Friday, July 02, 2010

Oh, grow up

It might not look that way from the outside (and for that matter, doesn't always look that way from the inside either), but mainstream journalism's turn against open sexism on the newspages was actually a fairly successful bit of social engineering in language.

Not that it lacked its amusing moments. The zealous hunt for adjectives in a story about Hillary Clinton was in general quite blind to the endemic anti-Arab racism marking the stories next door. Some attempts to formalize the effort (the famous "isms" chapter in Working with Words comes to mind) remain landmarks of epic clue fail. And the tabloids, bless 'em, have been blithely immune to the onrushing 20th century, well into the onrushing 21st. But generally, we did OK in establishing the broad principle that news writing shouldn't talk about what people look like unless it's clearly germane to the topic of the story. (If Star Writer thinks it is, that's a conclusive hint that it isn't.)

It is thus a regrettable sign of the ongoing tabloidization of the once-respectable broadsheets that the Freep has found "sexy politician" an appropriate hed for the 1A centerpiece. That's the nicest thing we can say about it. Are you freaking dimwits kidding? Are you writing about the commissioner in her official role, or in her role as a purported accessory to whatever alleged mischief her husband is supposedly accused of, or in her role as poster person for your adolescent offspring's bedroom wall?

"Sexy" (or "hot," which Commissioner Torrice is alleged to be in the jump hed) is a judgment of a particularly annoying kind. It tells your readers where they can get off if they happen not to share your particular aesthetic standards. Imagine the poor reader out there somewhere in Freep-land who's generally annoyed with vacant-looking blonde women but finds Jennifer Granholm to be a complete and utter babe. (Or the prime minister of Australia, and if you didn't know one of our major allies had a new head of government, you can and should draw conclusions about the competence of your neighborhood fishwrap.) Is there some reason those folks -- or (ahem) the roughly 90% of Detroit's population that happens to be (ahem) black -- should feel welcome in your pages?

Occasional moments of self-inflicted hilarity aside, the inclusive language movement actually did some good. It helped make newspapers look a little less stupid on occasion. If the Freep is still trying to convince me of how little I need to have a newspaper in my life anymore, it's found a genuinely effective new trick.


Anonymous raYb said...

The best test of whether to comment on the subject's appearance is to reverse it. Would anyone be more informed if the head were "Did ugly politician...." If it matters, that will tell you.

11:34 PM, July 02, 2010  
Blogger Phillip Blanchard said...

The Free Press story refers to "scantily clad photos of herself."

11:41 PM, July 02, 2010  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Clearly should be "photos of her scantily-clad self"!

10:55 AM, July 04, 2010  

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