Monday, September 21, 2015

Petite Randy Moss stirs up memories of heightism in popular culture

I watch plenty of sports on television. Anyone who watches sports for any length of time is probably familiar with the DirectTV commercials that pitch subscription packages. I've seen plenty of them. My favorite of the commercials is Creepy Rob Lowe hanging out at the local rec center, sitting on the pool deck, watching swimmers with a pair of binoculars. 

The premise of the DirectTV Commercials is that DirectTV equates to success, and cable equals inferiority.  The star of the commercial is typically a well known actor or athlete, such as Rob Lowe, who subscribes to DirectTV.  An alternative reality character, such as Creepy Rob Lowe, serves as a foil to the star.  The foil, who subscribes to cable instead of DirectTV, is linked to any number of negative attributes.

Recently, former NFL Wide Receiver Randy Moss joined the DirectTV Commercial line-up. His alternative reality character is "Petite Randy Moss."   

In college, I did an independent study that examined the way writers used height descriptors in books and the way height was portrayed in books, movies, and advertisements. The name of the paper was, "The Role of Height in Literature and Popular Culture."  If I were to do that paper today, the new Randy Moss Direct TV Ad would be a great example of popular culture sending the message that short is inferior to tall. The commercial clearly tells the viewer that if a person is unable to reach a taller shelf at the grocery store, it's not because the item is out of reach, it's not because it's probably impossible to design a grocery store that is accessible to everyone, it's because there is something wrong with you for being short.  

As I thought about the commercial, I remembered a Simpson's Episode called Eeny Teeny Maya Moe. Better than anyone else that I am aware of, the Simpson's did a great job of making dwarfism funny. They did so, not by making fun of the dwarf character, but by showing the absurd situations that sometimes confront dwarfs. That's what DirectTV could have done. Instead of Petite Randy Moss complaining about cereal on the high shelf and jumping up to reach it, Petite Randy Moss should have just stared at the tall shelf in disgust.  But that would have conflicted with the point of the commercial, which is to show that small equals bad and small equals comical.  

The new DirectTV commercial doesn't really bother me very much. More so than anything else, it intrigued me to learn that DirectTV would base a commercial around the idea that short is funny and short is inferior. After all, Peter Dinklage just won his second Emmy.  Short is the new cool.  Short is the new sexy.

I wasn't the only one intrigued, or bothered for that matter. According to this article from AdWeek, though professional reviewers liked the ad, some viewers did not. One viewer wrote, "...short people are put on this planet to get shit on. Hello DirectTV! Some of us are getting tired of this bigoted crap known as heightism."  

The author of the article (5' 3") wrote, ". . . I'd dismiss a fair share of its (the Petite Randy Moss Commercial) detractors as internet trolls, I'm surprised that a major corporation would even bother to go to the trouble of producing it in 2015."  I'd give the detractors more credit. I think some of them might genuinely be offended, and are not necessarily trolls stirring up trouble. But I agree that it's surprising to see such an advertisement within the culture we live in now.  But on the bright side, at least Petite Randy Moss wasn't M**** Randy Moss. Progress? 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Factor This

I've never voted for a Republican. Politically, I identify as progressive.  Yet, I've been watching more Fox News lately.  It started around the 2012 Presidential Election.  As media coverage on Election Night pointed toward reelection for President Obama, my wife and I turned the television channel to Fox News.  We were curious how a network that clearly railed against an Obama Presidency would cover news of his reelection. My wife and I switched the channel in time to catch Karl Rove challenging the Fox Analysts after they had called Ohio for President Obama.  Rove insisted repeatedly that the analysts might have it wrong, and that the Network got it wrong for making the call so soon.  If I hadn't felt confident about a victory for President Obama, I would have been terrified at that moment.  I thought Karl Rove was smart.  Reading essays of his that predicted a Mitt Romney win were very persuassive.  Knowing the election was over, it was thrilling to see in real time what today is identified by some as the Karl Rove Meltdown or Freakout on Fox News.  

Over the past year, especially in the context of the police violence toward African Americans and The Black Lives Matter Movement, my wife and I again have occasionally switched to Fox, though the results this time around have not been entertaining and sometimes it's regrettable.  Last week, Bill O'Reilly said he was going to put Black Lives Matter "out of business." 

More recently, I've been watching Fox News on my own, in particular Bill O'Reilly. In the past two months, Little People of America (LPA) received two inquiries from Fox News. One came after the original news coverage of LPA's efforts to change the mascot name in Freeburg, Illinois. A reporter wanted to interview about the issue either over the phone or SKYPE.  I replied to the reporter's second request, but never heard back.   The second request came from someone from the network who reached out on behalf of Fox & Friends.  She requested a written statement from Little People of America in response to the news that the United States Department of Agriculture has plans to drop the word "midget" as a description for small raisins, (Here is a story from Washington Post).  Fox needed a reply within too short of a time. LPA was not able to send them a statement before they spoke about the issue on Fox & Friends. 

Basically, LPA has not responded to two Fox News inquiries within enough time to be a part of their stories. This is not a bad thing.  With public relations in the general, and with LPA specifically, the goal is to control the message and to look for opportunities to raise awareness.  In terms of language issues, Fox News might not be the best outlet to accomplish those goals.  If LPA wants to build sympathy within the public on language issues and wants people to stop using the word midget, we are probably not losing any ground by not appearing on Fox News.  Nevertheless, I've been picturing myself on Fox News and hope that we someday soon receive another request.  Specifically, I picture myself talking to Bill O'Reilly.  

If I were to appear with him, I wouldn't stand a chance. My issue wouldn't stand a chance.  He is a professional broadcaster. He is smarter than me. He is more savvy than me. Yet, O'Reilly uses the word "midget" disparagingly.  At least once, a member of the dwarfism community reached out to me, asking that I contact O'Reilly because of his use of the word. The community member had written him a letter. He never replied. Just last week, he referred to the 1964 New York Mets as the "midget Mets." Why? I don't know.  Because O'Reilly appears to use the word "midget" indifferently, with no concern for how the word impacts others; and because Fox News didn't appear to take very seriously LPA's issue regarding the mascot or the USDA, I hope to get another chance on the network. If I do, I may not stand a chance, but it's worth a shot.