Thursday , October 21 2021

Martha’s “Peers”

Martha is looking a bit haggard these days. I have never much enjoyed Martha Stewart as a “performer,” so I think that has biased me against her as a person. As jury selection begins, the charges against her strike me as very dubious:

    Filling out the questionnaires marked the beginning of jury selection in Stewart’s trial on charges she lied to the government about her sale of ImClone Systems stock in 2001.

    Lawyers on both sides will receive hundreds of completed questionnaires Wednesday, then spend two weeks reviewing them before interviewing some jurors in person on Jan. 20. Opening arguments should come several days after that.

    ….Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum has ordered the media not to speak to potential jurors, citing the need for an unbiased jury and saying she was acting at the request of both the prosecution and defense.

    Stewart and her also-indicted former stockbroker, Peter Bacanovic, were not in court Tuesday. They are scheduled to make their first appearances at the trial Jan. 20.

    The two are accused of concocting a false story about why Stewart sold nearly 4,000 shares of ImClone Systems stock Dec. 27, 2001, a day before a negative government report sent its share price tumbling.

    The government says they were tipped that ImClone founder Sam Waksal was selling his shares. Stewart and Bacanovic claim they had a previous arrangement to sell ImClone when it dipped to $60 per share.

    On Monday, the government filed a new indictment against Stewart and Bacanovic, making mostly cosmetic and typographical changes. No new charges were contained in the new indictment.

    Still, prosecutors did change some of the language in the indictment, substituting the phrase “false and misleading” for “false” when referring to explanations Stewart gave investigators for her ImClone sale. [AP]

My view of Martha improved somewhat when I researched and wrote the following back in July:

    Their styles couldn’t be more different and their stars are currently hurtling in opposite directions. Still, Dolly Parton, the sweet Southern bombshell, and Martha Stewart, the proper Yankee domestic diva, are both icons of American femininity – icons identifiable by their first names, names that resonate with our mythic past.

    At the far end of middle age — Parton is 57; Stewart, 61 — they remain youthfully attractive. But they are dipoles of American femininity. Parton’s version is all Southern-belle warmth, highlighted curves, glamorous makeup and wigs, and she never is seen otherwise. She plays with her garish, hyper-glamorous image and lets you know she is in on the joke with a wink and a wiggle. Stewart is a cool — some would say cold — domestic queen, angular and stylish but sensible and muted, always outfitted precisely, whether for replanting the herb garden or sampling early summer merlot al fresco. She speaks in a droll restrained contralto, and never seems to have considered the possibility she might disappoint someone other than herself, while Parton’s twangy soprano always seems eager to please. At the recent opening of her latest dinner theater, Parton chirped she hopes “people see the brain underneath the wig and the heart beneath the boobs.” Imagine Stewart saying such a thing.

    Both are energetic, independent media and entertainment moguls with fortunes in the hundreds of millions. Both rose from humble beginnings. Parton was one of 12 children in a poor Smoky Mountains family. Stewart (née Kostyra) was one of six born to New Jersey working-class, Polish-immigrant parents. Both rose to extraordinary heights of artistic and commercial success. And both inspire awe — Parton as an entertainer, Stewart as an arbiter of gracious living.
    (To the best of my knowledge, I am the first person to link Parton and Stewart. A joint query of their names so alarmed the search engine that it returned this error message: “Your request caused a problem in our system. This almost never happens, so please try again.” When I did, I learned only that both owned Apple Macintosh computers in 2001.)

    So why aren’t these women seen as bookends, as birds of a feather? Why does Parton inspire love and a few snickers, while Stewart inspires reverence and resentment in equal measure?

    Because in our world, style frames our perception so strongly that the fact Dolly and Martha share the same continent seems faintly absurd. Dolly’s style is that of woman as sensuous love interest, her physical attractiveness maximized, the differences between the sexes luxuriously emphasized. The snickers come from our slight embarrassment at Parton’s intense southern embodiment of this ideal, an ideal itself seen as somewhat archaic.

    Martha is the idealized pioneer woman, tough and capable, from a harsh northern terrain where skill and energy can mean the difference between life and death, a practical partner more than a love interest. In this paradigm, the differences between the sexes are downplayed and physical attractiveness is a desirable but not core feature. We revere such a woman, but also resent her exceptional abilities and willful pride.

    Ultimately, both women have risen above their stylistic stereotypes and made indelible, substantive contributions to our culture. Dolly has given us lovely and thoughtful music, transcending her chosen genres of country, pop and bluegrass. She has proved that women can be independent, creative and strong, while still reveling in the girlish, as she did recently on NBC’s “Today” show, appearing as the CEO of an entertainment empire in a snug red white and blue leather dress, matching red and gold hoop earrings and high heels, and lips of ruby red.

    Martha, in her matter-of-fact manner, has lovingly transformed the monotonous drudgery of housework into “the divine magic of making a home,” to quote columnist Desiree Cooper of the Detroit Free Press. And she has explicitly invited all willing Americans into this magic circle — one formerly reserved for the gentry — a gesture of great magnanimity. While Martha’s vision of domestic perfection is always out of reach, even to herself, her attitude adjustment is available to all, and that is very sexy.

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About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected],, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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