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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"My Beautiful Mommy"...half-hoax, half Newsweek failure of integrity

Over at Making Light Teresa Nielsen Hayden has looked into the plastic surgery book and Newsweek's story about it.

Turns out, she discovered that the book is from a vanity publisher. That is, it was self-published by the author. There were no editors making a decision about how to best make a buck. At least, not any editors who didn't work at Newsweek.

Shame shame, double shame, Newsweek. Now I know your girlfriend's name. And she dumped you for being stupid and manipulative.


SciFi Dad said...

So instead of people justifying their actions, it's one person.

Same story; just a smaller scale.

Headless Mom said...

Still sick if you ask me!

Mandy said...

Hmmm... a vanity book. Now, I'm all over that. Where can I sign me up to publish one of those?

Backpacking Dad said...

SciFi Dad: smaller scale, yes. But I think the story changes from "what is the purpose of printing and marketing this book, and is it a good idea?" which is a question about media and image writ large, to "what's the deal with Newsweek running 3 page stories about some vanity press book?", which is a question about Newsweek, writ small.

Headless Mom: Still worth talking about though? Not that I'll stop.

Mandy: I have some swamp land too if you want it :}

Patti Mayo said...

I didn't get a chance to respond to the first posting about the book but it does seem not such a great idea to me. Society is vain enough, we don't need a book teaching little kids that they aren't beautiful how they are, that they need surgery to be beautiful.

I'm disappointed in Newsweek for printing an article regardless of how large it was...a paragraph would have still been a waste of space.

Shaping Youth said...

As I wrote to Jill, it's not a 'hoax' just because it was self-published, but it IS disconcerting that Newsweek didn't bother with due diligence on the source material...a far greater sign of 'sensationalist tabloid sales baiting' if you ask me. (and I'm a former journalist myself!)

Anyway, we covered this on Shaping Youth both from a media literacy standpoint AND a body image one, since we focus on media and marketing's impact on kids universally.

Here 'tis:
Mamma's Got A Brand New Nose. Belly.

Julie Pippert said...

I'm just curious why you think a vanity press book isn't as "real" a book? Am I misunderstanding?

Vanity press doesn't make it a hoax.

I grant you that it didn't go through the same process, but after having worked in publishing (and running my own publishing company) for a long time, I know the process varies.

I think Newsweek's story is valid.

I think "why print it" is a red herring question anyway, as is "who published it?"

The REAL problem is why so many women feel the need to get risky cosmetic surgery.

That---and the message we send to our children---is definitely worth talking about, and I doubt a three-page spread in Newsweek can come close to doing it justice.

The book is simply one more exhibit.

Shaping Youth said...

Agree with Julie that self-publishing in the Web 2.0 era has become normative, so it's no more a hoax than any other method, it's simply a different distribution and inventory methodology.

We used for the probono Age of Conversation book to benefit Variety, the Children's Charity (raised $11K in 2 mos) and then plopped it on Amazon for more exposure to mainstream audiences to benefit the kids' Lifeline division.

So Julie's right...seems the issue is more the 'due diligence' of Newsweek to frame the conversation properly.

The body image implications of the trend is the 'story' regardless, but the source needs fleshed out for context so that it doesn't sound like a 'bestseller' on the NYT list, ya know?

Backpacking Dad said...

Shaping Youth & Julie: I agree with both of you that vanity press does not make it a hoax. And when I titled the post I was being a little hasty and just trying to go for the feel of what someone smarter than I might call "Frankfurtian Bullshit": noting that whoever said the thing they said didn't say it because of a care for the truth or falsity of it, just for the impact.

That's what I think Newsweek did. Of course the body image discussion is itself worth having. And of course the media response to the body image discussion is worth having.

But what Newsweek did was become the story, which is a huge no-no. In a story that suggested, just by being written, that the media was somehow involved in the body image issue in this particular case (I don't think it's too much of a reach for readers to think that an editor, editorial board, agent, and a whole host of others are behind an author's book when it is published), Newsweek manipulated its readers and created a controversy.

No, that's not true. They didn't create the controversy. It was there, lying around in that doctor's office to be picked up. What Newsweek did was legitimize the controversy and offer up this one token of media involvement as representative. It's that move, from token to type, that smacks of bullshit to me.

So, I agree with both of you that it's not the fact of the book being self-published that reduces the significance of the issue. It's the fact that Newsweek represented a self-published work as representative of something that is the illegitimate move. Any nut can self-publish a manifesto on whatever they want; but such examples don't indict the media or even the subjects of the book. It's people buying and reading the book that would matter. And this one hasn't even been released, so we have no idea what its publication says about anything or anyone, except the doctor.

A non-self-published book at least gives us an insight into the minds of somebody other than the author, and we're allowed to laud or condemn those others right along with the author.

All Newsweek did by writing an article on a self-published book was to rile readers up at some near-imaginary opponent. The doctor is real, but with no editor and no readers there is no one besides him doing anything worth talking about.

And I just don't care what one doctor thinks.