People who don�t need �People�
By Walter Brasch
Online Journal Contributing Writer
May 8, 2009, 00:16
From a pool of about 7 billion, those hard-working geniuses
at People magazine have managed to find the 100 most beautiful people in
the whole wide world. And -- get ready for the surprise -- almost all of those
beautiful people are rich American celebrities.
Since 1989, People�s editors believed they were given
the divine right to anoint who they believe are the most beautiful people on
the planet. The ethnocentric celebrity-fawning People editors are so
secure in their self-imposed knowledge that they don�t even reveal the criteria
they used to make their determinations. Not even an �editor�s note,� common in
People etches its version of reality into our minds
by attaching cutesy capsulated biographies to full page color pictures of the
most beautiful, and drop the 60�80 page section among myriad $254,000 a page
full-color ads every May. Advance stories about some of the selections appear
in just about every American newspaper and major website, all of which think
stories about celebrities are more important than stories about the recession,
thus assuring that the Beautiful People Special will be one of the best-read
issues of the year. The reality is the lists are really the �100 most noticed
celebrities,� but that probably wouldn�t get as many sales.
For several years, People had the �50 Most Beautiful� list,
but apparently had trouble deciding how to reduce those 7 billion people to
only 50, so the editors doubled the number. But, they still had to squeeze 100
into the space of 50. So, the editors killed quality writing, and made most of
the pictures the size of matchbook covers.
People editors, showing how attuned they are to the
young demographic, have given us teenagers and barely-20s TV ensembles. In
2008, the seven-member cast of TV�s �Gossip Girl� made the list. �Onscreen,� People
told us, �they are gorgeous, scheming, backstabbing high schoolers.� Just what
America needs. More future business executives and politicians. In 2009, the
group was �The Girls of 90210,� each of whom was identified by a short quote.
One said she collects wigs; one said hair is her �security blanket�; one said
she discovered and misused bronzers in the 10th grade; and one said she needs
to constantly �pinch my cheeks� because she never flushes.
The first few years, when the editors could find only 50
beautiful people, there was a fairly even split between men and women. The 2009
edition revealed that about three-fourths of all beautiful people are women.
One of those beautiful women, given a full page and a minimal quote, was
Michelle Obama. Although the editors have become more socially conscious,
minority representation in the list is minimal, and certainly not in even close
proportion to the reality that one-third of the world�s population is Black and
another third is Asian. In the United States alone are 45 million Hispanics.
Five years after the first list came out, People
recognized the elderly. Of course, the elderly were celebrities Paul Newman,
Faye Dunaway, and Barbara Babcock. The following year, the �elderly� included
51-year-old Queen Silvia of Sweden and 61-year-old journalist Gloria Steinem
who should have been honored for being beautiful, but embarrassed by her
inclusion on a list that is distinguished by hyperbole and ethnocentrism. The
2008 and 2009 editions included two-page color spreads deep in the magazine for
40 celebrities, 10 in each of the age categories of 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s.
Obviously the editors couldn�t find any beautiful 60-year-old celebrities like
Dolly Parton, Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler, Neil Diamond, or Robert DeNiro; or
70-year-olds, like Bill Cosby, Rita Moreno, Marlo Thomas, Robert Redford, or
Quincy Jones; or 80-year-olds, like Tony Curtis, Neil Simon, Burt Bacharach,
Tony Bennett, and Sidney Poitier. The editors did find some real oldies. They
put pictures of historical figures online, and asked readers to evaluate them
as �hot� or �not hot.� The two �historical hotties,� first disclosed in 2009,
were Nefertiti and Martha Washington.
In 1994, the editors expanded their section to include
expanded bodies. Trying to make us believe that People thought beauty
came in different sizes and shapes, the editors claimed that 5-foot-11,
180-pound, size 14 model Emme was a beautiful person, representative of the
�burgeoning large-size modeling industry.� It�s hard to explain to these
anorexic editors that size 14 isn�t fat, and that half of America�s women are
at least a size 14. Not wanting to set a trend, People made sure all of
the next year�s beauties were modishly thin. As in previous years, the current
edition includes no large-size beauties, but it does include ads for Jenny
Craig and Atkins diets, Medifast appetite suppressants, low-calorie Twinkies
and cupcakes, and fat-free Florida grapefruit.
In 1994, after an incestuous five years of casting
entertainers at more than 3 million subscribers, People widened its
scope of inclusion. For the first time, it �elevated� four of their
professional colleagues to anointed status -- former journalist and
Vice-President Al Gore, a husband-wife documentary film team, an ABC �Wide
World of Sports� interviewer, and an NBC �Today Show� host.
Teachers, social workers, and medical researchers, no matter
how beautiful, don�t make the final cut. But, they shouldn�t worry about it.
Neither do Miss America, Miss World, Mr. Universe or, for that matter, Miss
Crustacean, Ocean City, New Jersey�s, salty tribute to hermit crabs, and a
spoof of the beauty contest that once inhabited next-door Atlantic City. Miss
USA, however, for the first time in 20 years did make the list, but wasn�t a
big enough celebrity to rate more than a thumbnail mug shot.
To its credit, People editors, probably as an
afterthought, might have been concerned about why none of us �commoners� made
the list. So, in 1993, the editors did what was expected of People
editors -- they went �cutesy,� and found two cities in Kentucky -- Lovely and
Beauty -- and awarded �booby prizes.� Of the seven people whose lives were each
compressed into one paragraph were three women and four men, all of them White.
The following year, People found no beautiful �commoners,� but in 1995,
the editors searched their loading docks and found nine UPS drivers, all male,
to feature in the �booby prize� section. Commoners haven�t made the list for
Like all people, we in journalism tend to report about, are
attracted to, and understand people and ethnic groups that are like our own, or
of which we are a part. For the most part, we are White, middle-class,
sometimes even upper-class, college graduates who talk a lot about equality,
but look, act, and dress as if we are part of the establishment we report
about. We determine the �newsworthiness� of a story and, equally important, we
decide the standards for media coverage -- whether source credibility or
beauty. If we see only certain groups of people, we will report only about
those people, leaving everyone else as invisible as the billions of people who
weren�t even considered. Indeed, it takes some ugly and very shallow people to
think they can make up a list of the 100 most beautiful people in the world.
M. Brasch is a university professor of journalism, social issues columnist, and
the author of 17 books. His current book is �Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W.
Bush,� available from amazon.com,
bn.com, and other stores. You may contact him through his website, www.walterbrasch.com.
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