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The New York Times Does Erin Brockovich

The Tits Make the Activist

by Michael Colby

I started to count the number of references to Erin Brockovich1s breasts in Austin Bunn’s biographical essay on her work in the New York Times1 Sunday Magazine ("Erin Brockovich, The Brand," April 28, 2002). Unfortunately, I got distracted and lost count after about a dozen. Brockovich, of course, is the paralegal who helped fight Pacific Power & Gas (PG&E) in the late 1990s and was immortalized by the movie that bears her name and starred the chirpy Julia Roberts.

But if you picked up the article to learn about Brockovich’s methodology and activist philosophy, you were shit out of luck. This was about tits. And Brockovich was all-too-willing to play along. How many activists, for example, would take a journalist on a clothes-shopping spree while being followed for a feature story? Brockovich, for one. In fact, the shopping spree come about after a trip to a bar for a "cranberry and vodka" (their first stop) and well before they got around to visiting "victims."

The smitten Bunn, even donning a name fit for the piece, couldn’t keep his mind of Brockovich’s breasts, bellybutton, and waistline long enough to provide much else about her life. Brockovich, after finding wealth and fame from her successful case against PG&E, is apparently still out there fighting the "bad guys," but Bunn could care a less about such trivial matters.

Here’s Bunn’s third paragraph of his essay, describing their trip to the clothing store:

"When she glides in, nearly an hour late, she heads immediately to the dressing room. She throws on a pair of blatantly age-inappropriate, low-slung denim pants and models them in the mirror. For most, this would be a private moment, but not for Brockovich. She pulls up her shirt and suspiciously eyes her miraculous waistline. She wants to know if the jeans reveal too much skin. ‘I don’t like my bellybutton showing,’ she says. ‘I really don’t.’ She looks magnificent in everything here, which makes choosing hard. ‘When I have vodkas-and-cranberries, I come home with all kinds of stuff,’ she says, twisting her hair into curlers that have been warmed for her. ‘I tell my husband, ‘Don’t let me shop when I’ve been drinking.’"

But then Bunn lets it all hang out when he springs this bit of verbiage on his readers: "We’re used to our crusaders rejecting style and sexuality for high seriousness, as if they were mutually exclusive. But Brockovich demands to be taken seriously with her Armani suits and her breast implants (and in some cases, yes, her bellybutton showing)."

Brockovich, of course, loves it. She even jumps at the chance to describe herself as "Ralph Nader with cleavage."

Welcome to the world of celebrity activists, where we’re all just a tit job away from victory.

Michael Colby is the editor of Wild Matters and welcomes comments at mcolby@wildmatters.org