Saturday, April 23, 2005

Ann Coulter: Time put an aging "sex bomb" on the cover -- tick, tick

This is the post that originally began thanking Bora of Science and Politics for the links we added (science links). The post began with "I'm tired and it probably really showed in the last entry" and it more than showed in this entry that I saved to draft.

But a number of members e-mailed asking what I was talking about when I said Ann Coulter wasn't a "cover for a general interest magazine." So we'll address that because I do think that it's a part of the story and one that's not been covered.

As for the article itself, Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler and Media Matters are among the people doing strong work dealing with John Cloud's article.

Let's deal with the cover before I get lost in an aside.

There is no justification for putting Ann Coulter on the cover of a general interest magazine.

When questioned on that choice by Brian Montopoli (Candy Perfume Boy), John Cloud attempted to deflect with the fact that Michael Moore made the cover last summer.

That 'logic' has nothing to do with Ann Coulter. If it does, then there's something seriously wrong at Time magazine.

Michael Moore made the cover as his documentary broke records at the box office. And his documentary was already news.

Let's set the stage because Ann Coulter is not a cover just because Michael Moore was one.

The controversy around the film started when Disney took the stance that they didn't do political (though they have no problem being political with ABC Radio) and refused to allow Miramax to release the film. This was part of the long break down with the Weinstein brothers and Disney. So it was news right then. Add in that it was an election year and this was a political documentary.

Then you had Fahrenheit 9/11, a movie, winning the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. That in and of itself does not make Moore a cover. Many films win the Palme d'Or (this was the first documentary to win "in nearly fifty years"). So we've got a movie that a huge corporation (Disney ABC Time Warner AOL et al) refused to release. In refusing, they further trashed their relationship with the Weinsteins -- a relationship Disney sorely needed to maintain because films like Captain Ron weren't helping fight their image as a sausage factory grinding out low level trash. After Disney refuses to release Moore's movie, the film wins one of the most prestigious international awards. It's now news.

When the film is due out, there is talk of boycotts. It's a little documentary film, it's not expected to make a huge fortune. What happens is, it's breaks every box office record for a documentary in this country. It even goes over the hundred million dollar mark and enters the blockbuster terrain -- unheard of for a documentary.

An immensely popular film with a controversial topic and a Hollywood back story of intrigue (Disney & the Weinsteins) is a cover story. That's a cover.

That had nothing to do with Michael Moore's politics, not on on Times' end. What Time was doing was highlighting a dramatic story about a film a major studio passed on distributing that turned out to be a critical success and a blockbuster at the box office -- one that people were talking about.

Reducing the merits for a Moore cover to justify one on Coulter doesn't wash. The woman was, to steal from a TV critic writing on Sandy Duncan, "yesterday's mashed potatoes ten years ago."
And Coulter didn't just pop up on the latest cover (April 25th), in the April 18th issue she was included in the "Top 100." So something strange is going on and it goes beyond the rules or standards for which celeb graces the cover.

Let's deal first with the sexist notions in general interest magazines. If a woman's over a certain age (Coulter is), she's not a cover unless . . . She's riding an amazing comeback (Tina Tuner), she's had a health scare (choose your celeb), she's revealing something about her personal life that no one ever spoke of publicly (though usually all "news" is already well known -- think Ellen, she was out and out for years before Time did the "Yep, I'm Gay" cover) or she's dead.

It's sexist. I disagree with it, but that's how it works. That's how a woman (singular) gets a cover of a general interest magazine. The only exceptions to that rule is if the woman's a first lady, serving in the adminstration (doesn't hurt to be a "first"), etc. (There is the scandal exception, but I don't think Ann Coulter's been busted for anything other than distorting the facts and bad taste.)

So we've got a woman of a certain age on the cover. Right away that raises questions in many people's minds because we're not used to that.

But we're not done. There are other biases in cover selection. People, Rolling Stone, et al, have long learned that there is a hierarcy for covers: it basically goes that big TV stars sell better than movie stars who sell better than musicians who sell better than authors at the top of their game in terms of sales. Got it?

(A true movie star, a Julia Roberts, for instance, a few years back, could trump a TV star but there are very few true movie stars.)

Now death or dying tops all. Throw Jim Morrison on the cover and he'll sell better than your average music star today, for instance.

So Time, a general interest magazine, elected to do a celeb cover. And they didn't go with a big TV star. When Newsweek put Pierce Brosnan on the cover during the end of Remington Steele, they did it with a "He's So Vain" cover. That's because Remington Steele hadn't been a hit show. It was a niche show, that sometimes performed very well, but it was not a broad based hit as the show's over all ratings reflected. So Brosnan was used to illustrate a story, a "trend story," on male vanity. Brosnan wasn't "newsworthy" enough on his own, in those pre-James Bond days, to justify a cover on a general interest magazine. This despite the fact that Remington Steele drew more viewers than any of the cable chat & chews Ann Coulter has appeared on.

Time didn't go with a movie star when they put Coulter on the cover. They didn't go with a musician either. But they also didn't go with a book writing star. Authors do not make the covers of general interest magazines very often and, when they do, they are either used to illustrate a larger story (often "trend") or they make the cover because they've broken all sales records.

Coulter was put on the cover representing a profile on Coutler. This wasn't a trend story on the right wing pundits. This was about Coulter. And her sales don't justify that.

Forget that her sales are already questionable because they have the dagger by them on the charts (indicating bulk buys -- which generally mean they're being bought in bulk to push them up the charts), she hasn't written the hot diet book, the hot prophesy book, the hot anything.
Accepting her bulk buys as geunine sales, you're still left with the fact that her sales are repsectable but hardly amazing.

An author with that kind of sales record isn't a cover story.

Coulter's not coming off a health scare, she's not having a tremendous sales impact where everyone's jaw is dropping as she breaks one sales record after another (translation, she hasn't written a Harry Potter book) and she's not in the midst of a scandal.

By industry standards, she has no place gracing the cover.

Covers don't just happen. They're thought out, they're discussed. (Again, we're speaking of the covers of general interest magazines.) Many magazines (including Rolling Stone) test their covers ahead of time. (I don't remember if Norah Jones made the cover of Rolling Stone for her second album but I remember seeing the mock up test cover -- with her in blue jeans. I think Beyonce ended up being chosen out of that round of test covers.)

Your celeb cover is supposed to boost your magazine's sales. Coulter is a celebrity, a very low level celebrity.

They don't make the cover.

With your cover choice, you're trying to garner interest and so there's a whole set of rules when a general interest magazine chooses to go the celeb route.

Putting Ann Coulter on the cover is like putting Charo on the cover on the basis of Love Boat guesting. It makes no sense. She hasn't broken sales record. She's not even done anything interesting of late.

And make no mistake, the covers have become marketing. That's why Time will put a film turned out by Warner Bros. studios on the cover and pronounce it a hit . . . before the film's released. (Time Warner ABC Disney CNN AOL et al. "Synergy" means marketing your own. The way Today treats each episode of The Apprentice as "news.")

When Bob Somerby's speaking of Time's attempt to "mainstream" Coulter, that may be one of the things he's talking about. A celeb cover is mainstream.

When you pick a celeb cover, you are trying to ride their big moment of fame and sell more copies of that issue as a result. Coulter isn't riding a wave right now.

So why is she on the cover?

That's part of the reason that people keep talking about this. People have been marketed too for so long that, when the marketing screws up, they realize a mistake was made.

The issue isn't just that Time did a lengthy profile on Coulter. Her placement on the cover has also helped keep tongues wagging.

Leaving aside the shoddy article, putting Coulter on the cover is a publishing/marketing
mistake and not because she's "controversial" (many celebs are) but because she's not a cover. Your average industry person could tell you that. They'd argue the hottest story right now from the fright-wing would be getting Bill O'Reilly on the record about the sexual harrassment allegations or, better, getting Rush to talk about his drug problem. Ann Coulter treading water
in her well settled career doesn't even make the top ten fright-wing stories in terms of newsworthiness or heat.

What a lot of the criticism over this choice is about is people instinctively knowing what is and what isn't a cover. Magazines have instilled this in readers. Which is why when Julia Ormond was being hyped as a "star" during Sabrina and Legends of the Fall, the public knew better. And they know better with Coulter (who's far from the fresh face Ormond was when the press was hyping her).

America is scratching it's collective head. Some of the responses directed at Cloud (who seems so surprised) are probably the result of that awareness. But the fact remains that he wrote a very shoddy article and when people raise valid points about it, he wants to attack.

This entry was prompted by Larry's e-mail Thursday asking outright, "What qualifies Coulter for a cover?" Nothing qualifies her, at this late date, for a cover. Larry wonders if Coulter's profile resorts from some "spell she seems to have on self-loathing gays?" I have no idea whether John Cloud is self-loathing, he is openly gay. Which appears to be why certain people rushed to draw a firm line between the article he wrote and Cloud himself -- such a firm line that it came close to justifying bad reporting. They made comments like, "He's a nice guy and I'm not going to comment." Why aren't you going to comment? That was left unstated and, unless you were in the know, you didn't grasp that certain individuals appeared to be policing their remarks out of some sexual solidarity.

And that's really too bad because his article is a really bad article -- one I see no reason to pin on his sexuality. (But then, I don't buy the idea that Coulter can weave a spell on anyone, regardless of their sexuality or any tendency towards 'self-hating.' I do believe that people
who want to mainstream/mainline her will work overtime to do so -- for their own selfish reasons.)

It was disappointing, but not surprising, to witness certain individuals taking a pass on him. Even after he attacked David Brock so viciously in the CJR Daily interview. Maybe there's hostility towards Brock for passing (staying closeted to the public) for so long? But some of the loudest voices took a pass on this criticism (I'm thinking specifically on two) and perhaps it would have been more honest for them to have stated, "Look, I'm gay and so is John, so I'm not going to criticize him."

We added Brock's Media Matters to the permalinks last night because I was so offended by the personal nature of the attack Cloud launched on Brock. Larry asked me what I thought of that
attack? I think Cloud, if his statements were genuine, is a very sad person. I think that someone who doesn't believe a person can change or that redemption can be found is very sad. I don't know Brock (or Cloud or Coulter).

As a strong defender of Anita Hill, I spent a long time loathing David Brock. I read Blinded By the Right with hesitation and a desire to find something, some reason, to label him false or an opportunist. I didn't find it.

Brock lied about Anita Hill and launched repeated attacks on her. (False attacks.) He got honest about that a number of years ago. To claim, as Cloud did, that because of Brock's earlier life nothing he says presently can be believed seems a very sad statement about where Cloud's at.

Physically, where he is at is Time magazine (which some considered to be a prestigious magazine). So he needs to realize that he's earned some shame with this article all by himself.

No one forced him to churn out a badly written, badly researched article. And he can't blame that (as he tries to) on Time's fact checkers. Time's fact checkers are supposed to check his writing. However, it was his responsibility to know his subject well enough to write about her.

He didn't.

By Cloud's standards, this is the end of the road for Cloud. If he were to realize he made a huge journalistic error, by his standards, it wouldn't mean anything because he lied throughout the article. I'm not willing to condemn him for all time for one period in his life. The fact that he wants to deflect valid criticism of his embarrassing work by moving towards personal attacks doesn't bode well for his future. But he could change and I hope he will. I also hope that if he changes, people will be more generous to him than he is to others.

By Ann Coulter's standards, to wrap this up, she has no reason to complain about the cover. Most women would have a right to complain about that cover. What it attempts to do is to turn her into a sexual object. Time knew they couldn't sell it on her face. They tried to create a sex angle.

Comments that Bill Clinton was shot in a similar manner are nonsense. We didn't all gaze on Clinton's legs. But having spent her public life railing against feminism while presenting herself as a sex object, it's a little late in the game for her to be shocked to discover you have to walk it like you talk it.

It must be very upsetting to her because she's not getting any younger and by her crowd's standards (her crowd being the group she appeals to), she's a spinster. She's not lived the fright wing life of "tradition" she preaches. By what she hectors and lectures about, she should have gotten married long ago. Strict constructionists, traditionalists, really ought to live what they preach. But here she is, more than long in the tooth, unmarried, no children, and finally on the cover of Time where she's reduced to being passed off as a sex object.

Coulter can avoid many realties but I doubt she avoids the mirror. The school girl hair is a look she won't be able to successfully pull off much longer. Short skirts, ditto.

This isn't a feminist. This isn't a woman who says "I will live my life on my terms!" This is a woman who preaches "traditional ways." She's got Michelle Malkin breathing down her neck (among others) and Malkin's younger and prettier. At this stage in the game, Madonna had already laid the groundwork for her move towards "respectability." Coulter's done nothing of the sort. (No matter how hard Times tries to pimp for her.)

Miguel Estrada may feel Coulter's exactly the same as she was when he met her fifteen years ago, but Coulter's got to know "exactly the same" fifteen years later is a bit like saying, "She looks good for her age." 16 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list (leaving aside the bulk buys) isn't a publishing miracle or even that amazing. The number one book on the nonfiction bestseller list (as printed in last Sunday's Times) was Blink (Malcolm Gladwell) and it's already logged 12 weeks. At number six was Jon Stewart & The Daily Show's America (The Book) which has already logged 28 weeks on the list.

Cloud dubs her a sex kitten. (Yes, it does seem a strange judgement for a gay man to make, but Rosie O'Donnell used to drool over Tom Cruise.) Whether she was born in 1961 (as was listed on a driver's license) or 1963 as she claims, she's over forty now.

And the white stockings she sports on the Time cover don't make her look girlish at forty-three or forty-one. Having pushed limited (and limiting) stereotypes, the fact of the matter is she's far from girlhood, far from sex kitten-hood. Having rejected feminism (and attacked it repeatedly), she's left with the stereotypes she has so fondly engaged in. And by those stereotypes, she's an aging spinister and nothing more. She may wonder each morning, "Have they caught on yet?"

Peggy Noonan took the fast train towards her version of respectabilty, smoothing over edges and cultivating the bizarre speaking voice she now uses. But Noonan was assisted by the fact that, although she was pretty in an earthy manner early on, she never publicly cultivated the image of a sex kitten. The tabby known as Ann has grown old, she's not a kitten anymore. And aging sex bombs hear the tick-tick and see the mini-implosions in the mirror.

Part of Coulter's anger over the cover is that the all mighty Time magazine reduced her to a pair of legs. The profile was pure sugar -- diabetic readers should be forewarned -- but Coulter knows that's what's remembered isn't the profile, it's the cover. And this could have been the moment when the sex bomb was presented in a serious manner via a more serious

Time may have felt like her last shot at being treated as a serious thinker (yes, she appears to fancy herself that). It didn't happen. Now there's really nothing left for her to do but continue her sex kitten/sex bomb act that wasn't really convincing to begin with and, all these years
later, is starting to appear a bit ridiculous to her core which expects women to pursue those traditional goals of marriage and family.

Having attacked and rejected feminism, Coulter's left embracing the stereotype of the unmarried-spinister aunt sporting too much skin for her age. And in her crowd, pity will soon be replaced with thoughts like, "Well maybe if she watched that mouth and acted more lady-like, she'd have a husband by now!"

Having come to fame after the Backlash, Coulter made a choice to endorse the backlash. She limited her own options (publicly) and those of others. She embraced and spread stereotypes.
And seemed determined to prove to the world that a long mane of blond hair and a short skirt could overcome obstacles such as the much noted apparent Adam's apple. She boxed herself in, probably thought that by forty, she'd be living the life she preached for others. Didn't happen.
Now she waits for the jeers of "fraud" (from her own crowd) to start coming in. And she sees herself on the cover of Time posed as a sexual plaything . . .

When sex bombs implode, it's not a pretty sight.

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