Century 21’s Last-Century Advertising

A commercial about real estate touches a nerve.

It is perhaps a symptom of the current cultural obsession with real estate that Seth Stevenson’s Ad Report Card on Century 21’s spot of a woman cajoling her reluctant husband into the purchase of a new home (aka “the Nasty Wife Ad“) generated the most prolific output that FrayEditor05 has seen in his tenure.

A lot of the commentary focused on the gender roles and stereotypes depicted in this fictional scenario. gracey_newstead criticizes the dark and offensive tone, particularly its portrayal of “a nagging wife and ball-busting real estate agent.” BrandiB makes a bizarre but impassioned plea to preserve masculinity in American culture against the “power-female” ideology typified by the husband-wife exchange. Mimi5 wonders if the ad is creepy, or just comfortably realistic:

There’s a lot of tension and anxiety behind her apparent bitchiness. Her unusually unattractive (esp. for a TV commercial) presentation of her emotions is the discomfiting issue; for some this colors their interpretation of the whole husband-wife conflict and the fictional marriage (ugly assertive woman = evil man basher). Maybe it hits just a little too close to home, especially for guys who’d prefer to watch a “Desperate Housewife” over someone closer to their wifely reality.

Echoing this view, Dolores thinks the gender roles are “a step back into the patirarchial 1950s“:

When I saw the Century 21 commercial, my reaction was disgust at the wife having to beg the husband to buy the house, because ultimately it was the “husband’s” decision. The realtor only served to back up the wife’s begging.

Jospry declares C21’s spot a complete flop: “It flattered no one. The wife comes off as a nagging shrew. The husband looks like a wimp and the realtor, ugh!—what a greedy bottom feeder! No one will be able to identify with anyone in this commercial because they will not want to see themselves as any of these horrible steriotypes.

On the opposite end of the opinion spectrum, bottomsup is the rare defender, rating the commercial “one of the better ones from this company“:

If you put yourself in the characters shoes you’ll probably come off the same way the way the wife did. It was a real Ad, pertaining to real life choices and that’s what advertising is all about. If you think about it, they did exactly what they intended to. They got our attention because if they didn’t we wouldn’t be on this forum talking about it.

perkybabette connects the general aversion to this ad to a broader phenomenon of “real estate agent bashing” which has “gone too far.” (Presumably, she is referring to Sirocco1’s lengthy diatribe.) Read her defense here. In this adjacent post, originalalaskadaisy also fights back against anti-realtor sentiment. As “a Licensed Real Estate Appraiser who also has Sales License,” joeymush has a thing or two to say about the article’s misrepresentations of the agent’s role.

As further anecdotal evidence of the ad’s attention-grabbing appeal, lsparksmith admits that the ad has literally become a subject of debate at her family Sunday dinner. Her intelligent take on the emotional dynamic between husband and wife is worth reading. As are the many other provocative posts in Ad Report Card not featured here. AC5:41pm

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Here at Slate, how meta can we get? With readers commenting on Ben Yagoda’s criticism of Michiko Kakutani’s criticism, we might safely call this a case of journalistic mise-en-abyme.

candoxx belittles the entire feud as the exercise of “little narcissists” who “try to involve the public in their personal little wars.” In an extended rebuttal to Yagoda, MarkEHaag declares, Down with cry babies! If nothing else, pgioia is impressed with Kakutani’s ample vocabulary, whilst Splendid_IREny accuses her of Anglophilia in her word choice.

For his part, Ted_Burke concurs in finding Kakutani’s style mechanical, rote, and joyless:

Michiko Kakutani reviews books like the smartest kid for a junior college bi-weekly student newspaper, which is to say that her insights, her scorn, her depth of field would be amazing for an eighteen year old in any decade.

This, of course, sets up those who continue to read her to have expectations that she will someday come into her own and develop the qualities one desires in a critic–real passion, a lively, unstrained prose style reflective of a personality that wants to talk to you, and, if it’s not asking too much, insights, conclusions and judgments that break away from the clichés and tropes that often, too often pass for commentary.

This blossoming is not forthcoming for Kakutani, who remains an extremely
ordinary reviewer of other people’s work. She does not sound as if she cares about the books she’s tasked with giving an opinion on, and there is mechanical movement to her columns, a method she’s seemingly developed in order to dispatch her obligations as soon as possible.

Pauline Kael cared about the movies she wrote about, and though she faltered toward career’s end with messy pronouncements and idol worship, at her best she convinced you that movies were importand and had you talking about the issues she’s raised. Kakutani
just makes you wonder again and again how any reviewer could make reading books or writing reviews about them seem like such a joyless way to spend one’s time.

Against the tide of Kakutani critics, Yankelwich steps up to defend her “ one overwhelming strength“:

She has aggressive, ambitious, important taste and she is honest about it. I read all of Kakutani’s reviews and when she gives a “thumbs up” review to a book, she’s almost always right about it. This is incredibly valuable, particularly with first time writers. I never would have read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, White Teeth, or Jarhead but for her reviews and I suspect a lot of other people wouldn’t have either.

In a time when book reviews are frequently either timid, bland and “appropriate” mixtures of praise and blame or barely veiled personal attacks, Kakutani’s voice stands apart.

Arlington2 gives us a refresher course on the point of criticism itself:

Critics seem to forget why they examine the work of others. It’s supposed to be to give the potential reader (whom I visualize as an innocent, pre-teen version of the Michelin Man, whose name is “Bib,” by the way) an idea of why he might or might not like a particular book.

Instead, we get absolute judgments, as if hurling adjectives in support of a personal opinion is a courageous act…

What the critic really owes us is reasoned evidence of why we should or should not read the book. That’s a lot more difficult than using big words and obscure references to let us know the critic is smarter than we are. It involves the ability to empathise with the reader, rather than preach to her. Most critics are not up to the task because, let’s face it, they’re not such terrific writers themselves. Maybe they’re not such terrific human beings, either.

If you want to judge for yourself and go directly to the source of the controversy, check out this page from the NYT listing her recent reviews. AC1:29pm

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Fred Kaplan scratches his head over reports of a forming war plan at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Kaplan asks, “is this for real?”

Discussion of that question has barely begun in earnest, but several Fraysters have already weighed in with important questions of their own. Beating Kaplan by a couple of hours, Fritz_Gerlich asks, if America were truly planning a nuclear first-strike against a non-nuclear power, “what is a citizen’s duty in such a circumstance?” The only question JLF sees is “when?” Those caring to place a wager on the likely start date of any coming war with Iran should join his thread.

Early sentiment isn’t overwhelmingly set against the possibility. Richvidaurri wonders aloud, “what exactly is wrong with nukes? … They work, and as such, are no more “inhumane” than any other weapon (by the way folks, what does a humane weapon look like?)”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, hitchfan catches a whiff of rose petals in the prospect:

We’re in for the fight of our lives. Bluff, disinformation or a real option, if this insane [Iranian] President or the leaders around him in Tehran don’t get with it and join the civilised Planet of iPods and higher enlightenment and back off, then preemption it will be. In the aftermath, the people of Iran and not the mullahs, will take charge, throw the mullahs out, and start a civilised dialogue with the West.

What’s not to like here?

Important questions, all. Readers are encouraged—no, requested—to share their tentative answers in the War Stories Fray. GA9:15pm PST

Saturday, April 8, 2006

Frayster reactions were strong and swift to Dahlia Lithwick’s lament  over the consequences of Moussaoui’s latest act of self-perjury in the 9/11 conspiracy case.

TheRanger indictsLithwick here for her perceived inconsistency on the question of Moussaoui’s truthfulness:

When Moussaoui first came into the news, liberals haled him as the Diogenes of the 21st century. Moussaoui unmasked the ineptitude of the FBI when they did not react to the information connected with Moussaoui. Of course that was then, when libs were trying to blame Bush for 9/11 and the only thing they had was a brief which said OSB might want to attack federal buildings with airplanes. Then Moussaoui was a fountain of truth which provided all the necessary information to have prevented 9/11. All Bush had to do was connect the dots. Moussaoui was succefully pulling apart the government’s case as Dahlia proclaimed here.


This is now; when 9/11 being Bush’s fault only sold Michael Moore. Now Moussaoui is a crackpot delusional who was clueless about 9/11 and had no part in it and no details. Bush/adminstration is using Moussaoui as a scape goat because they could not capture OSB because of their ineptitude. When Moussaoui speaks now it is all lies and untruths of a wannabe with a death wish who is engineering his own demise. The dots are now non-existant.

HLS2003 sees in Lithwick’s analysis a similar about-face:

In her reporting for the past year or more, Dahlia has consistently beat the drum of civil libertarians who want to see accused suspects in the so-called “War on Terror” tried in normal criminal courts with the trappings of due process. “Give the man a trial, don’t keep him locked up indefinitely.” “If you have a case, present it to a judge and jury. If you don’t, then give it up.” “Put up or shut up – if he’s not just a patsy, then try him.”

Now, Moussaoui has been tried in a federal criminal court. He testified in open court about his activities. A jury found him guilty, and also found him eligible for the death penalty, in conformity with Blakely. Due process was admittedly slow in coming, but it did eventually come. Moussaoui was not forced to testify against himself, he had an opportunity to challenge the evidence against him, he had lawyers who were appointed for him that (despite Moussaoui’s best efforts) tried to represent his interests.

Now what does Dahlia say? Due process is not enough. Moussaoui’s testimony cannot be believed (since it is contrary to Dahlia’s preconceived beliefs). The jury found the wrong person credible. The system that would “allow” Moussaoui to be sentenced to death is a system crazed and thirsty for revenge without reason.

Obviously, sometimes the legal process reaches the wrong conclusion. Maybe it did here; I don’t know, I wasn’t on the jury that heard the evidence (as Dahlia no doubt was, based on her confident assertions of fact). But I can’t help noting the irony that, having finally gotten what she wanted – a trial for Moussaoui with plenty of process protections – Dahlia still isn’t satisfied. Is it any wonder that people begin to suspect she isn’t really dispassionately interested in “civil liberties” and “process protections” as much as she simply wants any result that is contrary to the government?

TheSFDuke calls the Moussaoui spectacle a new low in American jurisprudence:

Zacarias Moussaoui got exactly what he wanted. It was so obvious that he was lying on the witness stand even I who did not attend the trial could tell just by the excerpts of the testimony that was reported in the news. The prosecution in their zeal to prosecute anyone for the debacle of 9/11 put up the weakest case I have ever seen.

It was obvious that Moussaoui was not totally trustworthy and incompetent. Even his testimony proved that. The prosecution didn’t have a case before he testified; and they didn’t have one after he did. The only thing the testimony of the defendant did was prove that he wanted to be a martyr and be remembered for something his sick mind was proud of.

The jury bought it only because they wanted to kill someone for 9/11, and Zacarias Moussaoui was the only one they were given. It is a black day in our legal system, and our political system that has allowed incompetence to sink to a new level.

Similarly, Frozen-Pie-Crust worries that

…our criminal justice system has made the mistake of giving a former Al-Qaeda operative exactly what he wanted. Moussaoui is going to be hailed as a martyr in every screwed-up, hopeless, and seething Muslim housing project in Europe. In killing him, we fulfill his wishes as well as those of militant, fundamentalist Muslims worldwide. It’s the last in a long string of impulsive, stupid acts on our part that have played right into the hands of these psychos.

In her assessment of the defendant’s likely fate, marylb strikes a tone of resignation:

The ruling told the story of a choice of what bad guy to believe and they went with Zacarias Moussaoui. Dahlia Lithwick goes with the theory based on logic that Moussaoui grew himself into the position of star player by puffing up his role in a badly lacking trial against him. It is hard to argue against given the evidence (or lack of evidence) so Lithwick’s bottom line of “How lucky for Moussaoui that his fantasies and ours are such a perfect match” is the sad ending. Timothy McVeigh rushed headlong into his death penalty so now we add Moussaoui rushing by proxy. If Moussaoui sticks with this, there will be no court in the land that can or will help him on appeal. It just is.

Piney characterizes a would-be capital sentence as “suicide by jury“:

We’ve had examples of “suicide by cop” before - cases where misfits have provoked police officers into killing them (like by displaying fake weapons) - but this will be the first time some nut commits suicide by jury. Since the administration went forum shopping for one of the venues most likely to impose a death penalty Moussoui will no doubt get his wish for immortality. How much nicer it would be to think of him rotting away into obscurity with no virgins to comfort him through eternity. Oh well, another Bush “win”. Meanwhile, Bush will have his template for stopping the next attack - just wait for one of the conspirators to come forward and confess. Good plan.

Jurisprudence has been a hotbed of good pieces this week. Be sure to check out Bruce Ackerman’s article  on the Padilla enemy-combatant case, as well as Radley Balko’s analysis of Fourth Amendment issues here. AC9:05am PST

Friday, April 7, 2006

The Faith-Based Fray has been fruitfully discussing Steven Waldman’s taxonomy of the religious left.

Veteran Frayster BenK provides a forceful illustration of what Waldman characterizes as the “disgust with the secular left” held by religious liberals:

Secularist socialists, having demonized the evangelicals as uncaring, as shocked when they find that the evangelicals are having their own debates about the best way to serve the community. They are shocked to find ‘allies’ inside the ‘enemy’ ranks. They have been blinded by their own prejudices to understand that in fact, all the evangelicals are trying to do good for the poor - they just think that ‘good’ is something fundamentally different than what the secularists apparently do, and that moralizing dictators can’t make a system work in the long run.

Lest we doubt that the feelings of suspicion are mutual, tiponeill offers a pithy secular takedown of perceived opportunism behind the religious left’s agenda. Tenzo confesses a fear of practitioners of the odd confessions:

Do we really need two religious political parties? […] Those of us who are religious (or irreligious) minorities need a party that we can feel part of too. A secular Democratic party welcomes everyone. A religous Democractic party becomes just as much of an exclusive club than our current Republican party.

Apparently Catholic posters DonSchenck and rundeep present conflicting anecdotes on whether adopting leftist politics is the beginning of irrelevance or a lure to congregants for the struggling parish. But Chaser892 takes the palm (fronds) for his anecdote of the damage that politics can do to religion’s credibility:

My favorite anecdote is from the late 1980’s when my kid brother went to a Catholic gradeschool. Their class play was produced by a visiting ‘artist in residence’. When parents showed up expecting to see their cute kids run around on stage and sing silly songs, they were instead treated to skits protesting a heliport that was being proposed for an industrial area miles away. When my stepmother later voiced her anger about the children being used as unknowing political pawns, she was practically laughed out of the room by the administration and other “children of the 60s” parents.

Fray Editor seems to remember some religious authority encountered in his youth admonishing him to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Fritz_Gerlich perhaps best illustrates the perils of mixing religion into the stew of identity politics with his fictional meditation on the spiritual-political dilemmas of a gay Mexican Catholic father:

“If all hermaphrodites were schizophrenes which half would you choose?” – Dylan Thomas, Greenwich Village, circa 1951.

So I’m a gay divorced Latino businessman. I don’t have a regular partner. I just go to clubs and meet guys. I don’t know if I really like the life, but it’s better than the lie I lived all those years. My family knows all about it.

I have three kids. My older son enlisted in the Army after 9/11. He served a tour in Iraq. He’s still in the army. He says he believes in the war and would be willing to go back. My daughter, who’s 19, is pregnant by a no-good I would just as soon shoot on sight–I suspect he’s a drug dealer. She wants an abortion. I don’t believe in it, but if she has the kid that piece of shit is going to be part of her life forever, and I don’t want that. My younger son is some kind of radical. He formed this La Raza chapter at his high school and now he’s very active in immigration rights. He says people like us need real politicians of our own, not afraid to be for Latinos.

My ex-wife, she talks feminist, but what she really is is a party girl. Blows money like it was soap bubbles. As long as I kept her in money, she didn’t care that we didn’t sleep together. She liked the divorce, too, because she came out of it very well. She goes to a lot of meetings and she talks a lot–she’s even quoted in the papers sometimes–but frankly I think she’s just full of self-important shit. She wants Candy–that’s our daughter–to get the abortion. For her there’s no problem at all–hell, she thinks abortion is cool. I don’t know how anybody could feel that way. I hope Candy doesn’t.

My people were poor. My parents were what they used to call wetbacks. They came into this country illegally. They never became citizens, but my brothers and sisters and I are because we were born here. My father did whatever he could find, including picking produce. My mother cleaned houses. They’re gone now–thank God, they never knew I’m gay–but I often think of them. It was their strength that got us through so many very hard years. Nobody gave them anything. Two of their eight children died. Nobody gave me anything, either. I’ve had to work for everything I’ve got–and what I’ve got isn’t too shabby. I’ve been a hustler and my bank account shows it.

Yeah, I’m Catholic. As if I had much of a choice. To me any other kind of religion wouldn’t have the right flavor, y’know? Us Mexicans, we tend to believe what our priests and bishops tell us. We think they’ve got special graces and stuff to know good from bad. And sometimes they do. There’s this one young priest I have a lot of respect for. He seems to live the life. He says Jesus was really a radical. And that is something a Mexican can believe, because we see Jesus as this broken, betrayed guy, rejected by everybody. There’s no reason he should be on the side of the powers that be. The guy who’s got nothing has nothing to lose. Sometimes I feel like that.

Tell me how I should vote.

Please, do, come and tell us over in the Faith-Based Fray. GA … 10:20pm PST

Friday, March 31, 2006

Elisabeth Eaves’s reportage on the French protests against the CPE (contrat de première embauche, or first employment contract) brought out Francophiles and free-marketers alike over in Dispatches.

RealMassLibertarian thinks high unemployment is a worthy economic trade-off given that

the average French citizen enjoys free health insurance, six weeks of vacation, and usually a job for life provided you dont really mess up your job. The price is high taxes and high unemployment-yet ask yourself if that price is all that bad.

Consider the fact that in the US if you lose your job you generally lose your health insurance (if you had it). You generally are an at-will employee with no assurance of a job tomorrow. When you become old or your skill gets outsourced to China or India chances are good all that will be there for you is fry jobs or WalMart. And vacations? Dream on.

So ask yourself, would you be willing to be taxed higher if it meant a good life was assured? To know if you become ill or disabled you are protected? To know if you work hard it will be rewarded with a long term job? What is wrong with this?

Texas_lawyer2000 sees in France the future of the U.S.:

A local radio talk show host opined earlier this week that the recent unrest in France offers a view into the future of this country as the populace becomes more and more entitlement-minded. I have to admit I was astonished that over a million people in France took to the streets in violent protest of a law that, effectively, simply would enact employment-at-will in France.

Is our situation so different? After watching Katrina-evacuees settle into their new homes, voicing loud demands about where “their” furniture was (the City of Houston spent over $20 million buying furniture for displaced Katrina evacuees) and inquiring about who was going to “take care of them” are we really that far from where France finds itself today?

Further, we have heard a great deal from anti-immigration-reform protestors stemming from another component of a similar “entitlement” mentality. Nearly 1000 students have staged walk-outs and marches on City Hall here in Houston since Monday demanding to be heard. When they are heard, they speak out about… they don’t really seem to know. They complain that the proposed laws disrespect their heritage. They accuse the U.S. government of trying to “take away their education” (and yet they walk out of school). Even the more articulate ones (and that’s a stretch) seem to suggest that Mexican citizens (and citizens of other nations South of the U.S. Border) somehow have a right to enter this country illegally.

delli considers the French protests a refreshing alternative to American apathy:

What’s wrong with excercising your civil rights? Considering that corporations in the US have a tight grip on the workforce and can pay - pardon me, lobby - the government to accomodate them in any imagineable way, I find it very refreshing that real people in other countries have rights and a voice in their economy & take to the streets to make their point. Granted, their unemployment rate is very high right now and they will need to find ways to deal with that. However, compared to the lethargic attitude of the american youth, they are passionate enough about the issues to demonstrate. When was the last time we saw something like that in the US? MTV spring break specials not included.

Whereas protests usually signal a political desire for change, steelbucket notes this paradox: “the demands, with the exception of 1792, always seem to be to stop change and to keep the status quo“:

The French have been taking to the streets in protest for centuries. And us anglo saxons have been looking on in a mixture of envy and horror ever since 1792. Partly disgusted by the lack of social restraint and partly admiring the willingness to set up burning baracades and defy the government for very little reason…


It doesn’t really matter if its French farmers holding the country to ransome to stop legal imports of foreign lamb or middle class students demanding that their unemployment figures remain above 23%.The French like a good riot and will take to the streets for the slightest reason.

The other thing you can be sure about is that the French government will huff & puff, order the CRS to crack a few heads and will then cave in to all demands as usual.It is time that the French government, and a few others in the EU, realised that the job of the government is to make unpleasent short term choices that will lead to long term improvements.

Instead the French seem to prefer to inhabit their own reality bubble that is anchored in a time back when the EU consisted of just a handful of countries arranged arround the pairing of France and Germany.

Ele_ offers a broader “anatomy of street protests,” with this link to an image bolstering Eaves’s observation that the demographics of this latest social unrest are skewed toward white middle-class French girls.  AC 7:25pm