Friday, August 15, 2008

Struggling with the meaning of the Hinsey affair

I am struggling so much with the meaning of this whole Hinsey affair.

When I look at those 1800+ posts, it feels like an initial group of angry people (perhaps appropriately) began bashing her. But, if you analogize it to something in real life, initially a few people began beating on (retaliating on) the bully. Soon, though, a circle of onlookers formed, and then they started getting their kicks in too. And soon, you have mass attack that may very well have ruined Hinsey's career.

Mass attack. Don't call me melodramatic when I say that phrases like "wilding", "gang rape" and "group think" come to mind.

I AM NOT DEFENDING HINSEY for her alleged crimes. I am also not saying there was not truth in that thread. Even Marlena Delacroix, in her blog today, clearly states she was harmed by Hinsey...or at least (more on this later) by the corporation for which she worked.

Let me also say I know NOTHING about any facts here. I am not an insider...just a I am not disputing facts.

I simply believe that there has been a "piling on", in which I was complicit by visiting and revisiting (and revisiting) that Jossip thread. The gleeful Schadenfreude. I feel vaguely (maybe I am melodramatic) like Dachau neighbor in Nazi Germany. By merely countenancing it, I was a part of something wrong.

So, let me list a couple of the fleeting streams of consciousness that are troubling me.

1. There are stories that Carolyn battled publicists and rival publications for exclusive access and scoops. Does this make her unusual or different? I somehow STRONGLY believe that this level of journalistic bullying for exclusivity is part of the game...whether it be Dianne Sawyer battling Katie Couric for the latest "get", or People outbidding The Star for pictures of Brangelina's baby. This is what our media is.

So, when publicists and writers from other shows and even people from the shows now profess disdain for her aggressive tactics, is this unusual? Is she the only player of that game?

2. There are stories about payola. I cannot comment on these, or how she linked Blondie's to coverage promises. I guess this is an area where I wish there could be TRUE investigative journalism.

3. There are stories about abuse of employees. Now, here, again, I view this as allegation until there is evidence. I'm SURE it was true. Totally. But as we all know, things get mixed up.

- She is a brassy New Yorker. The stereotype of such a person is "loud", "in your face", etc. We love brassy New Yorkers in many contexts. How much of her 'abusive' nature was really attributable to this?
- She is alleged to be a heavy drinker. If this is true, how much of her behavior was due to an untreated disease? What allowances, if any, should we make for this? Did her behavior get worse as her disease progressed?
- She is alleged to have been abusive to employees, asing "peons" to do things below their station. Now, I have been a peon...and I have had people who report to me. And you know some level we ALL hate our boss. No matter how much we love our boss...when it comes to performance evaluations or following instructions...all of us at some time have some flash of resentment at a boss. So, how much is the outrage at Hinsey usual and normal. Bonnie Fuller keeps getting mentioned. But even a less extreme editor...would they evoke these kinds of feelings?

4. There is Snark's important statement that she was a hypocrite. To wit, she complained that Soapnet was promoting non-soaps and dropping classic soaps...all the while her magazines were doing the same. Good point. I see several possibilities:

- She shows an appalling lack of self-awareness, and so the alleged mistreatment of employees (basically, failing to consider their humanity) may reflect that same lack of awareness as her contradictory messages in column-vs-cover/content
- She was sending a message about how she REALLY feels. Maybe what she wrote in her column was her true feeling, and the non-soap cover/content were concessions to bosses (Primedia or Source Interlink) or real market factors that she would ignore at her peril. Let's be clear...even now, SOD runs different covers for subscribers versus newstand, because covers determine sales. As much as we had those sensationalistic covers, they wouldn't be there if they didn't sell magazines.

We might wish it to be different, but I don't think we want these magazines to run at a loss.

Years ago, when Ms. Magazine was losing its identity due to advertisers, they decided to go into a completely self-supporting model (no ads). I haven't followed the fortunes of that publication, but I imagine it is as hard a go for Ms. as it is for PBS. Still, people WILL support Ms./PBS/NPR. But will they freely pay $10/issue for SOW/SOD to avoid advertiser-dictated content? I think not...

5. There really IS a category of leader like this...horrid to work for...inspires great things. Leona Helmsley, Donald Trump. I'll bet their employees hated/hate them just as much. But I worry that sometimes extreme greatness sometimes coexists with extreme horridness. Do we want to forego greatness because it comes with a lot of sh*t?

I don't know....I AM AWARE that there is a different path. You don't have to be Bobby Knight. You CAN be Billy Donovan. The truth, however, is that there are a lot of Bobbys out there.

6. I wish I had my last copy of "It's Only My Opinion" here. I read it and re-read it this week. It's really quite good. She writes with a distinctive loud voice...that in your face thing...but it is SO refreshing in a soap press THAT STILL HASN'T TOLD US ABOUT THE RISE AND FALL OF LYNN LATHAM WITH HONESTY (as one example). To hear a voice decrying GH's violence or the backburnering of veterans or the over-use of newbies or... is REFRESHING. If she DID cut exclusive deals with shows and had favorites...I still maintain she was also the most consistently critical (with love) voice.

I cannot excuse her telling the soap writers not to strike. I cannot excuse her for saying Jax was not raped on GH. But just because she wrote awful, wrong things....must we negate that she was ALSO sometimes a force for good?

Why is it so impossible for many of us to believe that the two could co-exist?

7. The deeper recipient of my disdain is, and will be, SOD/SOW and their corporate owner. I believe it is THEIR malfeasance that lost us Mimi Torchin and Marlena Delacroix. I believe it is THEIR market research that got us American Idol on the SOW cover. I believe it is THEIR pandering to the lowest common denominator that explains why we have virtually no SERIOUS or DEEP interviews with writers/producers/directors. I believe that the culture of "publicity agreements" between shows and magazines has led to neutered, pandering content...rather than critical analysis.

Let's put this another way, and then I'll stop my rant. If this implosion happened at the New York Times, NYT would (sooner or later) run a self-reflective accounting of what happened, and an analysis of it. Our respect for NYT would grow because of the transparency.

I HAVE NO CONFIDENCE that SOD/SOW will _ever_ address this change. We are not supposed to notice. In so doing...SOD/SOW underestimates its audience...underestimates that Carolyn had fans and detractors ALL OF WHOM want to hear the story.

In truth, the ultimate casualty of this whole affair for me has been the fragile respect I still had for these magazines. I no longer trust that they will ever tell me the REAL truth about something unless advertisers and/or the shows want me to know that. With that...I think I'm done.

I think I have to cancel my subscriptions (with sadness, because as goofy as it sounds, SOD was a lifeline for me--first to my grandmother, and then to my 'home' when I lived overseas--for almost 30 years). Unless there is stem-to-stern change in management and editorial policies, nothing will have been gained.

We're left with the 1800+ spectacle of a woman -- bully or not, nasty or not, evil or not -- having been beaten to a pulp by a thronging mass of group think, out for virtual blood...delighting in taking down the mighty. I'm so proud of myself for having participated in that.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A late weigh-in on Hinsey-gate

By now, the whole free world seems to have visited Jossip and read the tale of the alleged firing of Carolyn Hinsey and the alleged reaction of her purportedly much-maligned staff. I was initially addicted to that thread until it became an ugly mess of forgers.

For me, five or six days after the initial release of the item, these are the four lessons I have learned.

First, there is enormous anger at the "managed" soap press. The remaining die hard viewers want more than advertising-tied fashion and beauty articles, spoilers packaged as "news", and not-very-probing Q&As (although I prefer the Q&As to the turgid profiles we used to get--still get in SOD. I think the "outings" in the Jossip thread are really much more reflective of a desire for honestly and candor. Sexuality is the most OBVIOUS way to expose the dishonesty of the soap press (and the most prurient), but it wouldn't happen if readers felt the soap press were being "straight" (forgive the pun) with them.

Second, there is still a ton of fan passion for the soaps. The unprecedented size of the Jossip thread (albeit, now, mostly due to multiple posts from a small group) and the widespread interest in the thread (on all blogs and soap sites) reveals that there IS a market out there.

Third, the truth is never in a single thing, but in the gestalt of things. As much as we are to believe "The Devil Wears Lane Bryant", the truth is that Hinsey was a passionate advocate for soaps, and did a great deal to promote them. That this ended up being bound up in some potentially unhealthy attachments to "pets", or to a payola scheme for her bar is unfortunate. What really comes across here, however, is that this was a dramatic, flamboyant, aggressive woman...and what better kind of advocate of soaps can there be? This does not excuse what she apparently did to both undermine her rivals and create a culture of fear at her magazine. Great personalities, however, usually inspire these kinds of extreme love-hate sentiments, rather than more moderate feelings.

Fourth, the Jossip thread has devolved into nonsense, as an erstwhile soap reporter publicly works out his issues with SOD/SOW (for the record, I always really enjoyed Alan Carter, and I also religiously followed his, and a phalanx of forgers ruins the thread with misinformation. Which goes to prove: We STILL need a legitimate soap press--one that verifies information--because the modern blog/message board cannot provide that. The democracy of the internet is always one heartbeat away from Jossip now demonstrates. Where the soap press can still earn its money (and cannot be replaced) is by doing quality control on information. If only the soap press could figure out a way to join the modern world with more timely information, we'd have it made!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Y&R 8/6/2008, How Can I Keep From Singing?

The post title technically refers to a hymn played on today's Y&R...but in truth it reflects how good I feel about my show right now. The slide montage that graces the top of this post/blog comes from the ending montage of that episode, and the song comes from the soundtrack. Young Jamia (Ana) first sings the we know what it is and what it means. Then, the instruments take over and give us images for the ages.

What all makes this episode great?

1. Kay giving Jesus a talking to. Loved it! "When you finally come for me," she chides the Lord, "We're going to have a long talk."

2. Adam is all the more compelling when he is seething. The writers now understand that we want to FEEL our characters. To that end, the actual and previewed conflicts with Nick were spine tingling.

3. Nikki and her fight for sobriety is...okay....I hope she either does or doesn't soon. ON THE OTHER HAND, dumping David's ashes in a wheelbarrow full of (pardon my friend) horse sh*t was a thing of beauty. This was AS iconic as, over a decade earlier, David Kimble meeting his maker in a trash compactor.

4. My heart was strangely warmed by the nice way that Michael asked Kevin to ride with him to the prison (to maybe meet his daddy), and how nicely Kevin went along. I'm glad Terrible Tom was again mentioned. Today reminded me of HIS ashes (disposal!!) and his still-unopened safe deposit box.

5. Surprises for me: Victor on a bus to/in Mexico. That sideways shot through the open window vaguely reminded me of Y&R's debut (when Brad Elliot rode a dusty pickup--as a hitchhiker--en route to Genoa City)

6. That ending montage. I loved the music, I loved the set pieces...each set up with real craftspersonship:

- Victor at the graveside with a single flower
- Adam and his cell phone, remembering his dead friend Skye
- Kay seeing Nikki's open AA book and cross
- Nikki, ashes, and horseshit (!!!!!!!!!! GO GIRL!!!!!!!!!!!!)
- Victor on the bus
- Sabrina's drawing


Now, the hymn moved me, so I was inspired to do some research.

That beautiful, beautiful instrumental piece was deeply moving to me, and wonderfully framed the montage with its combination of melancholy and soaring. Sentimental and melodramatic? Sure. But I watch soaps, so....

Now, dramatically, I understand the structure of those final scenes better. Ana's song gave us the lyrics and the explicit meaning of the song. Then, the montage imbued it with feeling as we watched our many "loved ones" (the Genuvians) go through their "endless lamentations".

Now, knowing this, I did some exploration. You may all know this, or not care, but to me it was interesting. Wikipedia says:

"How Can I Keep From Singing?" (listed in some hymnals by the opening line "My Life Flows On") is a Christian hymn written by American Baptist minister Robert Wadsworth Lowry in 1860. The original composition has now entered into the public domain. The song is frequently cited incorrectly as a traditional Quaker hymn.

Pete Seeger learned a version of this song from Doris Plenn, who had it from her North Carolina family. His version made this song fairly well known in the folk revival of the 1960s. Seeger's version omits much of the Christian wording of the original, and adds a verse. Most folk singers, including Enya, have followed Seeger's version.

The song received new prominence in 1991 when Irish singer Enya released a recording of the hymn on her album Shepherd Moons. It was also released as a single in the same year, with Oíche Chiún and 'S Fagaim Mo Bhaile appearing as additional tracks.

It is also sung by Dahlia Malloy (Minnie Driver) in the episode 'Virgin Territory' from Season One of FX's The Riches.

The original Christian lyrics are

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear the sweet though far off hymn
That hails a new creation:
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Savior liveth;
What though the darkness gather round!
Songs in the night He giveth:
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of Heav’n and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

I lift mine eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smoothes
Since first I learned to love it:
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing:
All things are mine since I am His—
How can I keep from singing?

The Seeger lyrics are

My life flows on in endless song
Above earth's lamentation.
I hear the real, thought far off hymn
That hails the new creation
Above the tumult and the strife,
I hear the music ringing;
It sounds an echo in my soul
How can I keep from singing?

What through the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
What through the darkness round me close,
Songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I'm clinging.
Since love is lord of Heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death-knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near,
How can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile
Our thoughts to them are winging.
When friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from singing?