Saturday, June 30, 2007

Telling piece on Mrs. McCain

Yesterday's New York Times profiles Mrs. McCain, taking the same tack that it does on Mrs. Edwards, here's a woman who is strong and intelligent and has opinions, but who has limits, who doesn't overstep her bounds like you-know-who did. Here's an example from the article:

"Even while outspoken on Iraq and South Carolina, Mrs. McCain limits her formal role in the campaign largely to retail politics, and has usually resisted taking policy positions, criticizing other candidates publicly or making comments about the current occupant of the White House.

“I’ve never been involved in day-to-day issues,” said Mrs. McCain, who is active in several charities. “It’s just not me. I don’t feel it’s my job, and I just don’t like it.” Her closest thing to a political contribution to her husband’s campaign Web site is a recipe for guacamole."

A recipe for guacamole--how supremely unthreatening to the egos of men and overstretched women everywhere. (Remember Hillary saying something about how she's not the type of woman to bake cupcakes?)

Another Positive Piece on Mrs. Edwards

Today the New York Times has another positive portrayal of Elizabeth Edwards, in less than two weeks, portraying her as strong, but not threatening or emasulating.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Elizabeth Edwards vs Coulter: 'Mother' Imagery at Play

Did you see the video of Elizabeth Edwards calling into the Chris Matthews show on Tuesday to politely ask the smarmy Ann Coulter to stop her personal attacks on her husband and the other Democratic candidates? It's a pivotal confrontation which brings to a crux different notions of womanhood--of what it means to be a strong woman today, and brings into play references of motherhood that are at issue in this political climate. (See this article with its picture of Pelosi surrounded by children at her swearing-in.)

Coulter first started to deny that she ever made personal attacks on Edwards. Then Mrs. Edwards mentioned her saying three years ago that Edwards had a bumper sticker on the back of his car, "Ask me about my dead son." An audience member yelled, "Why isn't Edwards himself making this phone call," and Ann repeated his thought. The key moment: Elizabeth said, "I'm making this call as a mother. I'm the mother of the boy who died. Those young children behind you are the age of my children."

I think her reference to being a mother is symbolic, and purposeful. It plays to the difference between these two women, the single, vixen-like Ann Coulter, who continually, in this clip, ran her fingers through her flat blonde hair, as if she couldn't stop touching it, and wore big black sunglasses, and the maternal Elizabeth, who is now suffering from breast cancer, who is mother to three children, and whose son died.

Women, mothers, in particular, are a key block of voters that both sides are trying to court, to win to their side (as if we all think alike). Surely Elizabeth made the call because she is trying to "highlight the maternal" side of her husband, to highlight the human side of John Edwards as opposed to the unfeeling, nonmaternal, cold Republicans as represented here by Coulter.

A side note, one can't help but wonder what the annoying girl-tween right behind Coulter, who is so fawning, so eager to laugh with ridicule at Elizabeth Edwards along with Coulter, is thinking.

Monday, June 25, 2007

New Trojan Ad in which men are literally pigs

What do you think of the new Trojan commercial, set in a bar, in which a pig tries to pick up women, and then only turns into an attractive 20-something man after retrieving a condom from the condom machine? CBS and Fox have decided not to air the ad, apparently finding the suggestion that condoms are used to prevent pregnancy, not just disease, offensive, though several other networks did. Revealing the hypocrisy of cable TV, Fox's statement said, ". . .contraceptive advertising must stress health-related uses rather than the prevention of pregnancy."

Some find the ad offensive because it literally makes men out to be pigs, but I think the ad is humorous, and that its humor is aimed at women--wink, wink, we know men are pigs, but a non-piggy thing for a man to do is to use a condom.

According to the New York Times, the Trojan company is trying to broaden its appeal to women buyers:

"Trojan and its competitors are adding the accessories across their entire product lines. The perennial challenge for condoms is the perception that they are unpleasant to use, so having an erotic add-on could increase sales as well as lower the incidence of disease and unintended pregnancies." Too bad Fox and CBS couldn't see the humor, and why is it OK for them to air Viagra and Cialias ads? Is male pleasure something its OK to advertise for on their networks? Is that the message here?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Dowd spins Hillary video negatively....

Of course Maureen Dowd comes up today with a negative spin on Hillary's Soprano's parody.

Though I think Hillary seems very relaxed in the video, and to be enjoying herself, Dowd writes:

". . .as a rather wooden Hillary is about to announce her song choice to a loose and funny Bill, the screen suddenly goes dark." (And, well, how relaxed to we want our politicians to be on camera?)

The implication behind Dowd's words? Sure, Bill is charismatic and appealing but Hillary is no Bill. Dowd is undercutting Hillary's attempt to ride on Bill's charm.

And Dowd finds Hillary's ambition and power-seeking to be a negative thing, which isn't surprising because women are each other's harshest critics. Dowd writes, "And like Tony, Hillary is so power-hungry that she can justify any thuggish means to get the prize."

Biased question hypothetically asked of Hillary by NYTimes

A short piece in today's New York Times on Hillary's Soprano spoof video ends with these words:

"But it raises the question: Does she have to depend on her supporting actor, Mr. Clinton, to be successful?"

True, this video has a cameo role for her husband, Bill, and he recently appeared in another Internet video explaining to people what they might not know about the woman he has known well for 35 years, how she has always worked for children's rights, traveled around the world bearing diplomacy as first lady, etc. etc., just as Hillary had explained to voters what they might not know about Bill when he ran for President (including that he grew up in a house with an outhouse). So, sure, Hillary is using Bill and his personal magnetism to speak out to voters. But the other candidates are also relying on the appeal of their spouses, in their cases, their wives, to speak out publicly to drum up support: particularly Obama and Edwards. Why isn't this question so pointedly asked of them?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Clinton Moving Away from 'Highlighting the Maternal'?

Perhaps Hillary's spoof of the Soprano's finale represents a conscious attempt to move away from what the New York Times called in a January 29 article, her "highlighting of the maternal."

Remember the image of Nancy Pelosi in January at her swearing-in at the speaker's gavel, surrounded by the smiling children and grandchildren? This sparked a conversation about whether her conscious decision to create a maternal image at her swearing-in was a positive or negative one for women. Many women found this maternal tableau empowering, the idea that Pelosi could be both a maternal figure and a powerful, political leader at the same time.

The New York Times in that same article makes the parallel to Hillary's Internet video in which she announces that she will run for President while sitting on a chintz sofa and says that she wants to have "a dialogue about your ideas and mine. Because the conversation in Washington has been just a little one-sided lately, don’t you think?” Apparently, having a conversation, an actual two-way dialogue is a "feminine" thing, as opposed to the one-way speech of Bush.

From the Times piece: "Several analysts said this softer approach also allowed Ms. Pelosi and Mrs. Clinton to offer a clear contrast with the leadership style of President Bush , which Democrats have asserted was a “my way or the highway” approach to governing."

Is the tongue-in-cheek aligning of Hillary with Tony Soprano a suggestion that Hillary can be both maternal and tough? (The satirical video does mention Chelsea, busy parallel-parking outside a la Meadow). Or is it a conscious move away from a maternal image?

Hillary's YouTube Video Spoofs Soprano Finale

Just released today, Hillary's campaign spoofs the Soprano's finale in a funny, creative video which announces the song pick for her campaign.

What no-one has yet mentioned is that Hillary takes Tony's role here. She's one seated at the table first, who selects the song and orders the food (here, the carrot sticks instead of the unhealthy onion rings). This gender-switching is interesting, and telling--Hillary is not afraid to take the powerful male position, as we know. And here her desire to strong, to be a leader, is not threatening, but funny. Indeed, maybe the fact that she is taking over the male role is part of the humor here.

The parody of the Sopranos is smooth and well-done; Hillary and Bill both seem very relaxed and to be enjoying themselves, maybe too much. They are both so relaxed as they deliver these lines, indeed they seem to be as professional as the best of Hollywood actors--no stiff delivery here. But that's what we the American people want in a president--someone telegenic. Neil Postman's warning that everything will become entertainment in the television age has been actualized, only now the medium has become YouTube videos rather than TV.

It's amazing that the candidates (and their fans, ie the Obama Girl video) are publishing their latest "messages" to the public on this new digital stage of YouTube. But really these messages are not a political discussion, just manufactured images. We've come a long way from the fireside chat, maybe too far. Who knows what is real anymore, and what is simulacrum. Though this is definitely well-crafted, witty simulacrum.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Michelle Obama in a January Newsweek Article

I just found this January 29, 2007 Newsweek piece profiling Michelle Obama, another smart, powerful candidate's wife who has been portrayed positively. Though this article ends with these words: "In the past, Michelle has occasionally played tough enforcer with Barack in interviews but, as Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton can attest, voters prefer First Ladies who use a soft touch." So these women are media-savvy and obviously are constructing the image they want to project; they are playing the role of "spouse" or "help-mate" as women who are very invested and interested in their husband's political career (unlike Howard Dean's wife, whose disinterest in his political future seemed to doom the likelihood of his becoming the Democratic candidate) but who are not going to do a "Hillary" and try to get their own vision of national health care enacted if their husband becomes President.

It's interesting that Elizabeth Edwards retired from being an attorney in 1996 to administer the Wade Edwards Foundation, and now acts as a close political adviser to her husband--perhaps this is less threatening to women than Hillary Clinton, who was a working mother throughout Chelsea's childhood years, and whose ambition seems to disturb other women (and men). Judith Warner makes this point about Hillary in her blog in the New York Times this week.

How Edwards' Wife is Depicted Positively in Press

Today's New York Times has a glowing portrait of Edward's wife Elizabeth by Adam Nagourney.

The article includes these words:

"Mrs. Edwards has always been a dominant figure in Mr. Edwards’ political life; the news that she has been diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer has also made her a riveting figure in her own right, and her swing through Iowa produced moments that broke the mold of traditional behavior for political spouses."

Is it the fact that she has been diagnosed with incurable cancer, which the couple announced publicly a few months back, that makes Elizabeth's forthrightness,outspokenness and willingness to speak her opinion, so palatable to the press and the public? Usually if a candidate's wife speaks out too much, she is derided (remember Theresa Heinz?). Does the awareness that she has cancer make people have sympathy for her instead of being threatened by this smart, strong lady? Perhaps it is this fact, combined with her maternal look along the lines of Barbara Bush, not a threatening, vixen appearance.

How is the press portraying her as compared to the outspoken Mrs. Obama?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Overtly Sexual 'Amateur" Obama Ad

Have you seen the new "Obama girl" video featuring a very attractive, buxom young woman singing how she has a "crush on Obama"? And that he can "Barack her tonight"? The New York Times has a piece on it today, and here is a link to the video. The popular video raises a few interesting questions:

First, which audience are the makers of the video trying to attract? African-American males? I doubt it--since they are not as likely as other groups to vote. The makers of the video must be after a female audience, after all, we women are trained to watch images of the female body as if were the object, in that we identify with this beautiful woman who is enraptured with Obama, even though this video makes a sex object out of her, focusing on her cleavage and breasts straining through her varying Obama t-shirts. The idea is, if this woman loves Obama, then so should we--he is an object of lust and attraction for her, so he should be for us, the female viewer of this video.

And we, women, are the voters that candidates are indeed fighting over, especially with the first female candidate running for President. Here's Dick Morris on the subject of women voters (from, Nov. 29, 2006):

"Indeed, so powerful is the female vote that it is credited with swinging two of our last three presidential elections. In 1996, it was the soccer moms who turned away from the abstract “family values” of the Republicans to embrace the more pragmatic and specific child- and education-focused programs of the Clinton administration. In 2004, these same moms, now designated “security moms,” turned away from the bite-sized measures of the Democrats and voted for the tough anti-terrorist policies of George Bush.

Nineteen million single women voted in 2000 and 27 million came out in 2004. If a woman runs for president, it stands to reason that such turnout will rise still further. If single women vote in proportion to their share of the national population, they could account for 32 million votes in 2008. Since women who are either divorced, widowed, or never married voted Democratic by a two-to-one margin in 2004 and 2006, it is likely that this influx of single women will be crucial to Hillary’s candidacy. . . "

That's why Obama supporters made this video.

(Though I wonder if Morris is inflating the influence of women voters, or at least how likely women voters are to support Hillary Clinton, in light of his anti-Hillary stance. Indeed, I remember a study showing how if people think a piece of writing was written by a man they are more likely to think it is worthy then if they think it was written by a woman; I tested this theory in college, giving myself a male pseudonym (in a contest where one of the rules was that we needed to select a pseudonym) and won a prize. In other words, women aren't so supportive of other women.)

Second, is the Obama video making a reference to the infamous Republican commercial inciting instinctual racist fears against Harold Ford, Jr.? In the Republican National Committee commercial against Harold Ford, Jr. in his Senate campaign, in which a ditzy blonde, not terribly sexual looking, not as attractive and sensual as the Obama Girl, says she met Ford at the Playboy party and at the end, says, "Harold, call me." The ad ends with "Harold Ford Jr., He's Just Not Right." The ad was suggestively racist, choosing a white blonde woman to say she met the African-American Ford, Jr at the party, the Republican National Committee was trying to arouse miscegnation fears. The Obama girl says, "Hey B., it's me, I was just watching you on CSpan, call me..." But it's not quite clear what race she is, she is some beautiful mixture, just like Obama--and she really seems to be enjoying herself, she's not a male object, not a ditz, a Gennifer Flowers, she's the perfect "Obama Girl" that even a soccer mom could identify with.

Third, why is there no 'amateur' video floating around on the Internet that's pro-Hillary? An Obama lover made the high-quality futuristic video satirizing the Apple 1984 computer ad portraying Hillary as some demonic dictator and her listeners as drones (it ends with the apple symbol converted into an "O"). Is there an amateur pro-Hillary video out there? If not, why not??

Thursday, June 14, 2007

China at Fault--Lead found in Thomas Train Toys

My sister-in-law just forwarded me a link about a recall of some of the Thomas Train toys. My son, now 4 1/2, was obsessed with Thomas the Train, and we have several of the recalled toys, which have been recalled because of the presence of lead paint. My daughter, 2 1/2, at many times had some pieces in her mouth. At the back of my mind, I always wondered whether the paint was OK, and would try to stop her. (Now my son, and as a result, my daughter, are obsessed with dinosaurs, so maybe this is a good time to pack away all the Thomas toys, because who knows if the lead is really limited to these few trains.) It really is outrageous that we are importing toys from China where the standards of safety cannot be relied upon. Recently, pet food imported from China has been recalled after thousands of pets have died, and then toothpaste made in China has been recalled, oh, just because it's akin to poison if ingested. I wrote an article a few months ago for the Chicago Tribune about the questionable standards of so-called "organic" food imported from China. Let's just say that after my research, I stopped buying food that's labeled "Product of China." But right now there's no law requiring country of origin labeling on all food. I wish I could only buy toys made in the U.S. It's too bad that every darn dinosaur my kids are playing with says "Made in China" on the bottom. I'm sure there's lead in many of them--I have to be vigilant about their not putting in their mouths. But shouldn't the responsibility be on the government to not allow these imports? Or to test them? Or, is this a great opportunity for a private solution, and for a company to create toys made in the U.S., assuring us of no lead and no phthalates?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Unflattering Photos in Hillary Book Jackets

Has anyone noticed the similarity between the two photos of Hillary on the competing book jackets of the new autobiographies? Both feature a stern Hillary in profile, in Bernstein's, A Woman in Charge, she's looking off to the right, a slight bemused smile on her lips, wrinkles showing on her neck, in the more outrightly negative book by Gerth and Natta Jr., Her Way, the Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, the book jacket photo of Hillary is an extreme close-up, every pore and wrinkle showing, she isn't smiling, she looks pale, especially against the black background. You can see that she is wearing lipstick and eye shadow, it's so close-up, but the photo is purposefully unflattering, unfeminine.

Contrast these book jackets to the one of Hillary's own autobiography, Living History, where the camera is a few steps back, she is facing the viewer directly, smiling an open-mouth smile, the light dancing across her face, the background a soft gray. She looks beautiful and welcoming, someone you could easily sit down to lunch with, not foreboding and stiff as in the other two book jackets.

It would be interesting to compare the book jackets of Hillary's biographies to that of other presidential candidates, but, oh my, there are no other biographies of the male candidates, let alone two competing ones. It's the fact that she is a woman, a powerful one, nonetheless, that makes her a prime target for male writers to attempt to write her story, even though she has already told it in her own autobiography.

Couric's Bad Ratings a Sexist Reaction?

CBS exec Moonves attributes Couric's bad ratings to viewers not being ready to accept serious news from a woman.

If you think he's just being defensive, or creating up some crazy explanation for his show's bad ratings, consider this: Dan Rather's choice of words on Monday to explain why Couric's show isn't popular:

The former CBS anchor said in a radio interview:

"I want to make clear that I have nothing against Katie Couric at all. She’s a very nice person and I have a lot of friends at CBS News. However, it was clear at the time and I think it has become even clearer that the mistake was to try to bring the ‘Today’ ethos to the evening news and to dumb it down, tart it up, in hopes of attracting a younger audience.

It's quite shocking that Dan Rather's mind somehow, conscious or subconscious (let's give him some benefit of doubt), chose the word "tart," which means prostitute, to refer to a news show headed by a woman.

His choice of words shows how hard it is for people to view a woman with gravitas. Sure, Couric is feminine and bright and perky, but that's what made her so popular on the Today show. Is there a woman out there that viewers would accept serious news from? A woman that an esteemd former anchor wouldn't suggestively call a prostitute? Christiane Amanpour???