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a silent salute: The audience "claps" at Joke Night during Deaf Awareness week. Click Arts&Life for a link to story. / Photo by Leah Lopshire

Today's word on journalism

December 15, 2008

As part of my own personal "war on Christmas" (which a Utah state senator has offered legislation to outlaw), the WORD celebrates the season by going on hiatus until January. May all out days be merry and bright, and here’s to a safe, healthy and saner New Year. HoHoHo!

Empty Minds: "Of all the people expressing their mental vacuity, none has a better excuse for an empty head than the newspaperman: If he pauses to restock his brain, he invites onrushing deadlines to trample him flat. Broadcasting the contents of empty minds is what most of us do most of the time, and nobody more relentlessly than I."

--Russell Baker, Pulitzer-winning columnist

Speak up! Comment on the WORD at


Feedback and suggestions--printable and otherwise--always welcome. "There are no false opinions."

Michelle Obama's dress disaster

By Ashley Schiller

November 10, 2008 | Crowds all over the U.S. and as far as Kenya erupted in applause as the new first family entered the stage. Obama had won. It was a historical moment, one my kids will probably ask me about 20 years down the road. As the first African-American president approached the podium, there was only one thing I could think about:

"Dude. What's with Michelle's dress?"

The black scoop-neck ensemble had what can only be described as a cosmic red star explosion on the front (perhaps a symbolic message to the Republican party). A crisscross sash divided the upper and lower hemispheres of the catastrophic blast. The red belly was awkward and unflattering to Michelle Obama's figure. Well, probably anyone's figure.

It's ridiculous that fashion is a weighty issue for female politicians, yet I must confess even I have fallen into it. We have become programmed to analyze the style of candidates and candidates' wives. I eagerly researched to find out who made Obama's dress.

It was designed by Narciso Rodriquez and was actually altered to make it more appropriate for the occasion (less cleavage and more length). Obama also added a black cardigan. The original looked more balanced, but I feel like the design was always a troublesome one. Rodriquez seems to have drawn his inspiration from an unusual source -- the black widow spider.

Although some in the fashion industry have praised Obama's choice, condemnation by professionals and regular citizens has been more common. An online poll by Us Weekly magazine revealed that the majority of its readers did not approve. (The next vital issue being determined by Us Weekly readers: who should perform at Barrack Obama's inauguration. The choices are Beyonce, Madonna, Justin Timberlake or Jay-Z. My vote is Jay-Z.)

I have a fashion trivia question of my own: What was Barrack Obama wearing? Describe in detail his suit and tie. If you are like me, you only vaguely remember, and you certainly have no strong opinion. A tie would have to be absolutely abominable to make a headline. We do not focus on the style of male political figures, but we have a wary eye on the women.

Sarah Palin's $150,000 wardrobe has hit headlines like a tropical storm. Whether it was a red leather jacket, form-fitting skirt or smashing white blazer, Palin looked just plain hot on the campaign trail, and the press and public ate it up. Fashion often outweighed policy in media attention.

Now that the cost of Palin's look has been revealed, many are appalled. Palin was never going to keep the clothes, according to Tracey Schmitt, spokesperson for the McCain - Palin campaign. It was used for a charitable purpose after the campaign, she said. (Palin can donate to my organization, PANTS: Poor Aggies Needing Thousand-dollar Suits.)

Citizens are shocked that a politician would spend so much on her appearance. But perhaps we have encouraged this sort of behavior. These days, a female politician or politician's wife cannot simply disregard the public's thirst for fashion. Hillary Clinton's gender neutral suits got her nowhere. What our country wants out of its women, even those in politics, is sass.

Even a female politician's hair is analyzed to a disturbing degree. Booth Moore of the Los Angeles Times described Palin's do in this way: "Her hair is a study in contrasts, carefree and 'done' at the same time. The untidiness of her updo has a can-do spirit that says, 'I have more important things to do than worry about my hair, so I just twirled it into this clip so I could get to the real business of governing and shooting caribou and having babies and taking them to hockey practice.'

"The bouffant in the front, which appears to be teased from underneath, is more traditional…And yet, you get the feeling that at the end of the day, she could shake out that lustrous mane (longer than any other major female U.S. political figure's) and get it on with her man."

Sick. That's all I have to say. Can women ever escape the sexism that is always nipping at our heels? Please show me an article in which the author elaborates on the fantasy of messing up Obama's hair.

I watched a news clip a few days ago featuring Palin and her family as they boarded an airplane for Alaska. She sported jeans and a baggy T-shirt. Her attire screamed "I am finally free."

Obama can forget about jeans and a T-shirt for the next four years. A recent article in New York magazine hailed her for holding her own against France's first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, a former supermodel.

I consider the following excerpt from the article pathetic: "We have a feeling she'll continue to mix affordable pieces with designer pieces as First Lady, but this wardrobe choice proves this woman knows fashion and we have an exciting four years of political fashion ahead of us…What will she choose for the inaugural ball? The suspense is so exciting! And you know what else is great about this? We don't have to envy France for Carla Bruni anymore!"

Is this really what we want most from our First Lady, a knock-out dress for the inaugural ball? Is Bruni the candle on the hill to which Obama should aspire? Bleh. Women in politics carry a heavy burden of all the typical pressures of leadership with the addition requirement of looking fantastic all day, every day. Whether she likes it or not, Michelle Obama has a high expectation to fill.

Big political bashes are rivaling the Academy Awards in relation to money spent on clothing and accessories. Vanity Fair magazine estimated Cindy McCain's shiny yellow outfit for the opening session of the Republican National Convention was worth about $300,000, including accessories such as the 3-carat diamond earrings (the dress by itself was priced at $3,000).

What dress will Michelle Obama pick for the inaugural ball? What lucky designer will receive her patronage? I and the rest of America will be sitting on the edge of our seats.



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