Tuesday, March 25, 2008

our top(less) story tonight

newspaper3.JPGAs editorial director of this fine online publication, it's my job (and pleasure) to scour headlines. Every day, I filter through scores of stories and select which bits make it to the GLTR News section. Keyword searches make this task a fair bit easier than it sounds; type in "women's action sports" or "girls' surfing" and an avalanche of results rumbles forth. Most of these articles are relevant, even interesting. Sometimes, however, the mighty power of the Boolean search fails me and turns up something so confounding, I contemplate reenacting that scene in Garden State where they scream into the chasm.

Last Friday was one of those times. Allow me to share what, in any other context, would have been auto-shoved into my junk-mail folder as potential porn:

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Casting Call Information
City:
Los Angeles
State:
CA
We are looking for a character for our docudrama that isn’t going to be shy on hooking up or making out at an anything goes day at the beach or a wild night of debauchery after hitting the slopes. The spring break party girl type that likes to have fun and isn't afraid to flash someone.

A hottie with a hardcore attitude that will do almost anything anywhere to get noticed.

This is for a 6 part docudrama TV series with distribution, its a non union shoot. Looking for girls that are into extreme sports, partying and traveling. You DO NOT need to be a pro or semi pro athlete.

*We are looking for someone that has similar personalities to this "role".
We are looking for people between 21 and 25, this is a non union production. pay is $2,700 plus meal plus travel for three weeks.

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Think I'm making this up? Read it and gag weep.

So why did Google determine that this sort of information was pertinent to the mission of GLTR? Because it included the words "girls" and "extreme sports."

I've been trying to find a way to describe my feelings for days now, but have to admit that most of what surfaces either begins and ends with expletives, sounds more like a disgusted noise than a sentence, or feels so obvious that saying it out loud seems unnecessary. But mixed in with the fits of rage and laughter has been a question: Where did these people get the idea that women who surf or snowboard are just waiting to unleash The Girls for money?

It'd be easy to blame it on the rash (could there be a more appropriate word?) of trashy reality-TV shows intersecting with the bloating of "action sports" in the mainstream media. It seems logical to say that this is just the next chapter of the "Girls Gone Wild" legacy (or Hot Dog, or "Baywatch"). But much as it makes me sort of uncomfortable to own up to it, Hollywood's not the only place you'll find boards and boobs commingling.

Regardless of whether you think it's a positive assertion of femininity, a back-door way of getting publicity, or something else altogether, female riders -- aspiring, amateur, and professional -- have over the last few years willfully posed in bikinis, body paint, bras, and bustiers in the context of editorial. I'll admit that I haven't asked the subjects about their motivation for doing these kinds of shoots. I will venture to say, though, that the general spirit of the photos seems to be, to quote a former associate, "I rip all day and still have game at night."

Yes, I understand that this exact sentence may not have been running through these women's minds. I appreciate the fact that some or all of them could be looking back on those experiences now with different eyes...and that some or all of them have reason to be proud of those features to this day. It's not a judgment call one way or the other; it's simply a statement of fact that those stories were published and distributed, and that they didn't get that way without consent.

So where, then, is the line drawn? Is it okay for the editor of a magazine to ask sponsored riders to show skin, but unacceptable for a TV producer to request someone who's "into extreme sports" to play tonsil hockey with strangers? Do we commend an icon of _____boarding for stripping down tastefully, but shame an unknown for letting the camera follow her around in her skivvies for three weeks?

Regardless of how you might answer these (highly rhetorical) questions, the two scenarios share a theme: action sports as corporate cachet. And I guess that's what really chaps me -- that the reason these women are getting multiple-page articles in FHM and Maxim is not because they're superior athletes, but because action sports "the thing" is trendy, and dressing it in lingerie is the laddie mag's way of capitalizing on it. Put simply, they'll do a story on women in boardsports, but in the only way they know how: by hanging a pair of hooters on it. Accomplishments alone are never enough to warrant a spot in the feature well; sequences will always come after sex. As my boyfriend puts it, it's like sticking a Tokyo Drift spoiler and a set of rims on a Porsche.

Confused as I am? Good. I've blathered long enough; now I want to hear what you think...even if what you think is that I ought to stick to posting the news rather than opining about it. So feel free to hit up the comment box at the end of this column -- we can pick up next week where we left off.

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