover” – seems to be a bit too much for many here, even for an audience accustomed to rather risque TV fare, full of buxom blondes and silly game shows.

FROM the medical community to the Roman Catholic Church, groups have raised their voices in protest over what they call an exploitative misrepresentation of surgical complexities made to look simple. Participants are demeaned, and aesthetic alteration is portrayed as a panacea, the critics charge.

Nonsense, say the show’s makers, who argue that they are helping people who could not otherwise afford cosmetic surgery.

“Scalpel” premiered last month on a network owned, appropriately enough, by Berlusconi, part of the vast media empire that has made the prime minister one of the richest men on the planet.

The show goes more or less like this: Platinette, Italy’s most famous drag queen, is one of the two hosts. Outfitted  in a platinum bouffant wig and a tomatored caftan over his very ample frame, he saunters onstage and extols the virtues of beauty, both external and internal.

His improbable co-host is Irene Pivetti, former speaker of the lower house of Parliament and a onetime conservative paragon of traditional Catholic values. Pivetti left politics a few years ago and became a regular on TV talk shows.

PIVETTI appears with spiky, closecropped hair, huge spangly earrings and tight-fitting black spandex. Each hour-long program features seven or eight cases, culled from “thousands” who responded to ads last summer calling for anyone interested in free physical improvement.

But a leading association of plastic surgeons said it was horrified that serious medical procedures such as liposuction were being made to look like something you can do at the beauty parlor, right along with a pedicure.

The show promotes unnecessary operations and creates unrealistic hopes, said the 800-member Italian Society of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery in a statement.

 

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