Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Diminishing View.

Those with even a passing familiarity with ABC’s popular mid-morning estrogen-fest, The View, will know that once-fat and ever-feisty Star Jones (Reynolds), one of the show’s original co-hosts, has lost a great deal of weight.

This morning, she disappeared altogether.

If the rumor mill can be believed, this latest event has nothing to do with weight loss (at least not directly) and everything to do with a war of words between Jones and incoming co-host Rosie O’Donnell, otherwise known as The Woman Who Can’t Get Along With Anyone Unless She Has Full And Unabridged Control Of The Situation. (Think also: Barbra Streisand.) Yesterday Jones made some snippy, surprise comments about leaving the show before O'Donnell arrives, after which ABC apparently told her, Hey, Star, why wait? Today, the show's grande dame, Barbara Walters, had some cryptic but snippy comments of her own about the backstage climate and Jones' absence at the table. This leaves The View with a skeleton cast of just three hosts, down from five, inasmuch as the program last week lost Meredith Vieira to her new gig on The Today Show, where she replaces Katie Couric, who moves on to anchor the CBS Evening News, which dumped respected newsman Bob Schieffer after network execs realized that he is old and has many wrinkles.

Whew. Deep breath.

So far as we know, this all started when O’Donnell accused Jones of shedding at least some portion of her prodigious girth through gastric bypass, an allegation Jones refuses to address. (Oddly, she admits to breast augmentation.) This much is clear: Over the past two television seasons, Jones has lost the rough equivalent of an entire junior-middleweight boxer—about 150 pounds.

What makes this interesting for SHAMblog purposes is twofold. For all its superheated chatter, The View is one of today’s more understated, deeply nuanced examples of Empowerment TV. I hesitate to say this on the heels of admitting that I subscribe to Allure and also watch Lifetime, but I think a lot of people, and not just those with ovaries, could benefit from catching an episode of The View now and then. When the co-hosts are at their best, the discussion is first-rate, or as close to it as one is apt to find on network. Certainly Walters, Jones, Vieira, comedienne Joy Behar and company have long provided a better (and more entertaining) lens on the issues of the day than one ever got on the likes of Crossfire or, God help us all, Oprah. They seldom pander to their audience or talk to women in buzzwords and clichés. I have heard very little empty rhetoric on The View.

The show hasn’t always toed the PC party line, either. Its resident stars (Jones and the others) have been known to take some very un-mainstream-media-like (if not downright contrarian) stances on such issues as the war in Iraq and a woman’s right to choose. The newest (2003) member of the crew, 29-year-old former Survivor finalist Elizabeth Hasselbeck, may in fact be the only right-wing bimbette holding down a regular slot on network television. That’s not to say I think TV should be full of right-wingers (or bimbettes). But a tad more balance would be nice sometimes.

The second interesting factor, however, is Jones’ guarded attitude toward her weight loss and the question of whether she did, or did not, undergo gastric-bypass surgery. This is the one area in which Jones clearly departs from The View's characteristically more enlightened approach to questions of empowerment, the limits of a positive mental attitude, etc. Evidently Jones wants America to believe that she achieved her dramatic results through sheer force of will alone. And perhaps she did; remember, so far, we have no verifiable evidence to substantiate Rosie's claim. But then why not simply deny it? One is tempted to think Jones doesn't deny it because she doesn't want to be caught in a lie once evidence of the surgery surfaces. So, for the sake of argument, let's assume Jones did have some surgical "help." I repeat what I said above: She probably wants people to think she's "empowered." She's "tough." She could "beat this by herself." Leaving aside simple issues of privacy, maybe she feels that if people know she had the surgery, they'll think she's "weak-willed." Don't forget that Jones came to The View with a considerable rep as a lawyer and prosecutor. She's accustomed to seeing herself a certain way--as her bulldog persona on the show often affirmed. She's accustomed to being seen that way.

If in fact Star Jones turned to surgery after years of trying (and failing) to lose weight, it just goes to show that while a positive mental attitude is nice, there are times when your mental outlook alone won't cut it (no pun intended). There are times when you need more than a PMA. In this case, maybe, a scalpel.


Anonymous said...

You nailed this one, congrats.

Cosmic Connie said...

“The View” has always been somewhat of a guilty pleasure for me, but it’s good to know that at least one (straight) guy sees the merit in this weekday estrofest. I hate to see Star leave, but it has always bothered me that she is being so cagey about her weight loss. If she is indeed being less than forthright because of a desire to be perceived as “tough,” I have little doubt that this is due to our culture’s moralistic attitude towards obesity. It seems that Star, despite her legendary toughness, is still a victim of this outdated attitude, and that’s a shame. I am sure that over the years, Star has tried every diet and exercise program to come down the pike. Surely she of all people should know that being fat is not a moral failing, and losing weight is not just a matter of willpower or strength of character. Sometimes medical intervention – through prescription drugs, surgery or both – is the only way an obese person can hope to achieve a healthy weight.

Of course, there’s always the chance that she did lose the weight without surgery; perhaps true love provided the impetus for slimming. But I tend to think she had medical help…not that it’s anybody’s business, I suppose. However, since she has made such a big public deal about the results of her efforts, I think she could do a great service to millions of obese folks (and anyone else who was disappointed by her book, *Shine*) by coming clean and writing a sequel about how even she got caught in the PMA trap.

Steve Salerno said...

UPDATE: Star more or less "outed herself" to Larry King the other night, admitting that she'd achieved her new svelte look at least partly through "medical intervention." Larry kept pressing her to use the actual term "surgery" and she never did. The closest she came was when she repeated her coy phrasing later in the show and King said, "So that means surgery?", and she replied, "Well, what else could it mean?" So I guess that settles that. Still, it was bizarre to me (and, I think, to anyone else watching) that she refrained so pointedly from fessing up, in plain language, to the bypass.

Who knows what people think, and why they say the things they do...