WEDNESDAY, MARCH 3, 2021
Jessica Goldstein gets it (half) right: We'll guess that Jessica Goldstein's report is headed for the magazine in this coming Sunday's Washington Post.
Repeat—that's just a guess. At any rate, Goldstein's essay appeared online yesterday morning. As best we can tell, Goldstein does an excellent job telling one half of a story.
Goldstein's essay tells the sleazy story of sleazy media misogyny around the turn of the century. Rather, it tells the story of sleazy media misogyny as directed at young entertainment stars like Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson.
We weren't reading the sleazy magazines, Rolling Stone not excluded, on which Goldstein focuses. But here's a taste of the media culture she's talking about:
GOLDSTEIN (3/2/21): What exactly was going on in the early 2000s? From one vantage point, it was an encouraging period for young women, a real you-go-girl time in entertainment. All-female acts like TLC and Destiny’s Child climbed the charts with anthems about kicking scrubs and cheating exes to the curb. Smart, plucky heroines led box office hits like “Erin Brockovich,” “Bend it Like Beckham” and “Legally Blonde,” while “Buffy,” “Dark Angel” and “Alias” duked it out on TV. It seemed like a pretty good time to be a girl, considering the alternative (all of human history up to that point).
But it was also the era of “Girls Gone Wild” and MTV Spring Break live-streaming wet T-shirt contests from Daytona Beach. Terms like “slut-shaming” and “victim-blaming” had yet to enter the lexicon and “revenge porn” was neither a concept nor a criminal offense, though sex tapes released without the consent of their participants (like Paris Hilton’s) were treated as major news and entertainment events.
“There was a lot of talk about the word ‘raunch,’ ” said Vanessa Grigoriadis, who, as a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, spent the 2000s profiling celebrities, including Simpson and Spears. “What is raunch culture and why is it taking over America? Why are people interested in Jenny McCarthy and Jessica Simpson and Jenna Jameson and Anna Nicole Smith? . . . I think everybody thought this was a real moment in American pop culture history where we had reached the bottom.”
"What exactly was going on in the early 2000s?" Goldstein focuses on the raunch culture of magazines which adopted an exploitative stance toward young female celebrities.
What kind of exploitive stance is being discussed? Exploitive raunch like this:
GOLDSTEIN: Dan Peres, who became editor in chief of Details in 2000, noted this shift in his 2019 memoir: “Edginess and cool had given way to T&A and bosomy midriff-baring cover models,” he wrote. “Fighting to compete, most traditional men’s magazines, including Details, followed suit, and their covers became virtually indistinguishable from the Playboys I used to try to peek at as a kid.”
Even the more literary-minded men’s magazines got in on it. In 2003, Britney was pantsless on Esquire; three years later, Aguilera was topless on GQ. The articles pretty much matched the pictures. “The male writer would go and basically flirt with a female celebrity to see if the female celebrity would take the bait,” said Grigoriadis, her eye roll nearly audible through the phone. “That was a trope that was used constantly.”
Goldstein discusses the extent to which these young female stars can be said to have played a willing role in this culture. But there's one thing Goldstein doesn't discuss:
She doesn't discuss what was happening in the early 2000s (and in the 1990s) with respect to our sleazy and deeply stupid high-end political culture.
As far as we know, Goldstein has done an excellent job with this aspect of entertainment culture. If she has the stomach for it, we'd like to see her roll up her sleeves, extend her range, and tackle the political side of the coin:
The misogyny aimed at Hillary Clinton from the 1990s on. The misogyny aimed at Naomi Wolf during Campaign 2000.
The ridiculous conduct of Chris Matthews, followed by the ridiculous conduct of Keith Olbermann, all of it aided by the ridiculous conduct of their various manchild sidekicks and by the silence of a wide range of enablers. All of this was permitted by the lazy indifference of the liberal and feminist worlds, who let this garbage-can culture continue until Donald J. Trump reached the White House.
Our resistance began the very next day! Literally, that's when we "rose from our warm beds" and began to pretend to resist.
In June 2008, Clark Hoyt devoted a column to the misogyny Maureen Dowd had aimed at Candidate Hillary Clinton during the previous year of campaigning. At the time, Hoyt was the New York Times' public editor.
On the upper ends of the mainstream and liberal worlds, Hoyt's column generated exactly zero discussion. Even after such a jump start, the behavior of such a major New York Times star simply could not be discussed.
This is one of the basic ways we got Donald J. Trump. This is also one of the basic ways we got George W. Bush.
On the brighter side, a bunch of people scored outstanding careers in mainstream and liberal journalism. They were rewarded for their silence. Everyone else got Trump.
(Have you ever seen Rachel talk about this? No, and you never will. Last night, she made an utter fool of herself beating on Joe Manchin. We aren't especially sharp in Our Town, although we do know what we like.)
We think Goldstein did an excellent job. Half of the story remains.