Sometimes I weep for my journalist friends: or Paris Hilton stoops to conquer

This just in – on this Memorial Day weekend, when my colleagues at Scholars and Rogues are writing thoughtful analyses and contemplations of matters like the carnage in Iraq, immigration reform and its discontents, and the banality of evil that seems to be the Bush administration, my local fish wrap, uh newspaper, the Danville (VA) Register and Bee, chose to focus its main feature story on…wait for it…


Yes, in these times of crisis, when the Iraq War seems to be Vietnam II: The Sequel, when our economy is teetering towards chaotic, when we face grave energy, resource, and environmental threats, when our government is mired in scandals and our elected officials seem either a) intellectual and ethical paralytics or b) criminal sociopaths, my local paper touts a Paris Hilton/Imelda Marcos wannabe as a role model for girls in South side Virginia.

Those feelings of disgust aren’t solely yours, gentle reader.

The trumpeting of this triumph of “celeb-banality” over journalism begins in the teaser above the newspaper’s banner on its front page. The entire teaser is devoted to touting this insult to readers/subscribers. Beside a picture of the “star” of this piece (sorry I can’t provide a pic, but the paper’s web site didn’t include any, although there are two large – and what passes for provocative – photos of the girl [any creature who behaves like this does not deserve the honorable epithet of woman] in the printed newspaper – in one she’s curled up on her bed amid a pile of shoes while she offers up a stylishly tacky stiletto heeled number in a pose reminiscent of a model presenting a bottle of soda pop; in the other she’s leaning back – again, semi provocatively – on the hood of her car, the fingers of her right hand caressing the auto maker’s emblem – it’s a BMW, in case you were worried she wouldn’t have suitable transportation for all those lovely shoes. In case you’re wondering, she’s a not unattractive blonde (well done coloring job) – sort of a cross between what passed for a cheerleader hottie when you were in high school and Jessica Simpson before all the re-constructive work.

The teaser line screams: “If the shoe fits, buy more!”

Reason to read, indeed.

The article itself is a textbook example of why friends shouldn’t let friends (you can smell that this is a “buddy piece” from, oh, Denver) write newspaper articles about them – especially if one friend is a vapid, spoiled shopaholic and the other is a bad writer. Between empty headed quotes that would make the aforementioned Ms. Simpson think the subject of the story is dumb and trite, trite, very trite writing by the reporter, the debacle is soon well and truly underway:

Amy Motley has never met a pair of shoes she doesn’t like. She’s met, and bought, a whole lot of shoes she does like.

Time to alert the Pulitzer committee.

Of course, the subject, Amy Motley (her name can now be revealed), contributes to this hagiography by showing us just why it is that she’s worthy of an in-depth feature during these trying times:

“Everyone knows me for my shoes,” she said. “They call me ‘LUV SHUZ,’ which is my license plate. I knew what I wanted on my license tag when I was 15…”

“I keep this all the time,” Motley said, whipping her father’s credit card out of her purse. “But I never spend money without asking. Mama loves to shop, too. She’s a shopaholic. I did get that from her. So lots of times Daddy pays for my shoes but doesn’t know it…”

Motley does have a job and is finishing up a degree in liberal studies this summer, but said that her parents still pay for most of her expenses.

“Daddy said the Lord blessed him, so he will bless his children,” she said.

Ah. So is this sort of like indirectly walking in the footsteps of Jesus?

Of course, this paragon of virtue has her priorities straight – God, then shoes:

“Just as God gave it, he can take it away,” Motley said. “If someone in my family got sick. I wouldn’t think twice about giving up my shoes and apartment. God and family come first – that’s what I’ve always been taught.”

And then our intrepid reporter steps in to offer us more of her incisive, witty insight:

One suspects, nonetheless, that perhaps Motley believes that her concept of heaven is not that it is paved with golden roads but instead lined with endless shoe stores.

And so exeunt omnes….

I have numerous friends who are wonderful writers and splendid journalists. Some I’ve cited above – others are here and here and here.

They write pieces like this one – and they constantly work to better journalism like the folks at this place.

So why is it that a “mainstream” news source, the only one with significant readership in my region, offers me stories about shoe collections rather than news analysis or local connections to the major story threads dominating our national experience?

The answer is – they do.

But those stories don’t get the push that this story about somebody with a shoe compulsion has gotten.

It might be more complicated – but it might not.

In a culture that celebrates people for being rich and vapid and vulgar, like the worthless brat in the title of this piece, this is what draws eyeballs. This is what too many people want.

Pretty girls with shoe fetishes.

Not people dying needlessly in a needless war. Not warnings of death and destruction and disaster. Not the swallowing of democracy by corporate interests like a python with a baby goat….

What people want are – shoes….

9 replies »

  1. One is reminded of the old shaggy-dog story (or is it shaggy-bird?) about that rare albatross-sized pelagic bird called a foo. Certain south-sea islanders, it seems, have discovered magical properties in foo guano. And so the wisdom is passed down from father to son: “If the foo shits, wear it.”

  2. Let me quote myself, if I may: “A defining characteristic of intelligent people at the present historical moment is that they’re perpetually appalled without ever being remotely surprised.”

    Especially those of us who’ve spent a little time in your neck of the woods.

  3. In tones of low awe: you study Liberal Studies? You have to learn how to become a Liberal? You’d think there’d be fewer of them. I take it the hardest part of the course is filling in your name on the application form?

  4. Oh. Although, I’m still in the dark as to what content that course contains. Is it just one of those things that allows you to say you got a college education without the effort of ever actually learning anything?

    I mean, the girl does obsessively collect shoes, for goodness sake. What kind of degree does she need?

  5. Well, while the actual execution of the liberal studies major might leave something to be desired, it’s hard to argue with the concept, which is essentially to breed a broad grounding in the humanities and sciences. To cultivate the Renaissance ideal, if you will.

    Of course, I’m not sure I like the idea of a generalist degree so much as I do the traditional Liberal Arts approach – broad grounding, with a major in one or two specific disciplines (in my case, Psychology with an English minor).

    In any case, I’ve seen “professional” degrees up close and personal and have a hard time imagining that liberal studies is any more useless, either in principle or practice.

  6. actually sam, liberal studies doesn’t = liberal arts, the two are not mutually inclusive. if they were, they’d just call it a liberal arts degree. in fact, you identified the difference in your own post, in a liberal studies degree program, you don’t major in anything but that.

    the program at our local college is geared towards older students; adults who find a degree might enhance their resume’, by making them better conversationalists. it consists of the core requirements, then a variety of three and four hundred level classes, primarily in the humanities. you are, in effect, an academic dilletante.