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Thursday, October 04, 2012

Jennifer Livingston's Courage Under Fire

For the first time in a really long time, I was completely at a loss for a topic to talk about.  I wouldn’t exactly call it writer’s block though as much as I would call it topic block.  Ever since I made the decision to “eighty-six” the Thursday Confessional, I’ve been struggling to find a subject to replace it with. 

I thought about doing a blog on yesterday’s presidential candidate debates, but to be completely honest, I didn’t exactly watch any of them.  I mean, I suppose that being from Canada the American elections aren’t really something that I have any say in, mainly because I can’t vote in them.  Besides, the last thing that I want to do in this blog is stir up a political firestorm by going into detail about why Barack Obama is a better candidate than Mitt Romney, or why Mitt Romney is a better candidate than Barack Obama, or anything like that.  I may have my own opinions about what side of the political spectrum I sit on, and some of those opinions might have slid into previous blog entries...but this is not the time for me to get into it.

(At least in the United States, there’s no danger of any states wanting to form their own country unlike here in Canada.)

But then I saw numerous references to a story coming out of the state of Wisconsin, and I knew that I had today’s blog topic.

I don’t know how many of you out there have heard of a news personality named Jennifer Livingston before a few days ago, but over the last couple of days, she has been all over the news in regards to her response towards a particular “fan letter”.  And, it is this response that I would like to discuss in greater detail within this blog.

Just to set up the story in case you haven’t heard it yet, here’s the gist of it.  Jennifer Livingston is an anchorwoman from La Crosse, Wisconsin who works at the CBS affiliate WKBT-TV.  She is married, has three daughters, and has co-anchored the morning show on WKBT-TV for years.

Now, I may not have a whole lot of experience in the world of journalism (aside from the brief stint at my college newspaper a dozen years ago), but I would imagine that people who do enter a career in the media are subjected to some degree of criticism in their jobs.  After all, quite a few journalists and media figures rely on social networking to promote themselves, and many of them have very public e-mail addresses and telephone extensions connected to voice mail where the general public can offer their own opinions on a column or news segment that recently aired.  And, yes, I can remember a couple of instances in which I myself have written a letter to the editor of the newspaper (and actually had them printed), so I appreciate the fact that there is a forum out there for people to have their say from Twitter and Facebook, to the “Speaker’s Corner” booth outside of the MuchMusic studios in Toronto.

(Does anyone know if that booth even still exists?  I don’t watch MuchMusic much these days.)

ETA:  Apparently not, as it was disconnected in 2008.  A shame. 

But when it comes to getting our voices out there, I think that we all have a fine line to walk when it comes to how we express ourselves.  Either we can be civil and constructive with our criticism, or we can come across as an arrogant person whose sole purpose is to destroy somebody else. 

Well, on Friday, September 28, a viewer took the time to write Jennifer Livingston an e-mail message to let her know exactly what he thought of her.  Here is the message written in full, with the subject title of “Community Responsibility”.

Hi, Jennifer,

It’s unusual that I see your morning show, but I did so for a very short time today.  I was surprised indeed to witness that your physical condition hasn’t improved for many years.  Surely you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular.  Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain.  I leave you this note hoping that you’ll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.

Wow...quite a lot to digest, isn’t it?  At any rate, the message may not have had any swear words, or outright insults within it, but you know, the overall message was quite prickly in tone (at least I thought so anyway), and I honestly think that whoever did write this message definitely crossed a line into bad taste.

Certainly the message left a strong impact on the recipient.  I don’t even know what was going through Jennifer’s mind when she was reading this message...I don’t know the woman.  But clearly it left enough of an imprint on her mind to go on the air the following Monday to discuss the e-mail she had received as well as her thoughts on the subject.  Now, I suppose that I could transcribe the whole commentary for you to read...but I thought that having Jennifer saying the words herself would make more of an impact.  So, I leave you with this video to go ahead and watch, and we’ll discuss it at the end.  Don’t won’t be quizzed on it.

So, here’s my opinion on the subject.  I APPLAUD this woman for having the courage to speak out against this message.  I think that she took this situation and handled it with such dignity and class...a lot more dignity and class than I admittedly would have in the same situation.

I also like the fact that she brought up the fact that October is National Anti-Bullying Month in the United States (and I believe Canada recognizes it to be the same as well, but if not, I declare it to be right here in this blog).  You don’t need me to go into detail about the struggles that I dealt with in regards to my own struggles with being bullied because there are quite a few examples within the past entries of this particular blog.  But what I can tell you is that in a lot of cases, biting and stinging words and insults can hurt as much, if not more than physical scars, punches, and bruises.  I can tell you this because I have had so many hurtful words directed in my direction which ended up causing me huge difficulty. 

In fact, lemme tell you a little bit of a secret here.  Whenever thoughtless kids (and even adults in my childhood) would tell me that I was fat, and that I needed to lose weight in order for me to be their friend, it had the negative effect.  The more that people poked fun at my weight, the more I craved a family size bag of Doritos and a 2 litre bottle of Orange Crush.  And, I am sure that for a lot of people, it is exactly the same way.  So I’m the first one that will tell you to knock it off when it comes to making fun of someone for their physical appearance.  Nobody wants to hear that.  And, if I ever see you doing it to someone else in my presence, you WILL hear about it, and I won’t be very diplomatic about it either.

And it’s because of Jennifer’s courage and her willingness to stand up to those who try to knock her down that has helped inspire me to do the same.

Of course, now that Jennifer has had her say, Internet communities have been sharing their opinions as well.  For the most part, many people seem to agree with my own stance that Jennifer Livingston did absolutely the right thing.  Jennifer’s brother Ron (who happens to have acted in “Office Space” and “Sex and the City”) immediately praised his sister for speaking out, and celebrities such as Jennifer Love Hewitt and Ellen DeGeneres have also given their support for Jennifer, with Ellen even extending an open invitation for her to appear on her talk show.

Now, there have also been some factions of people who believe that Jennifer didn’t exactly do the right thing at all.  Some even tried to defend the letter writer, saying that what he wrote may have been harsh, but they didn’t believe that it matched the definition of bullying.

I think that I want to revisit that message now.

You see, right off the bat, I notice a bit of a contradiction in the first two sentences.  Our author of this message claims that they normally don’t watch her show, but yet has the opinion that her physical condition hasn’t improved for many years?  If this person admitted that they don’t usually watch the show, how would they then know if her health has improved or not?  Well, unless this person happens to be watching Jennifer at all hours of the which case that would be a bit stalker-ish.

The main point that I seem to have a real issue with is the statement our letter writer makes about the idea of Jennifer not being a good role model to anybody because of her physical size.  No, the person doesn’t outright call Jennifer fat, but they do seem to feel that obesity is a dangerous choice, and made a point to bring that up in the argument that they made to Jennifer about not being a good role model for young girls.

Whether this statement matches your definition of what bullying is...well, I leave it up to you all to make up your own minds on that one.  However, the message is one that I consider to be incredibly tasteless and cruel.  Not only do I think that this message was dripping with thoughtlessness and cruelty, I also believe that the argument is unfair.  There is no evidence that Jennifer’s size has anything to do with the way that she presents the news, or takes care of her family, or anything of that nature, so the fact that this letter writer assumes that it does...well, that’s pretty damn ballsy on his part.  It’s also quite rude and thoughtless to assume that a person is physically incapable of being a role model for people because of the fact that they may be a few pounds heavier than what the BMI suggests.  I’d say that as of right now, she’s showing that she can be a positive role model for young girls by standing up for herself, telling them that they don’t have to take any abuse or rude comments from anybody.  And, Jennifer is hardly the only female news personality that has had to face this issue head on.

I was also watching Global News on the Toronto affiliate, and even the anchors of the 5:30 newscast had their own opinions that I also agreed with.  Leslie Roberts and Anne Mroczkowski both stated that there was a double standard when it came to the feedback they received on a daily basis.  In Leslie’s case (Leslie being a male, by the way), his comments were mostly based on content.  In Anne’s case, her comments were mostly appearance based.  Is it any wonder why so many girls struggle with self-esteem issues if looks and appearance are valued over anything else?  I mean, yes, in television news, one should always try to look their best, but at the same time, I don’t believe that all anchorwomen should have to look like Barbie in order to be taken seriously.

As far as I am concerned, Jennifer is absolutely correct in making the statement that children learn from their parents by example.  It goes without saying that in many cases if a child hears a parent making fun of someone or saying something unkind, the odds of them doing that to a classmate or a peer go up.  I think that instead of teaching the younger generation that we only treat people kindly if they look and behave a certain way, we should encourage them to treat everyone as equals, and not to judge them based on a physical characteristic.

And, that’s something that I think that everyone in the world should take note of.  If we want to get respect back from people, we have to show it first.  Once again, I admire the hell out of Jennifer Livingston for taking a stand against this because I believe the message that she is sending out to the public is that life is too short to knock other people down just because you can.  If we only treated each other with respect and kindness, imagine how much better the world would be.

Come to think of it, I suppose I could use that same sentiment with regards to the heated debates about Romney and Obama, couldn’t I?

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