As we near a hugely consequential election, I present a tribute to Georgia via “Designing Women,” excerpted from my forthcoming book on growing up with television.

Discussing the history of representations of women and feminism, Susan Douglas describes this as the media “tak[ing] away with one hand what they had just given us with the other.” So in the early Seventies we were given the thrilling catharsis of Bea Arthur’s Maude, a woman who spoke her mind and refused to obey gender conventions — but who in the process dominates and bullies her husband, reinforcing the stereotype of the feminist as a strident, loud, unfeminine bruiser. At the other end of the continuum was The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which broke ground for the single working woman who lived alone (luckily for Mary Richards, with great neighbors) and even took birth control pills (!), but tempered her independence with stammers, blushes, and deference to Mr. …


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We’re so sorry. We make great bourbon, but we let the country down.

We didn’t get rid of Mitch McConnell.

Why do we keep electing him? That’s something that’s baffled me since I came to Kentucky 26 years ago to take a position at University of Kentucky. And now that once again we’ve re-elected him, then watched him shed tears over the retirement of Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander while continuing steadfastly to obstruct COVID-19 relief, the whole nation is wondering too. It would be one thing if he’s done great things for our state — which he hasn’t — or even was just a fun guy — which he most definitely isn’t. …


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Unbearable Weight

Last year, I was asked to write a preface to a forum that my former graduate students, now successful teachers and writers, had put together for the journal Frontiers. It was published in March 2019. Now, in December 2020, as I’m struggling with pandemic weight-gain, I thought others might identify. So, encouraged by Facebook friends, I’m publishing here. Please do tell your own stories in response!

Until my younger sister was born, I was the baby of our family. Then, when I was four, she was brought into the house and I began to eat. First, I’m told (it may be a family myth), it was her toe, which they say I tried to bite off the first night she came home. Then it was chunks of white bread, gauged from the middle of the loaf, compressed into chewy lumps and dunked in mustard. I had to do my binging when no one was home, though, as my father himself in those days was fat and I became his shame-surrogate — not only for over-eating but for failure to “stick to” anything: diets, learning to swim, finishing school assignments. “You’re just like your Aunt Etta,” he’d say scornfully, disgust twisting his mouth; she was even fatter than he was and branded as the “lazy one” among his siblings. …


A collaboration between Jenn Abel and Susan Bordo

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Jenn Abel is a teacher, writer, and mother of six who describes herself as learning to live by faith rather than fear. Susan Bordo is a writer, mother, and Professor Emerita in Humanities at the University of Kentucky. She is the author of many books on cultural history, the media, gender and politics.

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One of us is “pro-choice” and Jewish. One of us is a “pro-life” Christian. We put these labels in scare quotes because we believe it’s time to get beyond labels and move forward on our common humanity. Branding others is Trump territory. We refuse to go there. And we refuse to let our differences blind us to our shared commitment to defeating Donald Trump — a man who violates both of our traditions. Bill Clinton recently said, of Ruth Bader Ginsberg: “She was not a woman to be labelled.” She was clearly not a woman to label others, either. …


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For months we had been bombarded on television with horrendous, uncensored images of the war in Vietnam. In March, American soldiers massacred 347 at My Lai. Two weeks later, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, the target of anti-war rage, said he would not seek re-election. In April, Martin Luther King had been assassinated on the balcony of a Memphis Hotel, and the inner cities exploded. Just days later SDS students at Columbia barricaded themselves in the president’s office while black students occupied a separate building. In May, Parisian students went on strike, tearing up the cobblestones of Paris. A few weeks later, moments after victory in the California primary, Bobby Kennedy was murdered in the kitchen of a Los Angeles Hotel. A few days before, a marginal member of Andy Warhol’s circle, Valerie Solanas, also founder of SCUM, the Society for Cutting Up Men, shot him in the stomach. …


Remember that charisma can be just as dangerous as it is compelling. Charisma is subjective. It’s also the appeal of cultists and authoritarians, as well as our greatest leaders. Jim Jones and Hitler, to their followers, were seen as charismatic. And Incredible as it may seem, Trump supporters see him as charismatic.

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Some Democrats, while urging people to vote for Biden, mourn how “underwhelming” he is, and how lacking in “charisma.” Reminds me a little of the “I’ll vote for her, but holding my nose” stuff that dragged enthusiasm for Hillary way, way down.

The media (and the campaign itself) is emphasizing Biden’s capacity for empathy — and that is, indeed, a tremendously attractive quality. But I want to put a word in for something else that has become very evident about Biden (and that perhaps wasn’t so clear before): He is collaborative, willing to share power, and appreciative of the strengths of others. …


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Gabby Giffords said that sometimes it’s a fight for her to find the words. That’s how I feel this morning. How to describe what I feel? It’s a struggle, and that’s unusual for me. But I can say some of what we were given last night:
Obama decimated the illusion of normalcy that has kept this horror of a man in power, with a speech that was as great as any ever delivered, by anyone.
Kamala showed the whole nation why “Joyful Warrior” is exactly right for her, and how completely wrong the Mean Prosecutor tag is. Even more, she (and this she shares with Michelle Obama) showed that fierce brilliance in a women does not eradicate our capacity for warmth and humor.
And the entire evening showed both the possibilities of the future (I loved that younger people were often the speakers for the movements of our time) as well as what we owe past fighters — from Black women activists (thank you, Kamala) to the indomitable, irreplaceable Hillary, to (this will be surprising to some) Joe Biden. There are many ways to fight, and some revolutions are quieter than others.
What I feel? I do have a few words: a mixture of elation, inspiration, grief over what has been taken from us — what we have allowed to be taken from us — and fear that although it surely can be restored….it may well not be. Never have the best and the worst shown their faces so clearly in this country.
It truly is an “inflection point” — an overused phrase that has disappointed us over and over. …


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Credit:Shutterstock

It really was just a debate.

Ever since the Kennedy-Nixon debate, the debates have held an absurd amount of power in electoral politics. What happened then is legendary: Kennedy had been well-prepared with a set of talking points, and was instructed to turn the questions around (nowadays, we call this a “pivot”) in order to get them out no matter what the question was. Nixon, on the other hand, was a debate “purist” who addressed the questions with precision but had no winning sound-bites. And then, too, there was the painful contrast between Nixon’s flop sweat and Kennedy’s handsome, sun-drenched features. People who heard the debate on the radio thought that Nixon had won. But Don Hewitt knew better. “My God,” he said when the debate ended, “we don’t have to wait for election night. …


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So I finished Mary Trump’s book late last night, and here’s what I think is so important about it.

But first, for those who think there’s nothing new there that we haven’t already known about Trump, let me preface my comments by reminding people that they come from the perspective of someone who has been writing about Trump’s deficits (which I dub the “Little King” complex in a Medium article reprinted in my most recent book, and described on a Huff Po piece before the election as “the pathology of privilege”) for a long time. Conceptually, my perspective in those pieces coheres very well with Mary Trump’s “diagnosis.” …


It took the pandemic to show me “a room of one’s own” is much more than a spatial allocation

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I’ve had my own home office ever since I could afford a home large enough for one. Most of my books are there, I’ve written four books of my own in there, and last year I made the unprecedented move of putting a small bed in one corner, so I had a place to occasionally nap without the disturbance of three undisciplined dogs or our vocal cockatiel. Gradually, with my sister’s help, I cleaned up the clutter and added decorative touches. I thought I had a room of my own.

I was wrong. It took the pandemic to show me “a room of one’s own” is much more than a spatial allocation. …

About

Susan Bordo

Cultural historian, media critic, feminist scholar. Forthcoming in 2021: TV (A volume in Bloomsbury’s “Object Lessons” series)

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