Media Culpa: Shirley Sherrod and the Politics of the Public Apology

It seems everyone and their momma is serving up a healthy slice of humble pie to Ms. Shirley Sherrod.¬† The apologies are coming¬†¬†fast, frequently, and¬†from on high‚ÄĒas even The POTUS expressed regret for what had to be¬†a demoralizing experience for Ms. Sherrod.¬†In the wake of the initial¬†firestorm and then¬†subsequent reframing, Sherrod has gone from private citizen, to public figure, to vilified public figure, finally arriving at redeemed public servant‚ÄĒall in less than 48 hours.

What is remarkable about this story‚ÄĒoutside of the real questions it raises about the progress of race relations in our country‚ÄĒis the speed in which it took hold in the common conscience, garnered largely¬†uniform opinion in the press and then in a matter of media moments was¬†squarely redefined.¬†It is also reframed the notion of the public apology, something we certainly associate with political and public officials‚ÄĒbut is so often tied to expressions of regret about personal transgressions, such as infidelity or misuse of campaign funds.

I had not even understood the original narrative in its entirety, before its authenticity was largely being refuted. A conservative activist posts a  video to YouTube of an official with the Department of Agriculture seemingly suggesting blatant racial bias against whites in her handling of farm aid cases.  Within a day the public and the media got a chance to see the speech in context and the narrative is reframed.

We learn the remarks were taken¬†from a speech in which¬†Sherrod¬†shows how she battled feelings of intolerance to arrive at a social justice oriented understanding of how poverty adversely¬†effects¬†quality of life and productivity¬†of all persons, regardless of race. She took this believe to form the guiding mission of her life: helping those regardless of race survive.¬† Accordingly. the once thought bigot becomes an exemplar¬†of racial transcendence for the nation‚ÄĒall within a matter of a few days.

When The President apologizes to a more or less private citizen for the rush to judgment of an entire nation; one cannot deny that these are new and different times.  Viral videos, social networking, the blogosphere, and really the entire world of new media has changed the game for the conventions of traditional journalism to be practiced.  The trust then verify journalistic model has been replaced by the the trust, publish react, and perhaps verify model.

It is important we try to negotiate the wild, wild west of web journalism in ways that incentivize fact checking, verification, and neutrality. It is equally important that we do not hide the motivations of those forming public opinion, but encourage transparency among thought leaders and political taste makers.

So what do we think? Does Ms. Sherrod deserve the full-court press and  public apology tour that the administration is encouraging or should she should simply retire from public life, after this insane incident and in the interim allow her evolved feelings about intolerance and injustice to become a teachable moment for the entire nation?

Mad Mel: Racist Tirades, Spousal Abuse, and the Media’s Double Standards

Its seems that we‚ÄĒas a cultural¬†collective‚ÄĒshould be a¬†bit more angry at Mr. Mel Gibson.¬† The press was uniformly¬†squared against Chris Brown for beating Rihanna.¬† Yet, the same media is largely neutral¬†in reporting the recent news surrounding Gibson.¬† Where is Oprah on this one?¬† Nothing to say about Mel allegedly breaking¬†a women’s teeth out of her head?

For those living under a rock, RadarOnline‚ÄĒa web gossip rag‚ÄĒ has¬†¬†released a series of¬†vile audio tapes, allegedly¬†starring Mel¬†Gibson spewing ¬†heinous, misogynistic, racist, and generally¬†¬†hate-filled¬†vitriol at his ex-girlfriend and child’s mother Oksana¬†Grigorieva¬†.¬†

 If we take the position that this is in fact Mel Gibson, which we do at The Kabosh, after listening to the tapes one can only come to a singular conclusion: the man has simply come unglued.   I supposed we can give Mr. Gibson some credit for being an equal opportunity offender.  In his most recent series of  rants, he manages to insult Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, and women, which I suppose is the big bigot cocktail for Mr. Braveheart.

Gibson has been largely irrelevant in Hollywood since a 2006 DUI arrest in which tape of him  mounting  an antisemitic tirade against an officer  was made public.  Nevertheless, many blogs are already asking , if he can  regain his career after this melodrama plays out.   Other blogs are suggesting that the recent tapes are without context and thus are unwilling to unfairly judge, decry, or condemn Mr. Gibson.   And still  other sites suggests he is mentally ill or an alcoholic or some combination of the two, and therefore needs help to deal with his particular for of mania.  

While the media is dealing with this story well, giving it the coverage and spectacle such a sensational story warrants, there something very measured in their calculus of trying to portray Gibson as a troubled and washed-up star, who perhaps may even deserve our sympathy for his mental debilitations.  We have this gem from, Whoopi Goldberg:

I know Mel, and I know he’s not a racist,” Whoopi on ‘The View’ on Monday, seeming both earnest and cautious to weigh in. “I have had a long friendship with Mel. You can say he’s being a bonehead, but I can’t sit and say that he’s a racist having spent time with him in my house with my kids. I don’t like what he’s done, make no mistake.”

Okay Whoop, what to you constitutes¬†a racist?¬† Suggesting¬†to his¬†girlfriend that she would be raped by a gang of the “n-words”¬† given her selected attire, suggests to me…I don’t know, at least some notion of ¬†bigotry in this man’s make-up.¬† ¬†Similarly, his remarks against Jews and now Hispanics show a similar disdain for minority communities.¬†¬† Just because he may break bread with you Ms. Goldberg does not mean he is not a man with some deep-seeded issues around race and ethnicity.¬†

It’s strange to me that ¬†the media was much less forgiving or open-minded just a year ago when photos of a battered and bruised¬†young pop-princess emerged, the injuries inflicted during an altercation¬†with herthen¬†R&B crooner boyfriend.¬† By no means and I suggesting Chris Brown did not deserve to be¬†taken to tasks for his actions, but I find that he was not given the benefit of the doubt in the same way Mel Gibson is.¬† Folks were not stating anything about context, they wanted Brown’s head on a platter.

The extent to which this different media treatment¬†has to do with race is questionable.¬† I think photos of Rihanna’s¬†swollen face¬†heightened the level of spectacle and resulting public outcry, as compared to the audio tapes serving as evidence in the Gibson case.¬† A visual artifact of the abuse would likely tip the scale less favorably¬† in the media coverage.

Charlie¬†Sheen, Robert Downy, Jr., Roman Polanski have all been smeared by controversy for irresponsible¬†if not dreadful acts over the years, and they emerge unscathed and redeemed¬†under the glitz of the Hollywood lights. ¬†This time around Hollywood, the press and the public should uniformerly¬†condemn what Gibson’s behavior.¬† He has shown a disdain and disrespect¬†for women that can be¬†called nothing less than misogyny.¬† His actions are deplorable and should be regarded as such.

Hell Hath No Fury: My Obsession with Snapped

Have you every been boiling rabbits mad? I mean Vanilla Sky crash scene, Carrie on prom night mad?¬† Me neither, but I’ve always had a penchant for fictional narratives that explore the psyche of the woman scorned.¬† I love movies like Fatal Attraction, the aforementioned Vanilla Sky, Chicago, Carrie, and Misery. The female leads in these films are strong (or at least find their strength), yet completely manic and there is something utterly delicious about watching them derail.¬† Meridith Baxter in Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story comes to mind, and least we forget young Alyssa Milano, as Amy Fisher in Casualties of Love: The Long Island Lolita Story, who gave a memorable she devil performance. Any given Sunday Lifetime broadcasts the stories women with a laundry list of delusions, each protagonist more deranged than the first.¬† However, Lifetime movies are nothing compared to my latest obsession: Snapped.

Snapped is an American true crime television series that airs on the Oxygen Network.¬† Combine everything you love about Real Housewives of New Jersey and The First 48 and you get Snapped‚ÄĒthe guiltiest of guilty pleasure that both chills and intrigues the mind.¬† Each episode documents the story of a woman who eventually commits or attempts a murder‚ÄĒmost often killing her spouse. While while the reasons these women kill are varied‚ÄĒrevealed marital infidelity, big insurance pay-off, response to years of abuse, custody battles, etc.‚ÄĒthe narrative arch of the stories is pretty much the same.¬† Eventually something drives these women to the edge of reason and they commit crimes, so far out of the statistical norm that the narratives behind them become endlessly fascinating. As stated on the shows website:

Each year, approximately 16,000 people are murdered in the United States. 7% of the killers are female.

The show capitalizes on the viewer as voyeur; it takes you into a world seemingly provincial and¬† introduces unconscionable¬† violence from the unlikeliest of killers.¬† It really leaves you with a keen sense of cognitive dissonance. When the prom queen or stay at home mom kills, it takes a socially unacceptable behavior, far outside our norms and affixes it to “the story of us”.¬† Many of the killers on featured on Snapper are squarely within Oxygens demographic, which is the likely the reason the show enjoys some of the networks highest ratings.

Over a decade ago, in her book Different for Girls: How Culture Creates Women, feminist writer Joan Smith analyzed the paradox of women killers in the culture stating: Female killers are simultaneously hate-objects who maintain other women in their customary beatific light and Lady Macbeths who incarnate men’s darkest fears and desires: when a woman is bad, she is far, far worse than a man could ever be. (“The female of the species is more deadly than the male,” as Kipling once claimed.)

Begging the question….

How does one go from this…

To this….?

As a feminist, I wonder about the social and cultural repercussions of shows like Snapped and the equally compelling Women Behind Bars.¬† While the subject matter is consistently treated with as much gravity a show called Snapped can muster, does giving it the docudrama treatment‚ÄĒcomplete with jail house killer interviews‚ÄĒlessen the psychological impact of the actual crime?¬† As we are already desensitized to violence in our society, I wonder does a show like Snapped simply capitalize off the intrinsic spectacle of a relatively rare phenomenon of lady killers?

I am ashamed to admit that during certain episodes of Snapped I sometimes find myself unconsciously cheering for the killer and I feel terrible and yet completely justified, because there is something very “Cell Block Tango” about the whole thing. Sometimes watching the stories of infidelity, abuse, deception and pain and you can’t help but feel, “He had it coming, he had it coming, he had it coming all along”.¬† I guess its similar to feeling we have when we align with team Tony watching the Sopranos, or Stringer Bell watching The Wire. Sometimes Americans cheer for the bad guy, and when the bad guys a girl; it can be an even sexier proposition.¬† The difference is Snapped is not fictitious; it features stories of real loss and pain that should not be trivialized and perhaps should not be commodified.

I tend to scoff at the women scorned caricatures because I ultimately think it is too simplistic to characterize the motivations behind often heinous acts.  Watching Snapped you see women of all walks of life, from debutantes and socialites to ex-strippers and chemists, all pushed to the edge of socially normative behavior.  We may have all flirted with this edge before, but what makes someone, particularly a woman cross this line is intriguing and to put it plainly simply amounts to great television.

While the show may not offer any real substantive answers to why women snap, it does give air to the marginalized voices of women who kill.¬†¬† It provides a window into the very human frailty of both victim and killer.¬† Accordingly, revealing this humanness allows us to put ourselves in the place of both, and wonder what could send us over the edge.¬† Whether this is a good thing is a value judgment. Many of these women share common background of abuse, and deal with significant injustice when facing America’s legal system. Therefore, any light that can be brought to these issues may serve to help someone society deal with these real social ills.

So the question is what can we learn from Snapped? Is it purely voyeuristic entertainment, or does it position media as a paradigm through which to assess a still very mysterious cultural phenomenon of violent women?  What are the real world outcomes of such a show? Is there a feminist critique to be made on the Snapped narrative?

Also, just for kicks, what is your favorite episode of Snapped?


Relunctantly Tweeting @thekabosh

Hello sports fans!!!¬† Okay so I’ve succumb to the social pressures of the web universe and I am going to try (gasps) Tweeting.¬† Tweeting to me is like everything that what was wrong with my high school experience made virtual and I am desperately self-conscience about the whole thing.¬† While I have my witty and insightful moments, I am not convinced my life is interesting enough to be announced like NFL play-by-play. Also, the whole following me has a sort of fish and loaves disciple connotation to me, and while I won’t make you fishers of men; I hope to provide you with some delicious food for thought.

I am told that Tweeting has numerous benefits, as one seeks to expand their social networks, body of knowledge, and real world connections.¬† So okay Twitter Nation here it goes….as I am forced to lay all my dignity on the line and resort to begging…..

I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.

Oh actually that was Julia Roberts in¬† Notting Hill, however….

If you like what you read on The Kabosh and you find it insightful, informative, and interesting; I mean hell even if you think what most of what I spew is inane dribble ….pretty puullleaaaase follow me on Twitter.¬† I am tweeting @thekabosh.¬† I hope to get some dialogues going with our readership to gather content ideas, hear different perspectives on blog topics, and form connections in cultural and literary universe.¬† Thanks for all the kind words, support, and insightful comments. I look forward to meeting you all soon.

The Kabosh is a place where we address the politics of culture and the culture of politics. Exploring the spectacle of celebrity in both arenas, it seeks to confront and critique dominant narratives and explore intersections of politics, race, gender, identity formation, and consumerism.

Come Here Baby: You Sexy Motherf%#$@

Maybe it’s because growing my hair out makes me look like Frederick Douglass or because I have been feeling just a bit unpretty lately (need to get my eyebrows waxed), but I was all fired up today when I stumbled ¬†upon a post entitled “Let’s Wait a While” on Sister Toldja’s blog The Beautiful Struggler.

The ¬†talented and‚ÄĒplease note‚ÄĒextremely attractive blogger was addressing her dismay at being referred to as “sexy” by a man she just met. In the post, her basic premise was that the term‚ÄĒas an immediate moniker‚ÄĒwas too forward and a bit too tawdry for her taste. ¬†She suggests the brothas need to slow the sexual innuendo down until a real connection is made. ¬†To affirm her opinion, she asked her Twitter followers, “if they were cool with being called ¬†sexy by a man shortly after meeting him.” ¬† Many responded that they were in fact not comfortable with the term sexy after an initial meeting.

Guess I am an outlier here, but I love being called sexy. ¬†And the closer I get to thirty, I notice this becomes a less frequent occurrence. ¬†So now when it happens‚ÄĒcall me a trash-box hooker a la Ne Ne Leakes to Kim Zoliak‚ÄĒbut I am flattered. ¬†Many men in the professional circles in DC are either so politically correct,¬† taken, disinterested, or otherwise neutered that good old fashion cat calling has gone the way of the 8-track. Quite frankly, you have to go to the hood to hear the long forgotten “heeeey seeexxxy” or the somewhat refined alternative “aaaay shawwwwty”. ¬†I guess it’s just the DC in me, but I am not offended, insulted, or otherwise put off by the term sexy.

I’m the cutish funny girl in my group, so the late bloomer in me cannot tap the resolute feminist part of myself when it comes to this question.  Many of my far more gorgeous sister friends were really put off by the idea of a virtual stranger calling them sexy.  They suggested that it was too forward or made the guy seem like he was after one thing.  One friend suggested that a guy who called her sexy of the top could not get any play at all.  Yikes,  brothers I feel sorry for you because these girls are playing hardball, so chose your words carefully.

However, a few equally divalicious gal pals suggested they had absolutely no problem with the term ‚Äúsexy‚ÄĚ. ¬†They considered it a compliment. ¬†To them I say here, here.

The¬† informal poll among my friends based on Sister Toldja‚Äôs ¬†question on the acceptability of “sexy” was about an even split between the ayes and nays. Yet, my suspicion is that the real answers for both groups lies somewhere not in the black in white but in that ever-present gray area.

Now…..if this guy calls you sexy after the initial meet; your probably going to be a little put off:

But somehow I suspect your tune changes, if this guys text you ‚Äúhey sexy‚ÄĚ:

Sister Toldja argues ‚Äúsexy‚ÄĚ is inappropriate on the jump because as a potential suitor ¬†‚Äúsex is a space you should be invited into‚ÄĚ.¬† On its face, I agree with that point. ¬†Many of us have long grown weary of having are hands or worst yet behinds grabbed in the alcohol drenched atmosphere of a bar or club.

Nevertheless, part of me feels with the ‚Äúsexy‚ÄĚ bruhaha that we are being just a tad bit overly analytical ladies. I highly doubt most guys who refer to you as sexy are looking to bed you in side of a minute–albeit the exception for the nasty uncle types. ¬†I mean most of the guys are insecure and probably think they are being flattering, when the acknowledge your desirability. ¬†That is of course not to say that men are not carnal, sexually driven, visual creatures by nature; yet I‚Äôm not convinced at least for me slowing down is the answer.

Over here, as thirty is getting the reach on me and I get a little more sore and a little less sexy each day; I will take all the sexy I can get. ¬†Bring sexy back, as far as I am concerned fellas. ¬†We rock are ‚Äúvery sexy‚ÄĚ Victoria Secret under armor, stilettos, and any number of sexy enhancing accouterments to bring the guys to the yard. ¬†Yet, when they get there we have a lot of rules and hang-ups about what they say. In its everyday use, ¬†I‚Äôm not convinced sexy is not necessarily¬† synonymous with wanting to lay it down. ¬†In contrast, I would argue that the term has become increasingly innocuous over time.

So what do we think ladies? ¬†Is ‚Äúsexy‚ÄĚ off limits or does it matter who is saying it? ¬†If your boothang calls you sexy is that cool? ¬†What about the guy at the bar or bus stop? ¬†Please take the poll below.

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