Msnowe's Blog

why to hate morning television (in case you’ve forgotten)

Posted in Clinton, gender, laura bush, morning television, no child left behind, Today Show by m.snowe on April 24, 2008

Morning news television (produced by the major broadcasters, such as ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox) is in the rather unenviable position of straddling the line between daytime television and regular newscasting. Perhaps a better title would be “daytime lite.” The time of airing is what does this format in–or at least makes it particularly unique. Because these programs usually start at 7am, it services a large crowd early. People have yet to go to work, so network morning new programs catch all groups–workers and stay-at-home people alike. They get people watching at the gym, or those waiting for the traffic report during those ever-important 25-minute-intervaled local news breaks. They get stay-at-home parents and caretakers, and work-from-home professionals. It’s an eclectic mix, and because of that, the shows provide a little bit of everything.

But, in watching an entire show, front to back, you get a much better sense of the structure. Often, people catch five minutes here or there. But if you really pay attention, there are patented social cues inserted into the ebb and flow, including atmospheric shifts and tempered segments. It’s all so that the supposed demographics are fitted, or so those who the execs think are watching, are induced to continue watching. It’s no surprise that in the earliest, 7AM hour, the “hard news” dominates the segments, whereas during the last hour, fashion, entertainment, and cooking make up the majority of the program. But this makes the assumption that these divergent audiences, watching the same three hour show at different times, are only looking for certain things. What this suggests is that the show is purely consumer driven (like most other shows), based on people’s wants. It’s so obvious that stay at home mums want to know how to dress nicely, and that career-types will want the results of yesterday’s financial market projections. But this assumes too much–it isn’t informed by culture, it in fact informs cultural cues, including stereotypes about gender, race, and especially class. It over-compensates, making the facile assumptions that those who stay at home are less concerned with politics, and more concerned about how to bake the perfect muffin. It implies that the legal aid rushing out the door around 8AM doesn’t want to know about which celebrity is in rehab, although they will be glued to their US magazine on the train into work. These kind of cultural assumptions benefit no one.

And the gender implications are omnipresent. First off, the increase in “feminine products” commercials is inversely proportional to the amount of news coverage, as if women, not enticed by ads for vagacil or o.b., are devoid of any use for what’s happening in China (Free Monistat Three Day!…I mean Free Tibet!). And if it wasn’t Black & White enough how sexually-stereotyped the Today show is, they give it to you in Blue & Pink: observe, if you will, next time–that all Matt Lauer’s cheat sheets are a pale blue, whereas Meredith Viera’s are a baby pink. And that’s not the half of it. Gadgets, gizmos, legal battles, medical stories, politics & sports are all covered by the men; whereas cooking, fashion, relationships, and the odd political story about Hillary Clinton is thrown to the women, along with the throw-away mothering stories and pet tragedies. Yes, you might argue that there are exceptions–but they are just that, the exceptions, not the rules. And this isn’t just gender bias here, the show is fraught with racial & sexual bias and ageism. Look at the different segments, and tell which go where. The “anchors” are predominantly white and upper middle class, middle aged, definitely heterosexual(we are meant to think). These are the people that are metaphorically and literally anchoring us — they’re who and what we’re supposed to be. The jolly weatherman, the extra-bubbly semi-hosts, etc.: all superfluous, and therefore all apt job openings for affirmative action initiatives, sadly. The only gay correspondents allowed are those that flamboyantly embrace the most stereotypical roles, and are relegated to, you guessed it: fashion and pop culture (and that’s only for gay men, who never are allowed to really talk about their orientation on air, but it’s implied. Openly out lesbians, well, they don’t get any segments). Young women co-hosts, or fills-ins on the show must be: perfectly trim, stylish, and married, also, the possibility of pregnancy is seen as a way to introduce lovely segments on what to expect while expecting. They will never get a hard-edged story to cover, ever. Where the weatherman or the male anchor can be happily rotund, the younger female hosts must adhere to the strict rules that apply to movie stars (except when pregnant). Another double standard. Like in politics (or almost any other professional arena) women will be judged by what they wear, while the male anchors throw on a suit and they’re done (the only controversy lately about a man’s attire has seemed to center on jewelry, namely a little “flag pin” …but them again, that was about ideology ultimately, not fashion sense. Women have to deal with cleavage counters).

Then there was Tuesday’s Today show, and please note that this is the day of the much anticipated Pennsylvania primary. What heightened the excitement on Tuesday’s show was that the First Lady and one of her (currently sober) daughters guest-hosted, and were interviewed on the show. Now, Laura Bush is no garish bulldog–she’s what every 1950’s woman would have hoped from her First Lady . She’s got stereotypical gender roles coming out her perfectly make-uped pores. Talk of her husband’s politics was verboden, and she focused mostly on literacy (primarily childhood literacy). Though she might get a pass because of her old job as a librarian, literacy is the common cause trumpeted by first ladies ever since Martha Washington supported the post-colonial version of No Child Left Behind. (Yuck…people realize that common grammar rules state sentences shouldn’t end on a preposition, right?)

Okay, so the visit seems innocuous enough, but it’s not. Why would Mrs. Bush pick Tuesday? Could it possibly be an attempt to throw a huge contrast out against Hillary Clinton, the rather “Un-FirstLadylike” Senator hoping to win voted in PA? Laura Bush’s stint on Today reinforced the “important issues” women should focus on: reading to their children, dressing snappily, and helping to plan your kid’s weddings (apparently, a Bush daughter is gettin’ hitched).

At one point, the presidential spawn remarked how its hard to teach children to appreciate reading, “especially getting boys to read.” First, it should be noted that the statement is grossly inaccurate–many little boys love to read. It also reinforces the stereotype that rough and tumble boys are incapable of sitting still and reading a book, cover to cover. Second, it suggests that the state of education should be more concerned with getting boys to excel, when in fact copious studies have shown that our educational methods were primarily crafted by males, for males, and put women and girls in the classroom at a strict disadvantage. The angry objections to Today, and complaints about the first lady’s strategic visit to the set of studio one A could go on forever. Basically, the main thrust of this argument is that morning television is a hazy-eye-crusted version of everything that is wrong in the world, served to us before coffee, so we don’t necessarily process all it’s evils. But let’s not dwell–we’ve all got more important things to be getting on with. (Note that preposition!).

and the winner is…………find out after the break…………………

Posted in Clinton, McCain, media, Obama, primaries, reality TV, super tuesday by m.snowe on February 6, 2008

So the super duper Tuesday is over, as long as you don’t count the states and congressional districts that don’t have their vote-counting acts together. Despite the well-intentioned, but ultimately overly optimistic hopes for an inspirational victory for somebody in the Democratic party, the only real surprise was Huckabee’s capture of a few Southern states, taking even more air out of Romney’s already slashed and deflated campaign tires. For two democratic candidates so obsessed with bringing about change, it would make sense that many are a little disappointed that no change has really resulted from a twenty-two state primary day. And all the media hype didn’t help either. Many, this blogger included, admit to being in raptures of delight at the prospect of Super Tuesday (I believe there were illusions to Christmas Eve made?). But going in, we knew that this would probably be a wash – it seems like both candidates, Obama and Clinton, do just enough to either stay in contention, or stay out of the definite lead. Clinton got NJ, NY and CA, keeping her delegate count up, but Obama pulled out a CT win, shaking the Clinton campaign up a bit. And the problem (or good thing) with the Democratic primaries is that many of them are not “winner take all” states, like many of the Republican primaries – so delegates are split, and when races are as close as they were yesterday, it means that most splits were pretty even, so the winner of a state might still end up with the same amount of delegates as the person who came in second.

The other problem with Tuesday was that no matter where you turned, NY news stations and public broadcasting media of all sorts were reporting the primaries, even before there were results to officially report. There were three-hour specials on cable and non-cable channels, and radio stations and news websites were aglow with fancy (or at the other side of the spectrum, incredibly low-tech) icons and graphics to try and make people understand the votes, or become incredibly confused. While reporting of yesterday’s primaries was vital, it was overdone. And similar to Giuliani’s campaign advisers reporting his popularity, media execs reports of the public’s true enthusiasm for Tuesday were widely exaggerated.

This brings up another slightly disturbing trend within the political campaigning and media coverage community. Let’s call it the “popularization of politics.” Let’s preamble this by first qualifying that politics should be open and understandable to all people. But now, politics is being increasingly absorbed into the media’s pop culture juggernaut, in a push to popularize politics with an appeal none-too-different from that of rag mags (a.k.a. tabloids). Politics is not being reported as it is – it is now being morphed into some popularized game where the people vote off candidates as if it was a game of Survivor or Project Runway. This type of reality television atmosphere is dispiriting to the intellectually-savvy political follower, quite frankly. You disagree this is happening in the mainstream, well-established media? Well, one look at the coverage on MSNBC, and in the middle of a serious news story on the GOP turnout, here is the poll that breaks between paragraph text: “Vote: Super Tuesday’s biggest loser?” To some, that might seem innocuous enough, but anyone with faint knowledge of the Tuesday-night NBC line up would recognize that unclever illusion to NBC’s show, which features obese people publicly humiliated on scales while the audience watches, in inappropriate mystification.

Super Tuesday, to the networks, was another way to use the best-known reality television hook- the extended pause before the big reveal. We’ve seen it on American Idol, Deal or No Deal, Dancing with the Stars, etc. The shtick is often framed like this: “…..well, and the winner is………….. [Or let’s open the case, or etc.] …………………we’ll find out, after the break!” which is followed by a strangely harmonious audience grown and cries of well-intentioned outrage. As much as the respective hosts like to play with their power to conceal and reveal results, the audience takes a semi-masochistic pleasure in being denied the information until after they are shown a few ads about erectile dysfunction or feminine itch cream. The networks broadcasting the Tuesday primary results were in their glory because they didn’t even have to manufacture the result withholding – it was all done for them by slow counting states and three different time zones. And for the Democratic results, we’re still watching the commercials, and probably will be right up until the Convention. The writer’s strike has made it easy to take the reality of political campaigns, and turn it into reality television which, anyone can assure you, is farther from actual reality than Bush’s promises of peace between Israel and Arabs, or Ann Coulter’s promise to endorse Clinton should McCain become the GOP nominee. Think about it – you’ve got the crazy contestant with possible drug abuse issues (Kucinich), the guy too old to be the evangelist virgin that he is (Huckabee), the rebel who says the weirdest things but still makes sense to you (Paul), the controlling bitch with a heart of gold (Clinton), the token black guy who overcomes his token status (Obama) and the old cranky spitfire (McCain). Could you imagine them all in the surreal political life? As McCain might start with, “my friends,”– the longer the production execs hold out against the writers, the more we’re in for an interesting, and almost completely media-generated, political narrative. Start your office pools now.

FISHy Business

Posted in Clinton, Holy Grail, sexist by m.snowe on February 5, 2008

This post by Stanley Fish reinforces the comments made about blatant Clinton-hating. Especially of interest is the Horowitz quote: “She is,” Horowitz concludes, “an empty vessel into which [her detractors] can pour everything they detest.”
“empty vessel”? sounds like: chalice, womb, inverted penis?
How much more blatantly sexist imagery/language can one use? Although not everything in this article is spot-on, it does uncover the unfair posturing of anti-Clinton camps verses other anti-candidate groups. Because of a differing anatomy, the hate-spin has allowed itself to morph into a whole different, and openly sinister, animal.
Of course, the funniest aspect is that an “empty vessel” sounds like holy grail iconography… does this mean that Clinton is the Holy Grail, according to Republican pundits? I doubt they foresaw that scenario.

Caution: Voters Thinking

Posted in Ageism, Clinton, McCain, Obama, Primary, Stump by m.snowe on February 5, 2008

It’s not Christmas Eve, but some candidates will be waking up tomorrow morning to find either electoral presents or pieces of coal in their campaign stockings. Some candidates might find nothing, and be puzzled what exactly it means. Remember back a year ago when everyone thought that those early primaries were unfairly frontloading their power in order to swing the primaries and skew the overall results for the rest of the country? Well, last laugh’s with the later states. This truly is a long distance run – not a sprint. (If it was a sprint, McCain would still be in last place, left panting by the opening post last November.) So obviously the long distance has done the McCain camp good, and it all but looks like he’s got the Republican nomination in the bag, unless by some weird happenstance Romney pulls out some big wins, like say, California (however unlikely). But the real question is how to predict the super duper effects today will have on the Democrats, if that effect will be anything.

It could go a number of ways; three to be exact: Outright Clinton win, Outright Obama win, or a draw, with each candidate taking enough primary votes to still be in contention all the way up until the Democratic convention. No matter what happens, it’s a “historical” primary. That’s a stupid designation if you think about it – isn’t everything that happens in every single campaign “historical”… i.e. it happens in “history”? A more apt term would be historically revolutionary, or something that implies a paradigm shift in the way we look at politics and political leaders — it’s no turkey on white campaigning. But just who of the two democratic contenders looks especially ready to claim the Tuesday prize?

Obama was able, in the first primaries, to go out and stump like a crazy political lumberjack. There wasn’t a tree in the entire state of Iowa that he probably didn’t pass by on the campaign trail. And that benefited him greatly. The more people he can personally effect by giving a speech or attending an event, the better. People are generally moved by Obama when they see him in person, so the longer he gets to roam the primary state, and meet people, the better his turnout will be. He’s obviously a recognized name right now, but often it takes that personal bump to get people energized for Obama. The problem this creates for him is that with over twenty states in one day, the opportunities for primary state face time with the voters is minute. Clinton, on the other hand, is not a candidate that gets voters to support her by seeing her speak. She may pick up supporters that way, and in comparison to someone like Giuliani, her speeches certainly don’t deter voters from her campaign, but the stump for her is not her primary method of garnering primary votes. Her political savvy and demonstrated intellectual heft are more essential to her campaign (not saying Obama doesn’t have this either, it just she uses it in a different way). While Obama thrives on the medium of lofty, inspirational speeches, Clinton gains support by showing her strength and explaining her policies more in depth or concretely. Obviously, this has the negative possibility of getting her into more trouble, but in some respects it’s more real than what Obama is doing. So Clinton has a slight (very slight) edge over Obama at this point in the race. We’ll see what happens tonight

Supporters of Clinton find it hard to be open with their support. The problem is her opposition, while not a huge or overwhelming majority, is vicious. No other candidate has had such mainstream malice shoved onto her shoulders. The words ‘bitch,’ ‘cunt’, you name a derogatory name for a female sex organ, and it’s been printed on a t-shirt under Clinton’s face and name. And it’s completely allowed in society. While some might cringe at the t-shirt, no one says much about it. However, you can bet that if someone printed a t-shirt with a dergoritory term for an African American on it along with Obama’s name and face, the country would be in an uproar, and rightly so. But what makes the harassment and continued denigration of women such an excepted practice, even among women? Why is it merely laughable when even women participate in their own destruction, and down Clinton on sexist terms, or even contribute slightly to encouraging the unfair practices by doing the smallest things such as having bumper stickers that declare: “Caution: Blonde Thinking”? As an independent in NY, this blogger has no say in the primaries (you can bet it’s depressing). But that doesn’t mean we’re not excited to see who makes it. It’s hard to believe, but this primary, it’s not about the lesser of two evils, but the greater of two applicable (and hopefully electable) rivals. It’s good to see that both Democratic candidates are becoming friendlier, and hopefully once a clear national candidate appears, they will continue that trend for the good of the party and the country. The key will be to pick up the other’s voters, and some Republicans, and those elusive independents that sometimes trend towards McCain. Perhaps they’re reminded of their great-great-great grandfathers when they hear him speak. Think of it this way (and yes, this is an ageist argument). Would you trust your grandfather running, well, anything? The average life span of a white American male is 72. Now, McCain is known for his “youthful vigor” – but this is one slightly irregular argument that just shouldn’t be bought, no matter what the political discount. Yeah, Reagan did it old, and Eisenhower was no spring chick filet, but in an era when current stories are increasingly important, it might be better to have candidates that weren’t middle aged during the Cold War. That kind of politics, and outlook on life, while fine, does us no good now. Either way, it’s time to trend towards a change, a globalized outlook, out of glasses with an anti-imperialistic, unprejudiced, non-sexist tint.

The Problem with Nice

Posted in Clinton, detente, Giuliani, McCain, nice, Obama, primaries by m.snowe on February 1, 2008

It’s almost frightening, the copiousness of detente that’s spreading through both party’s campaigns right now — you would think that all the politicians were holding their debates in Helsinki. The absolute worst display of disgustingly genial showmanship occurs between John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. To be fair, in all disclosure, McCain has never been glaring in his reproach of Giuliani while campaigning (probably due to Rudy’s low poll numbers), but he hasn’t been overly laudatory either, and all rightly so, considering they were running against each other. But Rudy’s quick shift is disturbing, and the animosity that overnight turned into a man crush between two extremely straight men shows how disingenuous and ridiculous it is. Rudy practically coos over McCain, and yesterday, on a late night show that both men would have had to cross picketing lines of striking writers to get to, they appeared next to one another as if they had just arrived after a leisurely evening of heavy petting… each other’s egos. McCain, who was all but dead a few months ago, has pulled out the smelling salts. As Miracle Max would say, McCain was only “mostly dead”, which means he was still “partly alive” — and he’s found something worth living for. Plus, McCain is able to do something that Giuliani couldn’t do alone – and that is use Giuliani’s strengths. Giuliani discovered through the course of his campaign that what he did for New York didn’t travel nearly as far across the country as he assumed – it’s common for certain New Yorkers, Giuliani among them, to suffer from the delusion that everyone outside New York understands and is up-to-date on the microcosm of the NYC universe. The only time that claim is true is with certain moments in history, like 9/11. Unless you’ve been to Times Square pre- and post- Giuliani, you don’t really get a sense of the actual “clean-up” he inspired. And of course, if you do know a bit about Giuliani, that can also be bad for his campaign as well – some of his questionable practices have been well publicized. But the brilliance of McCain using Giuliani as a kind of pseudo attache is that McCain can keep all his prior experience, his renown as a war hero, and whatever other favors he might have, and also cling to the 9/11 message that Giuliani, unsuccessfully based his campaign on. What ailed Giuliani was the fact that the 9/11 management was really his only universally recognized positive, and it was not enough to sustain an entire campaign. But McCain, with Rudy’s endorsement, can buy that extra morsel of post-apocalyptic hope, and wrap it up with a little bow and serve it on his stump speeches to each audience member, hungry for not only McCain’s current policy, but added assurance he could get the job done. “Giuliani light” is decidedly better than the blown up, cross-dressing, wife cheating full-calorie version. It’s easier on the digestion for a fractured Republican party. And Giuliani is no dummy – he’s getting something from this deal, though it’s a reluctant prediction to think he would accept an offer as McCain’s running mate. We’ll see, but if that does happen, it would be one fearsome political creature to behold. Of course, every Republican machine is pretty fear-inducing these days.

Remember what happened to the last officially dubbed “Queen of Nice?” Sprint, or jog, your memory while we recap the latest Democratic debate. Obama and Clinton were talking nice, as if only sunshine and quaint democratic sentiment shines out their bums. Obama could get some more traction from being nicer to Clinton, because his audacious message of hope, while running a mostly positive campaign, has taken exceptions when it comes to Clinton-bashing, and his comment a month or so ago at one of the earlier debates that Clinton was only “Likable Enough” actually didn’t fair well for him at all. Despite his universally recognized flair for charisma, Obama just isn’t up to snuff when compared to Clinton’s debating ability. He comes off more like the snarky showoff who pedals in all directions whereas Clinton always has a witty retort and is well-versed in debate, her main flaw being the forcefulness in her delivery that appears jarring to some. But lately, Clinton has been nicer too. Her well-placed snipets of humor are reinvigorating what could’ve turned into a bleak campaign, and all this news coverage of a supposedly “angry” Bill leave her with the trouble of running damage-duty. Her well-chosen weaphon of choice: the well-placed quip. For instance, when asked about the possibility of history recording Presidents in the following order: Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton; Hillary Clinton remarked “it may take a Clinton to clean up after a second Bush.”

So what do all these niceties mean? Perhaps this is the eye of the storm – the outer winds and wreckage from the huge field of players has dwindled down to basically two major candidates still standing on both sides. One thing is for sure, it’s going to get ugly again before this thing moves out after the nominations. We can only guess how, and afterwards assess the destruction. But Democrats need to be wary- both Clinton and Obama would agree that the only thing worse than losing the primary nomination is losing the presidential election to a Republican because of an electorate dissatisfied with a quibbling Democratic party. Democrats are historically known as the slightly more disorganized party, one without a completely solid platform — either that or the platform just never seems to dry like the harsh concrete Republicans like to stomp on all campaign season. So we can see why killing the voters with kindness might be the best method…for now.