A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
I wasn’t the least bit shocked to discover that Nicole Polizzi has lost 42 pounds; actually I hadn’t given it much thought. I was a bit surprised, though, to find that it’s headline news. Granted, she wasn’t “above the fold” as they say (that was reserved for Hugo and Stompin’ Tom) but she was still there, dressed in a bikini bottom smile to generate magazine sales and promote the 2nd season of her television show. I’m not opposed to people using their bodies to make a living; after all, professional athletes do it every day. Nor am I against self promotion, although I am wary of some of the stuff people get up to, to put their names in the public eye. (Witness Dennis Rodman’s recent adventure.) Weight loss, however, is nothing serious; Oprah Winfrey was using it as a marketing ploy (tool?) back when Ms. Polizzi was still in diapers. (That’s a disturbing image, BTW) No, Nicole can put herself out there all she wants. Even her ensuing interview didn’t bother me that much. I’m not sure my life is any fuller knowing that she’s not quite as horny as she used to be, but I suppose, in an abstract way, I’m glad she still makes time for sex when she can. What I did wonder, however, was what would history’s serious women think about the antics of contemporary females like Ms Polizzi who have taken to whoring their privacy for so little gain and such limited fame. What, for example, would Lillian Hellman have to say, or Tina Modotti or the tongue that launched a thousand quips, Dorothy Parker?
For those of you who don’t live on this planet, Nicole Polizzi is Snooki the sex gerbil from Jersey Shore, and Lillian, Tina and Dorothy are some of the great-grandmothers from the 1920s and 30s who cut a path for her to get there.
The last thing the world needs right now is a lesson in feminism. However, I think that we should stop for a moment, take three deep ones and get some perspective. Snooki and her cohorts are smart business people. They know what sells, and they’ve packaged themselves as the product. This is not a sin. Their transgression is not what they do; it’s the way they do it.
Way back in the day, the women who first strolled through the Men Only door in the media arts were considered anomalies, at best. They were there for the female perspective. Men did the heavy intellectual lifting, and the girls softened the edges, normally on a separate page. This all changed in the 1930s. Unwilling to be segregated, women like Dorothy Parker and Lillian Hellman took centre stage, as accepted (if not equal) parts of the New York literary scene. They did their share of crap (both wrote for Hollywood) but they also confronted some serious social and political issues. Hellman’s The Children’s Hour (1934) dealt with lesbianism before most of America knew it even existed. Meanwhile, the outspoken Parker was eventually blacklisted for her sharp and uncompromising political views. At the same time, women like Martha Gellhorn and Margaret Bourke-White were making their bones as legitimate foreign correspondents. Gelllhorn covered the Spanish Civil War for Collier’s and Bourke-White went to the Soviet Union for Fortune Magazine. (She was the first Western journalist allowed in, by the way.) Other photojournalists, like Dorothea Lange were picturing the Great Depression with a feminine eye, and Tina Modotti was putting a female face on the Mexican Revolution.
The one recurring theme throughout this entire period was that women were just as smart as their male counterparts, just as serious — but they were still women. They didn’t just echo men. Amelia Earhart might fly with the boys (and frequently did) but it was the typewriters and cameras of the age that gave the world a uniquely female intellectual voice. People stopped, looked and listened.
Today, a lot of people are going to stop and look at Snooki in her faux leopard bathing costume. They’re going to watch her TV program and listen to what she says. At twenty-five, her claims to fame are being frequently drunk, getting punched in the face and losing 42 pounds after the birth of her first child. As a businesswoman she’s obviously smart and clever enough to turn these minimal assets (?) into a million dollar industry. However, I wonder what the girls* from the 30s would make of what their female voice has become.
Happy International Women’s Day
*Make no mistake: Hellman, Parker, Gellhorn and the rest were just girls at the time. They drank and partied to excess. They smoked Virginia tobacco and Mexican marijuana. They listened to cool jazz and Cab Calloway’s hot jive. They had sex with who they wanted to; when they wanted to. They married, divorced and frequently took lovers. They danced in the streets. They were young and acted like it.