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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Tripping the Prom Queen

Jessica Simpson Goes After Angelina Jolie in A Public Affair

Current B-list celebrity Jessica Simpson and her C-list friend Christina Applegate dis Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston, and Oprah Winfrey in the beginning of Simpson's new music video, A Public Affair. The roller-disco-themed video starts with Simpson, Applegate, and, oddly, Eva Longoria -- arguably a celebrity out of Simpson's and Applegate's league, were it not for her very appearance in their company -- dreaming of international fame during a limousine ride.

Applegate asks, "Could we be any more famous?"

Simpson responds, "I wanna be so famous that every time I fall in love Oprah does a special about it."

Applegate banters back, "I want to be so famous that I have to have my babies in Africa."

Okay, what I want to know is, why do the women who write books like Queen Bees and Wannabes, Tripping the Prom Queen, and Odd Girl Out -- books about, in a nutshell, forms of aggression among girls -- need to conduct years of research studying anonymous preteens and teenagers when they've got reams of celebrity catfights to draw from to perfectly illustrate their points?

The pop star Pink's first single from her new album is called "Stupid Girls." In it she takes potshots at every B-list "porno paparazzi girl" she'd secretly like to top: In the video, Pink role-plays everyone from Jessica Simpson, Paris Hilton, and Lindsay Lohan, to a distressed, stumbling Olsen twin (presumably Mary-Kate, as tabloid aficionados would know). Appropriately, the title of Pink's album on which this track can be found is I'm Not Dead, meaning, of course, that her 15 minutes of fame were indeed over a half hour earlier. As for the rest of this B-list pack, even I don't bother to follow the Lohan-Simpson-Hilton-Olsen feuds; it's enough to know that they're all sleeping with each others' ex-boyfriends or publicly flirting with them and driving each other insane in both this competition and the bigger one regarding who has a bigger name in the fame game.

But people do follow these feuds -- a form of female aggression that's attention-getting for the instigator, which is no small part of its appeal to certain celebrities and high schoolers -- and even door-knob dull politicians are aware that these fights resonate in the public consciousness on some level. Take Al Gore, for example, who astutely observed the public interest such feuds ignite and used it to his advantage in promoting his global warming film, An Inconvenient Truth. On the Tonight Show, Gore denied he'd make a second run for the presidency; Jay Leno then joked that Gore's political aspirations are taking a backseat to his newfound "movie star status." Gore joked that leading the life of a Hollywood star isn't all fun: "For instance, I have this huge thing with Lindsay Lohan now," he said. Leno asked how the feud started and Gore demurred, saying only, "She knows what she did."

It's hilarious, you have to admit. And yet, it's also part of the game -- this surface appearance of it all being very funny (in some situations), just a joke, not serious, when in fact it's deadly so. Jessica Simpson publicly has professed her lust for Brad Pitt and made a pitch to movie producers that she play Pamela in the new Dallas movie and that they cast Brad Pitt as hubby Bobby. (No, I'm serious, this really happened.) At one point she considered adopting a baby from Africa and wanted to talk to Jolie and Pitt (but Pitt being key) about it. What we are witnessing is a barely concealed effort on Jessica Simpson's part to seduce Brad Pitt away from Angelina Jolie. When girls/women bring out the big guns they tend to engage in what the authors of the above-mentioned books might as well call -- and at least one does call it -- "plausible deniability." It can be a very effective and devastating form of aggression -- and if Simpson succeeds in getting under Angelina Jolie's skin, the result will be to instill a sense of insecurity and maybe even paranoia in the star. Because hey, it's actually Christina Applegate -- not Jessica Simpson! -- who makes the crack about wanting to be so famous she has to have her babies in Africa, for example. If Angelina Jolie pays any attention she might think she's reading too much into it, that she's paranoid. Her lover might even tell her that she's overreacting if she makes the mistake of so much as even trying to discuss Jessica Simpson's antics with him. But of course, Angelina Jolie wouldn't be unreasonably concerned by Jessica Simpson's aggression. It is indeed intended to be a potentially deadly attack against her, and if any woman would understand this it would be Angelina Jolie, who stole Brad Pitt from Jennifer Aniston. And before that stole Billy Bob Thornton from fiance Laura Dern.

Another interesting aspect of Jessica Simpson's catty exchange with Christina Applegate in the new video is the attack-by-gang strategy among women/girls. It defuses the responsibility for the attack that any one individual involved otherwise would carry. Jessica Simpson's target is Angelina Jolie; Christina Applegate's target presumably is fellow one-time television bombshell Jennifer Aniston -- and definitely Eva Longoria falls into this category currently, nevermind famously having been caught wearing a t-shirt that said, "I'll Have Your Baby, Brad," back when Aniston and Pitt were still married. Jennifer Aniston has as much reason to be on edge as Angelina Jolie; the very presence of Longoria in the video while Simpson takes pot shots at the unnamed Aniston is indeed nasty high-school-type hostility. The joke of it is, of course, that Simpson, Applegate, and Longoria are not in the same league of Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie -- and they know they are not, which his why they have no fear of brining Oprah into it, because they know Oprah in fact will never take any interest in them (and if she does, it will be to give them more publicity by lobbing a return potshot at one or all of them). At the same time, by attacking Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston publicly, these women *are* putting themselves into the same league forcibly; all of the women are now linked as a result of the feud Simpson/Applegate/Longoria have instigated. And to the aggressor, that alone is half the battle already won.

The tabloidesque edge of pop culture is informative when it comes to understanding what kinds of behavior the public is interested in following or empathizes with or copies. What we see are larger-than-life personalities engaging in the pettiest of pedestrian behavior; all of this tells us something about our own society's interactions and yes women's behavior -- especially in regard to women's aggressive behavior -- toward women. And men's, too. Here's an example of how men's aggression toward men differs from women's aggression toward women: When aging lothario Michael Douglas publicly wondered how long the Angelina Jolie-Brad Pitt union could possibly last, sniping that Pitt sooner or later would get tired of holding orphans for his lover, Pitt and pal George Clooney took immediate and definitive action. Showing Douglas who has more testosterone, Pitt and Clooney not only yanked Douglas's wife Catharine Zeta Jones from the third installment of the Ocean's Eleven trilogy, they had the scriptwriters summarily kill her character off so she could never return to the saga. Michael Douglas later issued a limp nonapology apology for his comments. Here's another recent example plucked from the tabloid pages of absurdity: fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger photgraphed fighting Guns 'N Roses frontman Axl Rose at a New York nightclub. Hilfiger reportedly was annoyed by Rose's attempts to move his girlfriend's drink on a table and told him to put the beverage back. According to Rose, Hilfiger just kept "smacking" him. Hilfiger says Rose "was being rude and obnoxious" and maintains "I was just protecting myself. ... I went after him before he could get me."

But back to the women: don't think there is any class or age of women above this behavior. Take, for example, the Star Jones-Barbara Walters kerfuffle. I could say more on that one but this post already is too long. Suffice it to say that in the heat of that blowup people could not get enough, viewers ate that feud up. And neither Star Jones, a lawyer, nor Barbara Walters, a journalist of reknown, could refrain from taking pot-shots at each other once the feud went public. Barbara Walters had the most to lose by engaging the battle -- in fact, by engaging at all her shiny reputation has been tarnished. Which is no small part of the reason Star Jones took this ugly battle with her boss public. In that case, regardless of the future direction of either woman, Star Jones won.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Look Who's Promoting 'Knuckle-Dragging Radical-Feminist Agitprop'

And Hear This: Avon's Calling!

Salma Hayek attended the 2003 Oscars as a best-actress nominee for her career-turning role in Frida, a film about Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist with a mustache. Shortly after, cosmetics giant Avon signed Hayek as its new global face of the company (no doubt leaving Nair and Zip Wax pouting). One of the key components of Hayek's relationship with Avon has been her work with the related Avon Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity, to develop and promote a new domestic violence program to which Avon has committed to donating $1 million over three years.

In 2005 testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, Hayek told senators in part:

Domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence or stalking shatters our society. Instead of having a relationship of love and respect, the victims of these crimes are betrayed by jealous and controlling violence of their intimate partners. These are stories that should not happen in the United States or anywhere else in the world. The United States has been -- and should continue to be -- a leader in reducing these crimes.

This is not a subject I had much personal experience with -- until I learned that a friend of mine was being beaten by her husband. Though I tried, I was not able to convince her to leave her husband -- even though I knew, and she knew, what kind of damage domestic violence was causing her. At the time, I considered that a personal failure.

I was completely outraged that women could endure such pain. I could not help my friend, but I decided I could help others. I visited domestic violence shelters and listened to the stories of other battered women. I saw the impact that domestic violence had on their children. I began to see why it was so hard for them to leave.

So, Hayek told the senators, she joined the Avon Foundation in its Speak Out Against Domestic Violence campaign in 2004. "I began speaking in public about this crime because I believe that we all have an obligation to help save our friends' lives," she said. (The full text of Hayek's testimony is available at judiciary.senate.gov.)

Earlier this year, in addition to her work with the foundation, Hayek personally donated $25,000 to a domestic violence shelter in her hometown of Coatzacoalcos, Mexico and another $50,000 to a shelter in her homeland's northern city of Monterrey.

Skin-So-Soft, Yet Subversive

"Avon Products, Inc. is a grassroots, woman-to-woman network that reaches the homes and hearts of women around the world," says Avon Foundation president Kathleen Walas. Founded more than 50 years ago, the Avon Foundation's mission is to improve the lives of women globally. Its current two key areas of focus are the fight against breast cancer -- the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, launched in 1992, has raised and awarded more than $450 million worldwide for access to care and finding a cure -- and support for woman’s empowerment programs, including women's economic advancement and working against domestic violence.

The Speak Out Against Domestic Violence program focuses on education, awareness and prevention programs, and provides support to victims. Aside from donating money directly to shelters, probably the biggest part of the program involves grassroots education and awareness through Avon's sales representative network. In the United States, for example, Avon's 650,000 U.S. sales representatives have distributed a free domestic violence brochure -- available in English and Spanish, and online as well -- to their customers. (Avon has more than 5 million sales representatives worldwide -- it is the world's largest direct seller -- who call on customers in more than 100 countries.) The foundation also is developing model domestic violence education and support programs at Avon's regional facilities across the United States and in partnership with Avon facilities worldwide, and is producing public service announcements about the issue.(More inforation is available at avoncompany.com.)

Avon Lady: Man-Hater?

Interestingly -- and probably tellingly -- men, if not feminists, have taken notice already. To read a piece in mensNEWSdaily.com last month by David R. Usher, cofounder of the National Coalition for Fathers and Children, you'd think that all Avon Ladies had stopped waxing their mustaches. "Avon is spending millions perpetrating misandry in American culture," Usher wrote, taking these women quite seriously and calling for a boycott of Avon products. "The Avon Foundation strongly supports [the Violence Against Women Act], and has a number of pamphlets and programs promoting knuckle-dragging radical-feminist agitprop."

How many feminists are interested in the ways common women -- apolitical women, or maybe women with "false consciousnesses" -- are linked to other women in large networks? Especially when the common linkage is via an "evil" Fortune 500 "capitalist" cosmetics giant (promoting woman-hating and self-loathing) like Avon? The joke of it is that the Avon Foundation had been doing such charity work to better women's lives for some two decades before the Second Wave discovered Sisterhood. What's more, Avon has a corps of more than 5 million active sales reps worldwide, going to women door-to-door! If the feminist movement ever aspired to such numbers it certainly doesn't now. Frankly, this is a situation ripe with radical potential; there are several aspects of this story that are worthy of further feminist exploration (not the least of which is Salma Hayek, more power to her). And let's face it: Avon has long been ready for its closeup.