She had me at, “I call bullshit” (on p. 14 of the Introduction.)
“She” is Jennifer Pozner, and the book is Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV. This is actually the last book I read last year. Yes. I’m that far behind. So let me get to it.
Pozner set out to explain our “social beliefs” and how networks, advertisers and media owners exploit them for profit through reality television — and what we can do about it. I must say, she did a mighty fine job.
She drags reality television, kicking and screaming, out into the light of day and shows it for what it is. I can’t help but think of this page of photographs of women arrested for prostitution.*
On the surface, reality television looks all sparkly and pretty and maybe even a little princess-y. (That’s my nod to Peggy Orenstein. More on her book in a later post.) Or, at the very least, clean and presentable. It’s all the soft lighting, candles and makeup. (Well, until we get to Jersey Shore.) In the harsh sunlight, though, reality television looks more like the last picture on each row of photos (their eighth arrest) than the first.
Pozner doesn’t admonish anyone for watching reality television. Instead, she wants to educate everyone about media literacy, critical thinking and healthy skepticism.
She covers everything from “twisted fairy tales,” in which humiliation is the flip side of “happily ever after,” to supermodel shows, eating disorders and battered self-esteem.
She mentions a red-carpet moment at the 2009 Emmys, where Ryan Seacrest told Jenna Fischer, “Congratulations on being a size 0,” as if that were a laudatory achievement — disappearing into nothing. (Now I know why it bothered me so much how Seacrest fawned all over Jennifer Hudson this year, after she showed up everywhere thinner than ever, thanks to a contract she signed with a weight-loss company.)
Pozner only mentioned Buffy the Vampire Slayer a couple of times in the book, but I knew she was a fan, believing Buffy to be a strong, positive female character. A feminist, even. Wow, I thought. I’ve never had the slightest interest in watching that show. I was far enough removed from high school that a cast of high-school students had little appeal. (OK. So that doesn’t explain why I enjoy Glee now, although there is a tiny Joss Whedon thread there, I suppose.) Besides, I cut my eye teeth on Stephen King. I figured I’d had enough ghoulishness to last a lifetime.
But the topic kept popping up, and I started to wonder, should I at least watch one episode.
Nah. Why should I? I don’t need to waste my time on that. (*cough*)
Apparently, my possessed dvr had other ideas. (Yeah, I think I’ll start calling it Christine now.) I sat down one night in my comfy chair, checked my list of recorded shows and chose RuPaul’s Drag Race. (OK. Now you know. RuPaul is my guilty-pleasure TV.) There were several episodes, so I thought I’d settle in and catch up. Guess what came on? Buffy. I swear. On every single RuPaul show. Somebody thought I should watch some Buffy, so I did. And I could see what Pozner was saying.
She also covers everything else — from embedded advertising to unapologetic misogyny, racism and violence. She watched hundreds of hours of reality television … so I don’t have to. She went behind the scenes to explain how things work and whose interests drive reality television. Guess what. It’s not your interests. She ends with a section of media literacy and a ton of great resources.
It really is a must-read.
“If we care about independent thought, artistic integrity, and cultural diversity, we must demand that programming improve, not accept its erosion with a yawn.” (p. 295)
*This is a copy of page 246 in Carolyn B. Maloney‘s book Rumors of our Progress have been Greatly Exaggerated: Why Women’s Lives Aren’t Getting Any Easier and How We Can Make Real Progress for Ourselves and Our Daughters, which I wrote about a while ago. It was originally published by Prism magazine in 2007, and Maloney said it made the strongest case against sex trafficking she had ever seen.
I just finished reading Food, Inc.: How Industrial Food is Making us Sicker, Fatter and Poorer — And What You Can Do About it, edited by Karl Weber and compiled as a companion piece to the movie, which I also just watched. I actually watched the movie (by Robert Kenner) first, not realizing that was the correct order of things.
I’ve read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, watched King Corn: You Are What You Eat, a documentary by Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, and read quite a bit on food, the food industry in the United States and food safety (or lack of it). Food, Inc., gathers much of the information out there and puts it all in one place.
In any case, if you eat, you might be interested in this book and film. The film was done first. The book contains information from people who weren’t in the film. Schlosser says the film and the book are not just about food. They’re also about threats to the First Amendment and the corrupting influence of centralized power.
Contributors include (listed in order they appear in the book)
Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal from 2001 and the movie in 2006
Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food
I think the information provided by this book and film is very important, though not half as fun as reading Barbara Kingsolver’s take on food issues in her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which I’m reading now. In fact, her book was written before Food, Inc., and I wondered, hey, did they read Kingsolver? Because if they didn’t, they should. But sure enough. She was listed in the “to learn more” section at the end of the book.
“Your Dove purchase helps build self-esteem,” says the Dove ad on BlogHer‘s site.
No, it doesn’t.
“My Dove purchase” helps build Dove’s profits. Period. Dove (or its parent company, multinational corporation Unilever) doesn’t care about little girls. It’s a corporation. It’s incapable of having feelings. Its sole purpose is to earn a profit.
No matter what else I see from Unilever, I can’t get the Axe women out of my head. Unilever portrays women like that on one hand and professes to care about girls’ self-esteem on the other. It’s hypocritical and impossible to take seriously.
“Cause” marketing works profitable wonders for corporations. For example, Campbell’s Soup turns its cans pink “for breast cancer awareness” in October, doubling its sales. While it earns millions from its pink cans, it sends a mere $250,000 to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
Unilever earns millions through its Dove self-esteem “cause” marketing campaign. It sends $500,000 to an IRS-qualified non-profit organization, and it gets to claim that amount and all associated costs as deductible advertising expenses.
Instead of entering a UPC code to get Dove to send $1 to Girl Scouts, Boys & Girls Clubs or Girls Inc., if 500,000 people (Dove’s donation limit is $500,000, total) each sent a $5 check directly to each of the organizations, that would add up to $2.5 million for each, a total of $7.5 million — way more than Unilever/Dove would ever claim as a tax writeoff “donate.”
As much as I try to see good in a “positive message” that tells girls they’re beautiful, I can’t help but consider the source. I can’t erase the Axe women from my brain.
Obama “praised the organization for its research,” though it’s unclear if she read any of the research or looked beyond a press release. If she had, she would have found layers upon layers of conflict of interest and even direct opposition to her husband’s policies.
Obama also said that “some 22 million working women don’t have one paid sick day.”
Many of the CVWF members would keep it that way through lobbying efforts on their behalf by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with which they are affiliated through local chambers. The Chamber opposes any efforts to expand Family and Medical Leave Act leave or mandate paid sick leave. It opposed a bill that would give employees seven paid sick days a year. It opposed SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) and the Employee Free Choice Act.
As I was getting ready to write something about the book, I ran across Maloney’s July 29, 2008, appearance on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report. At first, I thought I would just include it with other links, but the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me.
Is it really funny that women get fired for lactating?
Here’s a quote from Maloney’s book.
I also heard numerous stories about difficulties in the workplace, including one woman whose male colleagues mooed outside the door as she expressed milk to take home and another woman being banished to do so in her car across the street from her office.
I didn’t laugh once while reading her book, but maybe I missed something. Exactly which issue that she wrote about was funny? Rape? Domestic violence? Burkas? Breast cancer? Or maybe prostitution? That link goes to a 2007 feature in Prism magazine, which Maloney reprinted on page 246 of her book and said it made the strongest case against sex trafficking she had ever seen.
Depictions of prostitution in the media and popular culture (including the movie Pretty Woman) can be grossly misleading, even glamorous. In fact, street prostitutes are typically trafficked, exploited, battered, and often force-fed drugs by slavemaster pimps. This series of mugshots of street prostitutes, which documents their first arrest to their eighth, illustrates the reality of life on the street, which more closely resembles a descent into hell than a Hollywood movie.
Is that funny? If not, I’m confused about why one of the first places she went to discuss her book was Comedy Central.
I’ve written about the blurred lines between celebrity and politics. It’s as if something has shifted. Instead of looking back as former government officials (elected or not), they now have to prove they don’t take themselves too seriously while they’re in office, no matter how “serious” the positions they hold. They have to prove that they get the joke. Hey, they’re even in on the joke because so many things that happen in Washington are, well, a joke. Is that it?
Maybe I just don’t get the whole Inside the Beltway atmosphere. Is it really just a non-stop college kegger where everyone has to hit the beer bong and slam shots until they puke their guts out to prove they can keep up?
Maloney’s book is a fairly comprehensive list of women’s issues — what’s been done, what’s been undone and what still needs to be done. For those who regularly keep up on these issues, not much of the information is new, but it’s interesting to read about the issues from Maloney’s perspective as a policymaker.
She put a “take-action guide” at the end of each chapter, providing contact information for some of the groups and organizations working on specific issues. Her goal is to convince readers to do something, anything: “I hope to persuade you that any action in support of your beliefs matters, whether it is large or small, brief or time-consuming, successful or unsuccessful.”
She included women’s personal stories as well as her own story and a wealth of information from other sources.
She also included some of her own research and highlighted inconsistencies between cultural myth and everyday reality.
Maloney mentioned Morgan Stanley, which settled a class-action sex-discrimination case for $54 million and then another one for $46 million, yet it consistently appears on Working Mother magazine’s 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers list, a topic I have written about many times.
You might think that Morgan Stanley would work especially hard to eradicate sex discrimination after so costly [$54 million] an episode. But the firm settled another class action sex discrimination suit in 2007 for $46 million — bringing its overall sex discrimination price tag to an even $100 million. That sounds like a lot, but it only amounts to a few good days of trading.
Despite these incidents, Morgan Stanley has been cited numerous times by Working Mother magazine as one of the 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers. That makes me wonder how bad things are at other companies.
While she pointed out the inconsistency of the companies that appear in Working Mother with their employment track record, she listed in the take-action guide the National Association for Female Executives, which might be a perfectly fine organization. But it falls under the umbrella of Working Mother Media, which publishes Working Mother magazine, whose 100 Best list is — well, let’s just say I’m highlyskeptical of the wholething.
She also gave this example.
If you drive your Mitsubishi to the airport after filling its tank at Sunoco, board a Boeing-built plane for a United Airlines flight, use your Verizon cell phone service to call your spouse before you take off, and then bite into a Krispy Kreme doughnut, you’ve just enriched six household-name companies that have settled or lost sex discrimination cases and lawsuits in recent years.
Right. At least one of those companies — Verizon — makes Working Mother magazine’s 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers list year after year.
In the take-action guide at the end of the “Health Care That’s Always There” chapter, she recommended (among others) Dove’s Campain for Real Beauty as a way to “start health education early by teaching our young and teenaged girls about issues that affect them.” If you scratch the surface of Dove, you’ll find a wee bit of image manipulation of its own.
Wait I got a snow bunny, and a black girl too
You pay the right price and they’ll both do you
That’s the way the game goes, gotta keep it strictly pimpin
Gotta have my hustle tight, makin change off these women, yeah
I remember when that happened, thinking, what?!? There was George Clooney, smugly patting himself on the back for Hollywood being “out of touch” for “giving Hattie McDaniel an Oscar when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters.” That was in 1939. Just how long was it, dear George, until the next black person was so honored? That would be 1948, then 1964, then 1982, then 2002. And just how far has Hollywood come, George, by glorifying “the black man” … as a pimp, not to mention portraying women of all colors as simply a venue for making money? Hollywood’s out of touch, George. Ya think?
Which brings me back around to the Comedy Central appearance.
If it’s a matter of reaching a younger audience? C’mon, they deserve more credit than that. It’s not only “the kids” watching Comedy Central, and “the younger audience” is watching much more than just Comedy Central. And there are tons of young, vibrant, intelligent voices on the Internet. Dust off the mouse and start clicking.
Besides, there’s not a damn thing that’s funny about this book. Just like the issues Maloney discusses in the book — the media and popular-culture myths that harm the efforts to improve the lives of real people — Maloney’s Comedy Central appearance did nothing but belittle and mock some very serious societal issues. The people behind the stories about sex discrimination, prostitution and unacceptably high infant-mortality rates (to name just a few) deserve much more than to become the butt of a comedian’s joke.
I was discussing the Gates of Hell chapter of the Nightmare in Norway with someone the other night.
“I would have said, ‘I want to speak to your boss, and your boss’s boss and your boss’s boss’s boss, NOW’ … you know … go up the chain of command,” he said.
Chain of command. Yeah, the military does that to a person, I guess. Maybe that works in that world.
But, really, how much latitude does a customer-bot (we’re not human beings anymore) have in an airport before going from concerned about service to a security threat? I mean, how many times could I have told Haris, “I want to speak to your boss,” before he felt “threatened” by me and sent me spiraling into the Circles of Hell to, you know … stun guns, shackles, detention, jail … that sorta thing? I mean … really?
Besides, who’s to say Haris the employee-bot (they’re not human beings anymore either) wouldn’t have just said, “No.”
It’s happened before. I called a “customer service” line to ask for, well, customer service. (Oh, silly me.) When I got nowhere with the employee-bot, I asked to speak to his supervisor. He put me on hold. He came back and told me his supervisor refused to speak to me.
Refused to speak to me.
I asked for the name of the president of the company. He said he didn’t know. “Well, could you check?” I asked. He put me on hold again. He came back and said, “It’s against company policy to give you that information.”
It was against company policy to tell me who runs the company.
He was right. I couldn’t find the president’s name anywhere on the company Web site. In fact, three companies were involved, and none of their contact information was available through any of the companies. I had to look them up by other means. But, hey, I found them. (I need to write a love letter to the Internet.) I sent an e-mail to all of them and the customer-service department. To their credit, they actually resolved my problem. Very satisfactorily, even.
Apparently, though, it’s become standard operating procedure that employee-bots (and their CEOs) do not work for customer-bots — even if they are in the service industry. Hell, employee-bots don’t even work for their CEOs anymore. They work for the computer screens in front of them. They can only do what their computers tell them to do, which — when it comes to customer-bots — usually isn’t much.
You call your employees co-workers and expect them (and us) to believe it?
You say you “work hard to earn my business every time I fly”?
You say, “They’ll hold the plane for you”?
You say, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do”?
It’s not like I’ve never gotten good customer service. I got incredible service yesterday, in fact. More than once. (I’ll write about it one of these days.) But when I get excellent or good or, heck, even fair-to-middling customer service, isn’t it a shame that it makes me want to weep with joy? Why should it be the exception and not the rule?
A 33-year-old woman from Iceland, Erla Ósk Arnardóttir, blogged about being detained by U.S. security when arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York recently. Alda at The Iceland Weather Report tells the story. The gist is that the woman overstayed her welcome in the United States in 1995. Even though she had traveled to the United States since then with no problems, this time, she was detained, shackled and driven to a prison cell in New Jersey, interrogated and finally — after 14 23 hours — put on a flight back home.
Someone translated the original blog post to English.
About the only thing about Iceland in the news here is the story of a teen-ager who posed as Iceland’s president and almost got put through to a telephone meeting with President George W. Bush. Police in Iceland intervened, though, and took him in for questioning. It makes me wonder if the two stories are related. Was U.S. security on “high alert” for anything out of Iceland because of the teen-ager’s prank? That doesn’t explain or justify anything … I just wonder.
Anyway. Morgunblaðið has a video with interviews from a government official and the woman who was detained. Go watch it. Maybe you won’t understand the news report, but keep an eye on the advertisements before and after the clip.
Update:The Wall Street Journal published an article, Land of the Spree, Dec. 15, 2007.
How do you say ‘Victoria’s Secret’ in Icelandic? With the dollar having hit new lows against currencies around the globe, America is becoming the world’s discount store.
The reporter spoke with two women from Iceland.
Josefina and Carolina Hallström flew to New York for a few days of shopping on Icelandair from Stockholm. The pair, ages 21 and 25, were on the lookout for a Victoria’s Secret store. “We go for the lotions and perfumes,” said Carolina, as she lugged a shopping bag with eight pairs of shoes in it (she’d already pitched the boxes). The underwear retailer’s annual fashion show airs in Sweden, even though there aren’t any stores there, she says. Plus, “shampoo is also much cheaper here.”
The article even mentioned Iceland again with shoppers arriving at the Mall of America in Minnesota on direct flights from Iceland.
But not a word about anyone from Iceland getting detained in New York. Hmm.
Remember how Working Mother “teamed up with” Medela to sell more breast pumps make sure companies support breastfeeding employees? Well, Working Mother also is “in partnership with” Kraft Foods Inc. to sell diet food offer employees “nutritious food.”
“SC Johnson is on our ‘100 Best Companies’ due to its family-oriented culture and its commitment to helping employees strike a good work/life balance,” says Tammy Palazzo, Vice President of Research and Women’s Initiative, Working Mother Magazine. “The South Beach Diet(R) Office Kitchen Takeover awards the company even further by providing healthier food options for busy employees — from the convenience of their own office cafeteria.”
Touted as healthy, convenient, nutritious and delicious, the South Beach Diet is a weight-loss plan, according to Kraft’s own press release, with three phases that couldn’t possibly have been implemented in one day. What’s next? Weekly weigh-ins?
If they were really interested in providing employees with healthy snacks, why not “take over” the kitchen with baskets of fruits, vegetables and nuts? But where’s the selling point in that?
Not only does Working Mother offer its 2.2 million readers as a target audience for advertisers, it now uses employees of “100 best” companies/advertisers as a captive target audience.