Letters to the editor

Vive Laetitia Casta, busty symbol of France! Plus: Oxygen sucks the intellectual air out of women's television; just say no to the war on drugs.

Published February 24, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Liberti, Egaliti, 36C


What a grand thing the French have done in voting for Laetitia Casta to symbolize Marianne. I'm almost 60 and have always been reluctant to be seen paging through the Victoria's Secret catalog. Now I can do so freely without the risk of someone thinking I'm a cross-dresser.

-- Loren Harmon

Don't believe everything you hear. France's Marianne is about as important and representative as your Miss America.

Having cleared that up, at least the French panel of judges chose a natural beauty, not the big-hair, fake-breast, plastic-face variety that wins in the United States.

-- Gentry Lane
(another Paris-based Salon contributor)

The obvious title -- "Liberti, Igaliti, Dicolleti!" -- must have escaped you.

-- Nick Wade

Does Debra Ollivier live in Paris, France or Paris, Texas? I hate to sound like an apologist for the French -- they don't really need me as they're excellent at arguing for themselves, but, unlike Ollivier, as an American living in France I've never had to have government approval to get my heater fixed. Also, the implication was that the vote for Marianne was by the French people themselves -- actually it was by the mayors of France.

Political correctness of the American variety hasn't come to France yet -- hence the lack of shame at running such a beauty contest. That's all it was, and the prettiest woman won.

-- James Brister

So what's wrong with great breasts? I have great breasts, and if Texas (for example) decided me make me their national symbol, then terrific! Think of all that a slick P.R. campaign could do for breast-cancer research, women's health, body issues and so on!

If you find yourself in the public eye (in Victoria's Secret or otherwise), then for God's sake use it for something worthwhile!

-- C. Simmons


I share Joyce Millman's irritation with the schizoid and incomprehensibly waffling nature of messages aimed at women through the media. A split second after the shrill, "You go, girl! Love that fat!" it can be "My GAWD, I look like a cow in this swimsuit" and the like. The only clear transmission made in this static is that women should love themselves publicly, so as to appear attractively well-adjusted; yet hate themselves privately and perpetually shop or self-mutilate in the fulfillment of this dissatisfaction.

My greatest pique about the so-called women's genres of television, magazines or books (the spooky "Bridget Jones" and Elizabeth Wurtzel, for example) is that they celebrate the inability to make choices and stick to them: "I want to eat donuts but I hate myself; I want to be accepted unconditionally but deride others for their lack of fashion sense or some other superficial concern; I want the prestige and money of an executive career but I want to stay home and pump out babies," etc. If these Svengalis of crap culture work their magic, our daughters will spend their adulthoods as willfully arrested adolescents with really big credit-card balances.

Ironically, however, the women we continue to admire the most are the ones who do make the tough calls -- the grownups who choose paths and make harrowing sacrifices in so acting. I wonder if Eleanor Roosevelt would even have endured five minutes of Oxygen programming. Odds are, she'd have had better things to do with her time, and so do we.

-- Gaby Kaplan

Thank you, thank you, thank you for blowing the whistle on Oxygen's specious brand of "woman power." My friends and I have been annoyed for months by the billboards and bus shelter ads all over New York City. I look forward to seeing that well-funded collection of big shots go through some very public birth pangs and I hope -- for their sake, anyway -- they don't go belly-up before creating some intelligent, inclusive programming. It seems these days the only market that's "underserved," as Disney/ABC Cable president Geraldine Laybourne would have it, is a demographic with intelligence, compassion and intellectual and emotional curiosity. Thanks for a great piece.

-- Stuart Cohn

The elephant in the room


Massing has made an error in logic. He assumes the goal of the war on drugs is to eliminate the use of illegal drugs. This is pork. Success would be the worst thing that could happen to law enforcement. Well, the second worst. The first worst would be legalization. Some folks are raking in an awful lot of money, through both funding allocations and asset seizure.

Nobody on Capitol Hill wants to kill this fat golden pig. Like most enterprises, for enlightenment just follow the money.

-- Shellie Taylor

Michael Massing asks what the alternative to the current regime of drug prohibition is. The answer is medicalization and regulation. Voting for people who want to put you in jail for exercising individual choice is truly an exercise in futility. If you want a change in drug policy, vote Libertarian.

-- Paul Garrison
Greybull, Wyo.

Don't forget one of the more menacing side effects of the war on (some) drugs: mandatory pre-employment drug screenings. The police aren't allowed to search you without probable cause -- it's a violation of the Bill of Rights. Yet businesses expect their potential hires to barter away constitutional rights for the privilege of employment?

-- Keith Ammann
Evanston, Ill.

Michael Massing's take on the failure of the war on drugs deserves high praise. Not only did Prohibition create the Mafia, but also made alcohol all the more alluring, especially to kids, because it was illegal. I believe heroin and marijuana should be decriminalized and treated as the serious health problems they are.

-- George Gilbert

We should go further than just simply increasing treatment. The government should make drugs like heroin and cocaine available to addicts at the lowest price possible, perhaps even free. The drugs so provided should be pure, and prepackaged in safe and consistent doses. In return, the addicts must agree to register.

If the government steals all of a pusher's customers away with a lower-cost, safer, purer product, what profit is there in being a drug dealer? This, in turn, starves the cartels. Providing drugs in consistent, clean, prepackaged doses will reduce both overdoses and needle sharing, both good things.

Concurrently, we should also provide aid to former drug farmers in South and Central America, and we should in some way decriminalize marijuana.

-- David Chase
Belmont, Mass.

Readers' choice at the New Yorker


Not to pick nits, but there is one long-standing literary award that is selected by readers: The Hugo Award for science fiction is decided by a ballot at the annual World Science Fiction Convention (aka WorldCon to those who attend). Writers such as Isaac Asimov, Ursula Le Guin and Orson Scott Card have all been honored with Hugos. I don't read a lot of science fiction myself, but I have friends who read nothing else, and if you want a book that's very highly recommended by lots of other readers, the Hugo award is the thing to look for. I've never read a Hugo winner that I didn't enjoy, and most deserve a wider audience than the category attracts.

-- Judith Martin Straw

Turning out the lights on the old New Yorker

The New Yorker piece is excellent, and I should know -- I worked there for 26 years. Brisk, entertaining, surprisingly accurate. Congratulations.

-- Daniel Menaker

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Laura Miller