“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.”—Anaïs Nin (via onceuponapoet) (via so-treu) (via anemptyspace)
The patron saint of this movement, evidently, is Queen Esther of the Hebrew Bible, who exercised great power by using her beauty and charm to persuade her husband to do the right the thing (save the Jewish population, of which she secretly was one). As David Gibson wrote at Politics Daily last year, questionable Esther analogies are a big thing in the evangelical Christian community — everyone from Palin to Katherine Harris to Carrie Prejean has been compared to her — and her name now seems to stand for what Griffith calls, “an image that blends this kind of submissive, pretty, aw-shucks demeanor with a fiery power, a spiritual warfare.”
As Gibson notes, Esther is an ideal role model for people who feel like a persecuted religious minority, and who, in the words of Anne Lapidus Lerner, director of the Program in Jewish Women’s Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, “are interested in seeing women as subservient but not totally powerless, and to see their beauty as something that carries them to whatever modicum of power they achieve.”
“Traditional” feminists, on the other hand — those of us who feel like “not totally powerless” is a bit of a lackluster goal for women — are probably more likely to identify with Esther’s predecessor, Vashti, who was deposed (and maybe banished or killed) because she refused her husband’s demand that she show off her fine body for all the guests at a feast. (Esther won a beauty contest to replace the stubborn bitch.) Lerner points out that “Vashti is the only woman in the Bible who when issued a direct order by a male didn’t take it.” If you’re wondering why feminists and conservative religious folks haven’t been BFF over the years, you might start right there.
1. Shock and Horror. As they say in the news biz, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Murders, especially multiples, acts of unusual violence, brutality, or sadism, shark attacks, and the carnage left by explosions are sure fire grabbers for the attention of a nation of gawkers.
2. Tragedy. Preferably enhanced by the horror factor, as in a suicide bombing, the Tragedy category includes natural disasters, airplane crashes, and hotel fires. The more lives that are wrecked, the better the material for the mike-in-the-face victim vignettes and the human interest stories about how the brave victims are “trying to put the pieces of their lives back together.”
3. Hot Sex. This is a plentiful product line, virtually addictive for news producers. It ranges from the intimate lives of celebrities to “socially responsible” stories about teen-agers having oral sex. It also includes derivative pornography, such as stories about the exotic dancers at the local club who are fighting to unionize. The story wouldn’t be complete without the drop-in shots of pole dancers and interviews with busty entertainers.
4. Scandal. Best teamed up with the Hot Sex story, for double effect, the misdeeds of government officials or corporate bigwigs allow us all to cluck our tongues and enjoy seeing the sinners embarrassed and properly chastised.
5. The Fall of the Mighty. Watching powerful people get knocked off their high horses has a special appeal, and could almost qualify as a national pastime. Combine a Fall of the Mighty story with good Scandal, add a great Hot Sex story, and you have a grand slam. A head of state gets thrown out for having sex with the wrong person and trying to cover it up: it don’t get no better’n ‘at.
6. Conflict. Just as people will always stop and gawk at a fist-fight, whether in the schoolyard or in Taiwan’s Parliament chamber, conflict and the imminence of physical violence will always arrest attention. War is probably the most reliable news product of all; it always has been. In a polite society, violence is replaced by conflict between political parties, or among advocacy groups pursuing various social agendas. News producers will nearly always introduce an element of conflict into a story if they can figure out how. It’s kind of a basic ingredient, like sugar or salt.
7. Worry. Journalists seem to suffer from a constitutional aversion to being perceived as naive or overly optimistic. As a result, they seem compelled to find the dark side of just about any issue; the cynical motive, the reasons why it’s too good to be true, and the looming possibility that something could go seriously wrong. Some economists have contended that more recessions are caused by journalists warning about recessions than by the business cycle. It is their sworn duty to help us worry about things like the possibility that the earth might collide with an asteroid within the next 1,000 years.
8. Voyeurism. The bizarre, the perverted, the weird, the sick and twisted, and the deviant, all make good entertainment for gawkers. The suicide jumper, the hostage standoff, the execution, and the demented old lady living with the 300 cats, all provide an element of curiosity or excitement which many people apparently need in their lives. In some cases, as with TV shows in the “bubba” genre, many people seem to enjoy peering at other people whose lives are clearly more screwed up than their own.
9. Dilemmas. News producers love stories about conflicts that can’t be solved. The abortion issue, cloning, capital punishment, euthanasia, and the right to die, all arouse strong feelings and polarize opinion. The conflict ingredient comes naturally, and “balanced coverage” is easy to claim. The frequent use of two-sided moral Dilemma stories helps perpetuate the myth of “objective journalism.”
10. Gee-Whiz Stories. And finally, we need a change-of-pace product, so we won’t get the idea they’re constantly pandering to our darker natures. This can take many forms, but usually has to be a novelty segment, a curiosity piece, or a heart-warmer. The local spelling bee, the dog that rescues the baby, astronauts in space, the Olympic athlete’s mom crying tears of joy, and the President’s hemorrhoids all help to round out the product offering and let us know that news people are actually regular folks like the rest of us.