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Are Marie Claire and CBS Wagging the Dog?

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Like many others, I blogged about the Marie Claire "fatties" brouhaha and how outraged I was about it. But the whole time I was reading the offending post, I kept wondering how something that savage could be written. I kept gasping in horror but a horrified gasp is really just an emphatic hmm.

When I found out the writer, Maura Kelly, had been anorexic, it made a lot more sense. But still, you go that hard? In a public forum? Knowing it's going to be under your own googleable name, not like ihatefatties123? I don't know the psychological effects of having an eating disorder but it just seemed so far outside what anyone would consider acceptable that it made me say hmm.

And then of course everyone was blaming Marie Claire, as was I, and lighting up their Facebook page because those posts must go through some chain of command before they post, right? (Interesting sidenote: To comment on a fan page or link to it from your own you have to 'like' it first, which is what I had to do to link from the FEM fanpage, so their numbers certainly increased yesterday due to negative commenters.)

According to someone who has managed a heavily trafficked site, there might have only been one person who had to see Maura's post before it went up or she could have had direct posting privileges. So that's one possible answer to my tweet: Why didn't Marie Claire save Maura Kelly from herself?

Other possible answers? Because they didn't want to... they sacrificed her... she took one for the team (with some benefits assured)? Who knows? I just have a hard time believing this all happened the way it looks on the surface.

Mayka Mei did a great post on theMaykazine about what I have been calling "controversy clicks"™: Marie Claire and Print Media's Cheap Trick

In her post, Mayka cites Time's "My Own Private India" flap that Joel Stein claimed in his apology made him "stomach-sick" and Ramin Setoodeh's "Straight Jacket" Newsweek controversy. Both of those stories are included in full in Mayka's post because as she said she didn't "want to play into the shock-and-hit count approach of scaredy cat editors".

Mayka also says, "I don't believe print is dying, but I do believe that it is scared." I do think it's dying, slowly, and "controversy clicks" may be a desperate lifesaving tactic that will eventually lead to...? And I can't say I blame them for trying to stay web-relevant which is what it takes to stay alive now. It's a survival of the fittest mentality, which we all have, the difference being that corporations have no sense of morality. They may say they do, they may make their customers and workers think they do but they don't. You make money or you disappear. That's their moral code.

So repping for the Hearst corporation, Marie Claire editor-in-chief Joanna Coles, in response to the fatties furor, basically said, "Fuck you, I have nothing to apologize for." While noting that the the mag had received over 28,000 email responses to the piece.

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That's pretty gangsta of Ms. Coles. You're the editor of a major women's magazine but you are going to tell the women you offended that you don't give a shit about what they think? When thanks to the interwebs, you know anyone can rally the troops against you? Isn't that like waving your toreador's cape? Oh but of course -- capes are so in this fall.

Next: HuffPost linked to a Fancast Q&A with Mike & Molly creator Mark Roberts responding to the flap. Even with the all-caps FIRES BACK headline and pic of him giving the screwface, what I read made it seem like he just found it stupid and laughable. And laughable is exactly what it would be to him because his show is getting a ton of free press.

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Next: Marie Claire has posted "the first of a series of counterpoint posts" from Lesley Kinzel aka @52stations who is a well-known blogger at Fatshionista.com. I didn't really rah-rah Lesley's post, I was slightly confused by it, possibly because I didn't know who was writing it. That's how I feel sometimes when I read a fawning celebrity profile. As soon as it starts to get too "and her skin was so luminous and she hadn't a hint of makeup on..." I have to stop and look at the byline to get my bearings. Because whether it's a man or a woman writing about The Luminescent One makes a difference.

That's how I felt reading Lesley's post. At first, I thought it was another one of MC's staffers writing it. Then when she started saying things like "the only series on television featuring characters and actors who look like me" I was like, There are women on the MC staff who are bigger than a size 6? Even her first sentence "There aren't many people on television who look like me" threw me for a loop. I thought she meant "none of us look as yogilated and glossy as Jennifer Aniston" which made me nod. On that point we can all agree. But that wasn't what she meant and it was only once I got to the end that I realized who had written what I had just read. At that point, even though the post felt neither here nor there to me, I felt like I had to give it the nod. Which is exactly what Marie Claire wants, isn't it?

It makes sense that they would ask a known fatshionista blogger to do this counterpoint post (and it makes sense that she wants the extra exposure) but it's also a shield. One that the magazine can hide behind while that blogger, and all her fellow FEM bloggers, import their audiences and twitter followings to their .com.

And it says a lot that MC has to go outside of its confines to get a plus-size POV. It reminds me of how I got my first major magazine assignment. It was a feature for In Style on The Artist Formerly Known As Prince (his moniker then). I had only been writing professionally for a few months and casually knew an In Style editor through a friend. After this editor left me multiple urgent messages on a Friday afternoon, I was surprised to hear that she needed me to be "on call" to interview The Artist for a feature story they had been trying to secure for months.

Being someone who always has to look a gift horse in the mouth, I wanted to know: Why me? "Because he requested an African-American female journalist," I was told. "Okay," I said while thinking, So that means there is no one else in the entire Time Inc. building that you can call or any freelancers you know who fit the description so you leave three frantic messages within an hour for me, someone with whom you have never worked and who has 3 clips to her name? Gotcha. Perfectly.

Next: Jezebel has posted about Marie Claire's counterpoint, basically praising the magazine for "doing the right thing."

Bonus next: Jezebel also has another post up called "If You're Fat-Phobic, You're Also An Ignorant, Bigoted Idiot" which is not specifically about the Marie Claire flap but references it in the first sentence.

Next: There's a Big Fat Kiss-in at Marie Claire's offices. Ummm, I won't be there (nor gmailing my kisses) but I bet a lot of TV cameras will.

Predictable next: every time Marie Claire posts one of these counterpoint pieces, all the women who were so angry about it will read, tweet, blog, Digg them. And we'll continue to allow MC to bring us back into their pages and we will hold them up as an example of a brand that knows how to right their wrongs and show sensitivity to their audience. One loud, angry fight that lasted less than 24 hours will be followed by months of make-up sex until we all forget why we were ever mad in the first place and fall back into the consumerist coma that has us buying overpriced skin creams and it bags and Louboutins and our must-have fall capes. Because buying all that shit is the one and only reason these magazines exist.

But you know what is the biggest hmm for me? Was anyone (you know) watching Mike & Molly? Does CBS have any talked-about shows? Have they been reduced to doing CSI: Guam yet? According to this rant "Whining Fat Mafia Wins Apology Over Mike & Molly Slam" by a male writer who says he was once 255 pounds (is that considered obese?), Mike & Molly attracts 11 million viewers a week. It does?

Is that because Two and Half Men is its lead-in? I know that show must attract a ton of viewers because they pay crazy Charlie Sheen like a gajillion dollars per season even though it must cost half a gajillion to insure him. But his deathwatch is down to 5, 4, 3, 2... so don't know if CBS, Mike or Molly should really be banking on that.

I only know of the show because I saw a subway poster for it. But then I don't have TV although I Hulu quite a bit. But I feel like I know more than I should about the popular shows -- Mad Men, RHOA, Glee -- because when they're on I see so many tweets about them. And yet, curiously, I have never once seen a tweet about "$#*! My Dad Says", the CBS show that is based on @shitmydadsays. Maybe that's because, despite its hilariously cool origins, it ain't cool on CBS?

Still, 11 million viewers this week can be 6 million two weeks from now can be a cancellation by season's end. And in an age when 'the most e-mailed story' changes hourly, having everyone from Entertainment Weekly to CNN to USA Today to Hollywood Reporter writing about this for more than a day is the best advertising CBS doesn't have to buy. If all press is good press, isn't free press the best press of all?

And now thanks to one blog post, this show's whole cultural arc has changed. Instead of being another dumb sitcom which even the fatshionista blogging MC's counterpoint called "a terrible TV show, but I have this annoying habit of expecting sitcoms to be funny" is now a cause.

There's a Big Fat Kiss-in at the Hearst building. Then what? Big Fat Kiss-ins all over the country? Sponsored by Maybelline Shine Sensational™ Lip Gloss! Hells yeah! Celebrating a show most of us don't want to watch for its bravery? Get it girl(s)! Mike & Molly for president! Mike & Molly for Jenny Craig! M & M for...M&Ms? Wait, what? YES WE CAN('T)!

Remember when Time's Person of the Year was You? Meaning us. As the Wiki entry states, "all the millions of anonymous contributors of user-generated content to Wikipedia, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Second Life..." Don't know what Second Life is, MySpace is now irrelevant and Twitter is not mentioned because the year was 2006. By now we're at You3.0 or 4.0 where everyone knows we have the power and knowing that gives them the power to use our means to achieve their ends. We're rallying around a cause chosen by whom?

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If I were scripting this whole thing as a "Wag The Dog" dark satire (I might start on that tonight), I would have editrix Joanna Coles and some white-haired, CBS honcho (who vaguely understands twitter as something his grandkids use) meeting in a suite at The Four Seasons with the slick 23 year-old social media mastermind who's making this whole thing go click, click, click. And we'd come into the scene just as the Sean Parker character says, "Okay, so we get the anorexic chick..."

And as someone who believes wholeheartedly that Facebook is Big Brother but who has surrendered to it, knowing that we are all being watched and tracked and profiled and stealth marketed relentlessly every day, everywhere, all the time and the only way to escape (maybe) is to go completely off the grid Unabomber-style, I don't think this theory is implausible.

If these machinations aren't already happening, they will. Because, as this heavily linked post (that will be tweeted and retweeted) attests, this strategy works. And it'll be around a lot longer than Mike & Molly. Click, click and click.