Monday, May 10, 2010

Pernicious Cultural Messages

The way that CNN pretty much pulled a 180 on Jaclyn Friedman is both ridiculous, but also strangely transparent in its urge to promote mainstream cultural conversations. Check out this post for the skinny on it.

The part that I find a little strange is that, for CNN, it sounds like they had a pretty good idea of what this segment they were running was going to sound like, well before they consulted any experts or talking heads. The mainstream culture already has a message for artists like Ke$ha and others who promote female wildness, and CNN was pretty intentional about making sure that message got promoted at the end of the day.

My question is why they decided they wanted to use Jaclyn Friedman to support that message. For a chunk of CNN readers, Jaclyn's name may not mean anything, and her being quoted out of context almost doesn't matter for those readers. Even our biggest Feminist names don't have quite the cultural penetration into popular cultural consciousness that, say, Ke$ha has, unfortunately. But Jaclyn's name is pretty big, especially in the world of rape prevention. For anyone who's heard of her even a little bit, they probably have an inkling that the quotes CNN published don't quite sound right, based on what else they may know of Jaclyn.

It feels almost like CNN either didn't know who Jaclyn is, or they deliberately set out to trash her reputation. This is not that much different than having CNN invite someone like, say, the late Dr. Howard Zinn to speak on history, and then misquoting him as saying that history is made by kings and presidents. It's not only not what he would say, it's the exact opposite of what he would say.

How pernicious must these cultural messages about drinking, sex, and gender roles be for CNN to pick not only someone who wouldn't really agree with the story they wanted to write, but who vehemently disagreed, and had spent most of her professional life opposing it? I don't know why they didn't just grab some random talking head who has no reputation for this segment.

Now Jaclyn has used her superpowers to call attention to the fact that CNN misquoted her, used her name and not her thoughts, and tried to stack a B.S. story on top of her credibility. I love that. It's awesome. But it's annoying that, instead of reporting on reality as it is, and actually allowing her the space to share her ideas for real, CNN tried to shoe-horn Jaclyn's points into the pre-determined shoebox they made for the story.

I'm not the biggest fan of the Freakonomics guys, but one thing I will certainly cede to them: once we look at real data in the real world that's based on reality, the social myths we constantly prop up and support (like, say that female drinking is responsible for rape) crumble around us. Conventional wisdom is pretty much always crap based on social power and not on facts and data. The more we can push up against them, and break them, the better off we'll all be because we'll have a world that actually respects real information. Hopefully.

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