Fix the Lines on My Screen!
Talk about synchronicity. First, a friend forwarded me the Web site for the Dove Proage commercial banned from TV because it was deemed inappropriate (www.doveproage.com/home.asp). In the commercial, several middle-aged women pose seminude with shocking candor (discreetly crossed arms, legs, and well-positioned camera angles mask the "no-no" zones). The shock was not in their nudity but in seeing real, middle-aged women presented in a caring, dignified manner. The commercial and the ad campaign (for products aimed specifically to us old broads) have created a spirited online discussion about beauty, aging, and the desire to see a broader palette of women in popular culture.
On Sunday, I opened The New York Times to a story about a sorority at Indiana's DePauw University that wanted to improve its image. The sorority decided the best way to do that was to dismiss 23 members, including every woman who was overweight, black, or Asian. "The dozen students allowed to stay were slender and popular with fraternity men conventionally pretty women the sorority hoped could attract new recruits."
Meanwhile, I was seeing promos for newsman Bob Woodruff's return to TV. He would be talking about his near-death experience while covering the war in Iraq, first on Good Morning America, then on ABC in the documentary To Iraq and Back. (Neither has been seen at press time.)
How does Woodruff fit in my series of synchronous events? In my mind,"The unforgettable story Bob Woodruff lived to tell" is similar to the real women on the Dove commercial. The difference is that Woodruff's blemishes are lionized. The bodies of the women, showing the wear and tear of motherhood, managing families, careers, and, hell, just making it to middle age, shown in the service of selling some lotions and soap are called inappropriate. (And yet that hourlong commercial parading as a fashion show for Victoria's Secret isn't?)
It's probably a coincidence that the Woodruff special is appearing on ABC, the same network that was faced with whether to have Dick Clark appear on air after his 2004 stroke at its annual New Year's Rockin' Eve program. Clark returned to the show in 2005, though American Idol host Ryan Seacrest and others bore the weight of the program. But at midnight it was all Clark. His stroke had noticeably aged him. His speech was labored and slurred. The public reaction was mixed. Some applauded his brave fight to recovery, while others were uneasy seeing the pop icon humanized. Wouldn't it have been better to preserve the young, vibrant image of Clark?
Let's face it: Illness and death can be ugly. But, on network TV, we're used to seeing it romanticized. The gauzy white light, the heartrending music, the plentiful clean sheets. Blood (we never see other bodily fluids) is always photogenic. But aging, with all of its surprises and occasional indignities, is usually reduced to jokes about face lifts, hair plugs, or incontinence. But to inspire true fear and loathing, just turn to the middle-aged, female body. This is not to say that men don't have their burdens, but I ask you, if media mogul Oprah Winfrey were to (heaven forbid) suffer a stroke as Clark did or be injured like Woodruff, would we ever see her again? I wonder.
During last Sunday's Oscar telecast, the Dove folks ran an ad made by a "real" woman who won an online contest to make the best commercial representing a new product (this one aimed to younger women). My first thought after seeing the ad was, doesn't that Dame Helen Mirren look absolutely dishy? My second was, why are we waiting for an advertiser to set the record straight? They seek our attention. Maybe if we seized the power we wield, closed our wallets, and appreciated the hard knocks our bodies have endured, the rest of the pop culture will follow.
What Else Is (Going) On?
The Alamo Drafthouse Downtown welcomes former child star Todd Bridges of Diff'rent Strokes (19781986) on Saturday. Bridges will present three of his favorite episodes at two screenings and field audience questions. A lucky few will lunch with Bridges earlier in the day. For details, go to www.originalalamo.com.