Johanna Blakley

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The First Lady on Social Media

MelaniaTrump

Washington Post reporter Krissah Thompson contacted me recently asking me if I had any thoughts about Melania Trump’s use of social media. I thought it was a fascinating question and so I started digging into her Instagram and Twitter accounts.

I must say, I found both feeds really dispiriting. I suspect that a lot of people who follow her closely and rate her highly might feel sorry for her. There is very little evidence that she is sharing anything remotely personal, which is what primarily attracts people to the social media feeds of celebrities and other powerful public figures. (The big exception, which might prove the rule, is her last Instagram post, a flirty close-up with a Santa hat.)

You might assume that Melania Trump is simply uninterested in the public stage or is uncomfortable sharing her private life with the public, but her personal Twitter feed, which she hasn’t updated since election day, is filled with personal preferences and observations that feel quite intimate. So much so, that I’m pretty sure I could pick out a gift for her (and flowers!) that I know she’d like. That is what’s so powerful about these social platforms: they can make you feel as if you really know someone. But the carefully coiffed woman featured in the FLOTUS feeds seems distant and disconnected. I couldn’t help but wonder whether her approval rating is higher than her husband’s precisely because she withholds so much, which gives her the patina of dignity.

Of course it’s tempting to compare Melania Trump’s social media presence with that of her predecessor, Michelle Obama. While the former first lady’s feed was also loaded with official events, she often spoke at those events, and through various media outlets, which allowed her to post material filled with her voice, her attitude, and her humor. She also had the habit of posting personal musings in the official FLOTUS account, which were differentiated from the rest of the feed with the initials “mo.” You don’t see any intimate asides from Melania Trump.

The vast majority of the photos she posts are documentation of formal events: she’s basically caught on camera performing her duty. What you don’t tend to see is her looking into the camera, or trying to connect with the American public, as Michelle Obama does quite convincingly in her photos and videos. Our current first lady seems to see herself as someone to be seen – which makes sense given her professional modeling career – but strikes me as a bit chilling in her new role, which is endowed with tremendous cultural and political power. The big question is, will she ever choose to wield it?

Read Thompson’s Washington Post article.

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Science & Ideology on the Screen

Soon after presidential candidate Michele Bachman pronounced the new cervical cancer vaccine “dangerous,” public health officials began shaking their collective heads.

One expert from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which supports the use of the vaccine, told the New York Times, “These things always set you back about three years.”

Pronouncements on screens large and small by recognizable people — whether they are actors, musicians, politicians or the growing ranks of reality TV celebrities — can have an impact on public opinion completely out of proportion with their expertise.

Whether its history or science, that’s one reason people get very nervous about feature films — fictional films — that try to grapple with real-life issues and events. There has been a flurry of news coverage about the accuracy of the hit film Contagion, which provides a gripping illustration of what could happen if a global pandemic occurred. Read the rest of this entry »

Pacific Standard Time Unleashes Its Video Outreach Campaign

I can’t wait for Pacific Standard Time, the massive art-fest extravaganza, to begin to take over 60 art venues in Southern California beginning October 1. I love the fact that they’ve harnessed the youth-skewing rock star appeal of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ frontman Anthony Kiedis to jump-start their marketing effort. In this charming little video, Kiedis drives Pop Art superstar Ed Ruscha around LA, the city they mutually adore. Their discussion about making art out of words as they drive through the texty corridors of  Los Angeles is a perfect introduction to the sprawling art scenes of SoCal.

Nonfiction Books = Reality TV?

This weekend, I can’t imagine I was I the only one who noticed a strange thing in the best seller book lists. Both in the LA Times and the NY Times, a truly ragtag group of celebrities – Tina Fey, Steven Tyler, Rob Lowe and Betty White – dominated nonfiction hardcover book sales for the first week of May. The top ten was rounded out with new books by the (clearly) irrepressible Dick Van Dyke and Shania Twain (in the NY Times) and, in the LA Times, along with Van Dyke, we found the equally energetic Shirley MacLaine . . . and yet another book about Cary Grant.

Has the nonfiction book list become the publishing industry equivalent to reality TV?

No one bats an eye anymore when a celebrity dominates discussions about a political election or a natural disaster or an international health crisis. We’ve grown used to these incursions and the optimistic among us just hope that a little glitter and razzmatazz will attract constructive attention to difficult social issues. But perhaps our apathy about the way that entertainment has weaseled its way into just about every aspect of modern life will end once we’ve started to notice how beholden our notions of reality are to celebrity takes on them. 

Is it all that bad that one of the more brilliant TV comedy writers of our generation sits atop our nonfiction best seller lists? Not necessarily. But the relentless drive within every media sector to find “built-in audiences” by attaching their formidable resources to pre-made media stars like Fey may start to wear thin as we realize that the books that might be telling us about our shared history are edged to the side by reminiscences about life inside the media bubble . . . which is increasingly becoming the only reality that really counts.