By Marilyn Ferdinand
I’m going to quote a bit from some press reports of a couple of incidents. Please bear with me:
From an Associated Press report picked up by the January 21 Comcast News on-line:
E! Reporter Rubs Some Celebs Wrong Way
By Solvej Schou
Was it playfully outrageous or just plain offensive? Live from the red carpet at the 63rd annual Golden Globes, E! correspondent Isaac Mizrahi groped Scarlett Johansson’s breast, looked down Teri Hatcher’s dress, asked Eva Longoria about her pubic hair, and otherwise caught celebrities off-guard. The openly gay fashion designer didn’t mean to offend anyone, E! Networks President and CEO Ted Harbert told The Associated Press on Friday. In fact, Mizrahi was just what the network ordered. He’s already been assigned to carpet duty at the Academy Awards on March 5.
And this from Alice O’Keeffe of the U.K.’s The Guardian Unlimited:
There are certain things you can only get away with if you are a very camp, gay fashion designer. It’s probably safe to say that having a quick feel of Scarlett Johansson’s breasts is one of them. So all credit to Isaac Mizrahi, making his debut appearance as a red carpet interviewer for the American cable channel E! at the Golden Globes last week, for not passing up the opportunity.
OK, now let’s consider this high-profile bit of liberty-taking:
USA Today captioned this photo: “With an impromptu smooch, a sex symbol was born at the 75th Academy Awards.” I think we can assume that the newly born sex symbol was NOT Halle Berry.
As a journalist, I am offended that a failed fashion designer would even be considered a reporter, but then Mizrahi likely was hired precisely for that reason. A real reporter would not have behaved in this manner and thus would have jeopardized E!’s ability to generate buzz and the money it makes.
When the AP asks if Mizrahi’s actions were playfully outrageous or just plain offensive, I ask if those are my only choices. I see sexual harassment at best, simple assault or sexual molestation at worst. Don’t let Ms. Johansson’s smile fool you. Laughter often is a cover for nervousness. She was caught off-guard, in a highly public place, with a public image to maintain. Women, but especially celebrity women, are under a lot of pressure to be good sports about such things or risk facing retribution. If it were up to me, I would have made E! pay with fines and possibly jail time for encouraging a criminal act. Just because some people think that a gay man can take liberties with a woman’s body because there is no possibility of sex involved doesn’t make it so.
Which brings us to the famous lip lock, which no one can brush off as a gay man’s prank on a straight woman. While I admired Mr. Brody’s performance in The Pianist and applauded his richly deserved Oscar, I consider his blindsiding of Ms. Berry sleazy and arrogant, and certainly a publicity stunt. But he was given a pass by almost everyone. Why? Well, he did just win an Oscar and used the normally odious acceptance speech to pay a moving tribute to our fighting men in Iraq. It seemed only fair to give him the benefit of the doubt and call his transgression enthusiasm. Besides, Ms. Berry’s husband, who was in the audience, was a real hound dog and so Brody did her a favor by humiliating him. What does it matter that he might have humiliated Ms. Berry, too?
I will be the first to admit that opinions on these incidents are all over the map, and I don’t have the final word on truth and justice. I simply call them as I see them. I think the media thrives on controversy and titillation and seizes the opportunity to exploit both whenever possible. Celebrity events are made for such exploitation because the public has a love/hate relationship with stars, mixing idolatry with extreme envy. Wary of the conservative right and its sexual prudishness, media executives may be getting a bit more savvy in how they slip their sleaze against women to us, using a gay man to do it and female writers to talk about it. The fact remains that these incidents show just how far women haven’t come, how persistent the thumb of patriarchy is.
I realize there are much more serious issues facing women in the world today, from female infanticide in China to the loss of almost all their civil rights in Iran. In my mind, it is the small, persistent indignities that wear away at a person’s ability to fight, and celebrity media is particularly harmful to its largest fan base, adolescent girls and young women. Most young women don’t realize they are giving up their power through these media assaults and the creation of Barbie doll idols such as Britney Spears until it’s gone. With a greatly weakened women’s movement in the United States, I fear for my younger sisters. I know it’s still hard for me to stand up to some of the intimidation, and I’ve been around. I hope that sensible people everywhere will condemn this degradation of women. She’s not your daughter, but Ms. Johansson is somebody’s daughter.
E! Entertainment Television is 79.2% owned by a joint venture between subsidiaries of Comcast Corporation and the Walt Disney Company, with Comcast controlling 50.1% and Disney controlling 49.9% of that joint venture. The remaining 20.8% of the company is owned by subsidiaries of Comcast Corporation. To lodge your protest, write to Brian L. Roberts, Chairman & CEO, Comcast Corporation, 1500 Market Street, Philadephia, PA 19102; Robert A. Iger, President and CEO, The Walt Disney Company, 500 S. Buena Vista St., Burbank, CA 91521.