Posted on | August 29, 2011 | 33 Comments
Conclusively demonstrating that aesthetically impaired Americans suffer economic disadvantages, an academic writes in the New York Times:
A more radical solution may be needed: why not offer legal protections to the ugly, as we do with racial, ethnic and religious minorities, women and handicapped individuals?
We actually already do offer such protections in a few places, including in some jurisdictions in California, and in the District of Columbia, where discriminatory treatment based on looks in hiring, promotions, housing and other areas is prohibited. Ugliness could be protected generally in the United States by small extensions of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Ugly people could be allowed to seek help from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other agencies in overcoming the effects of discrimination. We could even have affirmative-action programs for the ugly.
You laugh, but it’s really no laughing matter — although, 20 years ago, I myself used to laugh at the beauty-pageant finalists who, during the interview segment of the competition, would tell the emcee that their career ambition was to be a television news anchor.
Print journalists have an instinctive contempt for the overpaid show-biz of TV news and tt never occurred to me, during the first dozen years of my career as a journalist, that anyone gave a damn what a writer looked like. Then I arrived in Washington, where journalists are often also TV commentators, and was shocked to discover the advantages enjoyed by the camera-friendly.
Of course, telegenicity isn’t entirely about good looks. There is a certain skill involved in the TV pundit’s game: Staring into a camera while speaking with persuasive confidence is not an inborn talent, but an acquired skill, as I learned on a few occasions when I was interviewed about some of my Washington Times articles that made national impact. Watching video of those interviews was excruciatingly painful: Not just my homeliness, but the “uhs” and “umms,” my tendency to glance off-camera while collecting my thoughts, my natural “wired” energy resulting in herky-jerky motions like Kramer on Seinfeld.
Seeing how embarrassingly bad I was on TV actually increased my appreciation for those who are good at it. When you see Michelle Malkin on one of those “remote” interviews — i.e., when she’s doing the stare-at-the-camera thing in a Colorado studio while being interviewed by a Fox host in New York — you have no idea how much effort is involved in what she’s doing: Speaking coherently, while listening through an earpiece to the audio of a host you can’t see, and all the while gazing at that camera lens as if conversing with friend.
To seem “natural” during such an unnatural experience may look easy, but that’s just it: Like a virtuoso guitarist who plays a blistering solo while happily rocking onstage, the good TV performer has practiced relentlessly to make it look easy.
Whey Donkey Cons was published in 2006, the publisher offered to pay for “media training,” but I told the publicist not to bother trying to book me on TV, rather to pitch my co-author Lynn Vincent for TV appearances, while I would take as many talk-radio guest spots as they could book, because I’ve got a face for radio.
OK, so fast-forward to a few weeks ago, while I was in Iowa, where I got an earful from a friend who accused me of envy for having slung a bit of Twitter snark when Hot Air hired Tina Korbe. Being in no mood to accept criticism from my friend, and considering the accusation of envy as particularly insulting, I responded with a rant explaining myself.
Hot Air advertised its plan to hire a third blogger on a bulletin board site, at which time a longtime friend — a grizzled veteran of online New Media — called to tell me he had seen the ad and was thinking about applying. He asked if I was going to apply and, if not, would I recommend him for the gig? My response was no, I wasn’t going to apply and, while I would be more than happy to recommend my friend, I strongly believed he would be wasting his time by applying.
The logic of that analysis: Surely such a prestigious position — Hot Air being one of the highest-traffic sites on the Right — could have been filled without a help-wanted ad. It seemed to me that (as is so often the case in such situations) this “cattle call” ad was pro forma, a token gesture perhaps required by corporate policy, and in all likelihood they already had in mind the person they were going to hire for the job.
Besides, I told my grizzled friend, if Hot Air wanted to hire me, they knew where to find me. The very fact that they had advertised the position was ample indication that my application wasn’t welcome.
The longtime veteran of New Media with whom I had that conversation was not the only one of my blogger buddies who were interested in the Hot Air gig. Many people applied for that job and my discouragement against getting their hopes up did not entirely console my friends when they found themselves rejected as unworthy.
This was the essence of the explanatory rant I shared with my friend in Iowa who accused me of envy based on my Twitter snark about Hot Air’s hiring of Korbe as a decision based on Rule 5.
Envy? No — an objective assessment of the commercial incentives which I perfectly understand, even though I also understand how these incentives are directly disadvantageous to my own professional career. How could I possibly object to Hot Air doing exactly what I would have done in the same situation, namely hiring a pretty face to represent the organization on TV? So I don’t resent Korbe at all — I’ve linked her work a few times — but do resent that Hot Air had to go through the motions of advertising the position, as if the job were open to any blogger, before hiring Rob Bluey’s former assistant, barely a year out of college.
The friend who scolded me in Iowa said, “Well, they had to do that — EEOC regulations.” And I said that this was a good argument for abolishing the EEOC, but cold comfort to the rejected applicants. Jerry Wilson expressed the cynical view:
It’d be nice if the powers that be in conservative media, all of whom happen to be men, would admit the painfully obvious truth. Given the opportunity, over anyone and everyone else they will pick the sweet young thing. Every. Single. Time.
As for my own personal feelings, who cares? While I’m often accused of unfairly hurting other people’s feelings, no one ever seems to care about my feelings. I’ve long ceased to expect anything except insults from anyone, and those expectations are seldom disappointed. So I’m not planning to sue anybody for my ugliness, which isn’t anyone’s fault.
Smitty, on the other hand, is a tort lawyer’s dream. If there were affirmative action for the ugly, Smitty might have graduated from Harvard Law and become President of the United States by now. IYKWIMAITYD.
UPDATE: Jerry Wilson responds on Twitter that I am ”much more gracious about Ms. Korbe’s hiring” that he is, but why not be gracious? One might as well envy an NBA player for being tall as to resent a pretty girl for being pretty. Permit me to quote the late Neil Postman on the aesthetic essence of television:
Television, naturally enough, is biased toward compelling visual imagery, and in almost all cases the charms of a human face take precedence over the capabilities of a human voice. It is not essential that a TV newsreader grasp the meaning of what is being reported . . . What is essential is that the viewers like looking at their faces. To put it bluntly, as far as TV is concerned, in the United States there is not one sixty-year-old woman capable of being a newsreader. Viewers, it would appear, are not captivated by their faces. It is the teller, and not what is told, that matters here.
This is simply the reality of television. We may lament the fact that the aesthetic values of television influence the hiring of writers — i.e., because of the publicity value of having one of your writers appear regularly on Fox News or some other TV show — but we cannot blame TV producers for preferring camera-friendly commentators, nor blame publishers for wishing to hire writers with such potential. If we were producers or publishers, we would do the same.
We cannot resent the world for being the way it is. Or if we do, we are no better than liberals chasing after the ridiculous illusion of “social justice.” So unless we wish to see a lot of ugly people on TV — think of The View, minus Elizabeth Hasselback — there is no point complaining that the medium prefers pretty people. (And I say that at 3:20 p.m. ET, while Shep Smith is on Fox News.)