A couple of months ago a woman, who had been a regular reader of the LA Progressive told me that she’d stopped reading our magazine because she felt we had become too negative.
I know her to be a reasonable person and didn’t take offense. Instead, I told her that we would put effort into making some changes. And we are. We’ve started to carry some pieces on lighter matters and we're giving coverage to progressive films and plays as part of a possible foray into progressive culture.
But for this piece, I make no apology for being negative. I know no other way to deliver this message.
We are in a battle that we are losing because we are overly entertained, we're not paying attention, and we continue to buy stuff and information that is not good for us.
I happened to turn on daytime television this week. Two shows grabbed my attention. The first, Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now aired on Link TV – a network funded entirely by viewer donations. The second was Oprah. I don’t need to say how Oprah is funded.
Both shows aired in the same time slot. Everyone in the country and more than half of the world knows Oprah. A fraction of progressives know Amy Goodman.
Oprah’s show that day was a re-broadcast of Oprah and her best friend Gail’s visit to the Dallas Texas County Fair. The entire show was broadcast from the fair with lots of shots of farm animals and cooking contests. Oprah and Gail got into the act by conducting their own competition of the best foods at the fair. They personally tasted a half dozen entries describing, for the viewing audience, the mouth-watering deliciousness of “fried butter” and “fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches”.
In contrast, Amy Goodman’s show, which was co-hosted by Anjali Kamat, began with Anjali asking, “Lead in lipstick? Coal Tar in shampoos? Do you know what’s in your personal care products?”
Kamat tells the viewing audience that there are over 12,000 chemicals in our personal care products. Thousands of products like lotion, deodorant, lipstick, mascara, and even baby shampoo contain toxic chemicals that the average consumer has no way of knowing about but the $50 billion a year cosmetics industry is well aware of. Congressional Representative Jan Schakowsky has introduced a bill that will reduce exposure to harmful chemicals in cosmetics. HR 5786 would give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to ensure that personal care products are free from harmful ingredients.
I flipped back and forth between the two shows and realized that what I was watching symbolizes what is happening to this country.
We keep buying cr*p that's not good for us. Some of us don't know any better and some of us don't want to know any better. Many of the corporations that pour millions into commercials to sell stuff to Oprah’s audience are the same corporations that would not want us to watch Amy Goodman and Anjali Kamat’s report on toxins in our personal care products. What’s so disturbing, frustrating, and sometimes infuriating is that we oblige them. We, as a nation, cooperate and partner with them by buying the products, staying uninformed, not discussing this kind of information with friends, not writing to our representatives -- and the list goes on.
I don’t pretend that the comparison between Oprah and Amy is an apples to apples comparison. I know these are two very different genres. Amy Goodman is a serious journalist and Oprah is an entertainment mogul. I don’t dislike Oprah or her show. I understand its appeal. What I am comparing is the gravity of the messages compared to the amount of exposure these messages get.
Here's an 8-minute video that gives more info on toxins in our personal care products. Annie Leonard, the producer did a great job with the video. You can watch this video now or come back to it after reading the rest of this article. There are more links at the end of this article on this topic.
Here’s another TV tidbit that made my head explode this week. Rachel Maddow was attacked by Bill O’Reilly for critiquing Fox New’s journalistic standards, specifically with regard to Fox’s handling of the Shirley Sherrod story. Of course, based on O’Reilly’s history of being less than forthright, I don’t watch his show. Unfortunately, I’m in the minority. The top of my head nearly came off when Rachel disclosed the ratings of The O’Reilly Factor compared to the ratings of the Rachel Maddow Show. O’Reilly, Coulter, Limbaugh, Beck, Palin etc. – this cadre of characters has the masses in their hands. They sell it and it's swallowed up. Take a look at these numbers and please keep reading --
Finally, last night Dick and I attended a fundraiser for Barbara Boxer in Hollywood, organized by Generation for Change LA. Mostly, the audience was attractive, well-dressed young Westsiders -- and us. Outside of the venue stood a small band of raggedy Tea Baggers holding homemade signs saying "Veterans for Carly" and waving Arizona flags.
LA City Council president Eric Garcetti sat down with Senator Boxer on a stage in front of this mostly young audience and talked about the issues. Senator Boxer stressed how difficult it is to get anything accomplished with the Republicans use of the filibuster.
More than once, Senator Boxer talked about the positions taken by her opponent Carly Fiorina, who is running a formidable campaign. Fiorina -- who headed up Hewlitt Packard, oversaw the layoff of thousands of workers, sent jobs overseas, and garnered big bonuses and perks for herself -- is claiming to be better suited for the job than Boxer because she – Fiorina – is from the “real world” and knows how to create jobs, balance budgets, and get things done. Again, we have a message that a lot of people are buying lock, stock, and barrel. What “real world” is Fiorina talking about? In her real world, you lay off thousands and get rewarded with a $21 million dollar severance package. I doubt this is the world of her supporters, several of whom were standing outside in ragged jeans and faded baseball caps, holding their handmade signs.
I began this piece disheartened that Amy Goodman and Rachel Maddow are losing, in a very big way, in the ratings game. Ratings, similar to polls, give us insight into what America is buying into. Big money, often big corporate money, has a hand in shaping what America buys be it products, services or information. Whether it’s in our best interest or not, we tend to go along. Let’s hope the story will be different with the Senate race in California. Come this November, we have got to continue to push for change. (This article was initially published in July 2010)
For more information on what you can do about toxins in personal care products, go to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.