Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Health Reform--Out of Harry Reid's Office

A Health Reform bill finally got out of Harry Reid's office today. I still think it will be passed with a public option--probably a public option with an opt out clause.

But it looks like conservative Dems are going to take out every last pound of flesh they can.

Conservatives think that health reform is a kind of Rubicon and that America will be a different kind of society if Congress passes a public option.

Maybe that's the case.

But, really, the Rubicon was crossed when Barack Obama was elected president. The question is whether Obama is going to maintain his position on the new side of the river.

The Sexist Depth of the Sarah Palin Cover

This week's edition of Newsweek arrived a day after the controversy over the magazine's Sarah Palin cover emerged.

Is the cover sexist? You betcha!

And it's worse than Palin or other media critics think.

The main criticism of the Newsweek cover is that it shows Palin in short runner's shorts and reveals a lot of leg. Her top is also zipped down in a mildly suggestive manner. What's sexist about this is that the political magazine is focusing on Palin's sexual attractiveness as a woman rather than her significance as a cultural and political figure. Media Matters for America is also right to call attention to the demeaning girlishness of the Sound of Music reference in the title "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sarah."

But it's worse.

The Palin picture was originally taken for a running magazine, but Newsweek editors must have known that whole thing has a luridly pornographic effect when put into the context of political news. Take Palin's legs for example. There's a sense in which her legs aren't really "showing" because she's pictured as being so tanned that it looks like she's wearing panty hose. The extremely minimal "concealment" effect of the tan actually enhances the erotic effect of showing her legs in a stripper/porn manner.

The same thing is true of the flag and the Blackberries. On the cover of Newsweek, they look more like stripper props than anything else. Palin is involved in a lot of business and likes to portray herself as a flag-waving patriot. But the Newsweek cover makes her look like someone who uses the American flag and business items to enhance her "sexy" mystique.

Ditto her trademark glasses and hair and the whole pornographic effect is enhanced by the bright and crowded redness of the Palin's top, the flag, and the Newsweek banner.

I imagine that Newsweek could defend itself by arguing that the cover was trying to say something about the luridness of Sarah Palin's appeal. But achingly conventional articles by Evan Thomas and the execrable Christopher Hitchens don't justify any defense of the sort.

Newsweek would have done better if they hadn't covered Palin at all.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Carrie Prejean Chronicles

I have to admit. I gave into temptation when I saw an item on "more Carrie Prejean sex tapes" and clicked onto a Joy Behar segment on Prejean.

What a mistake!

All the reasons for not watching television were on full view. Joining Joy Behar in the discussion were the kind of vapidly handsome figures typical of the "entertainment news" media--Spencer Pratt, Heidi Montague, and gossip-monger Perez Hilton. I have some suspicion that the whole setup was designed to make Joy Behar look weighty. Where her guests looked like they'd just been stamped out by a plastic factory, Behar looked like a real person. Likewise, Behar's may not be a news heavyweight, but she looked like a combination of Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow in comparison to her guests.

Not that the discussion was very interesting. The panel talked in vaguely "racy" ways about the possibility of seven Carrie Prejean sex tapes emerging into the public domain, Prejean making a sex tape all by herself, and whether or not Prejean is a "hypocrite" for identifying with the Christian right at the same time she was engaged in topless modeling, making sex tapes, and the like.

But I think that's the wrong way to think of Prejean.

What's interesting about Prejean is her audacious effort to leverage her Miss USA notoriety for rejecting gay marriage into an enduring status as a celebrity of the Christian right.

With the emergence of her sex tapes, it's clear that Prejean's gambit isn't going to work. But that doesn't mean that it's not interesting. Did Prejean view her post-pageant conservative proslytizing as simply pursuing a business opportunity? Or was it something she found appealing for other reasons? When I think about Prejean's manuevers, I wonder about just how desperate women in the netherworld of fairly low-level modeling, acting, and beauty pageants might be to make something out of their life-long commitment. As Prejean's breast implants, topless modeling, and sex-tape(s) indicate, it can all be extremely degrading. Maybe Prejean's eager grasp at Christian conservative celebrity was an attempt to remain in the celebrity world of vapid beauty while being somehow more substantial. As Prejean's case indicates, the celebrity media views opposition to gay marriage as "politically incorrect" or bigoted, but beauty pageants and modeling are still highly conservative cultural institutions that promote traditional images of female beauty and sexuality. And as the Southern fascination for beauty pageants indicates, cultural conservatives are especially drawn to the ideas of "innocent sexiness" that are embodied in beauty pageants.

One additional point. Critical commentary on flawed Christian conservatives like Carrie Prejean is usually totally lacking in any kind of human sympathy. But I'm beginning to think that it's an important point for progressive politics to wish people well, even our most determined opponents. Certainly, I'd like to see Carrie Prejean out something viable.