Sarah K. Stephens

Sarah K. Stephens


Dear Celebrity Interviewer,

Let me begin by saying I fully recognize your need to fill air time and/or your responsibility to churn out articles written with a panache that brazenly rejects the typical conventions of editing (e.g., proofreading, right-clicking on the red underlined words identified by spell check). You have a deadline. I totally get that.

What I don’t get is your willingness to deform the English language in a fashion—dare I say it—akin to meningitis or a similar neurological decimator, such that readers come away from your article less informed than when they started. (Isn’t there some credo in journalism that says ‘Don’t do that’?)

But wait–even as I take the advice of Social Media moguls and figuratively ‘lean myself in’ towards your screen of choice (I’m guessing iPad–maybe a Kindle Fire), I am realizing that a full-on critique is not the way to go if I want you to actually finish reading this letter. Luckily, being a female of any generation, I am fully trained in the pandering art that is ‘sandwiching’. Rest assured: Compliments await if you choose to read on!

If you’d allow me to demonstrate. . .

As a reader, I thoroughly enjoy your poignant observations of the actress’s clothing worn to the interview (‘the Philip Lim tunic draped over her elongated frame like an expertly ruched window dressing,’ for example) and the actor’s hobbies (‘he also dreams of sailing around the world, only a piece of tarp in the breeze and a fiberglass hull separating him from Poseidon’s strength’). They certainly paint a picture of a life I will only ever be privy to via your eyes, as provided in video snippets on YouTube or print media ‘profiles’ that include a text box at the bottom for the new and special charity created by your interviewee.

Photograph via Jorige Kuzmaite

But, as a reader, I must also express my fear that the English language is being forced by you and your colleagues to dance in a corner by itself, hoping someone will notice how beautiful it is on the inside and instead going home un-kissed and full of cheap punch.

Take the classic “Are you a feminist?” question.

You know you’ve asked it. Come on, no need to be shy now. Everyone’s been there, sitting with Charlize Theron as she stonewalls about her personal life and needing to fill in the time before a commercial break or her next press junket changeover where you are calmly escorted out of your seat and replaced by your mirror image, but blonder.

How is this corrupting our neural integrity as a nation, you ask?

Well, if you didn’t know already, there’s been some debate about the term ‘feminist’, with definitions in the popular media ranging from vapid ‘girl power’ to unapologetic ‘man-hatred’ and everything around and in-between. By asking a performer if she is a feminist and then holding a microphone in her face, you are in fact asking her to provide her opinion on this socially-constructed multi-headed hydra of a word, but without the courtesy of defining which form of feminism your inquiry rests on. And so we get headlines like: Salma Hayek says she’s not a feminist! Marion Cotillard isn’t a feminist! Kaley Cuoco (née Cuoco-Sweeting, née Cuoco) isn’t a Feminist!

Not because they aren’t feminists, but because they’re not sure which mutated version of ‘feminism’ you’re going to pretend you were asking about come print time when you slap a pic of them in their latest Golden Globes dress next to a pull-out quote in some eye-catching font, like Comic Sans.

Photograph via Leon Biss

And then there is outcry and the brandishing of kitchenware to vilify these women for not standing up for their sisterhood, while simultaneously the public comes even closer to associating the F-word with something that decidedly does not rhyme with ‘chuck,’ leading to the perfect Triple Crown where men and women are eventually more likely to publicly admit to genital enlargement surgery and/or an affinity for the Iraq War than attach themselves to a critical social movement.

Oh, and did I mention: This is all your fault.

(I feel it might be time for another jolt of positivity here, just to mitigate things a little. I enjoy your perceptive questions related to your interviewee’s childhood, such as ‘Did you have a happy childhood?’)

Ok, back to it. Yes, it is your fault. If you would ask the question differently, you would undoubtedly get much more measured and realistic answers. How might this be achieved?

Here’s how. Place this little quote of dialogue, word for word, on your frontal lobe and be done with it.

“Insert Celebrity Name Here, intoned with a thoughtful inflection—Do you believe in the equality of the sexes in all matters economic, political, and social and, in that way, are you a feminist?”

“Yes.” I am inserting the answer of any future interviewee, male or female, here for you, free of charge.

Headline (likely to come in smaller and smaller font as the answers become mundane to the point that feminism is a given, not an eye-catching slobber fest of misanthropy):

Insert Celebrity Name Here is a Feminist!

Insert Celebrity Name Here is a Feminist!

Insert Celebrity Name Here is a Feminist!

You understand. No need to belabor the point.

Hopefully I’ve convinced you of my argument and, as a result, I will be able to read or watch a solid interview in your next piece that does not encourage the misinterpretation of social movements.

Finally, I’d like to close with one more compliment: I enjoy your captions of the glossy photos that accompany your work, which offer unique observations of the marriage between your interviewee and the context of the photo (Example: ‘Drones are all the rage, and what better way for Insert Celebrity Name Here to get snapped than while wearing a sexy cut-out jumpsuit and blazing red lip.’ Timely, very timely.)

Sandwich complete.

Thank you for your acute attention and I look forward to your future work.

Sincerely yours,

Sarah K. Stephens

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More About Sarah K. Stephens: Sarah K. Stephens earned her Doctorate in Developmental Psychology and teaches a variety of human development courses as a lecturer at Penn State University. Although Fall and Spring find her in the classroom, she remains a writer year-round. Her short stories have appeared in Five on the Fifth, The Voices Project, The Indianola Review, and the Manawaker Studio’s Flash Fiction Podcast. Her debut novel, A Flash of Red, will be released in Winter 2016 by Pandamoon Publishing. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook and read more of her writing on her blog.