Here’s an opinion that might as well be a fact of life: Men of all ages find beauty queens to be attractive. Yes, I know, it’s quite a newsflash. Remember, you read it here first.
Yet judging by the media’s reaction when longtime sports play-by-play man Brent Musburger paid a compliment to Katherine Webb, the reigning Miss Alabama and girlfriend of quarterback A.J. McCarron, you would have thought that the mere recognition of feminine beauty was a hate crime worthy of a firing squad.
The story goes like this: It was the BCS Championship game, and Alabama’s Crimson Tide was rolling all over Notre Dame, in a contest that quickly proved to be mismatched and boring. As is often the case with high-profile games, the cameras and directors scanned the crowd for VIPs. Given the lackluster action on the field, Musburger (at his producer’s request) decided to comment on the cheering section for Tide QB McCarron: “[Y]ou see that lovely lady there? She does go to Auburn, I’m gonna admit that. But she is also Miss Alabama, and that’s A.J. McCarron’s girlfriend, OK?”
The next sentence is left out of nearly every outraged editorial, for the simple reason that it detracts from the story of Brent the Boor: “And right there on the right is Dee Dee Bonner, that’s A.J.’s mom.” If you leave that sentence in, it sounds more like the host is paying both ladies a compliment, though obviously, in what follows, he’s focusing (along with the camera) on Miss Webb. “Wow, I’m tellin’ ya, you quarterbacks, you get all the good-looking women! What a beautiful woman.”
Color analyst Kirk Herbstreit breaks in: “Wow! A.J.’s doing some things . . . ”
Herbstreit: “right down in Tuscaloosa.”
As the director switches the feed back to the camera that is following McCarron, who is having the night of his life on the field, Musburger concludes, “So if you’re a youngster down in Alabama, start getting the football out and throwing it around the back yard with Pops.”
The Tide went on to win 42-14, but not before Miss Webb, unbeknownst to her, garnered 100,000 Twitter followers. But very quickly the press was abuzz with shock and awe at the miscreant Musburger. The Kansas City Star referred to him as “creepy.” The New York Times trotted out “Sue Carter, a professor of journalism at Michigan State,” who snorted that “It’s extraordinarily inappropriate to focus on an individual’s looks.” (One can’t help but wonder here whether Ms. Dr. Carter’s real target is 74-year-old Musburger or the young woman who voluntarily entered and won a state beauty pageant.) “In this instance,” Ms. Dr. Carter continued, “the appearance of the quarterback’s girlfriend had no bearing on the outcome of the game. It’s a major personal violation, and it’s so retrograde that it’s embarrassing. I think there’s a generational issue, but it’s incumbent on people practicing in these eras to keep up and this is not a norm.”
Get that? Recognizing a woman for her beauty (in a decidedly nonprurient way) is a bestial relic of the Mad Men culture that engulfed, oh, the entire world from the dawn of time until the glorious bra-burning 60’s. Old farts like Musburger may have dragged their knuckles in that era, but if they are ever to be allowed to speak in public in this, the Age of Liberation, they had better hold their tongues and at least pretend to kowtow to the new normal.
The fancy word for this, which was deployed by sports-gossip website Deadspin.com, is heteronormative. Having not majored in Wymynz Studies, I had to consult my Mactionary: “denoting or relating to a world view that promotes heterosexuality as the normal or preferred sexual orientation.”
Now it’s making more sense. We don’t want ol’ Brent assuming that all those boys in Alabama would prefer to have a pretty lady cheering for them in the stands while watching a football game, as opposed to, say, a well-coiffed young man eager to trade gossip and fashion secrets while watching Glee.
Indeed, the very idea of an older man making lighthearted comments about the quarterback’s gorgeous girlfriend makes us “uncomfortable.” That’s the word USA Today’s Scott M. Gleeson used.
Except that it doesn’t. The blogosphere and the Twitterverse were not lit up with cries of outrage by sports fans or angry housewives. Instead, the common theme was “Give Musburger a break!” Even the celebrity athletes who tweeted about Webb’s need of a restraining order or Musburger’s need of a cold shower—quotations cited by the Big Media to build a case for outrage—were shocked to learn that their jokes were falling on tin ears.
Miss Webb herself joined the masses in pleading for mercy for Musburger. “I think the media has been really unfair to him,” she told NBC’s Matt Lauer, noting that Musburger did not use lurid terms like “hot” or “sexy.” She recalled that he was also complimenting her boyfriend’s mother: “The fact that he said we were beautiful and gorgeous, I don’t think any woman wouldn’t be flattered by that. I appreciate it, but at the same time I don’t think I needed an apology.”
And yet she got one—not from Musburger, who has refused to apologize for his role in Beautygate, but from ESPN’s vice president of communications, who groveled that Musburger’s commentary “went too far.”
Beautygate was nothing but a media creation, but it tells us something about the relationship between the “news” and reality. The very airbrushed talking heads whose trade is the trivial and who live for the lurid are eager to ram the new normal down our throats and beat the living heteronormative out of us.
Me, I prefer the old normal. Excuse me while I toss the football around the back yard with my son.
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