An irreverent look at sex and the media culture
By Victor Epstein
See racy photos and our first annual “shame on you” list.
Happy belated April Fools Day you oversexed maniacs.
The fact that you’re even here proves the accuracy of the old adage “there’s a sucker born every minute.” Showman P.T. Barnum said it first of the throngs that spent millions of dollars on the fake curiosities he rolled out in the late 1800s – like the Cardiff Giant and the Feejee mermaid, which had the tail of a fish and the head of a monkey.
Look, this is a news site, not a sex site. This headline and pic merely serves to prove a point – which is the degree to which sex is marketed to Americans and the degree to which it drowns out the news you need to ingest to be a fully functioning voter in a working democracy.
Educated voters are the real mythical creature of the deep in America right now – not the Feejee mermaid – because we’ve been programmed by biology and by decades of increasingly focused marketing campaigns to respond to boobs and six-pack abs.
What am I saying? I’m saying that you all are the problem you scapegoat the media for. Not part of the problem.
Look in the mirror. You’re reading this because of a digital photo of two boobs being pushed together. You don’t even know if it was a photo of a real person.
TV news wheels out stories about strippers and breast augmentation every sweeps period because this is the kind of stuff we have been programmed to watch. They run footage of L.A. car chases with no particular significance because we like to see violence. Same goes for the daily crime story.
If crime reporters don’t have a murder, they run rape. If they don’t have a rape, they run assault. If they don’t have a decent assault they run stories about parents getting ticketed for racing a sick child through stoplights to the emergency room. It’s a form of journalistic triage.
If there was as much readership interest in good news, journalists would be writing more good news stories.
And people wonder why they feel so frightened. It’s ridiculous.
We’ve created a world obsessed with sex and violence where every one of us is a suspect. I’m part of this world, too. I’m not above it.
That’s why I was running for my life just last week in my own building. I really was.
I’ve covered more than a dozen hurricanes, grew up in the Bronx in the bad old days before Rudy Giuliani, sat in on countless autopsies and have walked through some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in America while interviewing people about late-night crime, but that’s not what frightens me in this screwy society of ours. What frightens me is a sweet little 2-year-old boy, alone with me in an otherwise empty hallway, wheeling slowly on his tricycle. He wants to talk and play.
Once upon a time in America, I would have spent a couple minutes pushing this lonely little guy’s tricycle through the hall, because it takes a village to raise a child. Right? Not anymore. Not in a world obsessed with pedophilia, murder, shootouts and car chases.
This innocent toddler was trying to talk to me and I was literally stumbling and bumbling for the front door of my apartment building – mumbling “have a nice day little man” and trying to exit the hallway before his mom stepped outside and accused me of who knows what. I was frightened of what might be misconstrued. Not of what I would have done.
Likewise, most of us have never witnessed a serious crime or been victims of a serious crime – unless you count the wholesale fleecing of the American middle class – but we are terrified of crime. You know why? Because crime sells.
So does sex.
That’s why you’re here in the first place being lectured by me. You saw two boobs and said to yourself, “Wow, this is interesting.”
I’m no prize, but I am a sneaky bastard. I placed this snare for you, baited it with boobs, and you fell right into it. So, now I’m telling you the painful truths many of us don’t like to confront.
One of them is that it really does take a village to raise a kid – that African proverb is spot on. The other is that we don’t act like a village in the U.S.
I was running from that poor little kid because our society has lost its way – because we have transformed our neighbors and ourselves into permanent suspects. Instead of “doing right” and spending a little time with this sweet kid, I was busy “being right” and covering my ass in a society where allegations are too quickly embraced as the truth, victims are empowered and the value of coping skills is marginalized.
We have descended into a world where the only morality is the pursuit of profit growth and victimhood, by any means necessary. That’s why people and groups compete to be victims and the real origin of disgraces like the Octomom and the Colorado Balloon hoax.
Look, you’re part of the problem. I’m part of the problem. We’re all hip deep in this mess.
The first step toward righting this listing ship is to call things by their right names and make better use of what we have. The thousands of pornography Web sites and cable TV channels that now exist are a force to be reckoned with. I say “let’s put this resource to work for America.”
Here’s my humble proposal: when you want to see boobs, six-pack abs and strangers having sex – go to a porn site. And when you want to see news, go to a news site.
My site is a news site.
I can see every IP address that moves through my website and I’m willing to bet the house that traffic to it will more than double behind this sexy headline and pic. That’s a damn disgrace.
We can do better. To do better we have to get a handle on the marketing campaigns that have turned us into morons. The first step is to look for inherent truth. It exists. Trust me on that.
Let’s look at a few truths
John Ellis Bush (aka Jeb Bush)
John Bush was successfully marketed to Floridians as a political outsider when he ran for governor in 1998 and 2002. First off, his name isn’t “Jeb” and he was formed in the Northeast – not the South. But Jeb resonated with the conservative voters of North Florida so that’s the way he was marketed.
Remember the old adage/slur about a good saleperson being able to sell ice to eskimos? Well selling Jeb Bush to voters as a political outsider is the same thing.
John was part of his daddy’s political campaigns as a teen. He’s a brilliant man – a policy wonk with a great sense of humor – and I liked him very much as a person when I covered him in Tallahassee, but he’s not an everyday guy. John attended the exclusive Phillips Andover boarding school in Massachusetts and has never lived without a financial safety net.
If we’re going to elect him again for public office let’s elect him for who he is.
This is the president that signed the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993, heralding a period of U.S. job displacement to low-wage nations that has done more damage to working Americans in my lifetime than any other. This is also the guy that removed some of the speed regulators from the housing market, laying the groundwork for the housing collapse that began in 2006.
Who cares what he does with cigars and ambitious, willing young ladies from politically connected, wealthy families? That stuff pales in comparison to the damage some of his policies have done to American families.
“Geedub” Bush and Ronny Reagan
These are not conservatives, unless big government spending that pushes us into deficits is a now a conservative trait. If being good to the many is an act of socialism – as it’s now being misrepresented by conservative pundits – then the big prescription medicine plan G.W. Bush pushed through for seniors is the biggest socialist program in decades. It took effect on Jan. 1, 2006.
Geedub was marketed to religious zealots as one of their own, but balked at the opportunity to appoint a conservative justice to the U.S. Supreme Court that would have overturned Roe v Wade, the landmark case underpinning legalized abortion. You know why? Because co-opting religious votes is not the same as enacting policies that please religious voters and alienate the rest of the nation.
Geedub also championed a plan to privatize Social Security, which would have left millions of seniors eating catfood after the stock market collapse that began in 2007 if he had succeeded.
I don’t think it’s asking too much to expect a state’s voters to act in their own self interest. Somehow, Ohio voters managed to vote for Geedub in 2004 even though they were losing thousands of manufacturing jobs to China. Why? Because he convinced them that he would help them impose their religious values on others.
So, from here on out Ohio will be known as “The Sucker State” on Journalism Purist, just as South Dakota is known as “The Loanshark State” here for its role in undermining state usury laws.
Much of the time the most significant difference between the Republican and Democratic parties is not the voting groups they claim to represent, but the donor groups they take money from. Those donors have been running our pay-to-play government since Washington, D.C., devolved into perpetual campaign mode.
The biggest donors support both parties.
If you can’t afford a lobbyist or a meaningful political donation you are not represented in our political system much of the time. That’s why voters keep turning out incumbents. They’re searching for major-party candidates that represent working-class interests in a system that marginalizes those interests. Candidates that just don’t exist in this age of closely policed party-line voting.
You’re paying much more for health care, cable TV, energy, gasoline, bank fees – just to name a few – than 20 years because those industries employ effective political lobbyists and are generous political donors.
Bottom line, politicians don’t need to cater to working class voters if they can fool them. It’s the same strategy Barnum employed – he didn’t need a real unicorn to make money from fools if he could put together a convincing fake unicorn. Barnum would have been a great political strategist.
And so we have a lot of very convincing candidates who portray themselves as champions of the working class, while working for the big money interests that exploit us. The fact that we keep ousting incumbents is the best proof of the degree to which working class interests are abandoned by elected officials as soon as they win office.
The big danger of this situation is that it frustrates one of the very strengths of America – the ability to conduct a bloodless revolution every time we have an election. To do that you have to have the ability to vote for a candidate and a party that represents your interests. Working Americans no longer have that option because the cost of running an effective campaign serves as a poll tax on prospective cadidates that don’t want to work for the big donors.
Political strategists carve up elections the way a baker carves up pie. They need to cobble together more slices of the electoral pie than their competitors to get elected. That game makes for some odd alliances and campaign rhetoric.
Wedge issues earned that moniker because they divide the working class vote, making it irrelevant. Working votes only matter when they’re united by a single issue as they were in opposition to the war in Vietnam and to Richard Nixon’s involvement in Watergate.
Groups that vote the same way en mass are particularly prized by political strategists because they’re not divided by wedge issues, which is why Miami’s relatively small Cuban community and New York City’s relatively small Hasidic Jewish community sometimes wield such disproportionate power.
Americans spend a lot of time and money trying to look like the celebrities they see on magazines and TV. You know why most of you fall short? Because even the people you’re admiring don’t look that good most of the time. It’s fiction.
What you are really looking at are manipulated images and calculating people who have transformed themselves with liposuction, hair implants, fake nails, breast augmentation, pectoral and butt augmentation, bulimia, pancake makeup, steroids, hair dye, spray-on tans, diet drugs like Alli, dental caps and bleach, and yes – wigs and hair extensions.
Almost nobody really looks like what you see on the red carpet at the Oscar Awards. There are only a handful of genetic freaks that feature big boobs and sex-pack abs – because boobs are mostly made of fat and fat covers six-pack abs. So the two rarely go together – especially for people over 25.
What am I saying? I’m saying there is absolutely nothing wrong with you if you don’t look like Brad Pitt or Halle Berry because even Halle Berry and Brad Pitt don’t look like their public facades most of the time when the cameras are off. They fart. They have hair in places they don’t want it. Everybody does.
The images you are seeing of them are often the best photo from hundreds of less flattering photos that were taken after makeup artists and lighting specialists had been at work for a long time. OK? Chill the heck out.
I don’t really know how to close out this story and my wife is giving me the evil eye. So, I just want to say “thank you” for staying with me to the end and leave you with this closing thought.
If it really takes a village to raise a child, let’s be a village.
Right now, we’re more like a collection of strangers staring competitively at each other and whispering to ourselves “I’ve got them beat, got them beat. Not them. Them. Not them.”
That’s not a life. It’s the human equivalent of the deranged pacing that caged animals engage in at the zoo when they’ve been confined too long.
Journalism Purist is the blog of veteran journalist Victor Epstein, who has spent more than 20 years in the new industry’s trenches and believes there are still inherent truths in the world. His new blog is for you if you suspect those truths are being systematically obscured by the rising influence of public relations and marketing on news, and the political and corporate interests that bankroll them. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.