“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.” –George Orwell
New York’s classic rock station, Q104.3, has a daily segment called The Stupid Survey of the Day. Last month, the following conversation between disc jockeys Jim Kerr and Maria Milito took place:
KERR: A study of two-thousand people across the United States found that women who were considered to have reached their peak at 30 start to show signs of aging at 41, cease being sexy at 53–
KERR: And are old at 55.
KERR: Men look their best at 34, start to show signs of aging at 43, and stop looking good at 58, and are old at 59.
MILITO: Now who’s doing this?
KERR: This is Allure magazine. Allure magazine.
MILITO: They’re not very alluring.
KERR: High profile women who are currently at this peak age about to go over to the other side include Anne Hathaway, Kirsten Dunst, Jessica Biel, Elizabeth Moss, and a whole bunch of others…but really!
MILITO: Boy, that’s a downer.
KERR: It is.
MILITO: And it’s stupid too. And it’s not correct. It’s crazy.
KERR: It’s totally stupid.
KERR: And that’s why it’s called the Stupid Survey of the Day…from Allure magazine.
MILITO: This is their readers?
KERR: Uh…it just says a survey of two-thousand people from across the United States.
MILITO: Oh okay.
KERR: Who knows? It’s Allure magazine. They could’ve made it up in a conference room.
MILITO: They probably did.
KERR: I have no idea. It’s just to give people something interesting to read. I have no idea how they do that stuff.
Yes, it is stupid, but when I think about what Allure magazine is and who they hire, it is not at all surprising. Before I get into that, we should pause and ask ourselves: why, in the year 2013, do magazines that are dedicated to beauty even exist? Have we still not evolved enough where we actually put that much value on beauty and beauty products that we dedicate entire magazines to it? Aren’t there problems in the world that need to be solved? On a dying planet, is this a wise use of paper? More importantly, with all of these problems that need to be solved, does it infuriate you when you turn on the evening news and hear about celebrity fluff, or a five minute segment on “how to get your best summer beach body?” Not if you’re Angelique Serrano. Angelique Serrano is a girl I went to high school with. I googled her a couple months ago, and saw that she’s the Beauty Editor at Allure magazine. Again, not to belabor the point, but in the year 2013, the job title of Beauty Editor actually exists.
Angelique is what I like to call a “militant conformist.” A militant conformist is someone who takes a great amount of pride in their ability to be just like everyone else, and is practically combative in their defense of the status quo. Here is the best way to spot a militant conformist: if they outperform you in an academic setting (or some other meaningless, arbitrary setting), but you still manage to establish yourself as an intellectual, they will roll their eyes at you. Angelique used to roll her eyes at me constantly, especially when I would go on one of my anti-television rants.
I was seventeen when, like most people with a functioning brain, I realized that television is garbage. Not only did I feel that the most boring hour of reading was far more rewarding than the most “entertaining” hour of television, but I also realized something far more disturbing. Whenever I would tell people that I didn’t watch television, their response was always, “So then…what do you do?” Even if you love television, even if you watch a hundred hours of television a week, you should find it jarring that society is that reliant on it that they can’t figure out how to entertain themselves without it. Let me be clear. I wasn’t criticizing Angelique for watching television. Nor was I trying to get her to stop watching it. I wasn’t being a snob. Unlike her militant conformity, I was not a militant intellectual. But when I mentioned that I wish that I had spent more of my childhood learning how to play a musical instrument or taking part in some other activity rather than just sitting torpidly in front of a television set, that non-debatable point received an eye-roll. When I made the non-debatable point that Oprah Winfrey had never established herself to be an intellectual before forming a book club (and I subsequently questioned why her flock never bothered to consider this before they rushed to their local bookstore) I received an eye-roll. Angelique once saw an Oscar nominated film that she didn’t like and said, “I didn’t like it but everyone keeps raving about it. I guess I’ll have to see it again.” It’s important to note that she had no interest in seeing the film to begin with. But since she has a chronic fear of ever straying from the opinion of the majority, she saw the film once it was nominated for an Oscar, and then, still so mistrustful of her own judgement, vowed to see the film again. When I politely asked her how many times she was going to watch a movie that she had no interest in, I received an eye-roll. When I questioned if it made sense for grown adults to be reading Harry Potter books (if they’re into witchcraft they can read about that topic at a reading level more suitable for their age) I received an eye-roll. The eye-rolls said a lot. They meant, “There you go, questioning things again!” Her refusal to question things resulted in her never speaking out against some of her classmates who systematically tortured one of her “friends.” I won’t bother going into that, but let’s just say that Angelique’s steadfast refusal to ever question the majority would’ve gone over really well in Nazi Germany.
One becomes a militant conformist out of a sense of fear. We went to high school in a shitty little redneck town in upstate New York. Angelique had moved to that town from New York City when she was in the third grade. She’s Puerto Rican, and the very first thing that happened was her teacher stood her in front of the class and said, “This is Angelique, the new little Spanish girl from the city.” When you hear a story like that, maybe it begins to explain why she ended up the way she did, why a little girl who is immediately told that she doesn’t fit in (by a teacher, nonetheless) would want so badly to blend in and not stand out. It might also explain why she wanted to achieve so much academically (she was a straight A student). This explanation does, however, have its limits. It doesn’t explain why she’s practically combative when it comes to defending Oprah’s Book Club, television, Academy Award winning films, and the Harry Potter books. It also doesn’t explain why, whenever I had any sort of intellectual achievement in high school–whether it was through my involvement in the Drama club, the Mock Trial team, or my articles for the school newspaper–Angelique attempted to crush it. There’s a much easier explanation for that: jealousy. I won’t get into any of that because I could care less about what a seventeen-year-old said about me seventeen years ago. I bring it up only to mention that, as a militant conformist, my accomplishments created a great deal of cognitive dissonance in Angelique because she was involved in all of those activities too, and I was better at those activities, even though she was a better student. She was a better student because I always followed the advice of Mark Twain, who said, “Never let your schooling interfere with your education.”
Maybe I’ve strayed too far from my original point, but the purpose of this essay was to establish what type of person works for Allure magazine. Normally, I would see such a question as a waste of both time and ink, but to quote Jessica Mitford, “You might not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty.” What is Angelique guilty of other than a few nasty comments made half a lifetime ago? She’s guilty of cowardice. In high school, she said that she dreamed of becoming a famous actress, which we both knew was a lie. She wanted to be famous, but she didn’t want to be an actress. In fact, she did nothing to make that “dream” come true. By the way, I’m not criticizing her for that. The last thing the world needs is another artist. Pursuing a career in acting is not heroic. Soldiers are heroic. Firefighters are heroic. Actors are losers who aren’t smart enough to hold down a real job. Angelique ended up going to SUNY Plattsburgh, where she majored in journalism. Unlike acting, journalism is a more sensible thing to major in if you want to pretend that you’re creative. The problem is that she instantly realized that there’s nothing creative about journalism. There’s a somewhat rigid structure that must be followed, and she hated it. Instead of trying to change her major, she chose cowardice again and stuck to journalism. Now it’s a firm belief of mine that it’s not enough to simply do something; you have to do it for the right reasons. Did Angelique go into journalism because she wanted to expose government corruption like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein? Of course not. If she even knows who Woodward and Bernstein are (and that’s a big if) it’s only because they teach you about them in journalism school. She wanted to write for the New York Times, but not because of its long tradition of journalistic excellence; she cared about the paycheck and the boost to one’s ego. I’m glad that Angelique never ended up becoming a real journalist, because if she had, she would be taking the spot of someone who wanted that posistion for the right reasons. And I wouldn’t find fault with her if she had ended up writing stories for the East Bumblefuck Gazette about the local firehouse’s bake sale. Not everyone can write for the New York Times or the Washington Post or the Chicago Tribune. But Angelique didn’t end up writing for those publications, or for the East Bumblefuck Gazette. She ended up writing for a beauty magazine, which is to say that instead of covering a story like Watergate, she has covered stories more along the lines of Eyeshadowgate. That bothers me, because there are few things in life that are more annoying than when someone is rewarded for their cowardice. In an interview on the website hercampus.com, Angelique told a reporter:
“I continued to edit and work in fashion and beauty when I was at Latina magazine, and the more I worked, the more I knew that I loved the beauty industry. So to be able to combine the two (writing and the industry), it’s a dream.”
I bet. As long as you don’t bother to question anything, I’m sure it’s great. For a militant conformist who has done nothing throughout her entire life but roll her eyes at people like me and staunchly defend the status quo, I’m sure it’s a dream come true. The other day, my wife told me that Sarah Jessica Parker’s character on Sex And The City was a beauty editor (or something that’s equivalent to that title). I thought, ‘Oh great! Now Angelique is definitely going to think that her life has meaning since Sex And The City was popular among the majority. Sure enough, one of the things that I discovered when I googled her was her Twitter page, and what was her user name? Angeinthecity. From what I understand, Sex And The City was about four women who would go out and fuck as many men as possible (in the age of HIV/AIDS) with the intention of finally settling down once they found a man with a lot of money. You would think that any woman with a shred of decency and self-respect would be appalled by that, but that’s not the case since people imitate everything that they see on television. When Seinfeld was a popular TV show, I remember people trying to have ten minute conversations about nothing (“Why exactly, is it called a ball point pen?”). Around the same time, Friends was a popular TV show, and all of a sudden, people started to sit around coffee shops all day long since that’s what the characters on Friends did. I remember complaining about these things in front of Angelique, and of course, she rolled her eyes. So if the majority of women start to imitate the glorified prostitution that is Sex And The City, then not only is it okay, but you should be proud of yourself if you have the same job as the main character on the show. In fact, you should be so proud of that that you incorporate the name of that show into the name of your Twitter page. I can guarantee you that if popular culture started instructing women to date men who are poor, Angelique would immediately marry a homeless man. But for now, it’s the opposite, so she married a lawyer.
Believe it or not, there are some similarities between me and Angelique, but there are differences within those similarities. For example, one similarity is that both of us ended up being far more happier than we were supposed to be. I won’t get into the reasons of why that’s the case for me, but for Angelique, like I mentioned earlier, she very easily could have ended up writing for the East Bumblefuck Gazette. The difference between us is that I realize that I’m not supposed to be this happy, whereas Angelique probably grew up thinking that she would accomplish great things, and is convinced that she has. After all, she has the same life as the woman from Sex And The City, so what more could a human being ask for? I, on the other hand, discovered around the age of nine that I wasn’t going very far in life. I haven’t gone far, and I’m okay with that, because unlike Angelique, I have lived a life of purpose. However, a life of purpose isn’t glorified on television the way that beauty products and celebrities are glorified, so I guess it doesn’t count. Another similarity between Angelique and myself is that neither one of us is very intelligent. Unlike Angelique, I realize this. And I want to make something clear: no one is obligated to be intelligent, but I do feel that everyone is obligated to at least try. Angelique does not try. If you can’t be smart, then at least do something that doesn’t cause harm. In a world full of problems–problems that don’t get solved largely due to the skewed values and skewed distractions of a sick culture–don’t add to the problem by adding to those skewed values and distractions. Don’t build a career around vanity. But that’s just it. Angelique doesn’t even realize that it’s a problem. After all, the majority of women use beauty products, so what could be wrong with that (even though most of those beauty products are tested on animals)?
The fact that Angelique doesn’t even realize that she’s a part of the problem doesn’t make it any less of a problem.
The fact that she’s not even aware that she’s sick doesn’t make her any less sick.
There is an obscure holiday that is celebrated every May called Turn Beauty Inside Out Day. According to examiner.com, Turn Beauty Inside Out Day is “an awareness emphasizing that outwardly appearances are only skin deep. The day reflects an intrapersonal affirmation for women and girls that behavior and actions define what true beauty is, not fashion and make-up.” It goes without saying that every day should be Turn Beauty Inside Out Day. But if it were, Angelique Serrano would be out of a job. Think about that.
Think about it…because Angelique Serrano won’t.