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Category Archives: Media/Marketing

First They Came For The Poor Women

women

Wisconsin is imprisoning pregnant women who admit to using drugs. This is being done under the guise of “protecting the fetus.” Before we discuss how stressful and unwholesome prison life is for a fetus(!) let us be crystal clear; we’re only talking about women who admit to using drugs of which the court does not approve. We are not talking about psychotropic medication or even prescription pain medication. What is really at issue is that illegal drugs are being used. It is not clear that there is any medical data that even posits let alone confirms that illegal drugs are more damaging to a fetus than prescription drugs. But what is clear is that vulnerable and/or poor women are an easy target.

There is no ignoring, no matter how hard the media tries, that women’s reproductive rights are dissolving in front of our eyes. Bit by bit access to health care and choice is slipping away, particularly for the poorest women in this country. It might not be an organized and coordinated effort but there’s definitely a sophisticated marketing machine at work. Who is going to argue with “protecting the fetus?” It’s right up there with “it’s for the children” or the flag, motherhood and apple pie. Treacly sentiment aside, no one is interested in protecting the fetus. If they were there would be free and excellent healthcare for all reproductive aged women. Nobody would be poor and/or hungry in this country either. Every woman would have a safe wholesome environment in which to gestate and raise her children. There would be no slums, or crime-ridden housing developments. Violence against women and children would be treated like the hate crime it is. In short, it wouldn’t be such a lousy world to be a woman or a child.

We live in a society that screams on the top of its lungs about the unborn, but doesn’t seem to give a rat’s ass once they arrive. Everyday children go hungry, are neglected and abused and have access to weapons, alcohol and drugs. Every year another batch of children fall through the public education cracks and don’t graduate high school, or worse, graduate illiterate. Fifty years ago we waged a war on poverty in this country and we lost. We now are in the midst of a long drawn out war against women. It is not a coincidence that this attack is occurring as women make groundbreaking progress in almost every traditionally male bastion. Women must shake off the Barbie mantel that’s been thrust upon them in recent years. We need to shift our focus from physical perfection, put down all things pink and pick up this fight. We must recognize media pandering (e.g., television channels, websites, and merchandising directed to women, as if we were a separate species) for what it is, offensive and distracting. Creating women centric genres could be positive if the ones being created weren’t so damn insipid. The “chicklit” section in your chain bookstore are not shelves filled with; Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Simone de Beauvoir, Shirley Chisholm and Our Bodies Ourselves. Nope. It’s shelves of light romantic “beach” reading. The television channels and (the majority) of websites designed for women are not for anything remotely serious (or even good.) There has been a steady pervasive patronizing campaign underway as women’s rights have been chipped away. Color me a conspiracy theorist, but I don’t believe it’s a coincidence.

We needn’t lose our sense of humor or even stop enjoying a good An Affair To Remember viewing. But we do need to resist buying into the 1950s model of womanhood we’re being sold. We have become a serious threat to those in traditional power positions. A woman came this close to being the democratic nominee for President! If that doesn’t scare the pants off the status quo I don’t know what does. We cannot tolerate the chipping away of our progress. We may not feel that a pregnant Wisconsin woman in handcuffs has much to do with us or is a feminist issue, but we’d be very very wrong. They are coming after her because they can. First it’s the poor and disenfranchised, that’s the way it always works. Those women who do have a voice must use it. We must recognize that the Spanx, push-up bras, Botox, and body sculpting are the corsets, garters and pointy bras of the 1950s. Those instruments of torture, popularized after women took men’s jobs during World War II, are a symbol of something insidious afoot. This is not a call for bra burning (heaven forbid!) but merely an urging to recognize what we’re being sold and how it’s being used to distract us from a much more serious issue.

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

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Let Your Heart Be Light*

charlie brown

The days are getting noticeably shorter and carbohydrate cravings are growing stronger. By mid-October there’s no denying that there’s a change a coming. The first scattering of little costumed people and dogs have appeared (either going to pre-Halloween celebrations or having trick-or-treating dry runs.) By this weekend the streets will be alive with all manner of elaborate costume. Children will take on the mantle of popular movie, cartoon and video game characters. Young (and not so young) women will dress as slutty; nurses, waitresses, devils and angels. It will all build to the crescendo that is the Village Halloween Parade, an event that celebrates wit, witticism, irony and drag. And then ladies and gentlemen the party really gets started.

Before the last candy corn has been eaten (or tossed) it will be time for “the holidays.” As you pull the fake cobwebs down from your walls you will be implored (by television, radio, podcast, website, magazine, and newspaper) to perfect your turkey. Every year the “experts” come out to tell us the failsafe way to remedy our annual poultry failings. Personally I have never known any Thanksgiving that hinged upon the perfection of the bird. There is way too much family drama (not too mention side dishes) to really focus on grading the turkey. Besides, isn’t gravy’s job to democratize and flavor? But never us mind, the airwaves will blast with brining, frying, boning promises. Tips for new and exciting ways to invent old favorites will appear. As if Thanksgiving is a cocktail party not a holiday celebrating tradition and very specific foods. Let’s face it the only help any of us need, short of an invitation to someone else’s house, is the Butterball hotline. Those little holiday angels make up for every bad customer service phone bank everywhere. We love you Butterball!

While all this media “filler” (or should we call it “stuffing?”) occurs, the rumbling of the real “holidays” train can be heard. The “holidays” as we now seem to call Christmas, begin to be feverishly pitched earlier and earlier, but still subscribes to a certain; Thanksgiving first, etiquette. At 11:58 AM EST Thanksgiving Day, Santa Claus heads into Herald Square signaling that it is now polite to discuss his special day. (By the way, if there is any confusion over the overt euphemism of “the holidays” pay close attention this year. Chanukah will be over on December 5th yet dollars to donuts the talking heads will still be referring to last minute “holiday” shopping and “holiday” gift ideas until December 24th.) There is actually much to be said of this time of year. People’s spirits (outside of shopping malls and large toy stores) are lifted and light. Everything looks prettier as Christmas wreaths and trees pop up in even the most secular of locations. If you’re lucky, invitations and chances to dress up increase and there may even be presents.

For some however, it’s mostly frenzy. Even if you don’t work as a Christmas elf, chances are your workload dramatically increases before “the holidays.” Deadlines and meetings get squished into that apr├Ęs Thanksgiving, pre-getting the hell out of town, period. People (and by people we mean mostly women) who feel it’s their responsibility to create the holiday, don’t necessarily bask in the sights and sounds of the season. There are many people whose activity or responsibilities don’t seasonally increase, but their loneliness or sadness does. Even those not mired in loss or illness, may find this time of year triggering a short-term discrete melancholy. Memories can be haunting as can unfulfilled dreams. Whether we’re leading the holiday charge or feeling the parade is passing us by, it’s important to keep in touch with how we’re feeling. For people who love nothing more than a 4-page to-do list and arms filled with shopping bags, there’s not much internal checking in that needs to occur this time of year. But those little Santa’s helpers are in a great position to check-in on those around them. Everyone knows someone who’s suffered a loss or is naturally fragile. This time of year provides ample opportunity to reach out. Issue invitations or drop by with small gifts or treats. All that matters is that you connect. For those who have a hard time, know your triggers. Step away from the television, especially when It’s A Wonderful Life comes on. Stay away from places that feel overwhelming or lonely. Do less that you don’t enjoy and more that you do. Plan lovely things for yourself. Is there a book you’ve been meaning to read, a place you’d like to visit, a food you’d like to try? Now is the time to plan gifts for yourself. It may seem as if the whole world is trimming a perfect tree, clinking egg nog glasses and singing carols. But the truth of the matter is that very few people actually live in a fantasy world. Most of us struggle in one way or another, and knowing that can be a great comfort.

The best we can do, this time or anytime of year, is to not get ahead of ourselves. Christmas and the New Year are four days of celebration two months away. There are over 60 days worth celebrating until then.

*Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (1943) – Ralph Blane & Hugh Martin

 

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See (All Of) You Real Soon*

Annette&Frankie

When did working for Disney become the gateway to sex, drugs and rock & roll? How did the world’s most wholesome brand start churning out girls gone wild? When did Annette morph into Christina, Britney, Lindsay and Miley; and more importantly, why? The Disney vehicles themselves have hardly changed but the players have. It was in the late 1990s that Christina and Britney began to strip down and gyrate, but it was not the first time we had seen child stars stumble their way into adolescence. In the mid 1980s Drew Barrymore was clubbing and drinking (with her mother’s guidance) well before her 13th birthday. People were scandalized and she received treatment quite early and effectively. There have been many male child stars who have drunk and drugged their way into adulthood. But we’d all be hard pressed to think of one that sexually exploited himself. It is the sexual exploitation, versus the drinking and drugging that is most troubling and novel.

We expect that children working in an adult world and (often) treated like mini-royalty, will develop some bad habits. We expect them to be bratty, socially ill at ease, and unbearably precocious. Adoring and adulating adults often surround them. These children will drink and smoke and use drugs because they can. But why do they then strut around in their bra & panties and writhe around a stage? It can’t simply be to get attention, the whole world is already watching. Could it be that like every child star before them, they want to be taken seriously as an adult? And unlike any time period in the past, sexual objectification is synonymous with womanhood? It’s a troubling thought.

It’s never been easy for any child, in or out of the spotlight, to transition gracefully into adulthood. Surviving puberty while mapping out a grown-up public persona is mind-boggling. In olden times a child star would lobby for an onscreen kiss to signal the end of pigtail days. Many would rush into (very) early marriages to convince bosses and the public that they were grown. There are many child stars that successfully transitioned into real life and left the spotlight. There are those who went to (impressive) colleges and later forged mature acting careers. In other words, it is not written in stone that show business will upend a young life.

Performing and posing as if you’re working a Times Square peep booth, doesn’t necessarily forecast ruin. But it is very sad. These Disney women with varying degrees of talent do not need to use their bodies and cursory knowledge of sexuality to attract attention. They are not Anna Nicole or an unknown future Miss America (now actress) desperate for a break. They are household names with recording contracts and movie deals. Why do they do it? Could it be that the public rewards them for it? Is the fact that unlike decent people who would turn their heads away from such a display, we exalt the exhibitionism with our incessant chatter? Do enough of us explain to our children that we won’t be buying music, movie or concert tickets because to do so would be ghoulish? Do we boycott corporations who reap the benefits of the sexual exploitation of minors? Or do sales of a magazine skyrocket when a mouseketeer shows her breasts?

Clearly the parents of these child stars are involved in some way. Some readers might remember the public outrage over the film Pretty Baby (1978). Teri Shields was vilified for permitting a 12-year old Brooke to appear naked as a prostitute. (The public wasn’t too horrified to not see the movie however.) For years Mother Shields was heralded as the new Madame Rose. Whether it was responsible parenting or not, Brooke was playing a role in a film, not performing as her sexualized self. In fact, later Brooke was quite vocal about her very conservative views on sex. A (very) young woman strutting around television in her under things and simulating anal sex does not mean she’s sexually rampant or irresponsible. It does mean she wants to be seen as sexually available and maybe just a bit freaky. (And not in the Freaky Friday way.) These young women didn’t invent this world in which women are seen as a means to sexually pleasing (heterosexual) men. But they certainly are doing their part to perpetuate it. They are young and are finding their footing and most likely surrounded by adults who tell them they are the greatest star of all. But mostly they are too young to know any better. Becoming comfortable in your own adult skin after being a child star is tough. Doing so after creating a career based upon your sexuality is unimaginable.

*Mickey Mouse Club March (1955) Jimmie Dodd

 
 

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Blaming The Messenger

Naked_girl_a_box_of_rabbit_fur_1920s

Human beings do stupid things; in fact we’re kinda known for it. We are impulsive, petty and opportunistic. (We are also all kinds of wonderful things but those aren’t what get us in trouble.) We make bad choices particularly in our youth. It’s why parents and sealed criminal records were invented. We tend to get better at staying out of trouble and accruing regrets as we age. But if we are doing any kind of living, mistakes will be made.

Recently there’s been some chatter about jerry-rigging the repercussions of our bad choices. This post-behavior regulating centers on the internet. You know, the internet, that thing that apparently not only has changed how we communicate and access information but has changed the very core of human behavior. Not. Nothing about human behavior has changed. The fact that bad decisions can now live forever and be accessed by all has changed. But people have not just discovered; lying, bullying or taking nude photos. Having a naked image of oneself has always been tricky (there’s a reason that prostitutes were often hired by painters.) Since the invention of photography a woman’s (it’s almost always a woman) life could be upended in later years by the discovery of racy photos. Many an aspiring actress has had to survive having early “modeling” photos published upon her newfound fame. The internet didn’t invent disseminating naked pictures. Nor did it create the motive to do so.

The internet did also not invent bullying, or the incentive to do so. It is tempting to say otherwise as reports of bullying have grown as internet usage has. Causation and correlation are very different. Sales of ice cream increase at the same time that sex crimes increase. Eating ice cream does not cause an increase in sex crimes, but both behaviors do happen in warmer weather. The internet has grown in popularity as our lives have become much more external. Our children’s first photos now happen in utero (or pee stick.) Those photos are shared with the world. Our children now “graduate” kindergarten and those photos are shared with the world. They are taught from the very beginning that life occurs with an audience in place. Every action, or inaction is captured in still or moving image. Life is a performance and therefore far more external than it once was. It is challenging to develop a strong sense of self (and hence esteem) when so little is done independently or internally. It can happen, but it is difficult. A shaky sense of self is a breeding ground for bullying. Strong, confident people do not bully. Children with parents who are in control, strong, authoritative and present, know there’ll be repercussions for their nasty behavior. The reported rise in children committing suicide as a result of bullying is sobering. Children with a strong sense of self will be miserable when bullied. But children with an internal life will turn off the computer (as instructed by a parent) and refuse to look at the nastiness. A child with a sense of self will find other outlets and activities outside of the bullying sphere. Do adults have to pay closer attention? Absolutely, but it’s not the internet that’s causing this behavior.

It’s not the internet that causes people to make false claims about products or services. Fake reviews have existed since there’s been something to review. (“The Epic of Gilgamesh is a must read!!!!!”) Even legitimate reviews are manipulated to sell. Open any old-fashioned print newspaper and you’ll see adverts with blurbs unrecognizable to the reviewer. It’s always been a buyer beware world. Unless a review is authored by a trusted source, it’s safe to assume it’s not all that reliable. Do we really need laws to try and regulate fake reviews on the internet? If it was even possible to regulate false claims (and it’s not) why focus on the internet? There are people promising me instant weight loss, better skin, teeth and hair every minute on television. My newspaper is filled with press releases posing as articles, blatantly selling products, people or places. When did being discerning become something we can regulate?

The internet and social media have changed the speed and range of our communication. Globally we have access to information and entertainment previously unimagined. It’s a little bit archive, a splash of Town Square, a news ticker and an entertainment center. Many people simply have no frame of reference for something so expansive and it is tempting to anthropomorphize technology. It’s a fool’s errand to regulate human behavior on the internet. Technology is ever changing and people will find ways around any awkward measure to regulate. Teaching our children (and reminding ourselves) that nude photos can be embarrassing, bullying is a pitiful behavior of the weak, and liars usually get caught would serve us better.

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

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A Mark, A Yen, A Buck Or A Pound*

RedBanker

Few of us are billionaires, and even fewer of us would have our child sue her uncle for millions. It’s an unusual situation and is not all that relatable. Or is it? Ronald Perelman is not a typical billionaire in that he spends an inordinate of time in the gossip pages. He seems to enjoy the spotlight more than most; he did marry a NY Post Page 6 columnist after all. But his desire for attention is relatable, isn’t it? Most of us don’t live in a world of ten or eleven figure wealth or Vanity Fair and/or Town & Country gossip columns. But all that’s just excess make-up and costuming. If we peel away the drag performer layers and hold up a mirror, we may see something quite familiar.

Money often substitutes for many things beyond the gold system. Once people’s basic needs (e.g., food and shelter) are met money becomes quite fungible. Accumulating money often is a pursuit of security and stability. Spending money can be more complicated and fulfill a myriad of needs. Fighting about money is usually pretty straightforward. Most often it boils down to; “enough about you, what about me?” We can dismiss last will and testament contention as bold-faced greed, and certainly there is a nugget of truth to that. But often it’s more complicated & personal. True, it’s hard to fathom what’s personal about the fight over Huguette Clark’s fortune. (Distant relatives who had never met Ms. Clark are lining up with their hands held out.) It’s pretty clear that Mr. Perelman, having already lost this legal case against his ex-brother-in-law once in 2008, is willing to pay more than $60 million to be called a winner. Theoretically what’s at stake is $350 million for Mr. Perelman’s adult daughter. It’s nothing to sneeze at (unless of course you happen to have personal wealth of more than $14 billion.) None of the players need this money (except perhaps those representing the parties.) But haven’t we all at one time or another played tug-o-war over something barely worth holding on to? Aren’t our dealings with money often about how we want people to respond to us? Don’t we make choices about external displays of wealth (cars, homes, jewelry) because we want strangers to think we’re “worth” it? Haven’t we experienced mini (and not so mini) meltdowns in restaurants, on airplanes and in shops because of not being treated like a V.I.P.? Most everyone wants to feel valued, and in our country money is the most calculable symbol of that value. A multimillion hair pulling fight is really no different. “Enough about you, what about me?”

Appearing in gossip columns might not appeal to the majority of us but is there anyone who still holds dear the goal of appearing in the media only upon one’s marriage and death? People don’t wake at 5:00 AM to stand outside of the Today Show window because they don’t have access to television; they come to be on TV. We’ve become (over many decades) a much more extroverted culture who by and large basks in our close-up. Social media took off because it fulfills a need. We want to be heard, we want to be seen. Selfie anyone? There is an argument to be made in favor of this extroversion, and perhaps attention-seeking behavior. It could be seen as a harmless way to fulfill a very pressing need. If we consistently feel as if we have our moments to strut and fret upon the stage, perhaps it bodes well for our real life relationships. It’s easier to be more empathetic and generous of spirit if we feel valued in some aspect of our lives. It’s not far-fetched to posit that if attention is being paid in our social media life, we can pay closer attention in our real life world. It’s not entirely nuts to consider that interactions with (3-dimensional) friends and family can be more “enough about me, what about you?” And if we heightened the rose colored hue on our perspective, and perhaps close one eye; we might even see a future in which money could lose some of its emotional power.

*Money (1966) – John Kander & Fred Ebb

 
 

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