March 18, 2005


Blame it on Paris
by Rhiannon Ross

Seems the election wasn't decided by cultural values, after all. The New Yorker reported that top election pollsters determined that many voters instead made their presidential choice based upon three ominous numbers: 911.

While I've no reason to doubt the pollsters, I can't seem to erase the buzz term "cultural values" from my mind. Nor do I want to. Especially as our government prepares to slash one social program after another and is ready to cut food programs for the poor to save farm subsidies, some of which go to rich New Yorkers who've never even been on a farm.

Following the election, I landed a part-time job researching and summarizing daily news and entertainment for the networks. Under usual circumstances, this would be a great job for a news junkie like me. But it also meant I would have to cover George Bush, ad nauseum, for "four more years," which for approximately one-half of those who voted, sounds more like an extended prison sentence than a reason for celebration.

But I also cover entertainment "news." This is true nausea. I can honestly say that before the election, I didn't know who the hell Paris Hilton was. Nothing against Paris, per se, but it's like covering the life of a human Barbie Doll. One entertainment episode followed her as she walked up and down a New York sidewalk and shopped. Another featured the gifts her Chihuahua received for Christmas.

Even the First Lady appears on the entertainment programs, discussing "important" topics such as her fashion designers of choice and daughter Jenna's love life. Laura's jet-setter twins receive almost as much coverage as Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen.

I could be mistaken but I don't ever recall seeing Hillary Clinton on Insider or Entertainment Tonight while Bill was in office.

But what I find disconcerting is that there may be "average" Americans who seriously follow these shows of conspicuous consumption and empty lives. And that some of these viewers — while they may not have decided the presidential election — voted against the cultural values depicted by Hollywood in these programs.

Americans have often based their perceptions on TV…on Ozzie and Harriet, Ward and June Cleaver and Dick and Laura Petrie. These '50s and '60s sitcom characters gave us idealized marriages and separate twin beds.

Only later did we find out there usually was more going on behind the scenes and between the sheets.

When we watched The Brady Bunch in the '70s, little did we know that actor Florence Henderson a k a "Mrs. Brady," was trying to bed actor Barry Williams, who played her teen stepson "Greg." This sounds more like a premise for one of today's reality shows.

But even the reality shows are reportedly scripted and as far from most people's reality as one can possibly get.

How many people really believe they can find a soul mate on live television in a mere matter of weeks? And how many dwarves do you know who dump a Playboy Bunny wife to dine off the body of a nymph on television? Of course, the latter episode is from the Surreal Life so at least it's appropriatelynamed.

We are a society addicted to television and this medium shapes, in part, our life perceptions. But it's unfortunate that it also may have determined for some voters whom they elected, or didn't elect, for president.

Rhiannon Ross lives in Kansas. She can be contacted at or






























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