Deconstructing March’s Martha Stewart Living

I am a food magazine impulse shopper. So much so, in fact, that two weeks ago I threw away a stack of food magazines that stacked up taller than me–and I was wearing heels!

Among my guilty food magazine pleasures are: 1) Cook’s Illustrated; 2) Bon Apetit; and 3) Saveur. (I subscribe to Gourmet, otherwise it would feature prominently on my list). Perhaps my guiltiest of guilty food magazine pleasures, though, is the magazine of America’s favorite WASPy convicted felon: Martha Stewart Living.

Now, I’m a Martha Stewart fan. I think her show is unintentionally hilarious: the remove between how she perceives herself and how others perceive her is astounding. It is amazing to me that someone can be a successful television personality with an audience barometer as off as hers. Does she not realize how ridiculous she sounds when she says things like: “The glorious aroma of ginger marinated rose petals is a real treat on Christmas morning.”

Even more delightful, though, are her exchanges with guests. Occassionally, an underling will assist Miss Martha with a recipe. You can see the fury in Martha’s eyes when the underling’s techniques are wrong. “Here, let me beat those eggs,” she’ll mutter, maintaining a level front while seething beneath the surface.

Nothing beats the bliss, though, of Martha’s exchanges with her mother. I love them. When Martha’s mom is on, the world melts away and I sit glued to the TV–waiting for a famous Martha-Mother moment of tension. My favorite went like this:

Martha: Mother, shouldn’t you be using a wooden spoon to stir that?

Mother: No, Martha, I think a metal spoon works just fine.

Martha (laughing, shaking her head): Ok, mother, very well.

Actually, that ranks second next to the time Martha brought up her mother’s age and intimated at her death. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but it went something like this:

Martha: How old are you, mother?

Mother: A woman never reveals her age, Martha.

Martha (chuckling): Oh, mother. (to camera) Mother is 80 years old and still kicking. Though (sadly) grandmother only lived to 82.

[Strained silence.]

Mother: That’s true, Martha. Now shut the fuck up.*

* = Poetic license.

Yes, so I am a true Martha Stewart fan. I had to tear the cable box from my room several months ago because I would stay up until 2:30 just to watch her on the Food Network. Now they don’t even play her late at night any more. Things ain’t like they used to be.

This month’s Martha Stewart Living looks like it usually does:

But beneath the surface, crackles the shame and horror of Martha’s criminal conviction. I will now employ my skills as a former English/Creative Writing major and deconstruct the text of page 8’s “Letter From Martha.”

Historically, the March issue of Martha Stewart Living has focused on gardening, an area of continuing and growing interest to the American homemaker.

Martha begins with a subtle show of contempt for America and its homemakers. Her use of the word “historically” underlies a sense superiority. She is really saying: “I read history, dumbasses, and you don’t. So suck it.”

Gardens surround our homes with greenery in the form of shade trees and shrubs, they provide color and scent through flower beds and cutting gardens, and they even give us delicious flavors and healthy nutrition in vegetable patches.

Here, Martha uses the metaphor of a “garden” to describe the American public. “Greenery” should be read as lawyers: they provide shade (sunglasses) and are frequently shrubs (short Jewish men). Flower beds and cutting gardens are gay men providing color, scent, and scathing testimony from Douglas Faneuil, the prosecution’s star witness. Vegetable patches are, of course, the handicapped, elderly and mentally unstable who provide “nutrition” by continuing to feed Martha’s waning empire. (I count myself in this category).

For the past several months, I have been happily immersed in scores of wonderfully written and beautifully illustrated garden catalogs.

Martha confuses “garden catalogs” with “subpoenas” and “affadavits.”

They never cease to amaze me and inspire me to try new species, plant new cultivars of old favorites, and expand my growing universe of plants to include things I never dreamed I could grow because of pre-conceived notions of zone restrictions and soil conditions….with forethought and experimentation, my garden can become more diverse and more botanically interesting.

Touchingly, Martha uses the garden metaphor to prepare for the likelihood of lesbian activity in prison. Her willingness to “experiment” with “new species,” eschewing “notions of zone restrictions,” brings, for Martha, the promise of a more “diverse” and “botanically interesting” garden. Chlamydia anyone?

There’s always more to learn, and recently, I was lucky enough to visit the western Washington garden of Nancy Heckler….No matter where one walks, looks, or sits in Nancy’s garden, there is something to see, to touch, to smell, and to taste.

Martha takes the lesbian motif to an extreme, “see[ing]”, “touch[ing]”, “smell[ing]”, and “tast[ing]” Nancy’s garden. Poor Nancy becomes a victim of a grand and intricate Martha Stewart prison rehearsal scheme.

To explore this unusual terrain yourself, see “Vegetables, Beautiful Vegetables” on page 100. MARTHA STEWART.

Guilding the lily, Martha prostitutes her friend’s garden to the general public. A cool, insensitive ending to a severely cloaked and troubling essay, Martha’s letter reveals a woman at the end of her rope. How long she can hang on depends on her resilience, her inner-strength and the quality of leather her glove-maker employed when constructing her patent leather gloves.

Patent leather gloves. They’re a good thing.

1 thought on “Deconstructing March’s Martha Stewart Living”

  1. I have to tell you about my favorite Martha Stewart TV moment.

    Some years ago I went through a period where I was having severe anxiety problems and almost never left my apartment. I watched Martha Stewart Living every morning, along with the requisite soap operas. One spring day she did a segment on a Mother’s Day craft project for kids–I think it was some kind of decorated tin-can vase thing. A group of kids were brought in to help with the demonstration, from an English-as-a-second-language class Martha’s sister was teaching. As I recall, there were about ten Asian girls ranging from 6ish to 10ish. First Martha showed them how to make the craft project, then micromanaged each of them as they carried it out, finding fault with every little thing. At the end of the segment, Martha’s sister came out to take a group photo of everyone together. They gathered in for the picture. “I hope you all enjoy giving these gifts to your mothers on Sunday,” Martha began, and then she said something that really surprised me. “And you can think of me as your second mother,” she told the girls. I wish I had a copy of that photo, just for the startled, confused expression on their little faces.

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