Tuesday, June 14, 2011

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Have you heard about the Chris Evans "profile" from the July GQ? If you've been around the Internet today, you probably have, but in case you somehow missed it, here it is. It's less a profile and more an account of how the writer spent her time with the subject drunkenly flirting with him rather than, you know, interviewing him, and it should be embarrassing for everyone involved - the writer, Edith Zimmerman, the editor, the magazine, even Evans himself, although really, he comes out looking better than Zimmerman does, and I suppose that was the point all along.

It's not just mortifying for Zimmerman herself, though. Plenty of female writers have been responding with second-hand embarrassment - and some outrage. As TV journalist Laura Prudom tweeted, "It's exactly why people don't take female journos seriously. A little flirtation from a hot actor makes us drop our integrity?" She continued: "As long as it keeps happening, it just paints female writers in a terrible/lust-addled light. We're not ALL gossipy flirts!" Indeed, we are not. Alyssa Rosenberg contemplates whether it's worth it to do this sort of story if the goal is to have female writers better-represented in magazines. I don't think it is. I'm not convinced that publishing articles by women that encourage the idea that women are unprofessional is necessarily better than not publishing articles by women.

One important aspect of this story, though, remains unclear: What assignment, exactly, was Zimmerman given? In the article, she suggests that she set out to write a regular celebrity profile, but abandoned any attempt at integrity or professionalism the moment she was presented with a pretty boy and a glass of white wine. In the piece, Zimmerman writes "Since we're both single and roughly the same age, it was hard for me not to treat our interview as a sort of date." If that's true, honey, I think you're in the wrong profession. And even then, there's "acting like you're on a first date" and then there's "drinking so much he has to put you in his guest room because you can't make it home." Being friendly (and, sure, flirtatious) enough to get invited to your interview subject's house is one thing. Having to write about how you don't remember anything about the house anyway because you were drunk: not so good. Daydreaming about marrying a hot actor? Perfectly normal. Writing about it in your profile of him? Probably not what your readers are looking for. Telling a gossip reporter that you have a crush on your interview subject, and then writing about that too? I mean, COME ON.

There's an alternative, though: Alyssa and others suggest that GQ may have assigned exactly the sort of piece they wound up publishing. If that's the case . . . well, I guess I'm sort of glad that Zimmerman isn't as clueless and out-of-control as she appears. But if she made up this whole "Tee-hee, this all JUST HAPPENED because I can't control myself around liquor* and cute guys!" thing, then that doesn't exactly increase my respect for her either. Throughout the piece, she contemplates the degree to which Evans is playing her, but the reader must simultaneously evaluate the degree to which Zimmerman is playing Evans (a relative newcomer to the celebrity game, after all) and therefore manipulating her audience as well. This story of a supposedly crazy, spontaneous experience looks more and more like a carefully-constructed event engineered by Zimmerman, by Evans, by the magazine, by all of the above, which makes it no more authentic than any of the "regular" celebrity profiles that detail favorite foods and workout routines. But at least those usual profiles are up front about what they are, rather than pretending to be something scandalous or transgressive.

And if GQ did in fact assign "drunken flirtation with celebrity," and Zimmerman deliberately took that assignment, then we're back to the issue of perpetuating stereotypes about female journalists and whether literally any representation is better than no representation. Sure, it's nice to say that a woman has the GQ cover story this month. But if the cost of that is that this behavior is what people think of whenever Laura or I or another woman say she's interviewing an actor, then I don't think it's progress at all.

* Note: The "Irish pub" at which Evans and Zimmerman first meet serves only beer and wine, no liquor. Sounds super-authentic! Just like - perhaps - the rest of the story!

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