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Livin' Large 

The media makes us fat. And they make us worry about it. And they make us buy stuff to relieve our fears. As a faithful YMCA-goer, the first couple months of a new year are irritating, due to the overcrowded conditions brought on by the Resolution Crowd. These are the folks starting a new year (like I do) vowing to lose that 15 pounds and deciding that a new exercise regime is the way to go. Many clog the gym, only to disappear by May.

So as I wait in line for a recumbent bike, pen in hand, I ask: is it any wonder? Thanks to an advertising and media juggernaut that begins just after midnight on December 31, the guilt picks up, and Americans are off to the races again to get fit and thin. We spend billions of dollars each year on weight-related businesses, books, videotapes, and "diet" foods. Low fat, low-sugar, high-fiber, high-hype. It's the Phat Industry.

This year, we have the added bonus of extensive news coverage of the growing health crisis of the Millennium: (horn fanfare here) Obese America. Adults are fat. Children are fat. We aren't physically fit. We have adult-onset diabetes rates that have doctors shaking their heads. We have the highest sugar consumption per person in the world, and heart disease deaths to match. Kids don't take Phys Ed anymore because it's rarely offered (hello? connection?).

So what do we see in the media right now? Can't you sing the "Clay Henry" song on the Subway commercial by now? "He got big on burgers and fries, now he's down to a smaller size."

We see sisters who lost weight together on the "sensible" Slim-Fast plan. Infomercials push everything to get you to the Promised Land: Tae-Bo videotapes, fat-blocker pills, and Richard Simmons' testimonials from dieters that even get me weepy. Another favorite is the Bally fitness club ad where the lumpy couple on the dance floor spin through a split-screen and become miraculously svelte.

And there are the mixed messages from women's magazines. One cover promises to help you "walk away 10 pounds" at the same time it promises a "heavenly Valentine fudge cake" recipe. What's a lifelong dieter to do?

Lest we forget, the Internet provides a wide range of information, and unfortunate quackery for sale. A simple search turns up websites for all the major weight loss programs, including Weight Watchers, complete with low-cal recipes and chat rooms. E-Diets is a web-based diet service. But there are some scary sites with quick fix ideas that sound dangerous: sites for the "Liver Cleansing Diet," or promises to get you a prescription for Xenical or Meridia without seeing a physician.

So while it's another year to try to lose weight, you have to consider whether our national battle of the bulge is really a battle of the brain. The media competition to assuage your guilt and empty your pocketbook says it's so.

*****

For someone who professed not to be interested in cosmetics or the TV glamor game, yikes stripes! That's my reaction to getting a look at former CNN-now-Fox's Greta Van Susteren after her recent "eyelift." Didn't even know who she was when I first saw her, and even though cosmetic surgery and lots of hair color is nothing new to the female and male ranks in national and local TV news, Greta's new look is startling.

A person I know who knows cosmetic surgery believes this particular facial overhaul was a lot more than just an eyelift and a new haircut. (Meow.) And lest you think I'm picking on a woman, I'd say the same thing if Dan Rather got nipped and tucked. And who's to say he hasn't?

As the ratings contest between CNN and Fox grows tighter, it's a shame that something like Greta's makeover, CNN's ill-conceived "sexy" promo to push Paula Zahn, or MSNBC's Ashleigh Banfield's brunette dye job outweighs the news content. There are things to cover like, oh, war, Enron, unemployment, and all that.

So did you ever wonder if all this cable news publicity is worth the ink and airtime? If you look at the stats, you can argue that their image versus who they really reach via the TV set are at odds.

Last month, Fox News averaged 656,000 people watching in prime time. CNN averaged 596,000 viewers and MSNBC had 296,000 viewers. Simply put, at best, cable news networks are watched in only one percent of homes that have access to those channels. And remember, that's in prime time. Numbers would be lower during other parts of the day.

I don't know what business you're in, but if you were selling your product to just one percent of your customer base, you'd be on Monster.com right now, shipping out your resume. And for the old-school broadcast networks, a new TV show that only drew one percent of the viewers that could watch it would be gone faster than The Hank Azaria Show.

Much ado about nothing, or using anything you can to draw attention to your sideshow? As Fox News says, you decide.

*****

How much is that condom in the window, and other tails. Quel hoot regarding the "racy" ad from our local Humane Society that promotes spaying and neutering while giving us a look into the doggy boudoir, condoms and all. WBTV, although pushing pet adoption on noon newscasts, wouldn't run the ad. WCCB runs it, in "adult" time periods. A future cult commercial in the making, produced by Charlotte's Boone/Oakley agency, the folks that brought you Paul Silas playing with rats (not George and Ray, by way of clarification). . .

WCNC has brought home the bacon from the regional Emmy Awards. NBC6 won eight trophies, including three for reporter Mike Redding and videographer Andy Benton. Redding won a fourth Emmy for writing. Channel 9 won two awards, WBTV brings home one, and WAXN won an Emmy as well...

Big doins' for WLNK-FM's Sheri Lynch on April 17. That's when the co-host of the syndicated Bob and Sheri radio show will pick up a national Gracie Allen award in New York from the Foundation of American Women in Radio and Television. This is a big deal as awards go, with other national winners this year including Rosie O'Donnell and Paula "I'm Not Sexy" Zahn. . .

WBZK 980AM has some very cool music playing after 5pm and on weekends, that is, if you're in the mood for a variety of international musical styles. Different programs offer music in Greek, Arabic, Portugese, Chinese and others -- everything from older music to current Arabic and Greek pop. Sort of puts you in a whole other world of music. Are we gettin' cosmopolitan or what?

Our favorite "hmm" comment recently comes from the Charlotte Observer. An item in the Business Monday "Insider" column featured a tidbit from publisher Peter Ridder. The basics: the company would be interested in getting into the radio news biz in Charlotte in the future. Worth watching?

Stay tuned.

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