The prospects of publicity and the prospects of qualification

TMZ reports that Vivid Entertainment has offered to pay off the mortgage, including a past due balloon payment, of “Octomom” Nadya Suleman, enabling her to avoid foreclosure. Tracy Clark-Flory, writing for, notes that this appears to be a reduced offer from the $1 million of last year. Suleman, whose obsessions include not only making babies but becoming an Angelina Jolie look-alike, would be required to star in a porn film.

For this, Clark-Flory calls the company “the X-rated equivalent of an ambulance-chaser.” But stigmatized businesses often operate on the premise that any publicity is good publicity. We might find it distasteful (I certainly do), but I think Clark-Flory had a more salient point when she wrote, “The recession has so many feeling profoundly hopeless — and for women, true economic desperation often means selling our bodies in one way or another.”

These are indeed desperate times. Gallup has begun measuring underemployment with a daily poll that’s worth noting if for no other reason than its definition of underemployment: “Gallup classifies Americans as underemployed if they are unemployed or working part-time but wanting full-time work.” As Carlton Meyer of Sanders Research put it, “an honest man would count anyone who would like to work as unemployed.” Gallup is doing this and more, while Meyer catalogs the ways the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not, thus reducing the number of people in the labor market and reducing the unemployment rate it reports as a headline number in its press releases.

As of March 21st, Gallup reports a 30-day rolling average underemployment rate of 20.2 percent. The despair is overwhelming. Last month, Gallup reported “that 61% of the underemployed are not hopeful they will find a job within the next four weeks, while 39% are hopeful.” It’s worst in two of the categories that apply to me: “Nearly three-quarters of underemployed Americans aged 50 to 65 (71%) are not hopeful about finding a job within four weeks, making them the demographic group with the lowest likelihood of being hopeful” and “nearly two-thirds [65 percent] of those with a college degree or postgraduate education are not hopeful, making them the educational group that is least likely to be hopeful.” But the proportion of people in the midwest who are not hopeful (64 percent) edges out the proportion in the west (62 percent). (I have a Master’s degree, I’m fifty years old, and I live in California.)

But I tie any meaning to be drawn from the Suleman saga more to my own intense distaste for marketing. “Octomom,” with fourteen kids and counting, seems to have relied upon publicity as a means to financial support throughout her whole tawdry tale. I may find it even more distasteful than the thought of seeing her in a porn flick, but the idea that people who sell themselves successfully out-compete those with actual competence resonates with the whole of my life experience. As Suleman has bounced from one instance of publicity to another, she may not have developed a positive or even sympathetic image, but she has somehow kept herself and her fourteen children fed, clothed, and housed without any traditional means of gainful employment.

Dubious though it may be, that’s an accomplishment. And we may expect that Suleman’s prospects will continue to outshine mine for some time yet to come. That should turn a spotlight more on our society than upon an obviously disturbed woman.

(UPDATE: A more complete account of Suleman’s situation, including something of how public opinion turned against her is available in this CTV News story.)

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