Tag Archives: Fox News

Pan(dem)ic Does Not Equal Panic

Debbie says:

Body image isn’t just about how we look, or how we think we look. It’s also about how we feel, including how healthy and safe we feel.

Last week, I read something about a “severe form” of the H1N1 flu which was reputedly putting young and healthy people into intensive care. This report turns out to be a small part of a big story. The reporting source is the World Health Organization. They put this information in the middle of their report, after this news:

The clinical picture of pandemic influenza is largely consistent across all countries. The overwhelming majority of patients continue to experience mild illness.

Without real numbers, here’s what they say about the severe form:

Perhaps most significantly, clinicians from around the world are reporting a very severe form of disease, also in young and otherwise healthy people, which is rarely seen during seasonal influenza infections. In these patients, the virus directly infects the lung, causing severe respiratory failure. Saving these lives depends on highly specialized and demanding care in intensive care units, usually with long and costly stays.

During the winter season in the southern hemisphere, several countries have viewed the need for intensive care as the greatest burden on health services. Some cities in these countries report that nearly 15 percent of hospitalized cases have required intensive care.

This is, of course, worrisome. At the same time, if 15 percent of hospitalized cases is 15 people, that’s very different than if it’s 150 or 1500 people. And we’re looking at what the WHO calls “a small number” of cases.

Sandy Szwarc at Junk Food Science doesn’t address the issue of the severe form; instead, she is her usual clear and informative self on the progress of the pandemic in general.

In reality, the pandemic H1N1 variant has proven to remain far less virulent (milder) than the seasonal flu, as evidenced in Australia and the United States. As of last week, the total number of influenza-related deaths in the United States — including from the H1N1 pandemic — have remained below epidemic levels and resulted in 2009 being the mildest flu year in more than a decade.

“If we have to have influenza, I would clearly choose novel H1N1,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, just told the Wall Street Journal.

Sandy goes on to talk about the way the pandemic is being used to sell

… 133 H1N1 products believed to be fraudulent and of criminal activity associated with the swine flu virus The list of fraudulent products include air purifying systems, body washes and shampoos, protective devices, masks and gloves, hand sanitizers and gels, inhaler products, herbal flu remedies, sprays, supplements and teas, and H1N1 tests.”

And that doesn’t even count the products that the Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission haven’t gone after yet.

Googling “severe H1N1” reveals that roughly 80% of the news sources are Fox News and Fox News affiliates, and most of the rest picked it up from Fox. I had to look for a while before I found what I consider to be a reputable news source: the New York Times picking up a Reuters article. No one, not Fox, not the Times, and not anyone else I looked at quotes anything from the WHO report except for the severe form information: the quotation you’ll see at the top of this post seems to be something the mainstream media doesn’t think is important or interesting.

So, don’t panic, don’t believe everything you read or hear, and don’t by over-the-counter crap that claims it will keep you safe. Instead, wash your hands, make sure your kids wash their hands, and go on about your business.

Pores, Wrinkles, and ‘Unwanted’ Facial Hair: How to Photograph a Real Human Being

Debbie says:

The Republican Party has invented a whole new way to insult a candidate (or at least to claim that a candidate has been insulted): print an honest picture.

Here’s the picture:

close-up of Sarah Palin on the cover of Newsweek

Let’s start by stating two things up front: first, I have absolutely no reason to believe that Governor Palin has been in any way upset or offended by this picture. In fact, I believe there’s some indication that she doesn’t consider this a problem.

Second, Laurie–who isn’t available to blog this with me–has devoted her photographic career to the proposition that “making the invisible visible,” photographing people as we are is important social change. I’ve been working with her since before she started taking photographs, so in one sense I’m not the least bit surprised. (If you don’t know Laurie’s photographs, look here, here and here.)

Ordinarily, I don’t like to embed sources I deplore, but in this case, the Fox News excerpt is worth watching, because it’s worth analyzing.

Note that the clip has two talking heads, other than the newscaster, who hardly has a “fair and balanced” view of the question. On the right, with the title “Republican Media Consultant,” we have Andrea Tantaros, who is outraged. “This cover is a clear slap in the face to Sarah Palin. Why? Because it’s unretouched.”

Tantaros goes on to claim that the cover highlights “every imperfection that every human being has. Pores, unwanted facial hair, wrinkles.” Later in the clip she says of herself that if someone took a similar closeup of her, “it ain’t pretty.”

On the other side, we have Julia Piscitelli, from the “Women and Politics group at American University.” So we don’t know if she’s a student, a professor, or what her role is. Tantaros is a professional; Piscitelli may not be. It will not escape Body Impolitic readers that Piscitelli is also fat. Anyone think that’s a coincidence?

The clip rapidly turns into an arguing match, with the newscaster both agreeing with and giving precedence to Tantaros’s side. At one point, the newscaster says that retouching photographs is what magazines do.

I see three things going on here: first is the photograph itself. Ironically, Tantaros is very very close to right in how she describes it. The picture is unretouched. Once upon a time, before Photoshop, we would have called it … a photograph. Notice that there isn’t any easy way to describe an “unretouched photograph” without using a negative adjective. It does show pores and a few wrinkles around the eyes. Now, pores are not only something that everyone has, they are essential to life. Your skin breathes through your pores. If you don’t have any, that doesn’t make you a high-def porn star, or Miley Cyrus: it makes you dead. As for wrinkles, well, Governor Palin is 44. (The minimum legal age at which she can run for VP is 35.) Many people in their 30s have wrinkles around the eyes, more pronounced when they laugh or smile. As for “unwanted facial hair,” who says it’s “unwanted”? If it was truly unwanted, couldn’t she pluck it, or wax it? Maybe she likes it that way. I would think she would have people around her who prepare her for photo shoots; they could easily have removed any unwanted hair.

Second is the question of the caption, and comparable pictures of Barack Obama. Here, I think the critics have somewhat of a point. The “and that’s the problem” tagline of the caption is not complimentary to Governor Palin, and if you want to hook it to wrinkles and pores, I guess you can, although I doubt it’s what the magazine was trying to do. The comparison cover photo of Obama shown in this newscast is a completely different kind of photograph. I don’t think they’ve given him a halo, but they have gone out of their way to dehumanize him, just as they’ve gone out of their way to humanize Palin. Is one kinder than the other? More fair to a candidate? Less of a slap in the face? Questions worth pondering, if you think Newsweek covers are important enough to ponder. If I were going to examine this in depth, I’d want to look closely at covers not of Obama but of Hillary Clinton. (You can see one here, that looks as though it may be retouched, but also shows wrinkles.)

Third, and most important, is the underlying question of “what is a flaw”? Both Tantaros and the newscaster repeatedly say that “everyone has these flaws.” They also repeatedly say women will be shocked and horrified to see them. By an easy extension, this means that every woman is shocked and horrified every time she looks in the mirror and that every woman really wants to believe that the people in the pictures–movie stars, models, and apparently politicians–don’t have real skin and real hair, that somehow fame confers what Tantaros would call “flawlessness.”

Bottom line: hatred of pores, wrinkles, and facial hair is self-hatred. Tantaros says it herself, when she says a close-up of her “ain’t pretty.” I can only hope that her lovers, friends, and family like looking at the real Andrea Tantaros better than she likes it herself; and that they tell her frequently that they think she’s beautiful the way she is … unretouched.