Avast! Feminist Conspiracy!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Hillary Clinton Is In It For Herself

Senate Reelection Campaign Video Premieres Wednesday

Do Not Be Confused: Feminist and Opportunist Are Not Synonymous

It's past time feminists realized there is nothing to gain in putting Hillary Rodham Clinton into any elected office. The woman has confused "feminist" as meaning "opportunist" -- that is, a woman in it for herself and her own promotion and no other reason. New York feminists would be ill-advised to vote her back into her Senate office unless they can produce one iota of evidence of anything she has championed through Congress -- or, failing that, given that Democrats are not the party in power -- merely introduced that would benefit women. I don't mean bills that would benefit Hillary, a woman herself, who is not viewing her prestigious seat in the Senate as an ends in itself for the introduction of far-reaching radical plans for change but as a launching point for her further political aspirations. I mean bills she has introduced that would benefit the status of U.S. women, generally. Even if they have no chance of passing. Show me any bill she has introduced that in any way could be considered to benefit any woman other than herself in any way.

But I digress. (Though not really.) Since when did Opportunist become synonymous with Feminist? Apparently when the Baby Boomers came of age and all that was important to them -- according to no less than liberal feminist icon Betty Friedan -- was getting women into positions of power. With all hell to their actual actions and whether they ever worked on behalf of any woman other than themselves. And Hillary Rodham Clinton demonstrably has acted against women in general and feminists in particular. To vote for her is to be a dupe as a feminist. You're not voting for a feminist. You're voting for an opportunist. And only if you think feminism and opportunism are synonymous would you vote for this woman thinking for one second she will work and vote on your behalf and not her own concerns and calculations regarding her furthering of herself.

I could continue but my views on Ms. Clinton during her husband's presidency and beyond are well known on this blog. Just enjoy the video this week as her husband comes out in (surprise) support of the woman who stood by his side despite sexual harassment charges from a poor, undereducated subordinate in the government who lost job promotions and (strikingly unusual in government) actually was demoted and shipped off to dead-end jobs when she refused to suck him off after he dropped trou on the job -- what was I saying? Oh yeah. Hillary the feminist stuck by this man even after the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that this woman, poor and undereducated -- "White Trash" as James Carville, Hillary Clinton's go-to-destroy-guy in the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy debacle, put it -- woman's sexual harassment case could go forward. A first for feminists and the sexual harassment law that Catharine A. MacKinnon wrote? Oh hell no. Hillary Clinton was all for the demonization of Paula Jones as White "trailer park" Trash and the politicization of this case, even though it is standard procedure for sexual harassment lawyers to show a pattern of conduct, ie, this is why Monica Lewinsky, the intern who had a consensual blow-job relationship with the president, was relevant, because even though it was consensual there was a quid-pro-quo for which Lewinsky -- and an intern is demonstrably subordinant to the President of the United States -- received for her services promotions and a promised job at Revlon.

Oh but please do not even get me started.

Too late! Oh well. If the only reason you have voted for this woman is because of her aura of feminist solidarity then let me put it to you straight from GenX: Vote this woman out of office already. Stop deluding yourselves. Women are the last group Hillary Rodham Clinton is interested in advancing. She has already proven it. All she is interested in is her own promotion.

Maybe this is feminism under an ancient definition, but it doesn't fit in with today's reality. Only a liberal power couple -- as opposed to any right-wing Republican -- could be the final nail in the coffin of the U.S. liberal feminist movement. If you can't recognize an opportunist in your midst masquerading as a feminist then you deserve to be buried alive by this "friend."

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Dieting as Bonding

Last Friday, Little Circus' preschool class had an ice cream party to celebrate the end of the school year. Because LC is both vegan and allergic to dairy, I decided not to risk the teachers giving her anything with milk in it (which has happened more than once, unfortunately) and skipped out of work to attend the party, a pint of Soy Delicious in hand.

After all the kids had been served there was a ton of ice cream and assorted toppings left over, and the teacher invited all the parents to fix themselves a bowl. The men didn't hesitate to go over and start scooping up ice cream and load up on sprinkles, chocolate syrup, whipped cream, and maraschino cherries. The women, however, all physically took a step or two back and started reciting a list of why they couldn't have any. South Beach. Atkins. Not enough Weight Watchers Points left. Summer is coming. Bikinis.

I offered some of our soy ice cream. No takers. I fixed myself a bowl, topped with bananas and strawberries, and felt uncomfortable while the other moms made comments and watched me out of the corner of their eyes.

Here was a group of women that for the preceding half hour had litttle to say to each other, even though our kids spend every day together and talk about each other constantly. As soon as food was brought up, though, it was like Old Home Week. Women were talking about all the different ways they had tried to lose weight, giving specific numbers for current weight and goal weight, and comparing notes.

I don't get it. Why is it so much easier - and socially accepted - for women to talk about what size their pants are and how much they miss eating food they like as opposed to talking about anything more substantial? I'd rather know that Suzy's mom is a nurse who likes to kayak on the weekends rather than know that she's happy she's in ketosis and has to eat Metamucil wafers. Or know that Sam's mom organizes a yearly clothing drive to send things to her relatives back in Cuba, not that she only has coffee and toast for breakfast and only eats one meal a day.

Are the conspiracy theorists right? Are we conditioned to sidestep meaningful (or at least not totally fluffy) conversation and focus on how we look so that we don't organize and overthrow the patriarchy?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Medical Science Screws Women's Health Yet Again

Results of the recent study that found middle-aged Americans to be less healthy than middle-aged Brits have received plenty of attention in the last few weeks. Headlines include "British Healthier Than Americans In Middle Age" and "British Population Healthier Than US Population"; the participants of the study are described as "people," "residents," and "participants."

What's interesting is that while the articles generally mention the participants are all white (this is third-paragraph material, intended to show the scientists have narrowed the study population to avoid having poverty or race show up as confounding variables), none of the articles, except for Slate's, mentions that the study participants were all men.

Researchers often leave women out of studies, generally on the grounds that our wacky hormones throw off their data (because, as you know, data based on an incomplete picture of human health -- i.e., a picture in which half of the entire human population is left out -- is way more accurate). This causes a number of problems, including the recent discovery that the tests for detecting heart disease, developed largely in research performed on men, can't detect heart disease in many women because their circulatory blockages occur in areas these tests aren't designed to detect. So leaving women out of medical research isn't some cosmetic issue of fairness or equality. It is literally killing us.

In studies like the British study, the issue is less one of life-saving tests and drugs not being tested to see whether they are adequate for women's health needs, and more that such narrow tests don't really tell us anything about a population's health at large. If minorities are left out both in Britain and the US, we don't really know anything about their unique health situation -- and I find it profoundly offensive that we find the correlation of minority status and poor health so frequent and obvious that we no longer even bother to include that in the data. And if women are left out, we're left where we usually are: out of the picture.

Scientists are making the same mistakes now, in the 21st century, that they made when they researched the life-saving tests that keep men -- but not women -- from dying of heart failure. They're assuming that women and minorities have nothing important to add to the picture, so much so that white men can stand in for all "people." If "white male" equals "people" all by itself, you've got to wonder -- what does that make the rest of us?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Dirty Chick-Lit Secret Exposed in Harvard Plagiarism Scandal

The Truth is Wilder Than Any Fiction You Could Dream Up About the Chick-Lit Industry

This blog continues the story behind the story of the plagiarism scandal involving 19-year-old Harvard student Kaavya Viswanathan and her first novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life. The first blog focused on the packaging of Kaavya; this blog focuses on her book packager, Alloy Entertainment, which "pulls together writers and ideas and shops a refined 'package' to publishers and movie houses." Alloy Entertainment shares the copyright for Opal with Kaavya. You read that right. And not only does Kaavya Viswanathan share the copyright for her own book with this packager, her name comes after Alloy Entertainment in Opal's copyright line.

"The darker moral of her story seems to be that if you succeed by packaging, you can expect to fail by packaging, too —- and you alone, not your packagers, will pay the price," a writer for Slate opined when the scandal first broke. (Ann Hulbert, "How Kaavya Got Packaged and Got Into Trouble," Slate, Apr. 27.)

Only this week, however, have details about Alloy's operations started to emerge in the press. That until now Alloy's operations were virtually unknown to those in the media and escaped scrutiny for this long is astonishing in itself, given the impact this company has had on the teen chick-lit genre. It turns out that Alloy is behind the hit book and movie The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and not one but two famous series titles for girls in their teens: Gossip Girls and Sweet Valley High.

Kaavya and her agent at William Morris eventually hit a wall in terms of developing a commercial book proposal, according to the Boston Globe. At that point the agent suggested Kaavya speak with a contact at Alloy Entertainment. In a nutshell, Alloy comes up with book ideas for teen-girl audiences, fleshes them out, and sees these concepts through to a final written "package" form that can be shopped to legitimate publishing houses. Alloy shares the copyright and up to 50 percent of any book or movie deal landed by the author. This is not an unknown practice in the coffee-table or photo-book industry. With regard to fiction, however, Alloy appears to be the first practitioner of this art.

According to the Boston Globe, Alloy titles aren't so much for reading as they are product-placement vehicles. Alloy's own web site advertises its books as packages where companies "have the opportunity to get their products or services cast in these best-selling books." (The Boston Globe said it's not known publicly whether Manolo Blahnik, Habitual jeans, or La Perla bras paid for their mentions in Kaavya's Opal.)

Here it might be helpful to note that Alloy's parent company, Alloy Media + Marketing, isn't in the book business at all. It's an advertising and marketing firm founded in 1997 that specializes in helping companies package and sell all sorts of consumer items to teenage and preteen girls. (The 10-to-24-year-old female demographic is said to be 60 million strong with annual spending power of up to $250 billion; preteen girls -- those between the ages of 8 and 12 -- spend an estimated $51 billion annually.) "This total pursuit of teens and tweens was largely an Alloy innovation," according to the Boston Globe. The parent company bought a small, legitimate publishing house in 2000 and turned it into its "book packaging" machine.

The New York Observer this week included the following quote about Alloy Entertainment from an unnamed publisher: "It’s run by three guys, and 90 percent of what they do is for teenage girls." The article said that former Alloy employees and other members of the publishing world note that while three men run the outfit, "young women provide most of the grunt labor on Alloy’s book projects," including the Gossip Girl and Sweet Valley High series. The newspaper went on to say Alloy has a reputation among writers for not always sharing its successes with the underlings who contributed to them. The paper cites as a case in point one of the book packager's most lucrative hits, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

"The Traveling Pants idea originated with a woman named Jodi Anderson, who was then an editor at Alloy," the New York Observer reported. "Ms. Anderson proposed the concept (a group of girlfriends who share a pair of jeans), which was based on some of her own college experiences. She wrote a proposal sketching out the idea that was sold to a publisher, and was under the impression that she might then get to write the book(s)." In the end, however, Ann Brashares, who was then co-president of Alloy with Les Morgenstein, decided to write the book. "According to three sources," the paper said, "Ms. Anderson was unhappy with this outcome."

"They have writers who don’t exist, and they have writers who don’t really write the stuff, and they have one series supposedly by one author that are by many," one unnamed author who has worked with the company told the New York Observer. "There’s no one-to-one alignment between anything that gets produced and the producer. There’s no literary accountability." (Sheelah Kolhatkar, "Viswanathan-athon: Plagiarizing Writer Fell in Weird Alloy," New York Observer, May 8.)

Back to Kaavya

The concept for the book that would become Opal emerged from Kaavya's conversations with an editor at Alloy, according to the Boston Globe. Once an outline was ready, one of Kaavya's agents at William Morris -- not someone at Alloy -- then pitched it to the big-name publishing houses. Little, Brown signed Kaavya for a two-book deal based on the strength of that Opal outline and the sales pitch of her William Morris agent.

According to the Boston Globe, when authors are brought in to write their own books, as in Kaavya's case, Alloy takes 30 to 50 percent of any money the author makes. On top of that, Kaavya's agent at William Morris would have taken the standard 15 percent of the $500,000 two-book deal she landed for Kaavya. (David Mehegan, "'Opal' Aided by Marketing Firm That Targets Teens," Boston Globe, May 8.)

Almost two weeks earlier, Alloy Entertainment president Les Morgenstein told the Boston Globe in an email that his firm did not help Kaavya with any of the actual writing. "We helped Kaavya conceptualize and plot the book," the paper reported him as writing. "We are looking into the serious allegations before commenting further." Indeed, that appears to be the last comment from anyone at Alloy since the publication of that one quote.

"A few literary agents contacted yesterday by the Globe raised eyebrows at the packager's active role in conceptualizing the novel," the paper reported in that early article about the plagiarism scandal. "We would never recommend to an author that they share copyright for something as minor as refining a concept," Boston-area literary agent Doe Coover told the paper. (Mehegan, 'After Duplicated Words, Words of Apology," Boston Globe, Apr. 25.) That day's particular article on the scandal led with Kaavya's prepared statement of apology for her plagiarism.

The Point Was Never the Novel

Kaavya Viswanathan doesn't even aspire to be an author; she wants to be in finance/banking on Wall Street. This was never about the book. Kaavya herself -- not the book -- was the product that she, her parents, IvyWise, William Morris, and Alloy Entertainment were trying to package, sell, and strategically position in the market. And for one brief shining moment there was a Camelot for the packaged-as-a-prodigy Kaavya.

Heck, she very well might not even have written the darn book that contains plagiarized passages. It would seem if that were the case she would set the record straight -- except that not having written the novel that carries her name and briefly made her a star would be an even bigger scandal than this plagiarism scandal already has been for her.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Harvard Plagiarism Scandal Exposes Modern-Day Machinations To Get Into College

It's hard to know what part of the plagiarism scandal involving 19-year-old Harvard student Kaavya Viswanathan is juiciest -- but oddly enough, it probably isn't her lifting of other authors' work. First up is the fact that first-time author Viswanathan landed a breathtaking $500,000 two-book contract with Little, Brown & Co. -- a publishing house unit of mega-media powerhouse Time Warner Inc. -- as a result of the work of a firm hired by her parents to help her get into college.

Viswanathan is the daughter of Indian parents, both doctors; Viswanathan, born in India, grew up in northern New Jersey. The book that got her into trouble, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life, tells the story of a New Jersey girl's effort to get into Harvard to fulfill her Indian parents' lifelong wish -- the character's parents lay out a strategy for getting Opal into Harvard when she is still a toddler. How much of Opal's story is actually fiction -- as opposed to nonfiction drawn directly from Viswanathan's own life -- is highly questionable, given Viswanathan's apparent inability to come up with entire storylines (nevermind sentences) of her own. Viswanathan appears to have creativity problems when dealing even with banal nonfiction: Like Opal's parents in the novel, for example, Viswanathan's father is a neurosurgeon who drives a Range Rover and her mother is a doctor who gave up medicine.

Interestingly, it turns out that long before the mainstream media began writing about Viswanathan's plagiarism scandal -- heck, even before Viswanathan wrote the novel -- major news outlets were quoting Viswanathan about ... her strategy to get into Harvard. Bloomberg's online business reporting outlet revealed last week that Viswanathan, "an English major who wants to be a banker, wasn't unknown to major publications before her book came out." Specifically, Bloomberg reporter Lisa Kassenaar found:

"As a student at Bergen County Academy in Hackensack, New Jersey, she was quoted in a Forbes magazine article on private counseling services like IvyWise. IvyWise's services can cost more than $30,000 and include guiding a child as young as 14 toward classes, awards and performances that will impress college admissions departments. Viswanathan was also featured in a 2004 essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education. In it, she speaks of sending monthly messages to the admissions officers at nine colleges, including Harvard and Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. "I think a lot of applying to college is about strategy," Viswanathan says in the piece.

The Viswanathans did indeed hire IvyWise's services to help get Kaavya into college. As part of the strategy to get her into Harvard, IvyWise got Kaavya represented by the William Morris Agency. Her agent there connected her to Alloy Entertainment, which, according to Bloomberg, "pulls together writers and ideas and shops a refined 'package' to publishers and movie houses." The idea was to package and sell Kaavya at least as much as the book itself.

Little, Brown earlier this year held a luncheon for its new authors at an Italian restaurant in midtown Manhattan, one publishing insider told Bloomberg. Viswanathan arrived after interviews for summer internships that morning at Wall Street firms, he says she told him. "She said she loved writing but didn't feel she would pursue a professional writing career after college," Bloomberg quoted the insider as saying.

Wow. In the convoluted process of getting into Harvard this young woman landed a $500,000 two-book contract and did not even aspire to be an author. That tells us something not only about the modern-day college admissions process but also about the crank-'em-out cash-cow "chick-lit" publishing machine, which, had it been staffed by anyone with a pulse, should have spit out a piece of work so obviously uninspired and unoriginal -- but that's an aspect of the scandal that will get its own blog.