• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Monday, June 29, 2009

IMAGE IS ALL-IMPORTANT

FARRAH: One of the most iconic images of the 20th century.

One name was enough.

Farrah.

One image launched a million fantasies.

Farrah.

Farrah Fawcett's death last week, from cancer, immediately reminded me of the above picture -- the largest-selling poster of all time. It's testimony to the power of an image and a tribute to those who pay attention to the details.

Yes, it was shot in a studio setting, with the lighting and makeup and pose just so right. I've always thought that while the tilted head, curly hair and one-piece swimsuit were sensational, what really made the shot was Farrah's full display of teeth. White and bright and full of promise.

Don't laugh. Look again -- and think about it.

This image is what cemented Farrah's place in the public's mindset for the rest of her life. Easily forgotten was the fact that she starred on the ground-breaking Charlie's Angels for only one season; that she left in a difficult contract dispute; that her movie career never reached the heights of one TV series in the 1970s.

It reminds me how overwhelmingly important image is in our celebrity-driven, People magazine, photo-op, sound-bite society.

Including motorsports. Kyle Busch's is set as the guy who smashed his guitar trophy in victory lane. Richard Petty will always be the "King." Dale Earnhardt is forever "The Intimidator." Under new and careful management from IMG, Danica Patrick obviously has softened her persona this season -- as she ponders her next contract and career move. Tony Stewart still has the Smoke, but maybe, less fire. Jimmie Johnson seems to have tried a bit of an image change, but it hasn't worked.

Image. It's something every track, team, driver, sponsor and sanction publicist needs to give a good, long, hard think on. And, like Farrah's poster, re-double efforts to pay attention to the details. Allowing drivers to appear with their uniforms pulled-down, or doing interviews in front of portable toilets, isn't paying attention to the Big Picture.

Meanwhile, Michael Jackson's sudden death served again to spotlight all that is wrong in the current media age. Wall-to-wall cable TV coverage. With very few details, the networks had to fill all that time one way or another. The absolute worst was Fox News allowing a TV psychic, who claimed to have once hypnotized Jackson, on. Actually, more than once. This nothing was bannered as a Jackson "friend" but admitted they had not spoken in years. It was THE most offense of time fillers . . . although the attention-seeking family attorneys and ex-attorneys and doctors guessing at the state of Jackson's physical and mental health came in a very, very, very close and disgusting second. It has been the biggest public and media spectacle since Princess Diana's death in 1997.
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My April 10, 2008 story on Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Arizona Republic won the gold medal in the personality profile category in the 2008 International Automotive Media Awards, results announced last week. This blog took the bronze medal for commentary.
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One day before his 72d birthday, and just before the 25th anniversary of his historic 200th NASCAR Cup victory, Richard Petty (left) will be Newsmaker of the Week on The Race Reporters Wednesday, 7 p.m. EDT. You can listen at http://powerupchannel.com/
. See links for iTunes and the show page over in the right-hand column. The show will re-air several times and can be heard "on demand" by clicking my show logo at the Power Up Channel site.

It's universally accepted that King Richard's win at Daytona, with President Ronald Reagan in attendance, stands as one of the most important days in NASCAR history. We'll ask Richard about that, as well as current topics, including his recent victory with Kasey Kahne at Infineon Raceway.

Joining me in questioning Richard will be longtime writer Lewis Franck, who now contributes to ESPN the Magazine and Reuters. Mike Harris, retiring that day after 30 years as AP's motorsports writer, will join us for the journalists' roundtable. In the final segment, Mike and I will talk about his own important career.

Upcoming guests:

July 8 -- Newsmaker: Ron Capps. Panelists: Jim Pedley, Jeff Burk, Alan Reinhart.

July 15 -- Newsmaker: Scott Atherton. Panelists: Larry Edsall, Greg Creamer, Jonathan Ingram.

July 22 -- Newsmaker: Ray Evernham. Panelists: Ed Hinton, Bob Pockrass.

[ Richard Petty interview news nugget Thursday . . . ]