The media, when done properly, aims to rise above the impetuses of the individual, State and industry and hold them accountable to the realities of their prejudices. When done properly, the media should alleviate and expose injustice and represent all parties equally, regardless of how they’re perceived by society. But we’re all adults and we all know the media, by and large, doesn’t hold to these lofty standards. This is not breaking news to us. Instead of challenging damaging social values, the media often encourages them because that’s more fun! The reader doesn’t want to be made uncomfortable or feel admonished. They want listicles! And puppies! And to laugh at fail vids and have their values reinforced so they’ll keep giving up their valuable clicks.
As a result, we can learn a lot about widely held values by what goes viral and what the general media take is. A few weeks ago, a story did the rounds: in the US, a customer ordered a specific product, signed a contract and paid a deposit. When she received the product, half of it was not what she ordered and the supplier supposedly offered no restitution or alternative, but simply told her they were not contractually obligated to ensure the product she ordered was exactly the same as the product she received (which is, in fact, exactly what they are obligated to do by consumer law).
The customer complained to the media about it. A shit storm of angry comments and scathing articles broke out. And you can probably guess by my foreshadowing that, strangely, the media abuse was not directed at the retailer who broke the contract, but at the customer.
The reason? Because the customer was a bride-to-be, the retailer was a stationary supplier and the product was the doily covering on the wedding invitations. The narrative of a crazy Bridezilla going off over something as petty as doilies apparently makes more sense to the audience at large. The rational element says “Hey if I paid for a blue couch and they gave me a red couch and said ‘Deal with it’ I’d feel mightily peeved too, that’s not crazy” while the emotional element says “What kind of nutcase gets that mad about doilies?! Wtf is a doily? There’s literally no difference, why does this idiot care about this so much?” and the media assumes that for most, the emotional side wins out.
The readers and the media exist in an increasingly symbiotic feedback loop. The media assume that the readers want the Bridezilla story, over the wronged customer story, and it’s here that we see the underlying values emerge and hot damn are they patriarchal. The Bridezilla angle limps down the well-worn path of being dismissive of women and, accordingly, anything valued by women such as weddings (the ultimate occasion for lady things – flowers and pastels and tantrums) and lace doilies! The ULTIMATE ‘woman thing’! It’s lace, it’s decorative and your granny probably has one under a vase embossed with faded clay flowers! Because the product is quintessentially girlie, the woman is mocked for being petty and daring to care about such a silly thing, even though she paid a $500 deposit and probably put a fair amount of effort into choosing a doily that she liked.
And the reason it matters is because in a similar scenario, if the product was the band for the reception or your new couch or, more likely, if the customer was a man, there might be a different media angle. There might not even be a media angle because this story isn’t that interesting. What there certainly wouldn’t be is the widespread mockery and even anger sparked by this story:
The Daily Mail, consistently sensationalist:
The Houston Chronicle took the same approach, but adds some condescension:
Eric Nicholson at the Dallas Observer:
Nicholson sums up why DeGraffenfield is getting served: because she’s a woman and because he assumes his male readers would have no idea what a doily is and, as it is outside their range of understanding, could not possibly be something worth raging over.
Gawker media hit the nail on the head: “DeGraffenreid is a nurse. Her husband-to-be is a firefighter and a paramedic. They are our nation's heroes, who have no doubt been saving up to make their wedding a day their family and friends will enjoy. Give DeGraffenreid the right goddamn doilies or let her keep the shitty ones for free.”
In terms of shitty things that happen to women, this is way, way down the list. But at the heart of it is the media, once again pushing stories and angles that de-value and trivialise anything even remotely associated with femininity and that is a problem that’s worth talking about.