The Atlantic posted a piece today that I found to be one of the more fascinating things I’ve read in a while. It’s written by journalist and author Liza Mundy, a person who has frequently appeared as a guest on cable news shows. In the course of making these guest appearances, Mundy noticed that the makeup staff at Fox News applied considerably more makeup to her and other guests who appeared on the network, so she decided to dig deeper.
A Fox regular once commented to me that she gets more calls from network management about her hair, clothes, and makeup than about what she says. “I just think of it as a uniform,” she said of her getup.
Specifically, Mundy noticed that the makeup people at Fox used heavy amounts of blue eye shadow on her, so much, she says, that she felt like she “should be wearing a sash and tiara.”
I learned that while the vivid blue of my eye shadow may have been an aberration, its heavy application was not. “Pageant queen” was one of the kinder articulations I heard of the female aesthetic at Fox News and its financial counterpart, Fox Business; “glamour nighttime” was another. “At Fox, they look very painted,” a makeup artist at CNN said pointedly. (This makeup artist, like many of those I spoke with, preferred not to be named, for fear of losing future assignments.) A publicist who works with high-profile news makers recalled that Fox covered one client’s face with so much bronzer that she “looked like a female George Hamilton.”
The reason for the heavy use of makeup, it seems, goes back to Richard Nixon’s famously awful performance in a presidential debate against John F. Kennedy back in 1960.
Fox no doubt has several reasons for pursuing the look one guest described as “Fox glam.” The advent of high-definition TV screens is probably one of them: saturated colors (including, conveniently, red) work well in HD. And then there’s the management. Gabriel Sherman, a journalist working on a book about Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, notes makeup’s unique role in Ailes’s creation myth, which dates to a fateful encounter with Richard Nixon. When Nixon lost to John F. Kennedy, in 1960, many said that his fate had been sealed by bad makeup during a televised debate. Before an appearance on The Mike Douglas Show seven years later, Nixon groused about having to stoop so low as to go on television; Ailes, the executive producer for the show, persuaded him to embrace the medium, and the makeup. Nixon hired him to work on his next presidential campaign, and won.
Ailes, Sherman points out, under-stands that while TV news may be journalism, it is also entertainment. “He works like a Broadway producer,” says Sherman (indeed, at one point Ailes was a Broadway producer). That, Sherman says, is why Fox sets look like stage sets: “The colors are brighter, the camera angles faster. Everything pops on the screen more, everything is eye candy.”
And finally it gets right down to this: Fox News’ audience largely consists of men — older men.
“They’re definitely pandering to a male audience,” says Meli Pennington, a makeup artist who runs a blog called Wild Beauty. Also, cable-news viewers tend to be older, so Fox may be specifically catering to the sensibilities of older men, she posits, by making women a little “brighter.” She means this literally. “You think of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends,” she says: “As he got older, they all get brighter and blonder. Look at Anna Nicole Smith. It’s like the large-print edition of women.”
The media critic Jack Shafer adds that the women you see on Fox are not just winsome, lavishly cosmeticized women, but winsome women paired with older men. He says the network almost appears to be taking a page from the theory of evolutionary psychology, which argues that women are attracted to prosperous (often older) men, and these men are attracted to women whose youth and curves signal fertility.
Kinda fascinating, no? However you feel about Roger Ailes and Fox News — and there’s plenty of people mad at them today for outing a member of the SEAL Team 6 — you kinda have to tip your cap to them for the way the science behind what they do.