Can the press please define "showdown"

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

As in Michelle Obama's fashion "showdown" with France's First Lady Carla Sarkozy.

The phrase appeared everywhere in the press, but what does it even mean? Were journalists expecting a West Side Story-type dance-off in front of the Palais Rohan in Strasbourg, where the two first ladies met? And does it strike anyone else as slightly sexist, as in the two fashionable, and powerful, women were going to rumble (i.e. engage in a cat fight) over who had the nicest wardrobe?

And did we mention the phrase was everywhere in the serious press?:

--"The meeting between Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Sarkozy may not have been the showdown that fashion bloggers expected." (NYT)

--"Michelle's style showdown in France." (WashTimes headline)

--"A First Lady Style Showdown Not Exactly" (WSJ headline)

--"For the real showcase showdown in fashion this week, check in Saturday, when the French and American first ladies visit Strasbourg Cathedral in France." (Chicago Tribune)

In general, there's nothing wrong with discussing or writing about what the first lady wears, or noting that her fashion choices are being widely commented on. But that kind of water cooler talk shouldn't be dressed up as news, as it clearly was this week. (A week in which the press, following the Obamas overseas, wallowed in trivia.)

The examples are endless, but here's just one. On Anderson Cooper 360 Friday night, the CNN program offered up an "Up Close" (i.e. in-depth) segment about Michelle Obama's meeting with France's first lady. After detailing which designer each woman wore on Friday, the CNN reporter announced that they were "choices that say a lot about who these first ladies of fashion are." [Emphasis added.]

Don't the choices simply say a lot about who the women's favorite designers are? On no, according to CNN's news report, the fashion choices represented much, much more:

It's no surprise the clothes Mrs. Obama and Madame Sarkozy choose become messages in themselves.

Please. I understand that fashion is more than just the clothes people wear, and that it can reflect a culture and a personality. I realize that fashion is an art form. And that's what culture critics are for; to mine that territory. But that's not what the press did this week. The 'serious' press, anxious to latch onto a conveyor belt of easy stories, pretended the reason Michelle Obama's wardrobe deserved so much press attention was because the topic's so important. That it's newsworthy.

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