Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

The High Road

Early in my ninth year, I found myself out on my school’s playground, in the grasp of a large galoot whom I had previously thought of as a friendly.

This member of my third-grade class had me by the arm, and was playfully whacking me with his free arm. He was smiling. I was relinquishing my own smile, in exchange for a muttered, “um, hey.”

My classmate’s free arm – the one executing the whacking – was partly encased in a cast. Being as this was during the early days of the Gerald Ford administration, it wasn’t one of those lightweight flexible air-cast things that are used nowadays.

His wrist and forearm were encased, basically, in shaped rock.

It kinda hurt.

I let this go on for a few days, turning the other cheek, taking the high road … and then one night I told my parents about it all, over supper.

My non-violence-espousing, turn-the-other-cheek, do-unto-others, decent parents did something that totally, utterly shocked me.

They signed me up for karate lessons.

Several wintry months later, I had completed a series of Saturday mornings in which I got used to the idea of making violent contact with other human beings – in a controlled and disciplined environment. That was entirely outside my experience (except, perhaps, for the disagreements I had with my younger sister, and even those wrestling matches I usually lost).

But aside from some sparring matches during which I was out of my league – somehow, the instructor thought I was good enough to compete with a couple of otherwise genuinely friendly boys who were a solid belt-color-level above me, which ought to tell you more about the instructor than it tells you about me or my competition – I actually was really good at making contact. And performing those pantomimical forms – downward block, punch, kick, upward block, discount double-check… And I even made those hi-yat-su! grunts pretty well (also not a super-large part of my personality).

Recess. Spring day. Playground. Alleged friend. Smile. Grasp. Cast.

Raised eyebrow. Punch in the stomach.

Kid never came near me again.

Last night was the State of the Union speech.

I know. Your head just whiplashed. Stay with me now.

The annual tradition in Washington, on a Tuesday evening each January since Woodrow Wilson was president, is for the president to ascend the speaker’s platform in the House chamber of the US Capitol and address a joint session of Congress, to give a brief overview of how the last year went, and what plans he (or, someday, she) might have for the coming year.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Capitol building. Two summers ago, I was there as a tourist. Along with my tourist compatriots, I felt an undeniable need to maintain an air of dignity and decorum in the midst of the truly impressive surroundings of our nation’s loftiest legislative location. Beyond my thoughts about all the truly momentous people who had strode through those corridors, all the important decisions that had been made in that building, all the important quotes from American history (“a day which will live in infamy”) that had been launched from that podium … the place has décor that kinda demands that people behave very well indeed.

You’d think so, anyway.

During President Obama’s first State of the Union address, a Republican member of the House of Representatives shouted “you lie!” in response to one of the President’s assertions. It drew an audible gasp from a large portion of the assembled legislators and spectators. (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shot a stare out in the direction of the outburst that reminded me very strongly of one of my elementary school teachers after a back-row yahoo belched loudly in the middle of silent reading time.) You just don’t do that! … Or, you didn’t. Until now, I guess.

During one of Mr. Obama’s later State of the Union speeches, Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito vigorously shook his head “no”, in response to another of the President’s assertions. Traditionally, Supreme Court justices who attend the speech do not react in any way to the speech, yea or nay – they stare stoically straight ahead. … Or, they did. Until now, I guess.

I don’t recall any such reactions to the assertions of any past President, Republican or Democratic. Members of Congress never treated any President, from Wilson to Bush 43, with anything but applause (from polite to passionate), the occasional standing ovations, and the otherwise ubiquitous quiet deference and focused attention. Even Bill Clinton, whose foibles got him into various versions of hot water with the press, the public, and his Congressional colleagues, wasn’t treated like this. It has always been understood that, well, we’ll present the opposition-party response to the speech, and we’ll go on “Meet the Press”, and we’ll write op-eds, and we’ll get back at him that way.

Until this Administration, I guess.

Last night, on the way to a larger assertion, Mr. Obama began a paragraph with the preparatory clause, “I have no more campaigns to run, …”

A significant number of legislators applauded sarcastically. As if this were a middle-school assembly and a kid running for student council president was making his campaign speech and screwing it up.

At this moment, the President had a choice.

He could have proceeded with the rest of the paragraph, trying to make his hecklers (hecklers!?) look bad by just ignoring the interruption and trusting the American public to write its elected representatives and chastise them themselves.

Yeah, not likely.

He could have stopped, looked out at the clapping Congresspeople, and (as he has done at some other public events) gently murmured, “now, come on, we don’t have to do that.” Whatever has been his way of dealing with people in private, which we really cannot know, this “let’s all be civil here” reasonableness has been his public personality, over the course of his time in office. Once, he offered a couple of demonstrators the opportunity to talk with him after his speech was over, and then made good on that offer, directing the Secret Service to bring the men backstage so they could present their case to him in person.

He could have taken the low road. Gotten actively angry in the middle of that speech. Or, today, in his first speech after last night’s address, he might have lashed out at the Republican-controlled House or Senate. After six years of having bitten his tongue hard, of taking the high road, one might have forgiven him for having a brief moment of “…are ya kidding me?”

For six years, Mr. Obama has taken it on the chin from his political opponents, consistently and relentlessly. Sometimes they’ve been needlessly personal. Often the name-calling has been hilariously contradictory (you can’t be a feckless, weak President and a dictator at the same time, friends).

And often the policy arguments have been contradictory, too. In the first day after the capture of the mastermind behind the Libyan embassy attacks last year, the President’s opponents criticized him both for not achieving the capture soon enough and for rushing to capture the man so Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could trumpet the success during her appearance on Fox News the following night.

I have the feeling that if the President were to suggest that the sky was blue, someone would pout, “well, it’s cloudy where I’m standing.”

The President has endured attacks on his wife. For transgressions such as, she’s showing too much of her (frankly ripped) upper arms … she looks like she’s rolling her eyes at the Speaker of the House during a state dinner …too this, too that, pick, pick, pick …

But at least Mrs. Obama is an adult and by way of being First Lady, she’s a public figure and therefore, in terms of criticism, will be an eligible receiver. It happens. Same goes for being the actual President. You’re thin-skinned and hopelessly naive if you make it to the White House and still don’t get that.

The President has endured attacks on his kids. (Ostensibly as a way of attacking him. This is what some of his critics think of as clever.) This has traditionally been kinda frowned upon. Leave the kids out of it, as has been suggested in this space previously. Even so, the President has refrained from explaining to the critics of his children at just which bus stop they need to step off.

I admire this. If it were me, and my niece and nephew were treated like Malia and Sasha have been treated on occasion, I would be sorely tempted to recall my third-grade karate lessons.

So, in some small way, I was disappointed last night, when the President didn’t pause, look out at the Congress, and say something like, “…–Really?” Or…

Are you fking kidding me?” Or…

At some point in your miserable, politics-of-personal-destruction, inexplicably-elected lives, are you actually going to attempt to portray grownups?” Or…

Do you not see where you are, what responsibilities you’ve been elected to carry out, how many people across the world are watching how you behave and who you are?” Or…

Do I have to pull this Congress over?”

He didn’t, though.

This morning, he’s being lauded in many quarters for distributing what Slate.com called an “instantly legendary ad-libbed burn”:

He looked out, raised an eyebrow, clearly looked as if his thought bubble was reading, “oh, I get it. We’re still playing that game. It’s still gon’ be like that”, and went off-script. Question: how do I know I have no more campaigns to run? Answer:

I know, ’cause I won both of them.”

He will take truckloads of, forgive me, crap for that, in certain other fair ‘n’ balanced quarters, by the end of today. (“Disgracing the office of the President!”, no doubt.)

And it wasn’t probably as satisfying to the President as “going off on them” would’ve been.

But a little satisfying.

I don’t know; maybe this morning he’s regretting not taking the high road and just ignoring it all.

I didn’t regret that punch in the stomach. But I’m not the President, and I haven’t spent the last six years being called a Fascist Nazi Kenyan Socialist Muslim usurper.

This essay has nothing to do with politics. I promise. And it has nothing to do with whether I’m a big fan of the President, or a big detractor.

This has to do with standards of behavior.

It reminded me of a quote which has been one of my favorites for a long time, and speaks to this moment rather eloquently, if unintentionally.

It wasn’t one of his Starred Thoughts™; instead it was a quote from a magazine interview with the director of my alma mater’s band. In it, he was describing the culture that had been built, over the course of many years, that allowed him to not worry about what first impression his band was going to give people when it went on the road for an away football game, or a parade, or an exhibition, or a rest-area stop for food, or whatever.

There are standards — standards of behavior, standards of how to project the image of the band, which is the image of the university, which is of course the image of themselves.”

One could say that a lot of our elected officials “could stand to improve” on that front … except that their unlikeliness to improve is given away by their pesky ol’ body of work.


January 21, 2015 Posted by | current events, government, news, Starred Thoughts | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


I’m a man.

(Given that this is not a blog written anonymously, this may not come as a surprise. Only a tiny level of detective skill will be required of you to keep from falling over in shock. You know you were thinking that. Admit it.)

And, given my particular orientation, given the direction that I do face, … well, there are some sights that make me go all wobbly a bit more than other sights. Maggie Gyllenhaal, far more than her brother Jake, por ejamplo.

I’ve been known to watch movies, watch television programming, look at newspapers and magazines, and hmph! in admiration of what used to be known, at least in those thrilling days of yesteryear, as the fairer sex. (Nowadays, they might smack you for saying that. Try to be complimentary…!)

More and more, it cannot be assumed that those objects of my admiration are looking back at me with an equivalently high opinion … whether via genetics or just, well, I ain’t exactly Clark Gable most days.

Clark who?… never mind. Move on.

Anyway, this morning, when I clicked upon a proferred video link, I got a chance to mentally pat myself on the back. Good show!

The link took me to a website whose purpose seems to be the offering up of videos designed to astound, amaze, infuriate, or all of the above … and thereby amplify a particular point its creators wish to make. Today’s video featured the headline: “See Why We Have An Absolutely Ridiculous Standard Of Beauty In Just 37 Seconds”.

Click! and away we go: time-lapse photography of a woman climbing onto a bench in a photographer’s studio, wearing a certain (tiny) amount of strategic clothing, for the obvious purpose of being a model. I thought I knew what was to come: when fashion models are being photographed, a great deal of effort goes into simulating reality. These are absolutely natural things that these absolutely natural people are doing absolutely naturally! It’s as if there’s not even a photographer here! … Or at least we hope that the people passing by the fashion magazine racks on the way to the supermarket cashier aren’t thinking about how fabricated that simulated reality actually was, at the time.

(Hey, I’ve seen the Austin Powers movies. “You’re an animal! … aaaaaaand … we’re done. I’m spent.”)

I will admit: while I’ve always had a sense that this was not how these people looked when they got up in the morning! … I’ve never really given much thought to the possibility that that might really, really, really be true, in ways I hadn’t thought of.

We now have the computer technology to make art not just imitate life, but improve upon it in a pixilated way. Or, to be more precise, we now have ways of making art “improve” upon real life, according to someone’s idea of what beautiful and perfect are.

Recently I posted some thoughts about society’s concept of beauty and attractiveness, and probably spent about two thousand more words on it than I really needed to. And here was proof of that: just thirty-seven seconds of video.

So where were we? Oh yes … Click! and away we go: time-lapse photography of a woman lying chest-down on a photography studio bench, head and upper body held upright by her elbows and forearms, feet crossed directly above her flexed knees, looking sharply to her left into the camera lens … having her photograph taken … and then having her image adjusted via the magic of Photoshop or whatever higher-end computer-generated imaging technology was being used, so as to make her more attractive (again: to someone who decides these things for us).

Here’s a list of physical preparations and adjustments, made in the first fifteen seconds of accelerated video:

[] facial makeup is applied (you may be pleased to know that I really have no idea what all that consists of) (I thought “foundation” was what held my house up)

[] blonde, shoulder-length hair is curled and otherwise teased to appear windblown and considerably more reflective of light

[] further makeup is applied to all other exposed skin (and there is a TON of it) to reduce the incidence of the studio lights’ glare reflecting off the model, presumably to keep her from appearing to be unattractively sweaty

[] hair extensions are attached, such that its full length, draped over her far (right) shoulder, now nearly reaches the inside of her elbow

Then the photograph is actually taken.

Now here’s the list of further computer-assisted adjustments, shown in the remaining 22 blinding seconds of video:

[] marks and blotches are computer-tagged and “removed” from the model’s face

[] a triangular area around the nose is tagged and reduced, making the nose appear slightly smaller (can’t have large noses)

[] lips are “painted” to seem slightly fuller and darker in color

[] a circular area around each eye is tagged and adjusted to make her eyes appear (unnervingly) larger (although admittedly not as large as this Star Trek character’s), and to angle the very end of her right eyebrow slightly upward

[] just to the left of each iris is placed a computer-enhanced light-reflection

[] the shoulder nearer the camera is Photoshopped to appear slightly raised from its original position, making the upper arm’s angle closer to vertical

[] further blotches and areas of skin-color difference along the ribcage and lower back are tagged and removed

[] the lower outline of the upper arm just below the armpit is trimmed slightly

[] the outline of the midriff is trimmed subtly (in such a way that gravity appears to have slightly less impact, and also such that her abdomen could not possibly contain all the internal organs that a human reasonably requires)

[] similar trimming is done to the upturned backs of the thighs

[] the area extending from hips to knees is highlighted and the upper legs lengthened (unnerving to slow that down and see someone’s upper legs being stre-e-etched, even if it’s a computer imaging operation and not the Spanish Inquisition or one of the lesser Star Trek movies)

[] similar trimming is done to the back of the calf furthest from the camera, and also the soles of both feet

[] selected toes are shortened to make them proportionate to big-toes and pinky-toes on each foot

[] more trimming is done to the calf closer to the camera (making it so narrow that it would have a hard time supporting the model’s weight if she wished to chuck the whole idea and walk out at this point)

[] the area extending from knees to elevated feet is highlighted and similarly lengthened

[] the neck is highlighted and similarly lengthened, raising the head a bit higher than heads normally can be raised

[] more trimming is done to the right side of the neck (the side that, as the model looks left, is further from the rest of her body)

[] extra computerized glossiness is added to the hair

[] an extra layer of luster is added to the cheekbones, and the forearms … and the upper arms … and the torso … and the upper legs … and the lower legs … (because clearly all the work done by the studio lighting people was insufficient)

And pow. Natural-born beauty.

Something that only struck me as I ran little bits of this video at a time, trying to account for every little adjustment that was made “in post-production”, was this horrible thought: those 22 seconds of accelerated, nearly Keystone-Kops-frantic activity probably represent hours of work by a computer imaging artist who was looking at the original image and thinking, “nope … too short, too thick, too dull, too blotchy, too this, too that, not enough this, not enough that …”

Passing judgment on somebody, because, according to somebody’s stringent rules of beauty (a/k/a what sells), what God gave ya – which might arguably have been in the upper percentiles to begin with! – just ain’t good enough.

Dimly, I wonder what those computer airbrusher people look like. Ah! sweet irony: statistically, it’s likely that they look more like Kent Tekulve than Kent McCord. (Look them up. Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher vs. co-star of “Adam-12”. Go on.)


You will recall that I was busy patting myself on the back. I should get back to that, because it’s why I decided to go on about this in the first place.

After seeing the video for the first time this morning, I naturally loaded it again, so that (no! That’s not why! Stop it!) … so that I could see where the process had all started; what did that model look like at the beginning, again?

And I got my answer. And no, it wasn’t quite as “Baywatch” as the end result of all that techno-artistic jiggery-pokery. But I also remembered what my thought had been when I first saw that model, before the studio lights went on, before the pose happened, before the photo was shot, and before any of the adjustments were inflicted.

I clearly remembered an American man (still half-asleep, so somewhat less likely to have a filter in place) looking at that initial image and thinking:

Oo. She’s purdy.”

A Neanderthal reaction? Well, faintly, perhaps. But on first and second glance, and on third and fourth glance too, and then again this evening as I’ve been writing this … she reminded me of a lot of my friends (which, I know, has the potential to sound really mean, and they know I don’t mean to be mean. At all).

No, but really: outwardly, that model reminded me happily of my friends: perfectly fine-looking humans. With flaws, because that’s what humans have. With imperfections, because that’s what humans have. (Looking frankly tired … because maybe the photoshoot was early in the morning, or because maybe she was just arriving from one of her other part-time jobs that paid not quite enough to make ends meet, and certainly didn’t include medical benefits.) And, still, attractive, damn it.

And we haven’t even talked about what these people are (and what that model could well be) like.

On balance, I think I was just a little happier with myself than I’d have been, had I not actively thought that, first, before seeing the borderline-anime final product of the computer airbrushing. Before seeing the manipulation.

People can be beautiful without all that stuff. Or even in spite of it, I bet.

November 1, 2013 Posted by | media, technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s 2012, Or So I Thought

I’ve been thinking a lot about women lately.

Slow down, everyone. It’s not what it sounds like.

In the last year or so, it’s seemed as if about every third day, someone says something spectacularly nineteenth-century on the subject of women, women’s rights, and other sundry characteristics of women. Usually, the people saying these things are not themselves women. Which, in most cases, causes me to wonder what exactly convinces them that they’re qualified to even make opinion about these issues, let alone policy, and in too many cases, comes off as what it probably is: “hey, little lady, don’t you worry about a thing – I know what’s good for you.”

I’m remembering February of this year, at which time numerous state legislators proposed laws that would require women seeking abortions to undergo some form of internal probing as part of that process. Many commentators characterized those bills as state-supported rape; the Virginia bill earned Virginia governor Bob McDonnell several pointed nicknames – the most broadcastable (on public airwaves) of which was Rachel Maddow‘s “Governor Ultrasound”.

Virginia Democratic state delegate David Englin, an opponent of the bill, recalled his conversation with a GOP lawmaker who told him that women had already made the decision to be “vaginally penetrated when they got pregnant.” Whoever that GOP lawmaker was … probably deserved to have the wits slapped out of him by whatever wife or girlfriend he may have been undeservingly lucky enough to still have.

Then in March, there was Sandra Fluke. Or rather, there was seemingly every middle-aged male pundit and commentator and alleged entertainer taking the opportunity to heap abuse upon on Ms. Fluke, who started out one week in March as a witness in a Congressional committee hearing and ended that week as the target of – I’m sorry, some of the most awful invective I can think of. To wit:

First this, from the host of the Rush Limbaugh Show: “[Sandra Fluke] goes before a Congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex, what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.”

Media analyst Eric Boehlert wrote, “Incapable of self-reflection, player after player … rushed forward to condemn the law student and/or to insist [Limbaugh] had done nothing wrong by, (a) insulting the young woman, (b) mocking her parents, (c) demanding she post videos of herself having sex online, and (d) suggesting she was using condoms when she was in elementary school.”

Then this reaction, from the then-presumed and now-confirmed Republican Party nominee for the office of President of the United States: “It’s not the language I would have used.” As columnist Maureen Dowd wrote, “Is there a right way to call a woman a slut?”

Commentator and former Congressional candidate Krystal Ball [who, predictably, takes heat for her name] wrote, “[S]peaking out for women’s health care certainly doesn’t [make you a slut]. Standing up for your rights doesn’t mean someone gets to rhetorically rip your top off in hopes to send you running from the public square in shamed humiliation, a cautionary tale for any woman who dares forget her place.”

In both blatant and veiled ways, for the past year particularly, lots of commentators and politicians who are public figures have been very willing to make remarks that reveal their utter disregard for women as human beings. I wonder how anyone can think that some of those remarks are actually okay. Do these people – do these men – know any women? Their mothers, perhaps? Do any of them have sisters? Nieces? Daughters? Bueller?

But … the moment that has really gotten me jumping up and down happened this week. Compared to the forced-ultrasound bill and the Fluke abuse and all the rest of the stupidity of 2012, this may at first sound perhaps a bit smaller in scale. But to me, it reveals just how insidious these attitudes and this behavior have become.


Writer Joan Vennochi wrote a column for the Boston Globe this week which was meant to highlight the policy differences between Sen. Scott Brown (R.-Mass.) and his Democratic challenger, Prof. Elizabeth Warren, in such a way that she could make clear that Prof. Warren’s ideas were preferable to Sen. Brown’s.

But the way she wrote it was, to me, strikingly bogged down in the stereotypical way women in politics (and in many parts of American life) are treated, still, in 2012. Well, perhaps she didn’t realize that it came across that way. But here are the parts of that piece of writing that attracted my attention, and my ire:

Agreed: Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren wasted millions on ads that turned her into every man’s worst nightmare: a smarter-than-thou older woman sporting granny glasses and sensible hair.”

I have to pause here and note: ooooooo. That’s a most threatening thing, indeed: a woman who might actually be smarter than thou. (Beats the hell out of holier-than-thou; which is another essay altogether.)

For the record, in case it matters to you – I like sensible hair.

Anyway, onward: “[S]olid, substantive differences that should matter to Massachusetts voters … are diverted by the same old superficial nonsense. Brown is a good-looking guy with a lovely wife and daughters. Is that reason enough to send him back to Washington for a full Senate term? Warren is dogged by the same questions that always dog women. Democratic consultant Dan Payne wonders about the whereabouts of her husband and other family members. And why is she wearing the same old red jacket? … No one asked that about Brown and his barn jacket.”

The aforementioned Mr. Payne went on local public radio station WBUR’s afternoon current-affairs conversation program, “Radio Boston”, to address the Warren campaign and the advice he would offer to them regarding what needed to be done to SAVE her candidacy from those pesky age-old issues whose presence we always seem to take for granted … issues “that always dog women”.

I pause for a moment to acknowledge that very rarely are actual issues and policy proposals super-big selling points in modern American politics, whether those political races involve men or women, and lately the truth appears to have skipped town altogether.

I now move forward with the previous line of thought, or rather, what Dan Payne thought was important to ensure Prof. Warren’s future political success.

Payne made two main arguments, based on a column he wrote recently for WBUR, called “What’s Wrong With the Elizabeth Warren Campaign”. The first argument was about Warren’s appearance; the second was about how she communicates her thoughts in ads, and during speeches and other public appearances. For absolute clarity, here’s the exchange, from the “Radio Boston” transcript (and you can listen to it here):

Meghna Chakrabarti: Tell us what you think is wrong with the Warren campaign.

Dan Payne: It’s her advertising. Her television commercials seem to turn off people. Women have told me they find her hectoring, they don’t like her attitude, she’s school-marmish. These are the opinions of people who support her.

Chakrabarti: It seems to me that “hectoring, school-marmish” — those are criticisms based on the image that’s being projected in her advertising and not necessarily of her policy or how she may or may not be connecting with people on the campaign trail.

Payne: Right. When she works a room, when she gives a talk, it’s a completely different dynamic. People who have seen her in person think she’s wonderful. Those who only know her through TV have real questions.

Chakrabarti: You wrote that Warren’s vocabulary is coarse, that she says things like, “Small business owners bust their tails every day,” in one of her ads. [A sound clip of Warren is played, in which she says, “For many years, our middle class has been chipped, squeezed, and hammered…”] And you say that at the Democratic National Convention, she tried to convey toughness with words like rigged, hammered, corrosive, for example. [Another sound bite reveals Warren saying, “For many years, our middle class has been chipped, squeezed, and hammered…”] These aren’t necessarily phrases you’d expect to hear from a Harvard law professor. But on the other hand, she grew up on Oklahoma, in a struggling middle class family. Maybe this is her?

Payne: It’s possible that she talks like this all the time. But if it’s intentional, it reflects a desire by the campaign to not sound like a Harvard professor, to sound like she can talk street talk with the best of them. I think she’s trying to say that she feels strongly about these things, but it just comes across in many cases as coarse.

Chakrabarti: On the other hand, you admit politics is like high school, how you dress and act defines you socially, and you want to see her dress in a more modern way, lose what you call “the granny glasses,” get a different haircut. It seems like these issues leap to the forefront with much greater speed when we’re talking about women candidates.

Payne: Sure, it’s possible. Well, you do hear it occasionally about men. I think people complain about Romney not being able to connect. When he tries to go off the cuff, he makes mistakes. He says things like, “Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs.” … I was reflecting what women have told me about Warren. And they want to like her — that’s the shame of this. They want to like her.

Chakrabarti: We’ve only got under two months left until the actual election. Say her campaign is actually reading your commentary or listening to us. What if they did make these changes?

Payne: I like to think I performed a service. I think I told them things… maybe they had not heard before in this organized way.

Chakrabarti: If indeed any changes were made now, wouldn’t Warren be accused of being inauthentic?

Payne: I’m asking her to be more authentic. I want her to just sound like a human being, not read the script that makes her sound like some angry, hectoring school marm. But I hate to say it, about politics, but we live in a celebrity-based society, so a candidate for high office is considered a celebrity as well as a political figure. And so you’re judged as a celebrity is judged: by the way you present yourself.

Chakrabarti:I can imagine there are those out there throwing up their hands saying, “This is exactly what needs to change!”

[Chakrabarti now reads comments that, during the conversation, had been posted on WBUR’s website:]

Chakrabarti: “judiann1” wrote on wbur.org: “We need a government full of people like Elizabeth not an actress with a shiny veneer. We have a Congress full of these things.” And “travis” commented:This is exactly what is wrong with our current system, so far removed from basic democratic principles and issue-based voting. ‘Get New Glasses’?! ‘Soften the Hair’?! Shame on you guys for perpetuating such a laughable, ridiculous system.”

Payne: In general, you have to go with the flow. If people really believe they want to know something about you that goes beyond your name, party, issues — they want to know about your family, they want to get a feeling for you as a human, you have to do that, you have to respect the voters where they are. Now maybe that’s trivializing politics, but you can’t simply do commercials that say this is what I believe, this is what the other person believes and go back and forth like that. It just isn’t basically a useful way to communicate.


I pause for a moment to reflect that in those last two sentences, Payne (perhaps unwittingly) reveals what is shallow about his (and others’) political-consultant take on this subject, not to mention the exact thing that’s wrong with American politics.

Anyway, onward. One of the commenters on Dan Payne’s original article, posted at WBUR’s website, wrote in agreement with Payne (and, backhandedly, in support of Warren):

I’m with [Warren’s] political positions all the way. But I have to say: GET A NEW HAIRDO! This seems incredibly trivial, but it’s not. Everyone has an ‘identity kit,’ a roster of clues that others use to ‘place’ a person in society. Unfortunately, hers includes some rather unattractive visual cues. These can be fixed easily. Attractive people are more appealing to others. There’s no reason why these superficial signals have to put this great candidate at a disadvantage. Fix them – especially the hair!”

If I must remark about appearance, I would say that I have much less of a problem with someone who looks fairly close to average but has a whole lot to say, and much more of a problem with someone like Sarah Palin, who is all hair and makeup and the red-blooded middle-aged American man’s idea of what an attractive babe looks like, but doesn’t have a single reasonable policy idea to contribute to American politics, any coherent way to express any such idea, or any faintly firm grasp of American history – and proves it each and every darn time she shows up on television or drops a bowl of word salad on Twitter. You betcha.

But as this blog has so often been about words … so, finally, is this post.

Payne’s trouble with Warren, aided and abetted by Chakrabarti, is that her choice of words makes her sound like a “hectoring school-marm” and he’s uncomfortable with the fact that she chooses to talk tough. Ooooo. Must not sound “coarse” if you’re a woman.

When a male candidate “talks tough”, no one bats a flippin’ eyelash – in fact the candidate is praised for shooting straight, leveling with the American people, tackling the issues head-on. New Jersey’s blowhard governor, Chris Christie, routinely comes off sounding like a cross between Tony Soprano and Jabba the Hutt – and there are people who are actually considering him as a potential 2016 Presidential candidate. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren – who expresses an awful lot of thoughts with the kind of coherence and force that the Occupy movement might wish it could muster – and political and cultural commentators develop a sudden case of the vapors and hope to land on a couch when they faint.

Spare me.

Up to now, it has (forgive me) been mostly pundits and politicians from the rather far-right-wing end of the political spectrum, which seems to be where the Republican Party now resides on most issues, who have been perpetuating these attitudes toward women. But now? Behold! A consultant from the left side of the aisle who has hopped over the fence, effectively saying, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em – at least join ’em in saying things that are somehow politically smart. “You have to go with the flow,” he sagely declared.

Well, they may be considered politically smart, but they ain’t smart. To me, they don’t make this consultant, or any of the rest of the Republican talkers, sound smart – or sound like they’re aware at all of American history. You all do know that the the women’s suffrage movement was successful, yes?

Are we sure this is 2012? The, you know, twenty-first century?

Perhaps I’m reacting this way because I know plenty of women who are smart, wise, brave, strong … sometimes stronger than the men around them (including me) … and many of them are people whom I would characterize as tougher than me by a country mile. My mother, for openers. My sister, to continue that list. I can think of three friends right off the top of my head whose doctorates are earned (mine is just a nickname, I’m afraid). And there are more; and they know who they are (and some of them actually read this space!).

But even if I hadn’t been privileged to call those particular people friends and colleagues for many years … women, ALL women, are human beings. They don’t deserve abuse just because they’re women, and they don’t deserve to – maddeningly – be subjected to the ignorance that is chucked at them like a javelin, seemingly more and more frequently as days pass. Finally, at long last, somehow, can we please find it in us to go check out the Golden Rule again?

September 14, 2012 Posted by | celebrity, Famous Persons, government, media, news, npr, politics, radio, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments