Tuesday, January 24, 2006

blue peter and sexual bimbos

I didn't link to the Guardian article attacking Blue Peter's decision to employ former Miss Northern Ireland 'stunna' Zoe Salmon when it appeared in the paper last week, although I meant to, because it was interesting stuff. I've not seen Blue Peter - which has been the BBC's flagship children's magazine show for decades - in a long time, but the article, by Kate Figes, was an interesting yet oddly partisan attack upon Ms Salmon, who is apparentlty the epitome of the blonde and brassy bombshell, and nothing at all like the lovely Janet Ellis, which won't do at all.

"Since [her appointment], her semi-naked body has adorned the tabloids and men ooh-aah over her tastiness on websites. She has a degree in law but you wouldn't think so from the way she pouts on screen, acts dumb when it comes to anything intelligent, wears skimpy, tight clothing and squeals and giggles in a "girly girl" way when she looks at something as terrifying as a spider. She rarely seems comfortable around children and talks to them in slow, patronising tones. She comes over as insincere and fatuous and my daughters don't like her any more than I do."

The article made several very good points about the problems associated with having a presenter who seems to embody those values - overt sexuality, body-image issues, gender stereotyping - which the "long history of warmth and substance" in Blue Peter has sought to contest, or at least defer 'til a little later. Not being familiar with Zoe Salmon I can't comment directly, but I suspect that her shtick is not markedly different from that employed by fellow kids TV presenters Ferne Cotton and Holly Willoughby, both of whom regularly dress up and play dumb for the audience's amusement. People do, however, get terribly defensive about Blue Peter, which makes the indignation all the greater.

This morning I picked up the paper to find a double page of letters responding to Kate Figes's article; most agreeing that Ms. Salmon is an innapropriate host and, implicitly or explicitly, concurring that her behaviour is 'self limiting' and 'sexist'. Several made the point that the article veered uncomfortably from journalistic comment into personal attack, however.

Interestingly, of ten letters, six were from women (and all damned the presenter in pretty strong terms) and four were from men (all of whom defended her), although one of those was the editor of Blue Peter, so you would expect his support. Generally speaking - although I feel very sorry for Zoe Salmon, who has now had on two consecutive Tuesdays woken to find herself singled out as an airhead and a bimbo - I sympathise with the critical position. It is now almost impossible to turn on a television without another manifestation of the thin and beautiful aesthetic presenting. It hadn't occurred to me that Blue Peter - which incidentally I never liked - followed the same cycle of objectification and stereotyping.

It also seems hilariously narrow-minded, however, to imagine that Blue Peter should be some kind of haven from the rest of the world. Although it's undoubtedly important that it should not submit to the lowest common denominator, it's naive to think that its exclusion in some way counterbalances the vast amount of sexual stereotyping which is endemic on all television from Hollyoaks to Top Of The Pops, which stares out from almost every magazine cover and is lauded directly and indirectly in the media in new and inventive ways on a daily basis.

The Guardian reprinted a small photo of Ms. Salmon clad in a bikini at the bottom of the page today, and while it was - perhaps deliberately? - blurred, that didn't stop me squinting at it for a good thirty seconds. I feel I ought to admit that, having assumed my high moral tone moments earlier.

Nevertheless - two interesting articles, either way. The first, titled 'Hello Boys', is available to read here, and the second, 'Blue Peter - sexed up and dumbed down?', is here. Any opinions welcome.

1 comment:

jonathan said...

I thought the most damning criticism made in the original article (which I commented on when Looby linked to it a day or so ago) was how Zoe seems quite unable to relate to children- looking uncomfortable in their presence and addressing them in patronising tones. Interesting, then, to note that none of the Guardian correspondents professing their support for the new presenter are able to offer the testimony of any representatives of the target audience in support of their stance. Tellingly, the Blue Peter producer prefers to dwell on Zoe's athletic and technical prowess, as if that is all that matters. By contrast, several of the anti-Zoe faction cite the negative reactions of their own kids to the new presenter's style.

Like you, Jonathan, I've not seen this Zoe in action- but I know which argument seems the most credible. Bring back John Noakes, I say!