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Kim Kardashian: A Bona-fide Franchise Despite Backlash

January 6, 2012 Leave a comment

The Kardahsian clan aren’t just a family they are a reportedly $65 million empire. One that some people would like to see tumble. This ranges from folk forming an online boycott of their reality TV show and products to donning the Queen Kardashian, Kim, with an ill-mannered award.

Like it or not, the Kardashians have become the model for today’s new brand of celebrity in which fame is manufactured through ingenious marketing and ever-present exposure that is not associated with traditional entertainment, such as singing, acting, or playing sports.

Some refer to her as merely a television personality and a socialite, but 31-year-old Kim Kardashian “for better or worse” is a consummate personal brand—with an estimated net worth of $35 million to back it up. From her reality television series, to guest appearances on television shows and in movies, to her efforts on and offline, she has shrewdly crafted her fame and fortune.

I admit that like some critics I thought the Kardashians were a bit over exposed and had no distinct or discernible skill. But then I had to take a step back. Long before there was a reality show, Kim was making a name for herself as a stylist to the stars. That’s how she hooked up with ex-boyfriend Ray J.

The rundown is that after R&B singer Brandy appears on a worst-dressed list, Kim is hired as her personal stylist. This stint parlays into a full-time business for Kim who becomes a personal shopper to stars like Lindsay Lohan and a wardrobe stylist for television shows, magazine photo layouts and infomercials. In 2006, business is booming and, with sisters Khloé and Kourtney, Kim opens Dash, a clothing boutique in Calabasas, California.

Her only claim to fame at this point is that she is the wealthy daughter of the high-powered late defense attorney Robert Kardashian (part of O.J. Simpson’s dream team) and the stepdaughter of Olympic gold medalist athlete Bruce Jenner. And she is friends with hotel heiress and socialite Paris Hilton.

Then she begins dating Brandy’s brother, Ray J.  Their sex tape breaks out in 2007, much like with her pal Paris Hilton. The rest is history. Whereas Hilton was a sexy bad girl, Kardashian was a sexy good girl: She does not drink, does not do drugs and does not party—although she will show up at a club if she is getting paid to be photographed for appearances, states Jo Piazza, author of Celebrity Inc.: How Famous People Make Money.

After the sex tape is leaked and made public, instead of playing the victim, Kim launches her own realty show on E! Keeping Up With The Kardashians. She didn’t just seek the spotlight for herself; she brought her whole family in on it. She forms her own production company, Kimsaprincess Productions LLC, following up with a line of items—clothing, cosmetics, jewelry, and weight loss products. She rises to the top as one of the highest paid stars on reality TV, earning reportedly $40,000 per episode. But she rakes in even more money from endorsements and public appearances. She did more than turn lemons into lemonade; she turned herself into a bona fide industry.

So, where did Kim go wrong? In the court of public opinion she is guilty of saying “I do” to NBA player Kris Humprhies and then divorcing him 72 days after the fact and all for the sake—allegedly—of profiting from the fanfare ceremony. Kim is said to have brokered deals to get most of her wedding décor, food, dresses and diamond ring for free or at a deep discount. Her entire wedding pulled in an estimated $18 million, which included $500,000 to throw a bachelorette party at Tao nightclub in Las Vegas, around $16 million from E! to cover the nuptials and $500,000 to $1 million from People magazine for exclusive photos

But she isn’t the first celeb to get free wedding stuff or profit from their wedding. I remember when the then co-host of ABC’s The View Star Jones solicited freebies including bridesmaids’ gowns plus gave on-air plugs for wedding suppliers when she was marrying Al Reynolds. Reportedly Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas sold photo rights to their 2000 wedding for $1.8 million.

Getting marred in front the camera is nothing new either. There have been plenty of made-for-TV weddings, including former MTV’s The Hills stars Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag and Brady Bunch alum Christopher Knight and America’s Next Top Model Adrianne Curry. Not to mention every Bachelor and Bachelorette to get engaged in the history of the ABC shows but never actually marry (minus Trista and Ryan Sutter). In fact, The Bachelorette‘s Trista Rehn and Ryan Sutter, reportedly ABC paid $3.77 million for their 2003 wedding.

Kim Kardashian’s 72-day wedlock isn’t even at the top of the list for couples with the shortest marriage. Drew Barrymore and Jeremy Thomas were married six weeks while Mario Lopez’s marriage to Ali Landry lasted 13 days followed by 9 days each for Cher and Gregg Allman and Dennis Rodman and Carmen Electra. Britney Spears and Jason Alexander come in at 52 hours (remember the Vegas quickie) followed by Robin Givens’ marriage to Svetozar Marinkkovic for less than 24 hours before they split.

Maybe there’s something to be said that this isn’t Kim’s first. So, in 2000 at age 20 she married 30-year-old music producer Damon Thomas. Their marriage ended in a messy divorce in 2004. It took her less time obviously to realize her marriage to Humphries was “a mistake.” But for all we know, Kim may be taking the high road and not airing any dirt on Humphries. For some women all it would take to bring a marriage suddenly to an end is a physical altercation. Remember when Oprah warned Rihanna (a gal pal of Kim’s)—“if a man hits you once, he will hit you again.” There would be less hateration if there were more painful details, say, Humphries admitted he was a sex addict.

Whatever their reason, Kim has come under attack. BoycottKim.com has called for a boycott of the realty TV star, stating “we will not continue to allow Kim Kardashian to exploit the American public and media for personal and financial gain.” Over 500,000 people have signed the petition. Truth be told I would rather sign a petition that boycotted the Bachelor franchise for exploiting the public when it comes to love and marriage. For 10 years the reality show has been a “free sex for all.”

Kim also was named the most ill-mannered person of 2011 by the National League of Junior Cotillions because of her highly publicized engagement, wedding and 72-day marriage. Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, reigned supreme on the NLJC’s 2011 list of the Ten Best-Mannered Persons for “the poise and dignity with which she conducted herself in the public spotlight” before and during her eight-month marriage to Prince William.

On top of all of this, was a claim by Star magazine that items sold under the K-Dash by Kardashian label, the Kris Jenner Kollection, and Kim Kardashian Shoedazzle line are made in regions of China where factory workers are paid as little as $1 and hour and some workers are as young as 16-year-old. There is no actual proof just speculation. Of course, other famous fashionistas have been accused of using sweatshops to produce clothing. Kathy Lee Gifford ran into trouble back in 1996 with her Kathie Lee line sold at Wal-Mart as did Sean “Diddy” Combs with his Sean John line.

Despite the tons of backlash she has gotten since the quickie divorce, Kim still ranks among the top 5 most followed people on Twitter. @KimKardashian has some 12.3 million followers. Lady Gaga holds the top spot with 17.5 million followers. Next is Just Bieber with about 16 million, Katy Perry at roughly 13 million, and Brittney Spears is right behind Kim separated by 100,000 followers. Where Kim has them all beat is that she has about 9,000 tweets compared to most celebs’ couple thousand.

Kim might be laughing at her haters all the way to the bank. She recently opened Kardashian Khaos at the Mirage in Las Vegas. The new celebrity lifestyle boutique is said (by the Kardashians) to be the first celebrity concept store of its kind. E! just reported limited-edition Mattel-made Kim, Khloé and Kourtney “Dash dolls” are in the works and could be available wherever Barbies are sold later this year. And the New York Post wrote the Kardashians approached American Media Inc—parent company to Star, The National Enquirer, Shape and Playboy—about publishing their own glossy magazine.

Until now I was pretty much apathetic towards Kim and the Kardashian clan—although I was fond of brother Rob on Dancing With The Stars. But after all the latest uproar, I’m joining the Kim Twitter pack. Next Christmas I may even add a Kim Dash doll to my mantel next to a Kimora Lee Simmons Barbie doll.

—Carolyn M. Brown

Categories: Reality Check

Lady Gaga Topples Oprah

Lady Gaga is bigger than Oprah. At least according to Forbes magazine’s annual “Celebrity 100” list. The pop star has dethroned the daytime talk show queen as the most powerful entertainer. Even though Oprah reportedly earned $290 million last year and Gaga trailed her at $90 million, what the next-gen icon lacks in financial force she makes up for in fan magnitude. Gaga has 32 million Facebook fans and 10 million Twitter followers. The number 3 spot on Forbes’ list went to teen heartthrob Justin Bieber who earned $53 million.

Forbes writes the “Queen Monster” grossed $170 million on 137 shows in 22 countries over the past 12 months and has sold an estimated 15 million albums worldwide. Advertisers want a piece of her with endorsement deals that include Polaroid, Virgin Mobile, Monster Cable, and Viva Glam. A Russian billionaire reportedly paid $1 million to appear in her “Alejandro” video. When the title track debuted from her new album, Born This Way (hits stores on May 23), it clocked one million downloads in five days, making it the fastest-selling song in iTunes history, reports Nielsen.

It’s Gaga’s mastery of social networking that makes her powerful. She is an example of one of the most successful artists in terms of using social media to connect with fans, according to Joe Ciarallo, of Buddy Media, a Manhattan-based company. “She speaks to them. They’re what she calls her ‘Little Monsters,’ and she lets them know this song is for you. If you’re a fan, how awesome is that?”

But some critics question the 25 year-old pop diva’s staying power, arguing that while the Internet has catapulted Gaga and others into overnight “viral” sensations will she have a short shelf life. Time will tell.

Many naysayers counted Madonna out as a flash in the pan when she appeared on the scene in the early 80s. Almost 30 years later she remains an icon who is known for continuously reinventing both her music and her image. Time magazine donned her one of the “25 Most Powerful Women of the Past Century” for being an influential figure in contemporary music. The Queen of Pop has sold more than 300 million records and is recognized by the Guinness World Records as the world’s top-selling female recording artist of all time.

Known for her outrageous dress styles, Gaga is often compared to Madonna. I too initially dismissed Gaga as simply a Madonna wannabe. After all, I am an original “Material Girl” fan who has every Madonna album (her debut one on vinyl) and I can vividly recall my first Madonna concert. Gaga relies on some of the same controversial, gimmicky, sensational antics that heralded Madonna to stardom. Not to mention that she possesses the same drive and determination to succeed apparently.

I have since grown fond of Lady Gaga. First and foremost she is talented. She can play the piano and she can “sang!” like in a ‘I have deeply planted roots in gospel and soul music kind of way.’ Second, she is entertaining—out there in the stratosphere—but an incomparable performer nonetheless. Check out The Monster Ball concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden on HBO. I watched it with my 19-year-old niece, 58-year-old sister and 82-year-old mother. Four different generations all moving to “Just Dance.” Third, Gaga is a shrewd operator.

Today, college professors are teaching about Lady Gaga, 20 years ago they were teaching Madonna. And perhaps five years from now there will be courses on Justin Bieber—from YouTube to the Big Screen. Anyone who wants to get schooled on branding, marketing, and building a loyal fan base should study Gaga.

The University of Virginia now offers a class called “GaGa for Gaga: Sex, Gender and Identity.” Students are learning about Gaga’s influence on feminism and gender expression. Taught by grad student Christa Romanosky, the class is a prerequisite course to essay writing on the theme of how the mama monster pushes social boundaries.

Spearheaded by sociology professor Mathieu Defleml, the University of South Carolina’s course called “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame” explores the work and the rise to fame of the hitmaker: What makes a person famous and what does being famous mean in today’s culture? Defleml has characterized Gaga as being a “social phenomenon.”

The theatrical dance-pop performer’s debut single, the international chart-topping hit “Just Dance,” established her as an up-and-coming superstar upon its release in 2008 on The Fame album. Born Stefani Germanotta on March 28, 1986, the Yonkers native attended Convent of the Sacred Heart, a private all-girls Catholic school in Manhattan, before proceeding to study music at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts at age 17.

Defleml says the central objective of his course is to unravel some of the sociologically relevant dimensions of the fame of Lady Gaga with respect to her music, videos, fashion, and other artistic endeavors, with special attention for the role of: business and marketing strategies; the role of the old and new media; fans and live concerts; gay culture; religious and political themes; sex and sexuality; and the cities of New York and Hollywood.

This isn’t the first time Lady Gaga has been the subject of academia. Doctoral student Meghan Vicks and writer/performance artist Kate Durbin founded Gaga Stigmata, an online literary and scholarly journal for all things Gaga.

My being GaGa over Lady Gaga also is in part due to her positive influence in the philanthropic world. The pop star has long been an advocate for homeless youth, emphasizing the unique struggles of LGBTQ teens. She recently joined forces with New York’s largest poverty-fighting organization, the Robin Hood Foundation, launching a Facebook contest to give away $1 million to a worthy cause and charity.

When it comes to shaping America’s pop culture, Lady Gaga was born to lead the way.    ~Carolyn M. Brown

Categories: Reality Check

Chris not Charlie Is Getting A Bad Rap?

March 23, 2011 1 comment

“I’m so over people bringing this past shit up!!! Yet we praise Charlie Sheen and other celebs for their bullshit.” That’s what Chris tweeted and then later deleted. He was referring to his interview this week with Robin Roberts on ABC’s Good Morning America. (Here is a link to the interview which Disney won’t allow to be posted on YouTube). Chris went on GMA to promote his new album F.A.M.E. (how apropos).

The segment opens with his 2009 felony charge for assault on then girlfriend Rihanna. Roberts asks him about a judge’s recent decision to lax an earlier restraining order (the exes can have contact provided Chris doesn’t harass Rihanna). Roberts wants to know if the two have seen each other. Chris replies “No. It’s not really a big deal for me now, as far as that situation. I think I’m past that in my life. Today’s the album day, so that’s what I’m focused on.”

Roberts wouldn’t drop it; she kept broaching the topic of assault (Chris’ camp had agreed to the line of questioning beforehand). When he tries explaining the theme of F.A.M.E. (Forgiving All My Enemies), naysayers, and haters, Roberts wants to keep pointing out why people may hate on him even though he has lots of fans.

He went on to perform his single “Yeah 3x.” Then Bam! Roberts prodding allegedly made the 21-year-old singer so angry that he ripped off his shirt, trashed his dressing room, threw a chair that broke a window and stormed out. GMA reps said Chris was so dangerous backstage they had to call 911. One GMA rep referred to him as a “thug.”

Chris is shceduled to perform on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars next week. Some people wondered if ABC would reconsider having Chris on such a family show, would they ban him from the network, and walk away from an obviously troubled young man (allegedly DWTS contestants are afraid to be around him). ABC is not pressing any charges against Chris and is reportedly asking him back on GMA.

Okay, I am more surprised hearing CBS is considering bringing Charlie back on Two and A Half Men, which is a family show. Charlie trashes a hotel room, has a briefcase full of cocaine delivered to his home, and bad mouths his costars and show’s producers. But everyone is willing to let bygones be bygones all in the name of money. CBS mistakenly assumed people would be offended by Charlie’s erratic behavior and yet everyone seems to be championing him. He has been approached with deals from other networks such as Fox reportedly. His live concert tour (My Violent Torpedo of Truth) sold out in minutes; so, he stands to make a couple million dollars more off of his antics. He made $1.25 million per episode on his television show. Charlie’s bad boy behavior seems to be making him more rich and famous—believe it or not.

So, does Chris Brown have a point about the media’s treatment of Charlie Sheen? Charlie reportedly has a rap sheet full of assaults against women that it is a mile long. In 1990, he accidentally shot his then fiancée, actress Kelly Preston, in the arm. In 1996, he was arrested for assaulting an adult film actress. In 2005, actress Denise Richards filed for divorce, accusing him of alcohol/drug abuse and threats of violence. In 2009, he pleaded guilty to assault charges on soon to be ex-wife Brooke Mueller. Although Charlie insists he has never hit a woman, court orders and guilty pleas state otherwise.

But no one has really pushed Charlie on this issue. During a recent interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan, he glossed over it. Despite Morgan’s pit-bull like nature, he didn’t sink his teeth into Charlie; he let the bad boy slide.

Some pundits have pointed to the fact that Charlie’s battery is against non A-list celebs or adult film actresses. If Charlie were arrested for bruising say someone like Jennifer Aniston,  he wouldn’t get away with his shenanigans.

Some people have posted that Charlie is getting a free pass because he is white and Chris is black. But truth be told, Charlie is of Hispanic origin (his grandfather was from Spain). His real name is Carlos Estevez (he was sure to make mention of this when he was accused of being anti-Semitic for remarks made against the creators of Two and A Half Men).  He shares the same stage surname with his father, Martin Sheen. According to one report, when he was arrested for domestic violence charges in 2009 he was booked under his real name Carlos Estevez. Maybe that’s why the media hasn’t been too hard on Charlie Sheen. It’s Carlos not Charlie who beats on women.

There is this Chris and Charlie double-standard. But it can be said of all batterers regardless of fame: You can get a free pass if you have money and power. You can get away with abusing women and men whom no one cares about.

There’s the fact that several well known rappers, hip-hop artists and athletes have been charged with domestic violence. They have never had to do community service, attend classes, or spend a night in jail. The one thing they all had in common with Charlie is that the women they abused were no-names—at least in the eyes of the media

If you were to deduce anything from all of this, it’s we’re a society that no longer can reason between compassion, complacency and condemnation.

Chris has completed 52-week anti-domestic violence classes and 1400 hours of community service. But he obviously still has some work to do and some anger issues to address.

Most batterers don’t receive counseling until they are threatened with imprisonment or actually do jail time. There are support groups and resources out there for men by men including Men Stopping Violence Against Women, A Call To Men, and Stop Violence.

I hope Chris can get the help he needs to control his rage and pain. I rather celebrate people’s triumphs than relish over their tribulations.

Chris went about business as usual after his outburst at ABC. He greeted hundreds of female fans outside his hotel and performed at his album release party that night. He has three hits songs and the album is number one on iTunes.

Maybe GMA will  be viewed as a stunt come next week. Chris will take a page for Charlie’s book. He will learn to come up with catch phrases when answering tough interview questions (“Duh, Winning”). He will begin talks with TV producers about a reality show. He may even in Charlie like style show up on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live!, kiss him on the lips, and as the audience cheers pass out copies of F.A.M.E. ~Carolyn M. Brown

Categories: Reality Check

Oprah’s Search for the Next TV Star: I Was There

January 27, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s official. OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) and its lineup of programming premiered for the New Year. One of the shows to kick off at OWN studios this month is Your OWN Show: Oprah’s Search for the Next TV Star. In Donald Trump’s The Apprentice like reality TV format, 10 finalists from across the country vie for the chance to get a talk show that will air on OWN. The series is executive produced by Mark Burnett (The Apprentice and Survivor).

I was very anxious to see the Next TV Star since I was among the throng of hopefuls who auditioned for Oprah. I didn’t audition myself, but I was in the parking lot of Kohl’s in Howell, New Jersey during the open casting call. I was there at 5 AM—with Duncan doughnuts and coffee in hand—to support my cousin who was one of the contenders (she should be competing on the show). In total, some 15,000 people applied to compete. More than 9,500 also sent in online audition videos. According to reports, more than 143 million people voted online for their favorites.

At the open call, groups of 10 people at a time were summoned to pitch their show concept to Oprah’s screeners. There were the typical eccentrics who stood out in the crowd—including the “I could be Lady Gaga’s twin” bunch. But most of the people I observed audition that day were passionate, professional, and polished. Some exceptional would-be winners presented some great, even unique, talk show ideas.

So it came as a surprise to me. No, it came as a shock when I learned who made the cut. The 10 finalists chosen were the ones who “allegedly” had the “it” factor. These Next TV Star hopefuls include a preacher, a gay comedian, and a financial guru.

Most of the finalists are clueless and amateurish, at least based on the show opener and first three episodes. Maybe 3 out of the 10 possess the potential to produce their own TV show. But before the creme rises to the top, viewers are subjected to the mishaps of the rest of group who are nice, entertaining people in a Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey sort of way.

I do like Burnett’s set-up. The participants are grouped into two teams (mostly men vs. women) to produce a talk show each week with a celebrity guest host. The TV-host related challenges range from booking interviews and researching story ideas to successfully completing a pilot presentation. Whereas The Apprentice has team project managers the Next TV Star has team executive producers. Two people from the losing team are selected for elimination. Each contender has one final shot at making a good impression by conducting a quick one-on-one interview with that week’s celebrity judge.

During the premier episode of the Next TV Star, the two teams had to prepare a segment about sex and relationships for guest judge Dr. Phil McGraw. The losing team did a segment on how men who don’t wear condoms are considerably happier. You’ve got to be kidding. That was pretty much Dr. Phil’s reaction who thought the topic was silly.

The second episode’s challenge was to produce makeover segments that had to be about more than great clothes and hair—the two teams needed to tell compelling stories about the subjects to impress guest judge Vera Wang. Both teams had great makeovers but the losing team missed the mark because their on camera host kept flubbing the interview questions. The infuriating part is that this same contestant had a chance to interview Vera Wang to prove that he deserved to stay on the show. He never heard of Wang before, even though from the challenge he knew she was a fashion designer. So, he opted to ask her did she think it was fair that he was about to get booted from the show. What? Give me a break. Even if he had asked her “how do I look” or “I just lost over 60 pounds what fashion tips do you have for me” those would have been plausible, passable questions.

Last week’s episode, the teams had to create a late night style comedy monologue and host an interview segment with celebrity guest and legendary late night talk show host Arsenio Hall. The winning team out-shined the losing team because they told better jokes and was more personable. Plus, they got a scoop~Arsenio and Eddie are working on a sequel to Coming To America. This week’s task is to produce a cooking segment. Well the two top hopefuls for this theme, Eric Warren, 57, an expert in the kitchen from Lawndale, California, and Aunt Flora, 60, a soul food queen from Cincinnati who impressed Martha Stewart with her cobbler, have been kicked off the show. Oh, there is still the mother who likes to cook. So, yet another lopsided competition is likely to take place.

I am not sure who will be the final winner but the front-runners are the three comedians. Twenty-five year old Zach Anner from Austin, Texas, a globe trotter in a wheelchair (he has cerebral palsy) who wants to host an inspirational travel show aimed at people who never thought they were physically capable of traveling. Ryan O’Connor, 29, of West Hollywood, California, who wants a combination variety and talk show. He also says he “wants to be the country’s gay best friend.” Terey Summers, 46, a comedic motivational speaker from Goodyear, Arizona; she wants a traditional Rosie O’Donnell style talk show. Another one to watch is thirty-nine year old Alicia Taylor of Las Vegas who wants to be the next Suze Orman. Her would-be show format is to make money fun, informative and entertaining. Meet the rest of the contestants for Your Own show here.

The viewers may have had some say in the people who got to compete as Oprah’s Next TV Star. But thank goodness they won’t get to pick the final winner. That job is reserved for the pros. We have witnessed other competition reality TV shows (i.e., American Idol and Dancing With The Stars) where viewers tend to vote for the more popular or most likable person rather than the most talented or more qualified contender. The final winner to get his or her OWN TV show will be selected by the hosts and guest judges including Oprah’s gal pal Gayle King.

I have to admit I’m loving the guest judges and hosts of Your OWN Show: Oprah’s Search for the Next TV Star. Nancy O’Dell formerly of Access Hollywood and Carson Kressley, best known as the style guru from Queer Eye for The Straight Guy who has since hosted ABC’s True Beauty from executive producers Tyra Banks and Ashton Kutcher.  And I love the “everybody is a star” show theme. The song, titled “Own It,” was produced and performed by Will.i.am. I just hope the remaining episodes live up to OWN’s great expectations.

~Carolyn M. Brown

Categories: Reality Check

Sarah Palin Breaks Her Silence About The Tucson Shootings

January 15, 2011 Leave a comment

I hate to jump on the bandwagon of lets give Sarah Palin more ink, but I couldn’t help but react to her finally breaking silence about the recent shootings in a mall outside of Tucson, Arizona. The violent tragedy led to the deaths of 6 people and 14 others wounded including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who remains in critical condition after being shot in the head. It was a “kinder, gentler” Palin who appeared in front of a fireplace with the American flag beside it during a video statement. The video, “America’s Enduring Strength,” can be found at Vimeo.

I even noticed that on the Tea Party Patriots’ web site there was a call to pray for Congresswoman Giffords and the shooting victims and their families as well as for the safety of Congressmen, Senators, President Obama and other elected officials in the aftermath of this shooting.

During her video statement, Palin took offense with her critics for saying it was the rhetoric of the GOP, the Tea Party and Palin herself that contributed to an atmosphere of violence that may have pushed 22-year-old gunman, Jarred Lee Loughner, into shooting Rep. Giffords. Palin accused journalists and pundits of manufacturing a “blood libel” that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. “That is reprehensible,” she said. Right away some groups including the Anti-Defamation League took issue with the “blood libel” term because of its historical reference to the false accusation that Jews murdered Christian children for their blood, which was used to justify the persecution of Jews.

Last March, Rep. Giffords’ district was included in Palin’s map of Democratic elected officials targeted for defeat and marked by a rifle’s crosshairs (the map was removed from Palin’s website after the shootings). The Arizona congresswoman had received threats as a result of her support of healthcare reform and for her not supporting the immigration law passed last summer.

During this time of violence and political crisis, everyone from elected officials to pundits from both the right and left have all pointed fingers and spun their side of the story. Is heated political rhetoric to blame for what Loughner did? His actions may not have a clear political motive but it was an assassination attempt on a representative of the Unites States Congress. That makes it political.

Now there is a national call for civility. Our political leaders will play nice in the Congressional sandbox. Well, at least for the next few months. There will be less name calling, less bullying, less posturing, less tattle telling, and less finger pointing.

In her video statement Palin also claims that “we will come out of this stronger and more united in our desire to peacefully engage in the great debates of our time; to respectfully embrace our differences in a positive manner; and to unite in the knowledge that though our ideas may be different we must all strive for a better future for our country.”

President Barack Obama reiterated this sentiment during his tribute to the victims of the Tucson, Arizona shootings. He urged Americans to change the nation’s vitriolic public dialogue by “talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.” He went on to express his hope that the deaths will usher in more civility and honesty in our public discourse to help us face up to the challenges of our nation.

In an ideal world all discourse would civil and all disagreements cordial. That’s the way Palin sees it. It is her belief that America’s Founding Fathers knew they weren’t designing a system for perfect men and women. “If men and women were angels there would be no need for government. Our founders’ genius was to design a system that helps settle the inevitable conflicts caused by our imperfect passions in civil ways.”

Since the election of President Obama, there has been more talk about The Constitution of the United States and the Founding Fathers then I can ever recall hearing throughout my K-12 years attending elementary and high school. Just a week ago Congress read out loud The U.S. Constitution, which they refer to as our sacred charter of liberty. It was a censored version—the part about the slavery thing was left out.

Palin asserts that Americans settle their differences at the ballot box and that political debate had always been heated historically. She does have a point. After all, the nation’s Founding Fathers heatedly debated slavery. Many resisted emancipation not out of pure hatred but because they did not want to relinquish the wealth slave sales poured into their coffers. Some founders from the southern states were stark proponents of slavery like Abraham Baldwin, Pierce Butler, and Charles and Cotesworth Pinckney. Others did not favor the institution of slavery although they owned slaves, including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and George Washington. Still other founders actively opposed slavery like John Jay, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine, and Benjamin Rush, who were in fact members of societies for ending slavery.

Historians note that southern states would have not signed the U.S. Constitution without protections for the institution of slavery, which included the clause that counted a slave as three-fifths of a man for purpose of congressional representation. Although many of the signers of the Constitution acknowledged during those early Continental Congress that slavery violated the core of the American Revolutionary ideas of liberty, their commitment to private property rights, principles of limited government, and intersectional harmony prevented them from making a bold move against slavery.

The ill wind over slavery and sovereignty did not blow over. The Civil War was fought because of economic and social differences between the North and the South, state rights versus federal government control, tensions over whether new states admitted to the union would be slave or free, southern states opposition to tariffs (or taxes) that they felt was unfair; and southern hostility that had arose from the election of President Abraham Lincoln. The Confederacy wanted to protect state sovereignty and the right to nullify federal laws. The South was fighting for the right to secede and to form a nation that protected individual rights (which included their right to own slaves). The major goal of the Union was not to end slavery; the North was fighting primarily to preserve the union.

The GOP/Tea Party opposition to everything Obama and the federal government along with their win in November’s election has invigorated a new Confederacy in America.

The hot button item on their Congressional agenda is the repeal of Healthcare Reform (the Obamacare baby killing law as many conservatives call it). I was somehow mistaken into thinking that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 were a comprised version between Republicans and Democrats. Will such healthcare reform repeal be a victory for all Americans or will it be another mark in American’s history of a select group doing what is in their best economic and political interests.

During this perceived peaceful cease fire of no hateful words and imagery by all political parties, I only can wonder what concessions will be made to appease certain groups in order to maintain intersectional harmony and preserve our more perfect union. Why do I still have a nagging feeling that it is “We the People” who will suffer? Maybe I am a cynic and that the outcome will be long-lasting civility. Or maybe the tragedy in Tucson is simply writing on the wall that inevitably “There Will Be Blood.”

~Carolyn M. Brown

Categories: Reality Check

Gay Student’s Suicide: Why Wonder Why?

October 4, 2010 Leave a comment

This week will be full of candle vigils and town hall meetings in remembrance of Tyler Clementi, the 18-year-old Rutgers University student who committed suicide after his roommate’s webcam broadcast of him having a sexual encounter with another man. Clementi is the fourth highly publicized gay teen to kill himself (the youngest age 13) in the past four weeks.

Clementi’s death happened the day after the release of The Campus Pride study, “The State of Higher Education for LGBT People,” which found that gay students feared physical harm and are most likely to experience discrimination and harassment on campus. The Clementi tragedy also occurred on the eve of a series of week-long events across the country in anticipation of “National Coming Out Day” on Oct. 11.

Many people have expressed shock and sympathy over Clementi’s death, which has raised questions as to why he took his own life. Someone posted online that “fat kids are picked on but don’t kill themselves so what’s the deal with gay kids?” For starters, there is a stigma associated with being gay that is rooted in hatred. You may be laughed at and humiliated for being overweight, maybe even hit. But those around you don’t hate you and all plus-size people. People don’t consider you evil because of your size. You may think that your parents are displeased with you but not ashamed of you.

As a gay youth in this society your sexual orientation is not your personal business as it ought to be. Instead it is scrutinized by your classmates, their families, their friends, your teachers, your relatives, and society in general.  You believe that all your life you constantly have to size up who accepts you, who tolerates you, and who reviles you. You believe you constantly have to deal with criticism and condemnation from politicians and religious leaders who hide behind the Bible to condone abusive behavior against you. Most people around you were taught that sex outside of marriage is a sin. But no one at school has ever had the crap beaten out of him because the other kids found out he wasn’t a virgin.

It is the type of pious bias reserved for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons that is at the heart of teen angst.  Most gay teens aren’t familiar with resources out there such as the 24/7 crisis hotline 1-866-4-U-TREVOR. They may not be aware of the YouTube channel It Gets Better, featuring role models sharing positive personal experiences about gay life. They only know of a few celebrities brave enough to come out such as TV host comedian Ellen DeGeneres, who recently created her own video message on bullying.

Hopefully justice will be served in the Clementi case. The prosecutor’s office is considering upgrading the charges from invasion of privacy to a second-degree bias crime against roommate Dhuran Ravi and his friend Molly Wei, who secretly taped Clementi and then aired it for a public chat. Gathering or viewing sexual pictures without someone’s consent is a fourth-degree crime and broadcasting them is third-degree. The New Jersey hate crimes law encompasses invasion of privacy when they are based on a victim’s sexual orientation.

Ravi and Wei could face up to five or ten years in prison. The two doing prison time may make someone else think twice about pulling a heartless prank. But I have a feeling that as the candles burn out, tears dry, prayers cease and time passes, the two Rutgers students will get a slap on the wrist—probation and community service at a LGBT center. Or they will be forced to do PSA announcements about tolerance.

The Clementi tragedy reminds me of the Megan Meier cyber bullying incident. A Missouri mom, Lori Drew, used MySPace to humiliate 13-year-old Meier who killed herself after she received derogatory messages by Drew pretending to be a boy. A judge overturned Drew’s  misdemeanor jury conviction. As a result, Missouri has since updated its existing harassment law to cover bullying via the internet.

I’ve read some posts stating what Ravi did was wrong, but questioning was it criminal? There is bias in people asking this question. I think it is unfortunate when a drunk driver, or someone texts behind the wheel, causes an accident or hits a person. Their original intent was to not harm another human being, but texting and drinking while driving is breaking the law.  So, yes what Ravi did was criminal. He invaded someone’s privacy on more than one occasion. It doesn’t matter if he intentionally meant to harm his roommate.

This case speaks to several issues among which are invasion of privacy and bias crimes. But even more it illustrates the dangers of digital abuse. Cyberspace has given every one of us the ability to disrupt other people’s lives.

Even before Clementi’s death I couldn’t help but wonder how many young people were headed back to school, dealing with digital abuse issues like forced sexting, textual harassment and cyberbullying.

About 50% of 14- to 24-year-olds have experienced some type of digital abuse, reports a study by MTV, which launched a campaign, called A Thin Line to empower youth to identify, respond to, and stop the spread of digital abuse. Athinline.com offers a guideline on digital abuse to help others identity where the line is, and how to draw it.

Sexting~sending or forwarding nude, sexually suggestive, or explicit pics on your cell or online~is no big deal for some people.  Serious problems emerge when anyone gets pressured into sexting and when sexts go viral. If the person in the photo is under the age of 18 and you get caught with it, you could end up being classified as a registered sex offender. Even if you just keep it but don’t send it to anyone else, you still face getting charged with “possession” of child pornography. Clementi was 18, so, Ravi and Wei won’t face those charges.

Spreading negative or embarrassing dirt (true, untrue, or unknown, via text, pic or video) about someone isn’t just disrespect it’s digital abuse. If you wouldn’t say it to a person’s face, don’t say it online or text it. It’s cowardly to hide behind a computer or digital device to broadcast undesirable video or hurtful messages.

Some people use digital platforms to make other people’s lives miserable, including blackmail (making demands in exchange for not revealing something embarrassing or damaging about someone else; hate-mongering (posting, forwarding, or messaging any discriminatory speech about a person’s race, religion or sexual orientation); and direct threats to harm someone. All of which fall within the realm of digital cruelty.

The reality is that haters can always find something to hate on, whether it’s someone’s sexual orientation, physical appearance, or religion. You don’t need a special pair of glasses to recognize when someone crosses the line.

Being harassed, threatened, or emotionally taunted via a computer or digital device is not harmless or fun. If you have young people in your life, help to educate them on how to empower and protect themselves against digital abuse or to own up if they are playing along before it leads to the tragic end of lives.

Practice zero tolerance. Don’t be a victim or violator of digital abuse.

~Carolyn M. Brown

Categories: Reality Check

Geraldo’s 40 Years In TV: Not All Trash Talk

September 9, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s hard to imagine that Geraldo Rivera, 67, is celebrating 40 years in the news business. Geraldo is up there with one-name personalities like Oprah, Cher, and Madonna—according to himself. He has hosted several namesake shows, including Geraldo, The Geraldo Rivera Show, and Rivera Live. He currently hosts Geraldo at Large on Fox News.

Contrary to urban legend, his real name is not Jerry Rivers. It is, however, Gerald Michael Riviera. His surname was changed from Rivera on his birth certificate by his parents he believes to shield him from a life of discrimination; his mother was Jewish and his father was Puerto Rican. Geraldo (the Spanish pronunciation) was adopted to make him more identifiably Latino when the storefront lawyer became a reporter for WABC-TV in 1970 when he was 27. He was a member of the original cast of ABC’s Good Morning America and served eight years as an investigative reporter for 20/20 (later developing an infatuation for Barbara Walters).

Geraldo is one of those people whom you sometimes agree with his viewpoint while other times his melodrama annoys you. One might argue this is the case with most TV hosts. But Bill O’Reilly annoys me most of the time and Glenn Beck annoys me all of the time.  Still, you have to respect Geraldo for all that he has accomplished in 40 years, especially his early days as an investigative reporter. I am reminded of this fact after watching a program which recently aired on Fox looking back at Geraldo’s career.

It was Geraldo’s appearance on NBC’s “The Today Show” as the legal spokesperson for the Puerto Rican activist group the Young Lords which first attracted the attention of news producers. It was his coverage on the neglect and abuse of mentally disabled patients at Staten Island’s Willowbrook State School that won him an Emmy and a Peabody Award. It was a benefit concert given by friends John Lennon and Yoko Ono that helped finance the purchase of a home in 1977; he named it the Geraldo Rivera Children’s Residence and moved in some of the patients from Willowbrook. He also has paid for eleven youth from Spanish Harlem New York to attend college.

I was drawn in: Watching Geraldo go undercover to expose drug trafficking in urban communities; and seeing a then young senator Joe Biden’s inability to address the government’s failure to stop the flow of heroine coming in from Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. There were memorable moments like Geraldo bouncing in the ring with Heavyweight boxing great Muhammad Ali and interviewing mass murderer Charles Manson.

Usually when I think of Geraldo, I recall the trash TV or sensationalist journalism of the late 80s and 90s. I remember the Al Capone Vault fiasco of 1986; the live broadcast came up short—no treasure trove just broken bottles.  I remember seeing Geraldo’s nose get broken during his talk show in 1988 when someone threw a chair as a fight broke among Klansmen, skinheads, CORE’s Roy Innis and Jewish activists. Geraldo has covered stories on cross-dressers, nudists and Satanists. In recent years, controversy surrounded him as Fox News war correspondent in Iraq (the line in the sand incident) and the release of his book on immigration titled His Panic: Why Americans Fear Hispanics in the U.S.

I tend to think of Geraldo’s brashness, long wavy hair, and broad mustache, all of which have been the butt of many jokes and television spoofs. His personal life has played out in public too. He has been married, divorced, and remarried five times—his current spouse is 32 years his junior. He has five children, the oldest is 31 and the youngest is 5. He makes Tiger Woods look like a cub, having admitted to affairs with Liza Minnelli and Bette Midler among hundreds of flings in his autobiography, Exposing Myself (a book he now refers to as “the colossal error of my adult life”).

The footage narrated by Geraldo (who pokes fun at himself) showed his highs, lows, regrets and proud accomplishments. He is quick to point out a major fete: He’s the only person to ever appear on both the covers of Newsweek and Playgirl. That perhaps says it all.

So, kudos goes out to Geraldo Rivera for still standing strong and still talking loud—trash or not—in this business after 40 years.       –Carolyn M. Brown

We have no right to complain about any condition affecting the quality of our lives, unless we are doing something about it. –Geraldo Rivera

Categories: Reality Check
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