Thursday, November 02, 2006

What Is Hidden In Plain Sight

Is a subtle type of sexism. It is a barely audible background hum in our everyday lives, so slight and so camouflaged that we swallow it never noticing.

I look for it in my pseudo-professional feminist goddess role and still I often miss it. A recent example has to do with the furor caused by an ad that ran against Congressman Harold Ford Jr., who is black:

By now, many people have seen the Tennessee ad, a 30-second spot featuring actors playing Tennessee residents on the street explaining why they'll vote for Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr. for the seat held by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who's stepping down to consider a run for president. The ad, paid for by the Republican National Committee, is a spoof.

"Ford's right," says one man, bedecked in camouflage. "I do have too many guns." Adds another man in overalls and a handlebar mustache, "Canada can take care of North Korea. They're not busy."

It's a blond-haired, blue-eyed woman with bare shoulders, however, who has generated most of the controversy. The actress says she met Harold "at a Playboy party." The spot closes with her looking into the camera and putting her hand to her ear as though she were holding a telephone: "Harold," she coos. "Call me!"

Some observers have seized on the ad for playing to discomfort over interracial dating. (Ford is from one of Memphis's prominent black political families.) The Playboy-sponsored Super Bowl party he went to in Jacksonville, Fla., last year was attended by 3,000 people. Ford, who is single, has since defended himself, telling the press, "I like football; I like girls; apologies for that."

The spot is "playing to a lot of fears," John Geer, a professor at Vanderbilt University and a specialist in political advertising, said last week. Geer said the spot "frankly makes the Willie Horton ad"–a 1988 presidential ad featuring a black man who committed a rape and a murder while on a weekend furlough from a Massachusetts prison, a furlough linked to the state's then governor, Michael Dukakis–"look like child's play."

The ad has since been withdrawn and Ford's Republican opponent, Bob Corker, has condemned it and its racist undertones.

But look at these quotes from various newspaper stories and opinion columns about the broohaha. Really look at them:

Ford's Republican opponent, former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker, called for the bimbo ad to be pulled from the air and claimed he hadn't had anything to do with its content.


Democrats are complaining about a Republican ad that ran in Tennessee making fun of Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. It features mock voters giving dumb reasons to vote for him, such as "Terrorists need their privacy," "Harold Ford looks nice--isn't that enough?" and "So he took money from porn movie producers--I mean, who hasn't?" It ends with a blonde bimbo, who says she met the congressman at a Playboy party, winking and cooing, "Harold, call me."

If that anti-Harold Ford ad--the one with the white bimbette saying "Harold, call me"--was "playing to racial fears" about interracial dating, was it intended to stir up whites who might fear miscegenation--or black women who might resent it if they thought Ford habitually went out with white women? ... [Both?-ed Sure--a twofer. But the MSM only brings up the "appeal to racist white voters."] ... P.S.: Does anybody still buy the idea that the reaction against this ad is going to save Ford?

-Mickey Kaus,

GOP Bimbo
Trashy blonde is new face of Tennessee Republican party

I searched for definitions of the term "bimbo" or "bimbette" and found this one:

Bimbo is a term that emerged in popular English language usage in the late 20th Century to describe a stupid, pliable woman.

Then I searched for a definition of "trashy". Here is one:

1. Resembling or containing trash; cheap or worthless: trashy merchandise.
2. In very poor taste or of very poor quality: "There was a special pathos … within … her trashy tales" (James Wolcott).

This is all minor stuff, but so is a mosquito whining somewhere in the room when you try to fall asleep. I'm fascinated by it not because it would be of great importance, but for the very fact that it's not seen as important at all. Or rather, not seen at all.
You can see the original ad here.