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May 19, 2008 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Open Letter to Alt Tv

I see by the mainstream news that Lisa Lewis – an individual already made famous by the unalternative and spectacular media that you purport to oppose – has been appointed as your naked news reader.

I saw no mention of a male reader – is this right? I do not consider that the exploitation of the male sex would redress the exploitation of women; however, I thought at least a naked male reader may provide ripe opportunities for subverting the double standard that sees women, but not men, as apposite objects for the sexual gaze. A naked male reader, I thought (optimistically obviously), might even function to turn the joke against the audience. Imagine switching over to ALT news, expecting to gratify yourself with the image of an attractive young woman – such as one sees, on any news show, but topless to boot – and instead finding a naked male with a pair of fake breasts and a dildo on his head… That would be a parody of the titillation of the mainstream media and the attitudes of its ‘mainstream’ viewers. But, no. It appears you would rather reinforce the double standard than subvert it.

In any case, I’m sure Lewis is happy to get the job, which is probably a much better gig – time and paywise – than most jobs offered to women, especially mothers. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with an old feminist argument that although selling sex (broadly defined) is one of the best paying jobs for women, this is evidence not of gender equality but of gross inequality. It is inequality because women are most valued insofar as they are objects of consumption for men (and other women). And it is inequality because it ensures the replication of a gender system in which all women are measured against a sexual standard which is believed to determine their worth.

It might be objected that I am being prudish whereas, by having a topless woman read the news, ALT TV are showing their liberatory colours. Of course, I do not believe (freely chosen) nudity to be oppressive; however, nudity is one thing, and nudity for profit is another. On the contrary, if anyone is supporting prudery it is ALT TV, since it seems unlikely that a topless woman would be so titillating (and hence provide the much hoped-for ratings boost) in the absence of priggish attitudes to the body and to sex.

In your last email you offered the argument that if you didn’t go for a stunt like this your station would flounder. Isn’t this a false alternative? either we have a naked newsreader, or we have no money. I think there are numerous other stunts that you could have pulled that would have increased your publicity and your ratings without stooping to the tactics of the mainstream media (i.e. commodifying women’s bodies). How about, for example, having a newsreader burst into the TV One studio and read some “alt” news over their regular broadcast? (Yell out the number of Iraqi dead over a news report about losses of U.S soldiers?) It is entirely implausible that the naked news, which was not even an original idea, was your only option.

There are many truly alternative people in NZ who are committed to fighting against the oppression of women. Yet, once again, it appears that women’s autonomy is the last thing on the “alternative” agenda. Cooool music shows and docos are worth not worrying about such questions, right?

P.S. I reckon a name change is in order. How about: “TV for the suppression of ALT women, in the interests of profit”? “Conservative TV”? (Checking with Daddy Murdoch first, of course.)

Thanks to Gerald Keaney for his suggestions on an earlier edition of this letter.

ALT TV wrote to me (26/3/08):“We wish we were able to gain publicity and attention for our shows that cover the environment, fashion, art, culture, music, current affairs and everything else we produce here at ALT TV but sadly those press releases don’t seem to get much coverage. Naked News Flash will be more than you are assuming it will be and will also help this station stay afloat and continue to allow over 150 Kiwis to make great television for over 200 000 other kiwis.”


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  1. Matt Russell says:

    Groovy letter Rose. Not much they’d be able to say in response to this I’d say. The fact you made it crystal clear you’re not arguing against nudity or sexualisation in itself, but rather against exploitative nudity for cynical profit pretty much cuts them off at the knees. As you rightly point out – that’s the opposite of priggishness, the kind of priggishness Alt TV is depending on to stimulate some kind of unoriginal and very unalternative controversy, and hopefully give them a fleeting boost in ratings.

  2. elvis says:

    most unoriginal idea ever

  3. Seconding Matt’s comments. And to be honest, I’ve been somewhat cynical about Alt TV’s counterculture credentials right from the moment they hired Nicky Watson.

  4. Laura McQuillan says:

    Don’t they have a naked male weatherman or something?

  5. Rose says:

    Yep, they do: “Levi”. But I wrote the letter before the show was broadcast.
    He’s a stripper for his day (or other night) job. That is, a specialist in nudity, like his co-host.

  6. Martin Amis says:

    Maybe ALT TV are just trying to highlight the fallacy of the news business in this country – i.e. two crappy channels giving us about as much on global affairs as they do in North Korea beucase their news slots are merely infotainment aimed at secure as much of the lucrative advertising market as possible. Hence One’s firing of various weather presenters and Hawkesby’s expensive little stint there – because they want to attract more advertising dollars – surely the information is the same as long as it is presented in a clear voice. By taking this titilation to the extreme, the point is being made that most mainstream media here is cutting back on everything but thesuperficial shit that makes us watch and drink in all that delicious advertising. Public service broadcasting at its finest.

  7. Martin Amis says:

    That being said, they also want people to watch = and unfortunately, the quickest route to that seems to be semi-naked men and women

  8. Rose says:

    Martin Amis,

    I agree with your points on the farcical nature of the mainstream news– though “fallacy” is a strange word to use in this regard; a fallacy is a commonly used invalid argument form. However, it does not seem very insightful to say that ALT TV’s naked news stunt was “just” a way of critiquing the mainstream news, since there are many ways of making such a critique. We are left with the question of why ALT chose the stunt that they did. As an answer, you repeat the argument made by ALT themselves that “pushing titillation to the extreme” is an effective way of exposing mainstream superficiality. But is this plausible? How does borrowing the tactics of the mainstream media (and “pushing them to the extreme”) to boost your ratings actually critique the mainstream media? As I tried to argue in my letter, such a move relies upon and reinforces “mainstream” attitudes: inanity, the double standard and prudery. My point was that the naked news is no critique, but simply more of the same: “merely infotainment aimed at securing as much of the lucrative advertising market as possible”. Or in a word, unalternative.


  9. Martin Amis says:

    I stand somewhat corrected. If you can be bothered to find it a podcast of Oliver Driver half-heartedly explaining the show to Kim Hill is available…

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