Ford's attempt at edgy advertising prompts debate.

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Aug. 31 2006 4:47 PM

Focus on the Family

Ford's attempt at edgy advertising prompts debate.

TV commercials, more so than any object of media criticism here at Slate, seem to become emotionally charged occasions for reader self-reflection and projection. Seth Stevenson's review of Ford's new spot for its SUV featuring a divorced family is no exception.

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Perhaps because we assume that commercials represent prevailing social norms and mirror the demographics of their viewing public, the impulse is to judge ourselves against the subjects and scenarios depicted in them. (In a jab to fellow fraysters, 2divorceskid attacks exactly this impulse.)

While there were those who criticize Ford for treading down a slippery moral slope ("What's next? A minivan for polygamists?" asksoman1), most readers applaud a company willing to acknowledge the statistical and social realities of divorce—and, more important, provide a role model for divorced couples who engage with one another in a civil manner, as jmsr attests:

Ford did a great job showing people that divorcees can get along. I'm a happily remarried women and my husband and I have a great relationship with my ex. He visits, we socialize and are always courteous to his feelings about not being around the the kids on regular basis. He is a great Dad, we just didn't work as a romantic couple but do as friends - the great Dad is what I recognize him for not the ex husband. If more ex spouses would attempt a friendship the world, and our kids, would be MUCH happier!!!!

JBC013 goes further in her optimism, dubbing the ad "30 seconds of hopefulness":

I love this ad. First, it's far more representative of modern families than just about any other ad on TV. It took forever for advertisers to use non-white models, and it took even longer for them to use mixed-race couples. VW ads presented gay couples, and now Ford is using one example of a modern, nuclear family - and it does it in a positive, uplifting way. Just about every other media channel uses the absolute most explicit, exploitative images available because they are sensational. I think the Ford ad builds brand equity because it's memorable, and you remember Ford, if not the model. It leaves the viewer with a sense of hopefulness, whether they identify personally with the story or know someone who would. Besides, who cares where dad slept? The kids are just glad he was along for the ride.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Mr_Clean finds the underlying social message far from positive or uplifting:

Having spent thousands of dollars and years dealing with the courts and legal system simply to get my right to spend time with my children recognized and upheld, I am sick to death of what seems to be the prevailing attitude that fathers are good for nothing more than mailing a monthly check, and actually spending time with his children is a secondary (if not tertiary) consideration that should be left completely to the prevailing attitude of the mother. Perhaps Ford should have spent a little more time considering how it might alienate single fathers who are tired of being treated like second-class citizens in the lives of their own children before coming out with this ridiculous "bold moves" commercial. For continuing to perpetrate this ridiculous stereotype, I will certainly never purchase a Ford product again.

In Luchese's estimation, Ford's ad makes palpable a sense of social alienation more than it offers up the hope of post-divorce civility:

The commercial is for a form of transportation not a venue for negotiating the conundrum of father absence. Pursuing both in the same context is a bit nauseating if not revolting. I view that SUV as more of a reason for divorce rather than some conciliator. It consumes too much fuel, has the aura of a combat vehicle and distances those who are occupants. Hence our oil dependence, the triumph of aggression as our dominant means of social discourse and the social isolation that now prevents successful interpersonal relationships. We have become much better at fighting wars, fighting each other and retreating into our boxes than establishing successful marriages or families. That is the real theme of the commercial.

revrick highlights the symbolic role of SUV as protector and father substitute:

While SUVs, with many of their names meant to evoke the image of the rugged cowboy, have appealed to men as a way to play out their fantasies of being that cowboy, they have also appealed even more to women as the cowboy/protector they long for. SUVs are mobile guardians against the dangers of a hostile world (never mind the tremendous amount of projection going on here, since research indicates that SUV owners tend to be more hostile than average). This mom, now without her husband, has an SUV to replace him in the role of protector. The message to divorced moms is that this SUV will not fail you like your ex did.

Nor will the Ad Report Card Fray fail to arouse further debate on this matter. Click here to find additional posts. AC4:30pm EDT

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Friday, August 25, 2006

Amanda Schaffer's analysis weighing the risks and benefits of stomach stapling for teenagers drew a strong reaction from readers.

ponderthis declares herself fed up with the media's obsession over fat and fat people:

Everyday we, as consumers, are bombarded with articles, television broadcasts and radio spots, talking about how fat we are and what we need to do - better yet, buy - to avoid the myriad dangers that are associated with being overweight. We constantly hear "buy this food because it helps to reduce cholesterol" or "get this procedure because it will improve your health." This one is my favorite - exercise more!

kaydia attacks the underlying assumption of the debate:

The writer seems to imply that being heavy is a curse that must be overcome no matter what the cost. One does not have to be thin to be healty. You have to love and accept yourself for who you are despite what oher people may think of you.

Luchese responds:

Actually shame is probably at the heart of most over eating. The problem is weight does have impact on chronic disease, early disability and premature death. But I agree that surgery is a cruel and somewhat inhuman approach with teenagers. Non of the resources invested in this procedure are matched by preventive health care. That is the true tragedy.                       

In another instance of pathologizing fat people, livestephen thinks the procedure will be ineffective unless more fundamental psychological "dysfunction" is addressed:

These teens are suffering and making their symptoms disappear with stomach stapling just leaves them mutalated but still carrying the weight of the dysfunction that causes countless people to seek comfort and sedation in food.

In this testimonial, nicolet describes the life-changing consequence of her own gastric bypass surgery:

I was just 16 when I had the surgery. I was 5 foot even and topped the scales at 220. I don't regret one bit of the surgery. It gave me a whole new life that I would have never known if it was not for the surgery. Yes you do have to take medication for the rest of your life and you do "dump" and it does make you very sick. But in the end it is all worth it. Many teens don't understand how much your life changes. There are only certain things you can eat. Sugars for one are not allowed. You don't eat but only a few bits of something so buffets are gone. I am one who can't have dairy products. I have to say my food freedom is gone but my freedom on life I finnaly discovered!!!

That said, Eigenvector reacts with shock at the prospect of such a radical solution to child obesity. MSMcGahhey also thinks it too extreme.

Chime in over at the Medical Examiner. AC 7:48pm

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

John Kinkaid's article, "Little Miss Sunshine," has stirred up a heated debate in the Culturebox Fray. Does the media storm surrounding the murder of JonBenet Ramsey reveal something sinister about American culture, and about us as media consumers?

Many readers reject the central premise of Kincaid's argument—that "we" have any interest in the Ramsey murder at all. Valiantly overcoming their disinterest in the case long enough to read the article, formulate a response, and post it on the Fray, such readers profess helplessness in the face of saturation Ramsey coverage. SeanD has a more empathetic take:

What a strange position Kincaid took, accusing us all of vicarious pedophilia! It seems he's fallen into a trap very familiar to those of us who work with criminal offenders: If you spend all day around people who have done terrible things, you start to think that the world is a terrible place full of terrible people.

It sounds like Mr. Kincaid needs to get out of the office more and chat with a few of us NON-pedophiles. You know, the overwhelming majority of the population, who feel absolutely nothing sexual for Jonbenet or any other inappropriately-dressed child, and can't comprehend why anyone would. [... Otherwise], he'll simply end up writing more articles like this one, which undermine themselves by taking on the very sensational and breathless tone that he claims to be condemning.

CaLawyer doesn't deny an interest in the case but resents the charge that it's an "obsession."

Like many people, I have an interest in this unsolved crime, and like most people, I am no more "obsessed" with this story than I am "obsessed" with other news stories. Methinks writers like Kincaid doth protest too much when he paints a picture of us who are interested in this case as weirdoes who are "obsessed" with the murder of a six-year-old beauty queen. These finger-pointers tip their hand when they use words like "titillating" to describe this horrific case. Like most people, I find nothing titillating about the death of a six year old girl. Maybe Kincaid and his ilk do, and they are projecting their own prurient reasons for their fascination with this case onto us.

As a law student himself, Freditor_G appreciates the lawyerly touch of CaLawyer's factor test explaining the story's appeal.

Not all readers are so quick to refuse responsibility for the eroticization of children. adept42 surmises that a secret longing for children is far more widespread than we may wish to believe:

Think back to your own adolescence. I'll bet that most of you will be able to remember developing an erotic interest in the opposite sex years before you were ready or able to act on that impulse. I don't think anyone would consider it strange or unhealthy for a child to be attracted to someone their own age.

Of course you've moved on but youthful desires never completely die. [...] Pedophilia isn't some kind of ultimate evil -its ultimate childishness. Its adults trying to make themselves happy with the same dreams they've had since they were kids. Its sad and pathetic more than anything else. Now of course a pedophile's crimes are awful and they deserve to be punished. But demonizing them and claiming we have absolutely never felt anything anywhere close to what they feel is a dangerous lie.

theotherme goes even further, arguing that sexual gratification is a unitary urge:

Imagine a spectrum titled "satisfying sexual urges via objects external to us." At both ends of the scale there are socially unacceptable objects. Let's say as you move to the left on the scale you start seeing inanimate objects, such as the crease on that old couch in the basement of a fraternity house. [...] Farther to the right, you start seeing animals, the mentally ill or undeveloped, dead people all the time, and children. In the broad middle of the range we find socially acceptable sexual activity -- sex with consenting adult partners pretty much captures it. [...]

Your very denial of any intention to have sex with children is proof positive that the power of your repressive reflex, far from being the guarantee of your celibacy with regard to children, is rather the precondition of their eroticization: the strength and energy of the "never with children" is a suspect defense mechanism. Of course, we would all love to have sex with kids. They're cute. They have nice skin. They smile winningly. In general, all those creatures who are cute, with nice skin, and who smile winningly (such as pumpkins, pigs named Babe -- we all know the list) act as excellent objects for discharging sexual energy. [...]

The mere fact that there's a *basis* for such-and-such behavior in humans does not lead to the conclusion that it's okay to do it, nor that the true origin of the behavior is in us. Rather, since the overwhelming majority do not use either pumpkins or children for the release of sexual energy -- despite the presence of unexplored tendencies in these directions -- we need to look *elsewhere* for the causal agent producing this behavior in a small subset of the population.

A former student of Kincaid's, hamlineprof struggles to bring the discussion back on topic:

Kincaid deplores the mistreatment of children in this culture, hell the mistreatment of every- and anyone. But, he argues, in a culture which claims to idealize the innocence of children, and raises a ruckus over every perceived threat to such innocents (from the media to strange abductors to you-name-it), why is there such *fascination* with the most extreme forms of mistreatment? Or, if we're so concerned with the mistreated, why aren't there blitzes of media coverage around the everyday abuses of children in poverty--why do we focus on the rarest of rare, and ignore the actual problems facing those we seek to protect? [...] On the one hand we ostensibly want to separate children from pain and abuse and sexuality and various other horrors. On the other hand, we ignore the most widespread and dangerous of such horrors.

MsZilla ventures an explanation for why that is so:

Because stranger danger can be helped. Whereas the other sort of thing really can't be. Because they don't have a simple pat answer to the actual problem, they'll give you a wrong but simple and pat answer to a tiny speck of it and hope that convinces you they have a good reason they have their head that far up their you-guessed-it. That's why they like to focus on it.

The training that is given in school, by child protection advocates and is recommended for parents can be effective when it comes to dealing with strangers. But it's very different when the person has the authority and influence on the child and the time with them to slowly get around that training. And a very small percentage of these crimes are committed by strangers. [...]

No amount of the training or practicing saying "No!" or any of the rest of it is terribly effective against an intelligent predator that is known to the child. And that is an absurdly large percentage of the cases. [...]

I was taught the same things when I was growing up. I practiced saying "No!" and did the little games with the teachers and my Mom. We read the coloring books and went through them and we "talked about it". I agonized to myself every time the subject came up, but I never told. I said the right things so my mother wouldn't worry. I didn't hate him. He was my stepfather. He was the father of my brothers and sisters. He was family. I loved him and I didn't want him to get in trouble. [...]

Do you honestly think your daughters would use those self-defense tactics on you? Say your four-year-old doesn't want to take off the pants she just tromped through a mud-puddle in because they're here favorites and she wants to wear them anyways. You're not gonna let her do that because she'll get mud everywhere and you don't have time to deal with the fuss because you have to go pick your wife up at the airport. So you deal with the situation by taking them off her. She gets scared. Do you in your heart of hearts think she'd fight you dirty enough to stop you? Do you think it's physically possible?

If the training you're talking about is to be at all effective, she would have to. It's all supposed to go off what makes them feel uncomfortable. So her fear because you look all angry and scary is supposed to trigger it. And changing her pants does involve getting your hands somewhere near a danger zone, and that's also supposed to do it. But you're her father. Do you think a few platitudes spouted at her once a year at school and a few pious affirmations by you that you mean she should do this even to you have a chance against that? Use your head.

Join the discussion in the  Culturebox Fray. GA 11:25pm PDT

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

George W. Bush's reading of Albert Camus' L'Étranger (The Stranger), combined with Sen. George Allen's public utterance of an apparently French-derived racial slur, represents the rare infusion of francophilia into American politics (by two members of the conservative establishment, no less). A far cry from the days of Freedom Fries, indeed.

TJA speculates that mention of this novel in Talladega Nights, the Will Ferrell NASCAR comedy, might have inspired W.'s choice.

As a matter of diplomacy, Utek1 declares it was "probably unwise for the president to be seen reading a book about a soulless murderer of Arabs":

With Iraq in chaos, the ceasefire in Lebanon hanging by a thread, and the US making noises about invading Iran, the last thing Bush should be doing is throwing gasoline on the fire. But once an oil man, always an oil man.

Fortunately, the easiest way for Bush to make amends is to continue onto Camus' next novel, The Plague. Here, the hero isn't a murderer, but a doctor battling an epidemic of bubonic plague in the Algerian town of Oran. Despite the pestilence afflicting all those around him, the doctor continues to do his small part to relieve their suffering. The image of Bush reading about a Western caregiver providing comfort to Muslims during a bleak moment in their history would be a lot better PR for Bush than to be seen getting tips on how to murder Arabs without remorse.

Contrary to Dickerson, bhardin offers an alternative theory about the quintessential symbolism shared between Meursault (the protagonist in The Stranger) and G.W.:

The most interesting aspect of the novel is why Mersault is put to death. It isn't because he killed Arabs, which was rarely met with the death penalty. Rather it was his lack of compassion and explanation of his motives to the demanding public. Ultimately he was killed because he showed no sadness for the death of his mother. The public viewed him as inhuman. Bush is persecuted like Mersault not because he is a "remorseless killer of Arabs", but because he doesn't engage the public to explain himself. Bill Clinton also killed Arabs (e.g. bombing a "chemical weapons" plant/hospital in the Sudan) during his last year in office. However, he was an excellent communicator of emotions- he felt my pain. Of course, Bill would find more literary parallels with Willy Loman than Mersault.

Mersault is perhaps one of the most complex characters in modern literature, but to the mob that shouted for his death he would have been viewed as a Bush-like moron. Maybe, behind Bush's façade is a deeper, stoic intellectual who connects with a character publicly persecuted for his taciturn nature.

Soltasto, for one, applauds W.'s expansion of his intellectual horizons:

Regardless of his intentions, it will bring sorely needed new ideas to the man's head. I'm no Bush fan, but it is always important to defend any person's right to seek new information and evolve. Everything that penetrates his consciousness is going to affect his decisions in the future. For the next two years those decisions will affect everyone on Earth. Any actions this man takes toward expanding his tiny box of ideas should be applauded.

Thanks to astrotdog for tracking down the possible etymology of macaca:

Macaca ?= Makak = macaque = a french/belgium/dutch epithet for a Arab or black North African; derived from macaque, the old world monkey, once common in North Africa.

Further evidence of this derivation: Allen speaks French and his mother is of Tunisian origin, according to Clown_Nose.

As for Allen, RedStateImpressions criticizes Dickerson's "superficiality" as a journalist and for getting

the relation between Allen's racial attitudes and his "boobery" wrong. First, Allen isn't "racially insensitive"; he's a racist. Allen's as much a racist as Mel Gibson is an anti-semite. The "macaca" comment comes on top of the Confederate flag fascination, the picture of a noose hanging from a tree, and the pro-Confederate proclamations Allen made while governor. We should all be honest enough to take the broad hints that Allen's been giving us.

Dickerson also writes as though being a racist and being a boob are different things. This is not the case with Allen. The "macaca" comment was a pretty standard boob approach to racism. Instead of calling the opposition photographer Sidarth by one of the standard racial epithets for dark-skinned people, Sen. Allen thought that he would use a fancy French term for blacks that no one would recognize. This is almost precisely what it means to be a boob, to think that you're the smartest person in the room even while you're making an idiot of yourself. Sen. Allen thought he was demonstrating his racial superiority to the irritating guy, thought he was entertaining his all-white audience, and thought he was scoring points while he was NOT noticing that Sidarth was holding a camera in his hand and recording the whole blundering soliloguy. What a racist boob!

As little respect as I have for George Bush, it wasn't fair for Dickerson to equate Allen with the President. Whatever his failures as president and "goofy, amiable, towel-snapping qualities," Pres. Bush has too much "message discipline" to be caught making that kind of racist comment on camera even if he feels that way in private (and I don't think he does). Perhaps the worst thing you can say about George Allen is that he is considerably more of a boob than George Bush.

Not that such a thing would stop the Republicans from nominating him.

A profusion of additional commentary can be found in Politics. AC5:53pm PDT

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Monday, August 14, 2006

In her latest column, "Teen Terror," Dahlia Lithwick ponders the similarities between a teenager and a terrorist. While noting many commonalities—or, perhaps, overlaps—between the two categories, Lithwick believes that, "because teenage boys with grudges are fundamentally different from adult men with liquid explosives, we should resist the lure of using terror laws to prosecute them."

Several readers disagree that American high-schoolers with dreams of mass homicide are different in nature from Islamic terrorists bent on mayhem and destruction. HLS2003 doesn't think Lithwick's case adds up:

The only analysis she does offer contradicts her assertion. After all, what is the difference between Timothy McVeigh and Mohammed Atta, other than one's motivation by Nazi fascism and one's motivation by a form of religious fascism? They were both terrorists and they both wanted to kill a lot of people. And how old do you think many of these terrorists are, Dahlia? Are they all thirty-somethings who have gotten past the pimply stage? Or are many young and impressionable teens just like your alleged victims here?

Another practicing attorney, carolfb, explains the legal doctrine of "terroristic threat":

While modern "terrorism as a political weapon" has changed our use of words, people have been terrorizing other people for millenia. "Terroristic threat" is not a new idea springing from the world-wide-war-on-terror, but an old concept in criminal law. While I would agree the teens you discuss are not "terrorists" as the word is used today, their actions (if proven) do indeed constitute "terroristic threats".

A terroristic threat is any credible threat that terrorizes another. [...] Depending on where you live, there are historical artifacts in these statutes. In Georgia, a terroristic act includes burning a cross or other symbol with the intent to terrorize another or another's household. Depending on the seriousness of the threat, the charge can be a misdemeanor or felony. [...]

My experience with terroristic threats comes primarily from representing women in domestic violence cases. [...] The goal in these crimes is the same goal as international terrorism, writ small. The abuser wants to control "his" woman. She won't challenge him so long as she is afraid of him. Usually VERY afraid of him. [...]

The teens you describe are also seeking to control those around them -- perhaps for different reasons but with the same tool -- terror. I agree that these kids are not international terrorists a la Osama Bin Laden. They are, however, mixed up adolescents who are INTENDING to scare the pants off other folks. That is the whole point of these activities: hurt or kill some folks, TERRORIZE lots more. The criminal code does and should address not only the physical assault, but the "terroristic threat".

Clown_Nose agrees there's a difference between American teenagers and Islamic terrorists but wants to close the gap as quickly as possible:

Why doesn't the United States take advantage of the teen angst like the Islamists do?

It seems to me that we know that suicide is a leading cause of death for teens. Islamists take advantage of this by telling these teens that it is God calling them to kill infidels.
Instead of using psychologists to try (and fail) to fix this defect, why don't we seize the opportunity and send these people over seas to blow up terrorist cells? They are going to die anyway, we might as well get some value out of it. [...] Lets jump on the bandwagon and use some losers too.

Dayenu not only believes we should treat murderous students as terrorists, she's prepared to take out the stateside sponsors who harbor them:

It does seem that one element is missing from this equation. It would probably be a good idea to prosecute and lock up parents who exist in such a moral vacuum that they could watch their kids assemble arsenals and do nothing.

As long as we're talking categorically, FoxyGoth notes that homicidal kids draped in black aren't really Goth.

Several posters write in to help explain the difference between the Columbine shooters and international terrorists. Eigenvector argues for an intuitive approach: "Yeah the line is grey, faintly grey, but don't we have enough definitions of killer so that we don't have to pile on to the latest fad in bloodshed?" Angharad fingers ideology as the relevant factor.

There are also some interesting variants on the theme of blaming society for homegrown child terrorists. Luchese puts the prosecutors of seriously wayward youth into the docket:

Children and adolescents are not adults. They should never even be considered such in a court. But this society has become punitive, vengeful and rigid in its own obsession to achieve "justice" through the courts. Trying American children or adolescents as terrorist is barbaric, abominable and counter productive to what the real issues are; human understanding, compassion and prevention. But when the adults who promulgate this form of retribution it indicates they are still attempting to resolve their own childhood and adolescent anger, fear and depression and have given up. It is therefore projected onto the victim and then it is simple human sacrifice to bring, in the long run, a short term solution.

BenK has a strangely compelling argument for pinning teen terrorism on FDR's New Deal:

My mind turns to ways to solve their basic problem. For instance: get them out of school, into jobs they can be proud of, where they can prove themselves, perhaps attract girls, and relieve themselves of the depression and anxiety that may largely be the fault of FDR's misguided attempts to reduce unemployment by forcing employable young men back into school and out of the work force.

Discussion is off to an excellent start in the Jurisprudence Fray. Come on in and join us. GA 12:00am PDT

Adam Christian is co-editor of the Fray.

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