September 19, 2005,
Don’t Fit Me In
Martha and her media.
Want to know some things that have annoyed me lately? You don't really mind if I share, do you? Well, here goes with some media bashing that I just felt I had to get off my chest.
First of all, indulge me while I tell you, I simply can't stand most of the features in new Thursday Style Section of the New York Times. At least the Sunday Style section has "Vows" so that every week you can read one story of a couple who, more or less, met cute.
But the Thursday Style section tries to so darn hard to be so super-duper trendy. Like that story a couple weeks ago about Brazilian bikini waxes, which was, dare I say it, so-o-o cutting edge. But, hey, Gray Lady, I really don't want to read about pubic hair in the nation's Paper of Record. Oh, sure, I know you are somewhat desperate to attract younger, hipper readers for your advertisers. But I don't need a focus group to tell me that come Sunday, very few Full Monty girls like the one quoted in the lead of the feature who wants to "have it all off" are curled up, so to speak, with the News or the Week in Review.
Second rant: How about that cover of Paris Hilton on Vanity Fair? Yes, it is Vanity Fair's current issue, though you might have thought it was Maxim's when you passed your local newsstand. It displays a raccoon-eyed Paris, looking sulky, without anything on top except a glittery diamond necklace. Maybe editor Graydon Carter didn't think anyone would recognize her with her clothes on and without her characteristic sneer.
Remember years back when editor Tina Brown put a naked Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair? She gave some excuse about it being a salute to pregnancy because having babies was once again so in or some such palaver. But, obviously, Carter doesn't have to try to justify putting an almost-naked airhead, famous only for being famous, on his cover. It is so sign-of-the-times-ish, it speaks for itself.
By the way, I wonder if Vanity Fair will hear from any irate parents. I mean the ones who are trying to keep Paris's Internet video away from their pre-teens. I can't believe they are too pleased to find cover-girl Paris with her navel exposed and in soft corn get-ups in a magazine they display on their coffee tables.
But what is making me gag most of all is the Martha Stewart frenzy that is currently washing over us. Last week ex-jailbird Martha's daytime show started. This week her nighttime show is being launched. Who ever could imagine that going to jail could have turned out to be such a revitalizing career move for the Diva of Domesticity, whose image was getting a bit shopworn and dusty a couple of years ago. Yes, Martha's personal troubles happened just when her magazine was facing some tough new competition and Martha's half-hour cooking and crafts TV show was already a little past its sell-by date.
What is her new daytime show which is supposed to show the new and improved, friendly, humble, and cheery Martha like? Well, the first show began with her mocking the home-confinement security anklet she had to wear and, in fact, was made to keep on for three extra weeks for snotty bad behavior. In the opening segment, all the show's staff members were wearing one. She even had one on her dog. On her second show she showed off a gingerbread cookie that looked like her complete with the anklet. She bit it off and said, "Delicious!" Oh, law and order is such a joke.
Martha's daytime program has more of a traditional talk show format than the one she did in the past. Now, besides giving cooking lessons in a spiffy-looking kitchen, she interviews celebrity guests. On the first show she chatted up actress Marcia Cross, who plays an uptight Martha-like "Desperate Housewife." On the second show she interviewed David Spade, who has portrayed Martha in drag on Saturday Night Live.
As an interviewer, Martha is like the person who talks about herself for 20 minutes non-stop and then says, "Enough about me. Let's talk about you. What do you think of me?"
She also tries to teach these inept celebs a few tricks in the kitchen. Like how to make scrambled eggs the right way. (I really didn't know you could make scrambled eggs the wrong way.) Or how to fold a t-shirt with a sleight-of-hand maneuver that some of her jailhouse roommates at Camp Cupcake would certainly envy.
But here's my real beef: Martha Stewart Omnimedia, the New York Times, and Vanity Fair all pretend to be very up-market aspirational media. Instead they are, cynically or not, grabbing their audiences by their unencumbered ankles and pulling them down. According to reports on Martha's nighttime show, a clone of Donald Trump's Apprentice she is supposed to get rid of would-be Martha acolytes who don't make the grade by saying "You don't fit in." Would you really want to?
Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness and Liberalism to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.