Thursday, January 17, 2008

Unpacking Glitter Girl... American Idol, Alexis Cohen and Shepard Smith...

This is the story of Glitter Girl (Alexis Cohen), Shepard Smith and John Brown.

Sometimes an examination of a simple, commonplace event can reveal a great deal about larger matters. That's what this post is all about. It's the story of a little reflection upon some seemingly innocent television viewing revealed layer upon layer of somewhat sickening crap. Crap about television. Crap about news. Crap about me. Crap about others. Etc.

It starts with American Idol. I'm not an Idol-lovin' maniac, but we do occasionally watch the program at the John Brown estate. My tiny tot likes the singers (and shows a surprisingly strong ability to separate the good from the grotesque). My wife enjoys watching the kids do their best and appreciates the ones who demonstrate a modicum of talent. I take some weird sadistic satisfaction in watching delusional freaks get their come-uppance. I also have a potentially mistaken belief that Paula Abdul is somewhat hot. I'm not proud of what draws me to American Idol, but I thought a wee bit of honesty was in order.

In any case, they had one of the usual delusional freaks on the first show of the season--a gal named Alexis Cohen who hails from Allentown, PA, and loves to smear glitter all over her face (and perhaps the rest of her body, who knows?). Alexis, or Glitter Girl as she's becoming known, performed a more-than-iffy version of the Jefferson Airplane tune "Somebody to Love".

It was one of those creepy moments of discomfort. Sure, she looked weird, but so did Boy George and some of us didn't recoil in terror at "Do You Really Wanna Hurt Me", so it wasn't just the Glitter Girl look. She didn't really sing THAT badly, either. Yes, she sucked. She didn't, however, suck nearly as much as most of the people in the world. What was it about her that made me feel icky?

She sort of looks like a glittered up version of my high school senior prom date. Sorry, Stacy, but it's true. That might be part of it. Maybe she made me feel uneasy because you could almost sense that she really did have some belief that she didn't suck and that she was going to be shocked to find out how bad she really was. Maybe it was something else altogether.

All in all, the panel went easy on her. They basically dismissed her as a potential bar singer with a retro band. Personally, I think that was a kind rebuke of her effort. Nonetheless, she freaked out.

There were birds a-flippin' and censorship beeps filling the air. There was even a weird "kiss my skinny ass" thing and the wacky on-the-spot decision to try "actressing" instead.

It was compelling television in a very low-brow kind of way. But what the hell, I was slumming with American Idol so I enjoyed it within that context. We intellectual elites with our pretentious appreciation for foreign cinema and frequent purchases of little-known spices at Whole Foods occasionally need a little Idol and a microwave re-heated chunk of tater tot casserole.

I didn't really think about Alexis Cohen that evening. I didn't dream of her and she didn't cross my mind the next day, either. Then, in the afternoon, I made a horrible decision. You can never tell when a tiny decision will cause things to unravel, forcing you to write a very long blog post about the Glitter Girl. Had I known what was about to happen, I wouldn't have touched the remote control.

But I did touch it. I had a masochistic need to watch a bit of Fox News. Perhaps I was subconsciously punishing myself for my sadistic satisfaction with American Idol, you might think. A good argument, Freud, but not quite true. My story? I wanted to recline on my sofa, smoking cigarettes and drinking a beverage so loaded with caffeine and sugar that Mitt Romney would fly into rage at the very sight of it while watching Dick Morris say something icky, gross, shallow, wrong and demented. It was an experiment. I was trying to have a heart attack.

Alas, no Dick Morris. Instead, I was left with Shepard Smith and whatever bullshit show the Foxsters have built around him. He basically pretends to be a news guy while interviewing a series of guests. Most of those guests are blond, interchangeable "political analysts" who have a special gift for jabbering without saying anything. They look just hard enough to have a bit of credibility, but one soon finds the mind wandering to what they'd look like naked or engaging in some form of sodomy that would force Chuck Norris and Mike Huckabee to go on a rampage.

They are the embodiment of a wonk's wet dream and they are the bread and butter of Fox News. Unless they can get Dick Morris or some other freaky-deaky shit-spewer with a knack for obfuscating things to show up

Well, after Shep Smith finished with a few of the gals they mentioned an upcoming appearance by Alexis Cohen. Glitter Girl was in studio for a few minutes with Ol' Shep. How fucking delicious is that? I followed the heavily-eyelinered Smith's recommendation. I stayed tune. After watching ads for retirement communities in Florida and various medications I hope to never need, Smith returned.

They teased me with Glitter Girl again. I suffered through additional segments of half-news, non-news, and what-the-fuck-is-going-on-here in hopes of catching the interview. I looked at the clock. Time was an issue. I knew that Cavuto's Giant Melon would soon fill my screen, leaving me without any Glitter Girl time.

I was pissed. After all, I invested a great deal of time in this endeavor and I sat through all of the ads that appear on Fox News on a weekday afternoon. I learned very little about the news, but I now know who to call if I need representation on a disability claim or if I should ever decide to attend a trade school. Thanks, Fox!

Finally, it happened. Glitter Girl. It was a brief interview. They talked about what caused her to blow up on the show. She admitted that some of it was fake rage designed to keep the cameras on her. She reminded us all a few times that she is not a psychopath. She just likes glitter. It's a "reflection on [her]self". Overall, though, she remained in true Glitter Girl character. Shep Smith did a good job of pretending as if it wasn't a real interview. He increased his aloofness factor a little bit and was just patronizing enough that we'd all know he thought Glitter Girl was a nut without her figuring it out.

Then it was time for Cavuto. I cannot watch Cavuto. My inability to watch him has nothing to do with the content of his program or the quality of his perspective (both of which are less intellectually stimulating than reruns of Gilligan's Island). I cannot watch Cavuto because the combination of his massive orb of a head, his cheese-grating voice and his O'Reilly-esque pomposity is just too overwhelming.

I didn't think about Glitter Girl again. Until today.

I was patrolling the web for items of interest and I found this post about another early episode Idol loser named Milo Turk. He apparently sang some weird pro-abstinence song of his own creation. Everyone says he stunk.

Well, it turns out that Milo is actually a professional comic and singing crappy songs like that is all part of his act. He wasn't portrayed as a comedian on Idol. They played it straight. They were either intentionally removing context to create a false impression or they got scammed by Mr. Turk. Either way, well-played Milo! Milo is not alone. Others have pulled similar stunts.

This revelation re: Milo Turk led my mind back to Glitter Girl. There was something about her that made me wonder... Could she, too, be an Idol fake? Was Alexis Cohen of Allentown, PA, a phony?

The answer to that question is a qualified "yes". You see, she isn't as crazy as she seemed to be on the show. She isn't quite as dim as she pretended to be on Idol. She doesn't always cover her countenance with glitter and blue lipstick. She has a band. She's involved with a few improv troupes, too.

Based on all of the evidence I uncovered, her performance was 30% reality and 70% fiction. I don't have a problem with that. She pulled a Milo Turk on the Idol people and that's fine. What I thought was interesting is that she showed up "in character" for her interview with Shepard Smith and he talked to her as if Glitter Girl was her true personae and not just an act.

That's not the biggest deal in the world, but you would think a NEWS organization might take a moment to question whether their upcoming interview was on the level or not. You would think that Shep Smith might wonder if he was jawing with a real person or a performance art character. Apparently that didn't happen. Usually, a new guy interviews actors instead of characters. Not this time.

You see, Smith and Co. didn't bother to find out anything about their subject. Who could blame them, right? After all, Shep was just shilling for one of the network's other shoes. He was just doing a little ad work for Idol in the afternoon. Even if he did know that Glitter Girl was a fabrication of sorts, he also knew that the truth wouldn't help out the American Idol ratings cause.

This is Glitter Girl. More accurately, it's Alexis Cohen. This picture was discovered at her MySpace page. That page features her blog, in which she rants about the war on drugs. It contains a little information about her band, All Ryzing. It features comments from her friends who seem at least partially sane, remarking on her AI appearance as if it was one helluva joke.

Apparently Cohen commented on a few blogs here and there. She was clearing up a few misconceptions about her life while railing against the allegedly unfair treatment the exploitative folks at American Idol doled out. There's no way of ascertaining whether she actually left the comments, of course. Others who claim to know (or to have known) Cohen say that she's had some issues with mental illness and an abusive father (now dead). Some of that seems to check out. Other aspects of her real bio remain a mystery.

There are others who argue that Ms. Cohen was legit. They maintain that her difficult upbringing merged with mental illness and that the sum of many parts led to the enraged gal with blue lipstick we saw on TV. If that's the case, I'm at least a little receptive to the argument that we should question the exploitation involved in the production of American Idol and other reality programs.

I'm not ready to say that Alexis is the Glitter Girl Next Door, but I am fairly convinced that we were given an intentionally misleading portrait of her on American Idol. I know that AI is just a bullshit television show that's fun to watch while eating tater tot casserole, so I'm not weeping over that. I am a little more bothered by the inability of the so-called "real" media to see through the (at least partial) ruse. I'm not just talking about Fox, either. She's apparently made appearances elsewhere and no one is really bringing up the fact that she has another band, isn't a complete freak 24/7, etc.

If the news media is willing to become a version of Entertainment Tonight, they could at least apply the journalistic skills they might have to the project. It's like having Robert DeNiro on your show and asking him what it was like to run a casino, lose his gaming license, and to find out that his wife was banging Joey Pesci. Hey, if they did that, it would actually be more forgivable because Bobby did better as Ace Rothstein than Alexis did as Glitter Girl.

You've now suffered through this excruciatingly long post. You're probably wondering why I bothered with it. What is it about Glitter Girl, Shepard Smith and Simon Cowell that deserves this much attention? Do I think Paula Abdul is THAT hot (No, for the record. Not since the MC Scat Cat days)?

As promised, this post is about simple events and their ability to reveal crap when you look at them with even a dash of seriousness. Here's what we learned from the Glitter Girl Extravaganza...

American Idol is either gullible or manipulative to the point of dishonesty. That isn't a big deal, but I think a lot of people enjoy the program because of its reality. We've always known that some of that reality is suspended in order to generate an acceptable product, but Milo Turk, Glitter Girl, and others undercut the shows honesty and appeal.

Fox News is either lazy or dishonest (I'm picking on Fox because that's where I personally saw an interview. Other networks may have been just as bad). Either they don't really do a damn bit of research past watching American Idol or they do and then opt not to report so you can't decide. I know that plugging a show isn't like breaking the Pentagon papers, but it would be nice if people took their role seriously. That might involve not having Glitter Girl interviews (hint, hint) but at the very least it would involve legitimate ones. If you can't trust the throwaway interview of last night's mini-star, how can you trust coverage of significant events and players in major decisions?

People are willing to do the damnedest things for attention. Alexis Cohen opted to portray herself as a glittered up walking freak show just to get seven minutes on broadcast television and the proverbial fifteen minutes to follow. It's not quite a Faustian bargain, but it probably is a pretty shitty one overall.

We are willing to give people the attention they crave. That might be the sickest part of this. Alexis Cohen was willing to do at least amplify her natural nuttiness to get a reaction. I'm here reacting to it. There's a kind of nasty symbiosis to the whole thing. Eventual traffic numbers for this post will undoubtedly prove the existence of that symbiotic relationship. And, the fact that I'm even thinking in those terms, utilizing Alexis Cohen's story as a means of attracting people to Prepare Yourselves for a Settlement just adds another layer to the whole shitpie, doesn't it?

Shepard Smith wears as much, if not more, makeup than Glitter Girl. Yes, this is nothing more than a smart-ass dig at Shep. Unlike some of the stuff that appears on Fox, however, it's true. He looks like some sort of weird painting of Shep Smith these days. I know the guy has aged since his glory days of running down other reporters in his car, but the makeup face is undoubtedly spookier than his real features.

All of that brings up more important questions. Well, maybe the part about Smith's makeup doesn't, but the rest of it probably does. What does all of this tell us about our attraction to celebrity? What does it really say about the state of the media and of entertainment? About our tastes for each? It also raises a few questions about the exploitation of folks who might not be clued in at a high level and those who may suffer with an illness.


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  1. That was an excellent post and yes, I read all of it! :)

    BTW, it's Shepard Smith, not Shepherd. :)

  2. Thanks for suffering through this monster. Thanks for the correction, too. Duly noted and edited accordingly.


  3. Fascinating, dude. This is, in part, a response to this and the above post about Clinton and Romney, so I hope you can follow my rambling.

    I do think, at some level, that I cut some slack to reporters on a deadline. I guess my attitude is that if there is something that they are not breaking that someone else - you, in this case, John - get credit for breaking the story. It's not so much, "What a shitty fuckin' reporter you are" as "You got scooped." I also think that the paranoia about getting it wrong or being criticized for doing so is a source of serious problems in the media and in the larger culture, especially the political culture.

    The hardest thing, from my own experience and from watching the experiences of others, that smart people like to admit is when they've made a mistake. It often goes to heart of their pride that because they are smart therefore they don't do stupid and foolish things or even innocent things that make them look stupid and foolish in public. Noone likes to be embarrassed is the truth. And the news media and those in political circles, in particular, because it's a high stakes arena, can be particularly brutal in their treatment of one another around this.

    And the tragic and comic part of the whole thing is that the much bigger foolishness is that no matter how smart people are, mistakes are a central feature of learning, meaning getting smarter. We try to avoid the big mistakes. But we often fail. And admitting big mistakes often makes us look bad and/or gets us in serious trouble - especially in a hyper-aggressive time like our own - and so people are less want to do it, as a consequence, even though admitting it is what allows us to begin to learn whatever lesson was involved.

    That actually is the reason for a less aggressive means of engaging one another, I think, John. Because more aggressive means puts everyone on the defensive as the much more certain rule of life, and makes it much harder for everyone to learn the lessons involved rather than always defending ourselves and one another. Once you see it a million times, as Twain did and lampooned much of his life in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, it just becomes kind of sad and funny all at once.

    It's smarter, I think, if we really want to get to the truth and not just try to catch people in lies or self-defense - the latter of which is almost never going to result in a public admission of error, generally - to ask nicely, with some sensitivity to the stakes involved for the people we are asking, but to look for honest answers, as much as possible.

    It's just a fact of life I think it would be better for us, especially the news media and politicians and even those in the criminal justice system who may be less want to handle things more nicely - there is always room and need to be less concerned with peoples' feelings than with exposing a lie and a crime when the stakes are serious enough; others might want to do so regardless of the stakes, but I think we should be as wise as possible about playing that card - to accept.

    And the other side of that coin is that no matter how aggressive the news media gets - and they have gotten much more aggressive, by my lights, in the last few years - and no matter how aggressive politicians, prosecutors, lawyers, lobbyists, activists, etc. get, it never is aggressive enough because it's constantly failing to yield the results that people reasonably want, which is a function of the aggression as much as anything else. That is the source of regressive periods in all cultures, I think, John. No matter how brutally Saddam Hussein treats his people, there is always someone around him saying he's being too soft.

    But I also share your frustration, John, that we both feed this monster and, as with Clinton and Romney, that people don't give straighter answers. I do think a culture obsessed with fame and money, even vicariously, is going to spawn this sort of stuff, although it's probably a good idea to discourage it, I think. More importantly, for me, I think it's wise to encourage people to go do something more honest/constructive with their lives. I have a general attitude, especially given the work I do with kids with serious behavior issues, as you can imagine, that people fuck up and that we should have some understanding of what it's like to fuck up even in monsterously stupid ways like this girl. But as you get at, it can't be recognized as a fuck up until someone points it out.

    I do think the dishonest arguments in politics need to be more honestly addressed. But I don't need much more convincing that a more aggressive route is not very effective in achieving that. It's the norm and so is the dishonesty. And I'm pretty sure that is correlation that is not causation, but which is a pretty significant contributor, given peoples' natural propensity for defensiveness when confronted aggressively, especially when they have made a big fuck-up, nevertheless the smaller fuck-ups.

    I think the lower key, lower heat, more civil conversations in universities that assume more good faith are a better model. They are not perfect. There is plenty of animus and politics and lying and all kinds of stupidity in universities and scholarly circles. But they are generally, in my view, more honest, without really much margin for comparison. And that is a function of that kind of culture, I think. I just think that the political class outside of universities both prides itself as somehow having more answers than those snotty professors and whatnot and than they really have and that is tries to explain away all of its failures on this and all counts by just dipping into the endless well of cynicism that nothing can be done to improve the situation, anyway, which is clearly bullshit, it's just an abdication of responsibility, which is exactly what you would expect in a hyperaggressive culture where everyone is afraid to take responsibility because of the high stakes, and on and on and on.

    It's one big Shakespearian drama, over and over and over again, except even Shakespeare got tired of such drama in the politics of his own time. That's why he wrote the goddamn plays, I would imagine, outside of making a modest living.

    It's far more tragic than comic, but what are you going to do but laugh when the people dealing with the most serious issues in the world are constantly tripping over themselves and no matter how obvious it is that the multitude of emperors where no clothes on this one - and go nowhere as a consequence - we just stay stuck in the same mess over and over and over again.

    Most people look back at the assinine politics of slavery of 19th century and think, "Why was it so hard for you to recognize that this was such an evil, awful institution and just end it?" and, as importantly, I think, "Why were you so persistently and foolishly threatening civil war with one another to both avoid facing this ugly institution and to try to resolve something that clearly could have been resolved without 600,000 people having to die."

    But the truth is that the latter was probably, in significant part, by the end, responsible for the former. Slavery was a dying and by far less productive form of economic organization (if you can call such a gruesome enterprise something prettier than it is). But Southerners and slave owners couldn't see it because they were so busy defending their "honor," despite their involvement in it, that many of them just couldn't see straight enough to let it go, by the end.

    A diplomatic resolution, perhaps with the help of France, as James McPherson, the famous (and liberal) civil war historian has suggested or a political resolution that saw the cost in terms of lives that would occur with a war and the futility of the continued enterprise of slavery (Britain ended slavery by law and without a civil war, an important indication that our American civil war was as much if not more about power and the Federal Government -"preserving the union," as Abraham Lincoln euphemistically referred to it - as it was about slavery).

    But we didn't. And so the rhetoric just kept escalating and escalating until they finally just did it. They'd been talking about it for years. And then South Carolina seceded and the Confederate Army took Fort Sumter and from there it all went downhill. The taking of Fort Sumter and all of the Federal forts was definitely an aggressive act by the South that needed some kind of response. But, generally, peace was not out of the question. It just wasn't considered seriously enough, despite many peace efforts, because slavery and secession has polarized the nation too severely by that point and because cooler heads didn't prevail. The seriousness of the risk of the eventuality of 600,000 people dying weighed against a despicable but dying institution of slavery that would and could never compete with the voluntary and much more productive labor of either the industrial North and the rest of the industrializing world was just not really considered, because passions were too high at that point, I think.

    It was heat persistently overwhelming light on the most serious issue of the day. Because of the foolish notion that heat can either replace light or that light is somehow enhanced by infinitely greater heat, neither of which is true, either in the natural world and probably less in the world of humanity.

    We know better that heat does not necessarily produce and often obscures light. We've just gotten too wrapped up in the bullshit the last 6-7 years or so, post 9/11 and post 2000 election for many liberals and Democrats.

    The great thing about 21st century America, I think, John is that we've had more than 200 years, now, of thought and discussion and debate and Mark Twains and Harper Lees and John Stuart Mills and Mary Wollstencrafts and Henry David Thoreaus and Martin Luther Kings and Mohatma Ghandis and maybe some John Stewarts and Stephen Colberts and Mike Judges and all the rest to temper our passions, some so that we don't so easily get wrapped up in our own bullshit. We have this pretty fuckin' incredible democracy, really, and marketplace of ideas and, within that, some really remarkable thought that keeps us from tearing ourselves and one another apart.

    And occassionally, we have someone like Bill Clinton or Bruce Babbit bring that into politics with an issue like logging and environmental interests and bring people around a table to talk things out honestly and decently and with a respect for the good faith of one another and some important issues get some decent resolution.

    But mostly, we got the shit that we've had for the last 6-7 years, in particular, where issues don't get resolved, everyone is at one another's throats, passions are not tempered, sadly, and very little gets resolved.

    And they all tell us that they didn't get anything done because nothing could be done in the first place.

    And then they lecture the rest of us about taking responsibility in life.

    It's kind of sad charade, really. And if you didn't laugh, you'd have to cry. I'd rather laugh. Twain did too. That's why I love him.

    Holy shit, that was a lot of rambling, dude. I don't know why I just sat here and wrote this rather than calling you up except I don't have your number on my phone anymore, I don't think. When you get a chance, can you send me a line with your phone number?

    I've got English muffins to get to, John. Talk with you soon.


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