|Brent Musburger, taking brickbats|
The behavior in question happened during that big football game. I wasn't watching because, as anyone who follows my writing knows, I'm withdrawing from football. Maybe football is heading the way of the rat pack and its humor. It's way too damaging to the human body and brain. Women can feel thankful they've been spared that.
Women have been subjected through time to comments from men that seem shallow and boorish. I remember seeing Bob Hope in concert once when he had a featured singer. He asked for a special additional applause for her and said "isn't she pretty?" This concert was at the Minnesota State Fair. Frankly she was not a good singer. But she fit this image of what has been broadly accepted as a "bombshell."
You chuckle? Such language has faded but it's not gone. On Headline News we can see Nancy Grace, the fire-breathing legal commentator, talking about the Jodi Arias murder case with a label at the bottom of the screen: "bombshell beauty." This "bombshell" may have committed a heinous murder. But why are the aesthetic qualities of the accused worthy of such mention? Because, the "old" criteria as promoted by the rat pack and Bob Hope still float around our culture.
So Brent Musburger "steps into it" Monday night during a game that I hear was horribly boring.
Good, I'm glad it was boring. It didn't bother me to learn that Notre Dame was pummeled either. Notre Dame's chutzpah with football has always grated on me. Today the chutzpah of all of football grates. It grates on me that our University of Minnesota chose to flush away $800,000 to get out of a home-and-home football series with University of North Carolina. And I don't care if the athletic director can explain this away with talking points. On the surface it's awful.
I don't think of Brent Musburger as an old man. I need someone to tap me on the shoulder. It's the year 2013 now.
I remember Musburger when he was part of the popular Sunday afternoon panel that included Phyllis George, known as a "former beauty queen." Once a beauty queen, always a beauty queen. The mother of the murdered JonBenet Ramsey was a former beauty queen.
We seemed to have a more firm notion of what constituted beauty once. By "we" I suppose I mean mostly men. Men had a more prominent role in defining our culture once.
Musburger began gushing about the girlfriend of the Alabama quarterback. Let's remember this TV crew was trying to keep the evening's broadcast entertaining despite a one-sided football game. Let's remember they're media professionals. They're always conscious of the eyeballs - wanting to keep them. How do you think Musburger keeps getting these gigs at age 73? Celebrities like him may seem carefree and nonchalant but underneath they are calculating craftsmen.
Musburger evaluated this young lady by archaic terms.
What he said wouldn't have stood out at all, in the old days of Monday night football. Which reminds me, wasn't there a famous episode where the camera panned in on a young woman who shall we say was attractive, who after a couple moments, reached up to remove some effluence from her nose? And I think it was Frank Gifford who said "she was almost perfect."
Almost perfect. . . Eventually the crass expression "a perfect 10" came along.
Musburger must know he's working in a quite different media environment today. Electronic communications can seize on otherwise innocuous episodes and make them "viral." What a perfect example we saw with Musburger and his comments about the young lady (named Katherine Webb). Bob Hope would be proud.
Oh, and in the old days we might decide a "wolf whistle" was in order! A man might get slapped in the face today.
Willie Geist of the "Morning Joe" panel felt Musburger deserves a "Brent Musburger pass." Hey, let's consider his stature and age. Someone might whisper to him about the inappropriateness sometime.
Today's media culture is set up as a meritocracy where we think we can get clarity on everything. But a question hangs out there in limbo: What is a "good looking woman?" Nancy Grace would consider herself enlightened and yet she allows the term "bombshell beauty." Why is an expression from war needed? We have an instinct to reject such terms today. But they seem to have legacy staying power.
We hear the term "beautiful woman" and get an image of the type of woman that's being suggested. What are the real grounds for this? Have we never thought about the feelings of women who don't conform to that image? Have we ever thought about how the "beautiful women" themselves might feel cheapened and dehumanized by the old criteria?
The rat pack embraced smoking and drinking too. A lot has changed. We may even see a full-scale withdrawal from football someday. This might be happening faster than you think.
How fortunate the feminine gender is, that they've been spared football. If a women's sport were found to have the same kind of hazards that football does for men, there would be calls to have it banned immediately. But in football we admire, or we're supposed to, the gladiatorial ethos that has someone like Robert Griffin III trying to play through pain and physical damage. I checked in with that game only briefly as it was being played. I knew "something was up" with Griffin. Then the next day we had the cacophony of media voices. There should have been overwhelming condemnation of coach Mike Shanahan and the "team doctor."
Yes, there was condemnation but there was also too much of "the other side," people wanting to give Shanahan some space for his decision. Hey it's football. Be gritty out there.
If you don't have human compassion for Griffin, then think of him as an investment. If there's any language people understand nowadays, that's it. But in football there's so much money flowing around, maybe it doesn't matter. Look how that Alabama coach is being compensated. This isn't just proper professional compensation. It makes him sort of a pillar unto himself, a man to be revered more than the state's governor.
In the Deep South or Southeast maybe we can let this go a little longer. It's a deeply-ingrained cultural thing. It needn't be that way here.
It wasn't necessary for the U of M under Norwood Teague to forfeit 800 thou because they're chicken about playing North Carolina. They want that absolutely guaranteed 4-0 start through the non-conference schedule, so as to ensure they can make a low-level bowl like what Patrick Reusse called "the muffler bowl." The Gophers lost to Texas Tech or Texas State or Tech State or whatever it was. The teams went back and forth scoring. It was like arena football. The coaches may have agreed on somewhat loose defensive tactics.
Am I an outlier with such a conspiratorial thought? I remember when the venerable Dick Cullum of the Minneapolis Tribune offered the same theory after the first-ever Fiesta Bowl game. A high-scoring and close game is considered quite the formula. Professional wrestling knows all about formulas too.
The Brent Musburger episode has been bandied about quite a bit. We lack clarity. Are we prepared to declare what an "attractive" woman is? Can we come up with a clinical definition, in this age in which we expect clear answers to everything? We can't. So we ought to feel a little chastened.
When I was a kid, the "cute girls" became cheerleaders. Then female sports took off toward total legitimacy. We came to see athletic qualities as being consistent with a generally accepted notion of being "attractive." Cheerleaders actually became a little anachronistic. But then along came "cheer teams" and male participants. The pastime took on new qualities although our Morris Area High School has chosen not to get on board.
Cheerleaders are considered athletes today. We occasionally see a visiting team at Big Cat Stadium with cheerleaders who conform more to the older model. We for all practical purposes no longer have cheerleaders nor a pep band for home football. And yet Big Cat Stadium is deemed a step forward.
In a few years, nothing associated with football will be considered a step forward, I predict.
The concept of the "attractive woman" surfaced with that Iowa Supreme Court case recently where that dentist, according to popular media reports, fired a female assistant because she was "too hot." OK, maybe "hot" is the new "attractive." Bob Hope could have learned that word.
The dentist was given a pass on his firing decision. Apparently the argument wasn't gender-based but rather on grounds that the dentist "wanted to protect his marriage." I imagine most men don't go to the dentist thinking in terms of getting a hard-on.
Women who are overweight aren't generally considered attractive. But this may be not so much aesthetic criteria as criteria about healthy vs. non-healthy. We are learning we can probably blame fructose for that horrible problem of trying to keep one's weight down.
In high school we know which boys can ask out which girls, and which pairings would be unthinkable. The movie "Carrie" (Sissy Spacek) made us think about all that. The basketball captain asks out the cheerleader. Are other people bothered, like me, that we never got to know the cheerleaders at all in the movie "Hoosiers?"
I think there's an unspoken frustration among kids about why certain kids ought to be attracted to certain other opposite-gender kids based on criteria that can't be explained in any meaningful way. There's an impulse to reject that. We saw this in the movie "Carrie."
A high school homecoming will make national news when a developmentally challenged kid gets chosen for royalty. It makes the news because the norm isn't being followed.
When I was a kid, Natalie Wood and Raquel Welch were considered "hot."
Back when the Internet was young, I exchanged emails with a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown, after he wrote a column that fits in with the themes I'm touching on. I think I can remember Mr. Brown's headline word for word: "Babes of our youth stay forever young." He was inspired by a recent chat with a colleague. This colleague was gushing about a certain female acquaintance on her looks, and said "she reminds me of Julie Christie." Brown then thought: My, Julie Christie must be quite up in years. He reported her estimated age.
Brown decided that men envision certain "babes" from popular culture as always being a certain age. I pointed out to him he had misspelled "Hayley Mills." He spelled it "Haley." Doggone it, he responded in effect, "I should have checked that."
He apparently got a lot of feedback on this column. He later sent out a mass email to those who communicated with him on it, thanking all of us and noting we had acknowledged a concept of interest. This was in the days when simple "computers" and "email" were all the cutting edge, before all the exotic new tools and systems came along. Back then we spelled "email" with a hyphen: "e-mail."
I remember a media figure who I think was Dan Rather, suggesting Hillary Clinton was an attractive First Lady and wondering "what it's going to be like having an attractive First Lady." Of course there's the very irritating suggestion that her predecessor was different. How crass. But again, how do we define "attractive?"
Brent Musburger has done us a service in reminding us of this elusive concept. He might also remind us of the "rat pack" and Bob Hope. And days of cigarettes and alcohol. Ah, maturity.