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A cult of personalities: Beauty is no longer skin deep

August 3, 2009

sarah-palin

erin andrews

On MSNBC today, CNBC commentator Donny Deutsch touched on two of the biggest Sarah Palin talking points — why she continues to be a story in the news and… her looks. “The only reason we are so fascinated, the American public has never seen a woman that looks like this in power. That’s where the fascination starts.”

Sarah Palin is a polarizing figure.  There is no doubt about this fact.  She engenders heroic praise from her supporters, who see in her a semblance of themselves.  She is the everyday working mom, raising children, working a demanding job, being the supportive wife all the while staying trying to stay true to herself and her roots.  It’s the tableau of Americana itself.  On the other side of the coin is the vitriolic malice Palin detractors wield for the former governor.  To them, she’s seen as an out of touch, whiny, extremist, who can’t form a cogent thought about pertinent issues.  She’s the beauty queen without substance.  The problem with part of this line of thinking is that it’s rooted in old-fashioned, banal, sexist attitudes.  Just look at the above quote.  Donny Deustch summed it up rather succinctly did he not?  Do her looks override her abilities?  Why is this a fair question?  Some folks that criticize Sarah Palin are not basing it upon her political ideology.  Many in the media are dismissing her simply because she is beautiful.  She is a beautiful airhead, completely devoid of ideas, and an absolute caricature of the dumb outdoors-woman picking off varmints to skin and cook.  I’d wager a guess that Sarah Palin fans don’t see this.  I’m fairly certain that they see a woman fully equipped to lead the country into the 21st century.  Right or wrong, this fact is undisputed.  Maybe Mr. Deustch should pay closer attention.  For the record, nobody on the panel agreed with Donny’s assumption.

Erin Andrews is good at what she does.  She roams the courts and the sidelines of some of America’s greatest sporting events.  In a male-dominated arena occupied by testosterone fueled jocks and sexually repressed middle-aged men, she has carved a niche for herself by being dedicated, and offering real substance in her reporting. Yet the prevailing theme surrounding Ms. Andrews is that she exudes sexuality, and her style of reporting is dependent upon it.  How else would she get the assignments she gets if she weren’t the wet dream for every athlete and pathetic fan-boy?  Here is what she says about the negative attention:

“It’s really sad that … I have people watching every single move I make,” Andrews told a Minnesota newspaper at the time. “These players are not into me like that. If anything, I think these guys look at me like a little sister or one of the guys. I don’t look at myself as a sex object. I’ve never carried myself in that way. I’m a girl that loves sports. I’m a tomboy. That’s the last thing on my mind when I’m in the clubhouse — worrying about players checking me out.

“I thought at some point we were all past this. I’m not going to change. I can’t change.”

Her objectification as a sexual fantasy to millions of men, denigrates the struggles she undoubtedly endured to attain her level of success in this field.  Ms. Andrews didn’t ask to be the feature star of some perverted celluloid nightmare, perpetuated by a disturbed follower/stalker.  She is a victim of our changing sports culture.  Sports are now seen as more entertainment spectacle, and less about competition. A little T and A is now part of the equation.  The other sad part of this mix is that other leading female sports journalists are not necessarily coming to Ms. Andrews’ defense.  Quoting Christine Brennan:

“I wish it didn’t happen to Erin, but I also would suggest to her if she asked (and she hasn’t) that she rely on her talent and brains and not succumb to the lowest common denominator in sports media by playing to the frat house.”

Cristine Brennan is blaming the patient for the disease?  Why didn’t she just tell Ms. Andrews to wear the frumpy moth-balled sweater, and the horned-rim glasses?  That’s what she really wanted to say right?  And what if Erin Andrews did take Ms. Brennan’s advice?  What would the sports media, specifically ESPN, do?  Surely the network has no qualms about Ms. Andrews’ looks and sex appeal.  After all, it’s about the ratings right?

Sarah Palin and Erin Andrews both represent the cult of personality.  Two attractive women that have been glorified or vilified by the public.  Sarah Palin represents the heroic woman who embraces the adoration of her fans, and endures the scornful taunts of her opponents, amidst the backdrop of a blood-thirsty media culture waiting to devour and promote her all at once.  Erin Andrews will continue to perform her job well, exhibiting the professionalism and thoroughness that has defined her as a star on her network.  Her looks should be the back-story, and perhaps one day they will be.  Until that day comes, she will have to answer the questions, and beat back the perverts, and put up with the Rey Maualugas of the world grinding behind her:

It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness. ~Leo Tolstoy

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