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HOWARD ROSENBERG

Nancy, How Could You? The Halo Comes Off : Media: After the press created an ice angel, Kerrigan could never live up to expectations. Now they're ready to burn her at the stake.

March 04, 1994|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Nancy Kerrigan never said she was an angel. In fact, Kerrigan never said much of anything, aside from asking reporters to leave her alone and let her prepare for the Winter Olympics.

It was the bulk of the media that did the talking, relentlessly comparing the regal, graceful, balletic, endorsement-rich Kerrigan with her accused nemesis--the shrill, inelegant Tonya Harding. It was classic good vs. evil, Snow White on blades vs. the surly ice witch, with many in the media typically ignoring the shadings and complexities of life by setting up Kerrigan as a genteel, wholesome heroine with milk running through her veins.

Inevitably, though, as the milk began to sour, the worms began to turn.

Typical this week was the following newspaper headline over an Associated Press story: "Kerrigan May Be Tarnishing Her Golden Image." The golden image polished by the media.

It's getting easier and easier to dislike Kerrigan. One reason is the constant exposure, the cover-girl publicity, the commercial after commercial. Her reported $2-million contract with Walt Disney Co. and the coming TV movies will only add to that exposure. Another reason, though, is that Kerrigan hasn't met our expectations.

The media's expectations.

It always seems to happen. We build them up, tall and shining, so that we can take them down--do to them on the airwaves and in print what Kerrigan's assailant did to her with a steel baton. The media take it upon themselves to set impossible standards for someone; then, when those standards predictably aren't met, the backlash begins.

So, as Harding at least temporarily fades into the wings, Kerrigan is heard on television saying something snippy about Ukrainian gold medalist (and media icon-in-waiting) Oksana Baiul. So, while the media expect her to act with purity of heart, Kerrigan crassly chooses to attend a Disney World parade and float ride with Mickey Mouse over the Lillehammer closing ceremonies. So, in the presence of one of America's cartoon heroes, she's overheard applying "corny" and "dumb" either to the parade or, as she insists, to her mother's insistence that she wear her silver medal during the parade. The media's celebrity watchers will be debating that epic issue for the rest of 1994.

Just as it was earlier deemed coarse and "unladylike" for Harding in January to publicly say she planned to "kick her (Kerrigan's) butt" on the ice, it's now deemed "unKerriganlike" for America's media-manufactured saint to display human flaws. She's imperfect. The gall of her. The nerve. For shame.

Yes, well, let's can it, all right? Let's stop this foolishness of automatically transforming star athletes into objects of worship. Kerrigan was the unfortunate victim of an attack. She recovered. Showing grit, she skated beautifully in Lillehammer, earning a silver medal. That means she's a tough, world-class performer on ice and a future multimillionaire, not Mother Teresa. The higher expectations are our mistake, not hers.

*

BLABBING FOR DOLLARS: After all the steamy hot blab about Roseanne Arnold and Mariel Hemingway smooching in a gay bar on a so-called controversial episode of ABC's "Roseanne" . . .

This was it?

I purposely waited to write about it until the episode had aired, not wanting to contribute to the hype. It was exactly that, wasn't it--a shrewdly devised strategy to ensure that Tuesday's "Roseanne" retain its usual big audience (which it did) and clobber the Grammy Awards telecast on CBS? A stunt that ABC and executive producers Roseanne and Tom Arnold cooked up, knowing most of the media would not only buy it but also feast on it?

Given what was on the screen, what else could it have been but a publicity scam?

Surely no one at ABC, from the mail room to top management, was legitimately troubled by the physical contact on this episode. Why, lesbian-dating entrepreneur Howard Stern must have been laughing himself silly. You get as much kissing during the luge.

If you saw the episode, you get the drift. As someone who really enjoys watching lesbians kiss--but is too cheap to subscribe to the Playboy Channel--I was anxiously looking forward to this episode on free television. Heterosexual Roseanne Connor (Arnold) and her sister would accompany their lesbian friend, Nancy (Sandra Bernhard), and her girlfriend, Sharon (Hemingway), to a gay bar just for kicks. I'd heard about Sharon misreading Roseanne's playfulness and planting a wet one on her lips. This was going to be a big moment for me. I even made popcorn.

But no lip magic, no tongues? Just a puny five-second kiss that you couldn't even see because it was shot from behind Sharon's head? This was going to indoctrinate or confuse America's youth? This was going to turn America's little girls into junior lesbians and future guests on "Sally Jessy Raphael"? After months of Michael Jackson and Lorena Bobbitt, this is what ABC was so frantic about?

You just have to doubt it.

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