The New Media-Driven Narrative: Now We Are Talking About Ashley Judd’s Nudity

Taylor Bigler, The Daily Caller’s Entertainment Editor, probably knew when she wrote about Ashley Judd’s on-screen nudity that it would be perceived as an attack on Judd. You don’t suddenly bring up the fact there are nude images of a woman out there and not think it won’t get a strong reaction. There is an entirely cynical explanation that click through views = money in online publishing. Publish something “controversial,” drive up traffic, then sit back and plead innocence as to the nature of this game. “Calm down guys. Nobody attacked Ashley Judd,” tweeted Daily Caller Political Reporter Alex Pappas. Of course he somewhat gives up the click-bait game a few tweets later (in an argument with @JuddLegum): “I know [ThinkProgress’s] schtick is faux outrage, so not worth engaging you. But have fun. And thanks for clicking, as always.”

ThinkProgress’s Alyssa Rosenberg has another excellent take down of The Daily Caller’s defense that this was all just harmless “entertainment” writing.

…the tittering assertion that the Caller’s stories about Judd’s entertainment career are just for Monday afternoon giggles is an idea belied by the Daily Caller’s very site structure, which is using stories about the fact that she’s done on-screen nudity and dated Michael Bolton to drive coverage to more substantive—though I hesitate to dignify it with that term—reporting about Judd’s political positioning for a potential race. And the act of covering Judd as entertainment, particularly when you’re not actually reporting developing news about her acting career, but digging up old tidbits from her life, is in and of itself a canny political act.

Aside from simply generating impressive click-view results, it’s not hard to fathom why The Daily Caller has been slightly obsessed with Ashley Judd—she’s a liberal Democrat who may run for the Kentucky Senate seat and they are a conservative media outlet. Perhaps they’d even argue “we’re not publishing these articles because she’s a women, we’re doing it because we don’t want her to win the Senate seat.” Well, it’s doubtful they would cop to such a base admission, but we can assume that’s probably why there are so many negative articles about her lately.

The harsh criticism of her politics isn’t the issue. That’s the nature of partisan media outlets, they’re tougher on candidates whose politics aren’t aligned with theirs. (The same is true for progressive media outlets).  But when the harsh criticism comes in the form of mocking her for being a woman, that’s when it crosses a line from being fair to being sexist. Even if the writer, in this case Bigler, doesn’t think of it that way, that is how her article frames the story about Judd – its singling out something about her for criticism, because she is a woman. Judd’s on-screen nudity – which is far more common and expected of actresses than male actors – is being offered as a potential liability for her. The piece doesn’t come flat out and say it, but it certainly suggests that it will be a liability because there’s something wrong with it. (Serious people don’t have naked images of themselves anywhere.) Or put another way: Haha we saw your boobs so you can’t be taken seriously now.

Although it got far less attention, Joseph Gerth, writing for the Louisville Courier-Journal, also speculated whether Ashley Judd’s nudity would effect her political chances.

Meanwhile, McConnell and a super PAC supporting Republican candidates have mocked Judd in an Internet video and a television commercial, respectively.

Neither of them brought up Judd’s au naturel movie appearances but its doubtful she could make it through a race without someone doing it….We, in America, have, over the 45 years since the Hays Code prohibiting nudity in movies was lifted, come to accept actors and actresses disrobing in movies.

We’ve not been so open-minded about our politicians shedding their clothes, however.

First he compares speciously compares Judd’s film career to former Representative Anthony Weiner, who famously accidentally tweeted a picture of his junk. (So being a professional actress is a comparable situation to a junk-tweeting politician?) Then Gerth lists several actors-turned-politicians who have never appeared naked on screen – which screams for a “so what.” The web video that accompanies the article (and is narrated by Gerth) has even more of a tut-tutting tone about on-screen nudity, before concluding “other issues” may be more a factor in the race.

It’s worth noting that it’s the media who are mentioning Judd’s on-screen nudity. This isn’t a campaign issue brought up by an opponent’s attack ad. No one was even talking about Ashley Judd’s on-screen nudity until people like Bigler and Gerth decided to bring it up. Another phrase for this would be that it’s a media-created-narrative. Speculate whether something might have an effect, and bingo, suddenly it has an effect.

What’s sad is that these type of sexist issues can suck up all the oxygen in a race. Suddenly now we are having a “debate” about a women’s sexuality and whether her past film career will hurt her. The Daily Caller can now claim mission accomplished. Ashley Judd’s political credibility can now be framed by her sexuality instead of her politics or accomplishments. By running stories that ask if she’s diminished by her acting career they are advancing the frame that she’s diminished by her acting career. That’s something male actors like Ronald Reagan and even Arnold Schwarzenegger – who’s done nude scene on film – were never asked.


Published by Kate McCarthy on 03/05/2013

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