In the weeks following the shocking attacks of September 11, Star Jones, one of several TV hosts on ABC's television show The View, loudly and publicly proclaimed her belief that atheists are by nature less ethical than other people, that they are unfit for elected office, and that she would therefore cast her vote against an atheist no matter what. (See sidebar for just a few of her comments) This statement confused many Americans, given that all of the hijackers responsible for the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City justified their violence on the grounds of religious belief. Star Jones's remarks quickly became notorious, associated with the statements of Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson blaming atheists and gays for the September 11 attacks.National protests against The View and Payless Shoes, which uses Star Jones as a spokesperson, have followed her comments. Speculation is high among advertising professionals that many of her lucrative television contracts will soon be canceled. Indeed, it appears increasingly likely that Payless Shoes will drop Star Jones in favor of a less offensive celebrity representative.
Many people have criticized The View and Payless Shoes for using Star Jones as a host and a spokesperson. They claim that employing Star Jones is unethical, given her extremist prejudice against cultural minorities. They argue that Star Jones acts as a public enemy to constitutional freedoms, such as equal treatment of all citizens regardless of religious status and the guarantee that government will not work to establish official religious practice. Some also point out that Star Jones' attitudes are incompatible with a modern society in which diversity is celebrated instead of persecuted. They note her double standard, expecting minorities of certain types to be treated with respect while proudly insulting minorities of other types.
These criticisms have some merit. Nonethless, I won't devote this article to further articulating the arguments against Star Jones that are made on ethical grounds. Ethics can be debated for years without resolution
Neither will I make legal arguments about how Star Jones "must" be fired from her job on The View and terminated as a spokesperson for Payless Shoes. The fact is that Star Jones has the legal right to insult whoever she wants. The First Amendment guarantees all people who live in the United States the right to say whatever they want, as long as they do so as private citizens and not members of the government. Star Jones has the right to be a bigot, to say the offensive things she says. ABC has a right to give her airtime with which to spout off discriminatory invective, if it so wishes. We don't have to like it, but popularity is not a prerequisite for free speech.
Instead, I'm going to get practical and focus on tactics. The plain fact is that using someone like Star Jones as a TV host or as a advertising spokesperson shows a lack of business sense.
Fallen Star Jones - Bad for Business Bigot
With a show like The View, it's the job of ABC producers to make sure that the hosts are stimulating and enjoyable to watch. Depending on the show, the hosts might even be a little provocative. What the host must not do, however, is to directly insult a large and affluent group of viewers as Star Jones has made a habit of doing.
It's true that there have been some television shows that have featured offensive, unlikable hosts. Mort Downey Jr.'s show from the late 80s and early 90s comes to mind. Mort Downey Jr. hit it big at first, with high ratings and lots of mass media attention resulting from his gay bashing and chain smoking. Before long, however, his hateful on-screen personality self-destructed and his show hit the skids. By the end of the 1990s, he acknowledged that his own son was gay and died as a result of lung disease. Mort Downey Jr.'s show is hardly a formula for long-term success. Besides, Mort Downey Jr.'s show was on late at night and was aimed at an entirely different audience than The View, which relies upon a much broader market for its advertising revenue.
Atheists: A Powerful Minority
Conservative Christians like Star Jones may not realize it, but atheists and other non-religious people are a large and very powerful minority. There are more people who describe themselves as "atheist" or who otherwise describe themselves as without religion in the United States than Jews and Muslims combined (Sources: 2002 General Social Survey, 2001 American Religious Identification Survey). There are almost as many atheist and other non-religious Americans as there are African-Americans. More than one in every ten Americans is an atheist or agnostic, and the ranks of atheists and agnostics are increasing. The reason so many people are unaware of this is that atheists are a largely invisible minority. Atheists look like everyone else and act mostly like everyone else except for what they don't do, which is participate in religious activities. The fact is that the majority of people who say that they are religious don't participate in religious activities either, so atheists blend in very well. Most people just assume that the atheists in their lives are religious. Many atheists go along with this charade out of fear of persecution. Comments of public figures like Star Jones demonstrate that this fear is well-founded.
What many people, even advertising and marketing professionals, are unaware of is that atheists are an affluent minority. Atheists are on average more educated than people who believe in God, and they tend to have higher financial incomes as well. Advertisers typically avoid associating the products they represent with television shows and celebrities that offend large groups of people with lots of money to spend. Unfortunately, Payless Shoes and The View forgot about this principle when they hired Star Jones, who has quickly established a very negative reputation among atheists.
As they consider the possibility of ending their associations with Star Jones, ABC and Payless Shoes would also do well to consider that Jones's comments anger many others than just atheists, agnostics and freethinkers. The majority of Americans believe in a complete separation of church and state, including the distinction between religion and politics. Some of this majority may well tolerate the bigoted statement of Star Jones against people who do not share her beliefs about making religion a litmus test for political office, but most do. Star Jones and her stand against basic standards of democracy and decency have offended quite a large number of people in addition to those who consider themselves non-religious.
Before it began its advertising campaign with Star Jones, Payless Shoes already had a strong, well-recognized and valued brand. With such a successful brand, bringing in a celebrity spokesperson is a big risk because the perceived qualities of the spokesperson will become associated with the brand in the minds of consumers. The generally agreed upon rule among marketing professionals is that a celebrity spokesperson should not be associated with a successful brand unless the celebrity adds something to the brand image without bringing any risk of new negative brand associations. Payless ignored this rule when it hired Star Jones as its spokesperson.
Proof, the Pudding and the Peril of Annoying Consumers
It may seem to some readers that atheists are making a mountain out of a molehill, that nobody but atheists care about Star Jones's holier-than-thou self-righteous insults against those who do not share her particular passion for God and Jesus. Perhaps the people at Payless Shoes and The View thought that the judgmental, fundamentalist qualities of Star Jones would bring an entertainingly provocative excitement to daytime television, titilating viewers with the mystery of what rude, bigoted remarks would come out of her mouth next.
Star: Everyone was mad when I said on the television that I wouldn't vote for an Atheist, but it's interesting that the Oath of office of the President is with "so help me God." So who would the Atheists be talking to if they weren't given the Oath? I mean you gotta have someone!
Joy: I think that's religious discrimination that you would say you wouldn't vote for an Atheist. What does that have to do with doing his job as President? That's like saying, "I wouldn't vote for a black man." It's the same thing.
Star: Absolutely not the same thing. I think it is absolutely important for you to be led by a higher power so you feel as if you have some responsibility -- not just to man. I would never even consider it. Anybody got a problem with it, its your problem!
Joy: O.K. that's fine. I'm just saying ... All I'm giving you is a hypothetical point of view.
Lisa: Just out of curiosity, would you vote for someone who is a Muslim?
Star: ...If that person was a good person. I'm not as concerned with the manner in which....
Meredith: You could be a very good person and not believe in God, but the question -- it doesn't necessarily apply if you believe or don't believe.
Star: ...you wouldn't get my vote. I mean you could be a nice person -- you could baby-sit my kids -- possibly -- but that doesn't mean you would get my vote because you got your finger on the button. I want you to feel like there are long term, everlasting ramifications.
When I vote, I make decisions on political candidates, based on how I think they will act, vote, direct and lead during certain situations ... and I want that person to be led by God. An atheist, as I understand the term dies not believe that there is a God. Given a choice between someone who knows the power of a spiritual presence bigger than they, that moves them to have values, to have morals, to have made a mistake and to know forgiveness versus someone who has never understood the gift of a personal relationship with God ... the choice is clear for me. I want a president who is God Knowing ... I do not want an American President who does not believe that God is real and present in our lives. I support each persons (sic) right to make political decisions based on issues that matter to them ... but quite frankly, this is not even a close call for me. If that bothers people... then that is truly their problem. I plan to be steadfast and unmovable in my stand for God.
Is Star Jones seriously claiming that a "stand for God" requires the political segregation of atheists and other non-religious people?
They couldn't have been more wrong. It turns out that the people who watch Star Jones on The View and pushing pumps for Payless Shoes find her to be one of the most annoying people in all of history.
How do we know? We found out on Am I Annoying, a web site that allows visitors to rate celebrities according to whether they are or are not, you know, annoying.
On the Am I Annoying web site, Star Jones has been given an 82.12 percent irritation rating by 3640 voters. That means that 82.12 percent of the people who visited the site find Star Jones to be irritating. Clearly, it's not just atheists and other non-religious people that Star Jones manages to offend.
Is it possible that the people who visit the Am I Annoying web site are just a cranky bunch who find all celebrities annoying? Not at all. We here at Funny Money conducted a quick survey of the Am I Annoying web site and found the following irritation ratings for other well known celebrities:
Sacharrine-sweet boy band 98 degrees received a lowly irritation rating of 43.91 percent. Heck, even Siskel and Ebert, who can't even stand each other, received only an irritation rating of 57.32 percent! Apparently, Star Jones stands head and shoulders above most other celebrities in her ability to alienate the public at large.
We didn't realize just how irritating Star Jones is to the public until we compared her irritation rating to that of a particularly reviled group: serial murderers. We thought for sure that these bloodthirsty killers would make Star Jones look good, but we were wrong (Remember, Star Jones has an irritation rating of 82.12 percent).
Wow! Even when compared with serial killers, Star Jones has no serious competition as an irritant. Okay, to be fair, we did find one serious rival for Star Jones in the index of famous irritants: the IRS. Star Jones is considered just a little bit more irritating than the IRS, which has an irritation rating of 81.01 percent. Keep in mind that we sampled the latest irritation rating of the IRS just two weeks after tax returns were due on April 15.
The point of these measurements is obvious. Even when compared to the most notorious individuals and institutions of history, Star Jones comes out as among the most irrititating things of all time! This isn't just our opinion here at Funny Money. It's also the opinion of 3640 people we've never met who just happened to visit the Am I Annoying web site.
As the index of irritating celebrities shows, there are plenty of famous people that the public is quite comfortable with. Star Jones is not one of them. Apparently, something like only 18 percent of television viewers find her to be tolerable.
Why would Payless Shoes hire someone so obnoxious and alientating as Star Jones to promote its business? For that matter, why would ABC hire her to insult members of the viewing audience from her seat on The View? Is it performance art, or something?
I'll leave the ethical judgments to others. All I know is that hiring a bigot like Star Jones is bad for business, plain and simple. As the marketing executives at Payless Shoes consult on how to distance their brand from the walking PR disaster that is Star Jones, their eventual decision is becoming increasingly clear. Star Jones will either be taken off the air or take Payless Shoes down with her.
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