Celebrating crime deterrence

If the goal of locking up the obviously dangerous Martha Stewart was to "break" her, or harm her career (much less end it), the people behind it ought to think again. According to TV columnist Gail Shister, the prison stretch was the right career move at the right time:

Life in the slammer will make Martha Stewart more likable to viewers, says Susan Lyne.

"People's perceptions of her have changed," says Lyne, new chief executive officer of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. "Any sense of her being entitled, or arrogant, or moving in a different sphere than the rest of us, has been cut away by her going to prison.

"Six months ago, people would say snarky things about her. Now, some have true admiration that she's taking it like a man. She's not whining about the experience."

Stewart is serving a five-month term at a minimum-security federal prison in Alderson, W.Va., after being convicted of lying to federal investigators about a 2001 stock sale. She's scheduled to be released in March.

NBC honcho Jeff Zucker and Lyne announced last week that the domestic dominatrix would host an hour-long syndicated show, to be produced by reality wiz Mark Burnett (The Apprentice, Survivor.)

The show, complete with a studio audience and visiting celebs, will launch in September - after Stewart finishes her five months' house arrest. Complete with a tasteful ankle bracelet.

Another example of backlash, possibly aggravated by guilt. Those who hated Martha Stewart and cheered her downfall can now tune in and assuage their guilt. Martha takes it all in stride:
Martha Stewart was dumped by CBS owner Viacom after 11 years when she was convicted in March. It's in reruns on the Style Network.

When Lyne visited her at "Camp Cupcake," Stewart "was great. She has a sense of humor. An enormous number of women stopped by to say hi or introduce their families.

"People have a Midnight Express idea of what prison is. While it's not a place you'd want to spend time in, the women there, for the most part, are pretty terrific." (How about a show with all ex-cons?)

They don't call this the land of opportunity for nothing.

Moral lessons, anyone? While I don't think prison is appropriate for nonviolent offenders, I've long been puzzled by the fact that once a person has been convicted and paid whatever penalty was imposed, an enormous moral stigma remains for life. This is often way out of all proportion to the offense, and is often not related to the offense itself, but to the punishment. Someone who has been to prison is seen as "worse" than someone who managed to escape prison for the same offense. This is unfair as well as illogical. But there are people out there who'd sincerely believe that Martha Stewart should not be allowed on television, simply because she's been to prison. In their view, this makes her a bad "role model," as well as a lesson that "crime pays." I'm not quite sure why this is so, especially in the case of someone who's been to prison. But the whole idea of a role model has never made much sense to me. Are children going to see Martha Stewart on TV and imagine that it's cool to get involved in stock shenanigans or white collar crime? Somehow I doubt it. But here's a contrary opinion:

Do not be deceived by the technical nature of her crime: just as we don't celebrate a high school student who cheats on his SATs, neither should we celebrate a woman who cheats in the stock market.
That was written before anyone had "celebrated" the release of Martha Stewart and her new show.

It occurs to me that if the idea was to avoid celebrating celebrity crime, it would have been a far better idea to keep her out of prison in the first place!

Americans not only admire the underdog, but they love strength under pressure, grace under fire. Such is the stuff of real life moral lessons.

(I have to admit, much as I never cared for Martha Stewart, I'd watch her now . . .)

posted by Eric on 12.14.04 at 11:08 AM


All I'll say at this point is that I'm mad as Hell at the vile attacks on Martha Stewart. It's getting to be time for Atlas to shrug.

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