Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Molly Ivins: New Bio, New Play

I just finished Molly Ivins: A Rebel Life (Public Affairs Books), a biography of one of America’s greatest journalists and social critics, released in November. I heartily recommend it. This is not a funny book, though its subject was also a humorist with a rapier wit. This book illuminates the contradictions in life: as Dolly Parton has famously said, “you’d be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap” -- in Ivins’ case, it took a lot of heartache for her to be that funny.

The Molly persona, a down-home plain speaker with a Texas drawl, was created by a brilliant young woman, a daughter of privilege. Mary Tyler Ivins grew up in a tony neighborhood of Houston, went to private schools, including Smith College, and studied abroad in France. Her father was a top executive at Tenneco and his devotion to capitalism, and his domineering personality and conservative politics, were things that Mary, nicknamed Molly, pushed back against her entire life. Admiring many things about Texas’s self-made citizens, but repelled by the crass deal-making she overheard in her parents’ living room -- including talk of controlling oil prices to boost Tenneco’s profits – Ivins developed her considerable gifts as a reporter, writer and blunt observer of political life and societal fragmentation, tweaking the high and mighty (and many of her editors) in the process, and standing up for the little guy and gal.

She had legions of friends and was generous to a fault. She could hold her own with the best of the good ole boys and drink most of them under the table to get a story. Alcohol and tobacco were serious addictions and contributed to her health’s decline in her 50s. Breast cancer and heart disease finally took the life of this indomitable spirit.

But we have her many books, and now, this new biography. Happily, there’s more: Philadelphia Theatre Company will premiere Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins by Margaret Engel and Allison Engel, to feature Tony Award nominee Kathleen Turner as Ivins. The Engels are twin sisters and journalists.

The new one-woman show will be directed David Esbjornson and will run March 19-April 18, 2010.

"We are thrilled at the happy and unexpected opportunity to produce this new play that celebrates the life of one of journalism's most colorful and iconic figures," Sara Garonzik, PTC's producing artistic director, said in a statement. "We are especially delighted to be working with the brilliant Kathleen Turner.”

Molly would probably be delighted, too.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

World Doesn't End -- But It Will Stop Turning

CBS anounced today that it's cancelling "As the World Turns," the venerable soap opera that has been on the air since April 1956. The last episode will air in September 2010. The news comes just three months after CBS announced it was ending another soap opera staple, "The Guiding Light," which began its run on radio nearly three-quarters of a century ago. The soaps, yielding to changing daytime television demographics (more women at work, fewer at home to watch, even with TIVO) and more topical programming offered by talk shows such as Oprah, Ellen and Dr. Phil, seem just too slowly paced for the tempo of today's television.

A good history of ATWT is here http://www.tvweek.com/news/2009/12/cancelled_as_the_world_turns_w.php

The retrospective includes this fascinating detail: In 1963, CBS interrupted the broadcast of "As The World Turns'' to announce that President Kennedy had been shot. However, the actors had to continue performing because the show was live, not on tape, and could not be stopped. They were informed about JFK's death when the broadcast ended.

Are You Ready for Some Football?

Like an increasing number of red-blooded American females, I enjoy a good football game. Last night, I settled in for the Baltimore-Green Bay game on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” In so many National Football League contests, the teams are cheered on by underclad, oversiliconed young women who provide eye candy for the male TV audience and those actually at the game who have seats down near the field. Typically, the TV camera crews zoom in on a lot of cleavage as the women toss their hair and offer come-hither looks while rustling their shiny pom-poms.

As the first quarter drew to a close last night, I realized I hadn’t seen a single shot of a cheerleader. This particular game was played in Green Bay, where the temperature at kickoff was 20 degrees Fahrenheit, with wind chills in the teens. Cynical me thought, in those conditions, the cheerleaders might not be showing enough skin to interest the guys holding the TV cameras.

But it turns out that Green Bay doesn’t have official team cheerleaders (the teams says it dropped them 20 years ago because of “fan indifference”), and neither do five other of the NFL’s 32 teams: Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers. Some of these teams had cheerleaders in years past, dressed in the type of wholesome cheerleader apparel you might expect to see at a college game. As it turns out, in Green Bay, student cheerleaders from local colleges take turns cheering at Packers games (these kids are not deemed worthy of TV time, it seems) but there are no “Packettes” in tiny shorts and tinier parkas

NFL cheerleaders are marketing devices for teams and filler for game-day telecasts. Obviously, most team owners believe they’re good for business (they’re cheap labor; they receive only a nominal payment for performing despite many hours spent practicing and rehearsing). Many NFL cheerleaders have “junior” organizations that charge youngsters for attending cheerleading and dance workshops, generating revenue and increasing exposure in their communities, where they also make guest appearances at events as “ambassadors” for their teams. They strike racy poses for calendars and looked thrilled to be on the other side of a leering camera lens during games.

But what are they getting out of it? Beats me.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

White House Reality Show, Courtesy of Gate Crashers

The brazen behavior of the so-called “White House Party Crashers” provided a fine example of how appearance and apparel can be used to manipulate perception. By now everyone knows that Michaele and Tareq Salahi bluffed their way into a state dinner held at the White House Nov. 24 in honor of the prime minister of India and his wife. Their clothing and grooming suggested style and wealth, particularly Michaele Salahi’s glittering red and gold sari-style gown, a glamorous image that doubtless helped when they expressed shock that their names didn’t appear on the official guest list and were then waved through by the Secret Service. But in their “you’ve got it wrong -- WE are the victims” interview with Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today Show Monday, Tuesday, Dec. 1, the pair were dressed as if for a funeral: both in conservative black suits, and she in bland makeup with no visible jewelry except a gold cross on a chain at her throat. Both murmured, in hurting tones, comments about being “devastated” and “destroyed.” Their Today Show interview garb and bereaved demeanor was clearly another crass act by the couple, bent on salvaging Michaele’s bid to be cast in “Real Housewives of D.C.,” yet another Bravo “reality” show that will feature women competing for the role of most shallow.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Missing in Cleveland -- and in the Media As Well

The “Imperial Eleven” of Cleveland – women whose decomposed bodies were found in the home of an ex-convict who lived on Imperial Avenue in that city – again illustrates how impoverished black women living at the margins of society can disappear with little notice by their community and the media who cover crime and social ills. The inattention to the vanishing of so many women in a community has fueled anger on urban radio and on blogs such as Cocoa Chicks Critiques, who wonder where the national media attention is when people who go missing are members of minority groups.

In the most recent issue of Media Report to Women (Fall 2009), Mia Moody of Baylor University, Bruce Dorries of Mary Baldwin College, and Harriet Blackwell, a recent Mary Baldwin graduate, compared media coverage of missing women, black and white. The significant difference in the prominence and durability of coverage of missing white women, in contrast with black victims, is not just a matter of journalistic blind spots; it actually influences what kind of results their bereaved families get, the authors say: “Media attention can affect how local authorities handle a case. Victims who receive national attention, inevitably, receive more aid from local and national police and investigative teams,” they write.

Based on their analysis of four cases, the team said, “There was a general template for how the press talked about missing women but it differed based on race. Mainstream press coverage of white women often included interviews of relatives and friends of the victim, a description of her neighborhood, and lots of information about the person’s personality. On the other hand, black-owned media and mainstream coverage of missing black women usually focused on the disparity in coverage, the person’s dismal circumstances, and the past of the victim’s abusive male. Although the media did not overtly cover class in its analysis of missing victims, reporters used indicators such as occupations, homeownership and neighborhood descriptions to help viewers and readers determine their social standing.” The upshot, said the authors, “is a clear bias that favors young, attractive white women, almost to the exclusion of black women.”

This issue of Media Report to Women containing these disturbing findings went to press at almost the same time that bodies were discovered in alleged killer Anthony Sowell’s Imperial Avenue home. Will the shocking discovery in Cleveland finally be a wakeup call to police who allocate resources to solving these cases and to the journalists who cover them?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Apocalyptic Flicks: Manly Men, Helpless Women

Well done: The Washington Post's Monica Hesse's deconstruction of movies about the end of the world (Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009) reveals themes and characters that depict women as useless in the face of threats. In these films -- not just recent releases such as "2012" but throughout the whole genre -- Hesse says, "Unfortunately, there are no women at the end of the world. There are men, there are children, and there are helpless damsels who beg to be rescued. But there are no women. Sorry, women." Hesse says this is true of "every apocalyptic movie ever," with the possible exceptions of Linda Hamilton's character in the "Terminator" movies, and Tina Turner's character in "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome." Most of these movies, along with video games such as "Grand Theft Auto" and others consumed by male audiences, feed a cultural theme of feminine weakness that works to the detriment of women and girls.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Still Searching for Women at the Top

Marie Wilson, author and founder of The White House Project, writes about a new study of women and leadership in today's Washington Post http://views.washingtonpost.com/leadership/panelists/2009/11/our-leadership-crisis-where-are-the-women.html

She bemoans the persistent frustration women experience in vaulting themselves into the top ranks of organizations, especially corporations, but also non-profits, where women are the vast majority of employees but only a fraction of executives. Wilson also notes gender disparities in leadership of a number of professions, including journalism. For a more detailed picture of women in media careers, check out our "Industry Statistics" page at www.mediareporttowomen.com/statistics.htm

Friday, November 20, 2009

Clash of the Titans? Not Exactly

Oprah Winfrey – one-woman media powerhouse – hosted nouveau book author Sarah Palin in a show that aired Nov. 16, two days before Winfrey shocked her audience with the news that “The Oprah Winfrey Show” would go dark in 2011 after 25 years. News of what is bound to be a long good-bye for Winfrey likely dampened whatever bounce Palin might have gotten out of her appearance on the show, during which Winfrey was cordial, even empathetic. Not all of the interview saw airtime, however. The Christian Science Monitor has a summary of what it considers some of the better moments left on the cutting room floor at
http://features.csmonitor.com/politics/2009/11/16/sarah-palin-on-oprah-winfrey-show-five-best-outtakes/, with video on Winfrey’s web site at http://www.oprah.com/article/oprahshow/20091111-tows-sarah-palin-videos