I’ve been thinking about blogging on the coverage of Anna Nicole Smith’s death, which has rivaled coverage of the US’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. Then Scarlett sent me a link to this Slate article, and I made up my mind.
The article argues that Smith courted media publicity, and therefore the press need not apologize for sensationalizing the mess. I’m sure she did court publicity, but I disagree that this puts the press beyond reproach. Not so much for Smith’s sake (she’s beyond being hurt by it now, anyway), but because this fascination indicates several sick things about American culture.
“Now that the bad girl has been redeemed through death, it’s okay to romanticize her.” Like Newt Gingrich, Smith’s devotion to her spouse was questionable. Like Rush Limbaugh, she was a drug addict. Like Jeb Bush, she wasn’t a sufficiently good parent to raise a drug-free kid. But unlike all of them, she was bad beyond redemption. Boys will be boys, but women are supposed to be better than that.
Fortunately, we have a long cultural history of redeeming bad girls by sticking them in iron maidens or burning them at stakes. Those methods being illegal, a drug overdose will suffice. It redeemed Marilyn Monroe, whose good and bad were largely obscured by the romanticism of her death. The tragedy of the fallen woman. Oh, how superior it makes us feel when we cheat on our spouses or find ways to underpay our employees. Please, tell us more.
The press creates the image that fame is wonderful, then says it’s not their fault Smith sought headlines? Just after Smith’s death, one network showed parts of a recent interview with her that they hadn’t yet edited for airing. In it, she was stoned out of her mind to the point of listing and nearly passing out more than once. It struck me that had she lived, those were exactly the bits of the interview they would have cut, giving the impression she was sober and under control during that interview.
Maybe if the press didn’t work hand-in-hand with agents and PR machines like Smith’s, they would expose fame for the vile soul-crushing torture that it often is, and fewer young people would seek it. Oh, but then what would the agents and PR people do for a living?
It was slutty when she married for money, but it’s different when all these men are trying to claim Smith’s baby who will inherit that money. Apparently, it’s more wrong to marry for money than it is to try to claim ownership of a helpless human being in order to get money. Which is interesting, given that the exact purpose of the patriarchy was to create a system in which marriage was the only legal way for women to be financially cared for. What people are really objecting to is that Smith blatantly made marriage look like what it was designed to be (a financial arrangement) instead of what we like to pretend it always is (true love, except in the case of homosexuals, of course).
And those men who want to own her baby for its money? Hmm, that could make men look bad, not that looking like immoral sludge has ever hurt their image in the patriarchy, but still: let’s focus instead on this as an indication that Smith may have been really sleeping around a lot, the slut.
From the Slate article: “Fat, no-talent, bleach blondes from Texas with breast implants aren’t rare.” No, and neither are moronic* windbag journalists who feel entitled to denigrate an undetermined number of Texan women because they feel such women are beneath them. Forget that this is a rude statement. Let’s get to the heart of the issue:
Mr. Shafer, I’d wager the average fat, no-talent, bleach-blond, breast-enlarged Texan woman has more class and dignity than you would know what to do with.
More from the Slate article, demonstrating my claim that Shafer is a moron*: “Far from being useless pop entertainment, cable’s coverage taught viewers reams about civil procedure, pharmacology, and police work.” This is the great gift he claims the press coverage of Smith’s death brought us. This is an arguing technique known as “dude, you are so reaching”.
Law and Order and CSI have a better claim to public education, but they’re neither deluded nor narcissistic enough to make it. They know they are just a freakin’ TV show.
The last word from Slate: “Giving the audience what it wants shouldn’t automatically be considered a crime.” No, but – and here we come to the issue that made me start this site – when you carefully cultivate in the audience interest in certain stories, then cover those stories, you are not performing a public service. You are creating a demand so you can fulfill it. That’s not journalism – that’s marketing.
And if you weren’t making several hundred times off Smith the money she was making off of you, you wouldn’t have bothered.