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Books: Reality Bites Back

April 9, 2011 | Advertising,Books,Ethics,Feminism,Jennifer Pozner,Journalism,Media,Media literacy,MTV,Television,Women

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.
Posted by Becky @ 9:53 am | Comments  

Books: Enlightened Sexism

January 20, 2011 | Books,Feminism,Jennifer Pozner,Joan Williams,Media literacy,Susan Douglas

I recently read Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism’s Work Is Done (Kindle edition) by Susan J. Douglas. It was perfectly sandwiched between Reshaping the Work-Family Debate by Joan Williams and Reality Bites Back by Jennifer Pozner. If these three women don’t know each other, they should. Susan? Joan and Jennifer. Joan and Jennifer? Susan. I’d love to invite you all to have coffee and start that conversation Joan talked about in her book. I’ve got a few other people I’d like to invite, too.


I adore Susan Douglas. I read her book, The Mommy Myth, five years ago. I laughed out loud. I cried. I seethed. And I did all those things again with Enlightened Sexism.

I highlighted a ton of quotes, all of which I could share here. But you know what? I’m so far behind on everything. This has been hanging out in my drafts folder for a couple of months. The simplest thing for me to say is that I highly recommend this book. I highly recommend anything Susan Douglas writes.

Posted by Becky @ 9:15 am | 2 Comments  

What Working Mother magazine won’t tell you: Abbott

October 1, 2007 | Advertising,Ethics,Family,Journalism,Media,Media literacy,Parenting,PR,Working Mother



Show me the $$$

Abbott spent $2,260,000 for lobbying in 2006, $880,000 of which went to outside lobbying firms. The rest was spent on in-house lobbyists. Abbott gave $566,474 to federal candidates in the 2005/2006 election period through its political action committee.

Chairman and CEO Miles White has given $94,940 to political candidates and political action committees since 2000. Of that, $10,000 went to the New American Leadership Fund, $5,000 to the Keep Our Mission PAC, which gave $1,090,828 to candidates and other PACs in the last election cycle, and $500 to the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, which gave $123,343 in 2006 to federal candidates.

Who benefits?

Abbott, which recorded $22.5 billion in sales in 2006, has 65,000 employees in more than 100 facilities around the world, including offices in Norway and Sweden. Working Mother “loves” the family leave Abbott offers American employees:

Salaried mothers get six weeks of paid and six weeks unpaid maternity leave. Hourly employees get six weeks of partially paid and six weeks unpaid maternity leave. Fathers can take two weeks of paid paternity leave.

Abbott employees who live in Norway or Sweden get at least a year of paid family leave (mothers and fathers must share the leave) with the option of extending it to two or even three years at reduced pay.

Abbott had 150 employees (of 65,000 total) participate in lactation support for its Mothers at Work program, which “helps our employees manage their breastfeeding schedule at while at work” with lactation consultants, lactation rooms, a “breastfeeding kit” and online information. The kit says Abbott has partnered with Working Mother magazine to “raise awareness” and “encourage implementation of workplace lactation programs.”

What do they say when they speak for working mothers?

Abbott also has teamed up with Working Mother and its Moms in Action blog, Corporate Voices for Working Families and the International Formula Council, an international association of manufacturers and marketers of infant formula (individual members are not listed), to speak for working mothers in the public-policy arena. For example:

… some states are considering proposals to restrict the information new mothers receive about infant feeding options.

That’s where the formula council, which collaborates with Abbott and Working Mother, comes in. An Abbott publication called “Ensuring Optimal Infant Nutrition: A Shared Responsibility,” says that “92 percent of mothers approve of the distribution of infant formula samples,” according to an August 2002 survey conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates with Wirthlin Worldwide. It doesn’t, however, provide details of the survey. How many mothers participated in the survey? Ten? Twenty? One hundred? It’s hard to say. The survey is not available online.

If you’d like to hear what they say on behalf of working mothers, they will hold a teleconference on public policy and advocacy on Nov. 15.

They mean business

Think making the “100 best” list is just a nice pat on the back? Think again. Not only do companies send out press releases about it, promote it to prospective employees and display it in their annual reports, they testify before Congress about it.

A representative of Corporate Voices for Working Families said this before the House Committee on Education and Labor Workforce Protections Subcommittee on June 21, 2007:

Our commitment to a culture of flexibility and to helping working families has not gone unnoticed. KPMG has earned a spot on Working Mother Media’s List of 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers ten times; we have made the Companies that Care Honor Roll four times, and this past year, Fortune Magazine named KPMG one of the 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2007. — Barbara Wankoff, KPMG (Corporate Voices for Working Families partner***)

Lactation support around the world

In July 2006, the Philippines Department of Health issued regulations to ban the marketing of infant formula for babies younger than 2. The World Health Organization estimates 16,000 babies a year die in the Philippines because of a decline in breastfeeding. Filipino mothers even say their pediatricians prescribe infant formula for their babies. The Pharmaceutical and Health Care Association of the Philippines (“100 best” members include Abbott, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis, Schering-Plough and Wyeth) sued the government to stop the new rules. The Philippines Supreme Court would not issue an injunction to stop the new rules from going into effect. The the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote to the president in August, complaining about the rule and issuing a threat:

If regulations are susceptible to amendment without due process, a country’s reputation as a stable and viable destination for investment is at risk. — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a letter to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, August 2006

Four days later, the Supreme Court issued an injunction against the new rules.

In February 2007, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Jean Ziegler issued a statement by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, saying infant-formula advertisements in the Philippines ” … manipulate data emanating from the U.N. specialized agencies, such as WHO and UNICEF,” as well as the Philippine Health Department, “with the sole purpose to protect the milk companies’ huge profits, regardless of the best interest of Filipino mothers and children.”

As late as June 2007, both sides were still in court. The World Health Organization and UNICEF issued a statement in August 2007, condemning misleading advertisements. (Abbott’s infant formulas include Alimentum Advance, Isomil, Similac 2, Similac Advance and other Similac products.)

Abbott recorded in its 2006 annual report “pediatric nutritionals” in the United States of $1,128,000,000 in 2006, $1,097,000,000 in 2005 and $1,146,000,000 in 2004. International sales were $899,000 in 2006, $698,000 in 2005 and $598,000 in 2004.

The decrease in sales of U.S. pediatric nutritionals in 2005 was primarily due to overall infant nutritionals non-WIC category decline and competitive share loss. International Pediatric Nutritionals sales increases were due primarily to volume growth in developing countries.

Gross profit margins were 56.3 percent of net sales in 2006.

In the U.S., states receive price rebates from manufacturers of infant formula under the federally subsidized Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children. There are also rebate programs for pharmaceutical products. These rebate programs continue to have a negative effect on the gross profit margins of the Nutritional and Pharmaceutical Products segments. In addition, pricing pressures unfavorably impacted the gross profit margins for the Nutritional Products segment in 2006, 2005 and 2004.

Healing the world 

Abbott’s product Kaletra is a vital drug for treatment of HIV/AIDS, but the company charges inflated prices for the drug in many developing countries.

From Abbott’s 2006 annual report:

Increased sales volume of HUMIRA and increased volume and price for Kaletra and Depakote favorably impacted U.S. Specialty sales.

Abbott recorded U.S. Specialty (pharmaceutical) sales of $3,505,000,000 in 2006, U.S. Primary Care sales of $2,505,000,000 in 2006 and international pharmaceutical sales of $5,157,000,000 in 2006.

In April 2007, an organization called USA for Innovation (its Web site started in April and went down in August) started a public-relations campaign against Thailand, sending out press releases, placing full-page advertisements in The Wall Street Journal, The Nation (editorial statement on the ad) and the Bangkok Post. Everyone, transcribing press releases, quoted USA for Innovation and its spokesperson, but nobody seemed to know anything about the organization. Nobody asked. Turns out it’s a 501(c)4 non-profit organization, run by Ken Adelman as president/director, Nancie Marzulla (president of Defenders of Property Rights; more info here) as secretary/director and Abner Mason (founder of the AIDS Repsonsibility Project) as treasurer/director, whose main interest is protecting intellectual property rights. Among other things, Adelman is a senior counselor to Edelman PR firm.

Former President Bill Clinton announced in May 2007 that his foundation negotiated price cuts for AIDS drugs and endorsed Thailand and Brazil’s decisions to American pharmaceutical company patents, saying their prices were exorbitant.

Abbott has been almost alone in its hard-line position here over what I consider to be a life and death matter. — Former President Bill Clinton, May 2007

::::::::Psst! Bill, your wife has taken $58,100 since 2002 from the pharmaceutical industry. She’s taken $146,000 so far in the 2008 presidential campaign. Speaking of presidential campaigns, you took $71,500 from the pharmaceutical industry in 1996. But, hey. I guess you’re all about Oprah and Giving these days, right?::::::::

Abbott planned to introduce new antibiotic, painkiller, high-blood-pressure and AIDS drugs to Thailand, but it withdrew them in retaliation for Thailand’s decision to break patents and buy cheaper generic drugs for patients. Abbott has since reached agreements with Thailand and Brazil to sell its drugs for $1,000 a year per patient.

***In addition to Abbott and KPMG, other “100 best” Corporate Voices for Working Families partners include:
Allstate Insurance Company
Bank of America
Booz Allen Hamilton
Deloitte & Touche, LLP
Discovery Communications
Eli Lilly Company
Ernst & Young
Goldman, Sachs & Co.
Johnson & Johnson
JP Morgan Chase
Lehman Brothers
Marriott International, Inc.
Merck & Company, Inc.
Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.
Morgan Stanley
Phoenix Companies
PNC Financial Services Group, Inc.
Texas Instruments

Posted by Becky @ 4:18 pm | 2 Comments  


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