Alexandra Jones: Mulling over Martha

BY ALEXANDRA JONES
Auto-Neurotic
Published March 10, 2005

During Spring Break, while we carefree students were vacationing in exotic, nonarctic locales, mooching off our parents or sleeping through another week in Ann Arbor, Martha Stewart was released from prison. I knew it was official when my mother brought home a wad of Martha’s precious brand name dishtowels from Kmart and — as if Ms. Stewart’s iron-willed primness was an airborne contagion — told me not to get them “dirty.”

Alexandra Jones

This column has borne both my secret media-related confessions before, and this week won’t be any different: I’m sort of fascinated by Martha Stewart.

Not in the “What an admirable female role model” kind of way, or even in the “How does she make her pie crust so flaky and delicious?” kind of way, but in the “Oh my god, her anal perfectionism and onscreen personality are utterly appalling, but I sort of wish I could make my very own copper-lined window boxes and bake a perfect apricot tart” way. I see Martha as a total whackjob who’s somehow convinced Americans that her advice is foolproof, her recipes delicious and her empire indestructible.

That image is not entirely her fault, of course: Martha’s perfectionism and emphasis on homemaking, despite her status as the CEO of a multimillion dollar company, causes me to associate her with other conservative values. It’s like if Ann Coulter wasn’t such a fucking loudmouth lunatic and instead focused her energy on setting an impeccable Thanksgiving table. Which actually wouldn’t bother me all that much.

I remember the rare summer mornings when I’d roll out of bed before 11 a.m. and, barely conscious, gape at Martha playing with her chow chows (Paw Paw and Chin Chin – duh!) and discussing soil acidity with various experts. I’d look at her kitchen, with its walls studded with Revolutionary War-era copper cake molds and double convection ovens and rows of preserves lining the shelves and wish I had that kitchen and that I could afford such nice ingredients and cool gadgets and a beautiful shiny stand mixer.

So I wonder: Why save Martha? While she stood trial for lying under oath about insider trading, a movement sprung up to support her: SaveMartha.com has provided an outlet for Martha’s fans to express their admiration for and devotion to their unjustly indicted and incarcerated champion. Supporters can host a Save Martha party, where they can simultaneously “Celebrate the release of Martha Stewart and the beginning of her amazing comeback” and “Show off your hosting skills.” The site also encouraged people to welcome Martha back by thronging her March 6 release from prison in Alderson, West Virginia, right next to a call for photos of your work if you’ve “Martha-ized your home, office or pets.” Visitors to the site are exhorted to be “Martha Evangelizers” by telling friends about the website and Martha’s second coming.

Okay, okay, I’m a homemaker on the inside, and that’s why I’m envious of Martha’s stranglehold on American domesticity. Understandable, right? So who the hell are the people behind SaveMartha.com — middle-aged housewives? Some new feminist splinter group? Female executives, businesswomen and CEOs?

Based on the site design, I’m betting on the first option — but SaveMartha.com is nothing if not comprehensive. The News section brings up the most recent Yahoo! News articles about her — and just about anyone connected with her. One item concerns “Inside Edition” host Deborah Norville, who will host the show from Martha’s Long Island home while experiencing a 24-hour house arrest. She’ll even wear an ankle bracelet just like the one used to monitor our Ms. Stewart. Because being stuck in the home of a super-rich worldwide celebrity for a whole damn day must really make you value your freedom.

Whatever their motivation, the SaveMartha.com supporters have it all wrong. Sure, she’s a self-made, wildly successful businesswoman, she’s divorced and she makes a mean cucumber salad. But the only good that can come out of Stewart’s exposure and her rabid following will be activism on Martha’s part. On her website, marthastewart.com, she writes, “Someday, I hope to have the chance to talk more about … the extraordinary people I have met here, and all that I have learned. I can tell you now that I feel very fortunate to have had a family who nurtured me, the advantage of an excellent education, and the opportunity to pursue the American dream … I will never forget the friends I met here, all that they have done to help me during these five months, their children, and the stories they have told me.” If Martha starts stumping for prison reform, I might start liking her ideas, not just that gorgeous kitchen.

 

Alexandra will be spending her weekend making a lovely household accessory out of some tree bark and dandelions. E-mail her with more style tips at almajo@umich.edu.