walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Bad Journalism

Some time in the mid 1990s, a friend of mine, B., was talking a lot about New Media and how the newspaper model was flawed. He transitioned from a business journal to a paper which has recently become infamous for becoming online-only. So when I hear people now talking about how the newspaper model is flawed and blah blah bleeping blah, I do a little internal check: _how_ old am I? _how_ many years have I been hearing about this?


While R. reads a lot of online newspapers, I surf a few, primarily for blogs but occasionally picking up on most-popular articles on side bars. To the extent I have a favorite news portal (other than 538 and CR and DT), it would be Google News. I also check in on the NYT periodically, mostly to snark on them. I also watch the Rachel Maddow show, because like a lot of other people, I find her particular news delivery style and general appearance to be lustworthy (and this causes me no problems at all for my sexual identity and orientation, thank you very much, altho of course since we're both in committed relationships with other people, never gonna happen). As a side comment, I was extremely disappointed that very little of the coverage of the online-only change for the PI mentioned the JOA. I for one don't know how you can _mention_ the PI without mentioning the JOA, but hey. I'm an amateur, right? (Cue extreme anger at Ms. Maddow for characterizing bloggers as being amateur, afterschool special folk who couldn't _possibly_ break a really big story. Grrrr. _I_ am not much of a journalist. But there are plenty of bloggers out there who are.)

In any event, I checked in on Judith Warner's column over at NYT, because she is occasionally really great, often really lame and once in a while provides an unholy good target for snarking. And today is the day! Read and learn how _not_ to mix journalism and commentary or wtf is going on in the Warner column and the Newsweek article it references.



While it is clear from the internal evidence cited in the articles (ignore the reference to Anderegg; I know he's useless because I've already read his book), both in the form of the stories and the locations cited, that local economic conditions shaped by large scale economic trends are crucial to the bizarre and creepy demands being placed upon children in this country, neither Warner nor the author at Newsweek shows any awareness whatsoever of this. Which is weird: they talk about working class families falling apart post-Nafta, even, and don't get that maybe this would contribute to the class stasis and exaggeration and distortion of gender roles through appearance. I mean, it's not like anyone has ever pointed _that_ out before, right?

But let's just say, hey, it's an article about makeup, cosmetic procedures and television shows. Who needs to do hard core analysis on that (hey! I subscribe to Bitch magazine! _I_ need my analysis!)? Let's just get right down to the language Newsweek includes:

"Sounds extreme? Maybe. But this, my friends, is the new normal"

Okay, if it sounds extreme, it probably is not the new normal. If it were that normal, it wouldn't sound extreme. And we know this is not a ridiculous form of analysis because we know how all that coverage of rainbow parties turned out.

"fourth graders are in the market for lush $50 haircuts; by the time they hit high school, $150 highlights are standard."

Not in this economy they aren't. You could say I have been living in a backwater in NH, but I have friends scattered around the country at a variety of income levels. This is not normal. This is not standard.

"Five-year-olds have spa days and pedicure parties." The mall chain based on that premise has already gone out of business.

"Four years ago, a survey by the NPD Group showed that, on average, women began using beauty products at 17. Today, the average is 13"

You can _try_ to be shocked. But I was using beauty products when I was 12 and I'd been hounding my mother for permission for a couple years at that point. I don't believe any of the numbers being tossed around. The amount of and age at first use of beauty products varies according to local mores. National trends just aren't particularly informative.

On page 2, our 27 year old lead author lists her products and regimen, and all without any irony at all. There appears to be zero awareness that in this Brave New World of crazy-ass beauty crap, there are simultaneously huge numbers of (straight) men using product -- and growing numbers of women _no longer_ using product. I have my years of using and not. I wore a full face of makeup to high school basically every single day. I changed clothes a couple times a day. I wore dresses and owned both full length and half slips, I had a wardrobe of stockings, and blah blah bleeping blah (this is what comes of being JW). It was _not_ a straight line trend to botox, face lifts, a Mom Job or wtf. Quite the contrary: I went from being a fairly brutal (hey! I'd been programmed! And I'm very sorry and will never do it again) tweener who enforced a ridiculous set of grooming rules to a twenty-something who shaved if she felt like it (which wasn't often) in part because I realized that not shaving slowed down the really unpleasant and evil guys but didn't have much impact on the decent ones. I still kept makeup in the house, but after spending part of my thirties having my hair colored in a variety of entertaining ways, I gave that up to have kids and can't really be bothered to do much more than use a very simple soap (really, simple soap. By Molly's.) and comparable hair product. At this point, my husband's routine is more complex than mine. He shaves his head fairly regularly, for example.

I mention this all because of this statement:

"There's no evidence to prove that women who start primping early will primp more as they get older, but it's a safe assumption that they won't slow down."

So. Not really a safe assumption at all. I know it's hard for a 27 year old who has an hour long daily maintenance routine to imagine, but if and when she has a full life (whether that be a more fully developed career, home life, hobbies, public service or other), I'm betting she cuts that hour down by a lot. A _lot_.

Of course, there's always a chance she won't ever have a full life. Maybe it will always make sense for her to spend an hour (and more) a day maintaining and tweaking her appearance. But the safe assumption is in fact the opposite: most people have the most time and disposable income they will ever have when they are employed, but unencumbered by dependents. That is to say, before they have children, or after their children are grown. Appearance is something that is entirely dependent on disposable income. Only a very tiny fraction of the population will choose to spend $130 on skin cream over, say, paying the rent. Or buying their kids shoes. Or whatever.

You could argue, well, there are more and more people not ever having children. And that's a good point. Those people could wind up setting a very high and rising standard of appearance.

For each other.

ETA: Okay, it messes with the flow, but I just have to tell this story anyway. A number of years ago, my friend K. (who at that time had small children, but I did not yet) decided to go do a makeover at a day spa and she wanted company. I like K. I was happy to oblige and, IIRC, had my face "done" as well. K. and I went to high school together; she is a goddess walking on the earth, beautiful in every way. Also, basically in denial about the beauty. *sigh* In any event, she had decided in her late teens to not start with the whole product thing because she saw how much money her friends spent on it and decided she had better uses for that money. And if you _saw_ K.'s house, and knew how much she makes at her two jobs, you'd know that K. knows value for money. But this one day, she decided to take a walk on the other side and thank goddess the woman did not make her look like a clown. Quite the contrary. It did not, however, lead to daily cosmetic use. And the whole experience reinforced my erratic and decreasing involvement with the beauty industry.

Some years after that experient, my friend T. and I spent a bunch of time hanging out and talking about femininity, makeup, submissiveness and assorted stuff. T. was dealing with a steep learning curve on these issues, but T. is among the smartest people I have ever encountered so she was coming up to speed quickly. She bought books about doing makeup. She bought books about how to avoid the really toxic crap at the department store counter. She fiddled around with a variety of techniques. And she concluded that if your goal was to register as FEMININE, there was really nothing quite like a perfectly outlined eye. And she had a steady hand with liquid liner. Also, she believed in shiny -- not skin, clothes. She also had a whole explanation of how the shape of men's heads and women's heads differ, but why go there? That's a level of surgical intervention that's difficult to contemplate, even now. T. saw me as a really interesting lab rat: a woman who violates a whole lot of the rules of what it means to be FEMININE and who nevertheless is absolutely never, ever, ever mistaken for a man. I kept telling her she was wrong; I used to be regularly confused by friends and a then-husband with a young man of our collective acquaintance (who, I would further add, no one would normally mistake for a woman). This, however, was dismissed as a fluke.

In any event, both stories are further indications that people can choose to experiment quite extensively with the beauty industry on a strictly temporary basis.
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