Help the European guy: Who's Martha Stewart?

I’ve been seeing a lot of references in popular culture lately to a Martha Stewart. I think I’ve narrowed her down to some sort of cook or interior decorator with her own show. But she seems to be widely regarded as evil (e.g. The Simpson, God, the Devil, and Bob, and a recent Sinfest comic.)
I’m European, so I don’t know who she is, and what she did to deserve this evil image. Could you help me out?

Well, Martha is basically a home decorator. I don’t recall her being known for anything else. She started a magazine basically built around her (“Living”?). I think she had a TV show on the same principle. The topics were basically home crafts, decoration, and making your house look really nice with an investment of time and only a little money. She presented an image of being a super-woman, able to decorate nicely and come up with awesome crafts and ideas in moments.
She started her own company to take advantage of this and sold household items like bedspreads and pillows and towels. It was quite a popular line. However, she apparently got involved in insider trading - a friend gave her a tip that her investment in IMClone, a biotech firm, was going to go south fast, as the FDA (Food and Drug Administration, licenses medicines) was going to reject their drug. There were several others cought, but she was the only big name.
What then happened was that she tried to hide it, and the FTC (Federal Trade Commission, handles stocks and securities investigations) was not pleased. She would have faced some penalties for the insider trading, but she now faces serious jail time. Ironically, the amount she saved on the insider deal was a piddling few thousand, when she’s worth millions, and now her company is being kicked in the groin. Noone wants to buy her stuff, since she’s such an arse.

I see. Thanks, Bandit.

The hatred of her is about her air of complacent perfection. She spends truly insane amounts of time doing things that don’t necessarily need to be done (you want to make a peanut butter sandwich? Start by growing the peanuts…). Her persona arouses feelings of guilt and disbelief in those of us who are doing the best we can just to hang on and go to work and deal with homes and families, not necessarily make every single effin’ Christmas ornament by hand.

I’ve spent years trying to figure out my fascination with this woman who is so the opposite of who I am and what my values are – and I don’t think I’m alone in my riveted ambivalence.

The depth of the joy that news of her discomfiture brought cannot be exaggerated.

Could someone jump in here and explain why we all have such strong feelings about Martha Stewart? God knows she’s not just* a hawker of lifestyle wares.

Not to mention she’s quite fake in the “perfect” image she portrays. Also, apparently she pissed her neighbors off quite a bit a few years back. Her show was filmed at her house and the set lighting was so bright the neighbors complained until she stopped.

Overall, my impression of her is that she’s an evil Betty Crocker.

Martha Stewart actually began her current career in the catering business, and expanded from there. More of her television program is devoted to food than decor. has a good summary of her life. And of course, visit the official website.

The irrrational anger in this rant is a good indication of why Martha Stewart is in trouble.

Martha Stewart may be a nice person or a total witch. I don’t know her, have never met her, have never talked to her, and know very little about her. Fact is, she’s VERY easy to avoid and ignore. But there are scads of people out there who’d rather despise her than ignore her.

How the heck does she “make” anyone feel guilty? She teaches people how to cook, decorate their houses and throw parties. If that interests you, great! Readher magazine and watch her TV show. If that doesn’t interest you, or if you just don’t have the time and money to do those things, that’s fine too! NOBODY is forcing you to read her magazine or watch her show. Martha Stewart isn’t barging into your house and forcing you to make doilies! If you loathe her with every fiber of your being, that’s a pitiful reflection on YOU, not a reflection on her.

Emeril Lagasse does a TV show and teaches people how to cook Cajun food. Does anybody sit in front of the TV and yell, “Hey Emeril, you jerk, maybe I don’t FEEL like making gumbo! Ever think of that? Maybe I’ve worked hard all day, and I just want to send out for a pizza! Who the hell are you to make me feel guilty about not cooking fancy dinners? And what’s that “BAM” nonsense? Look at him, acting like Mr. Nice Guy. I bet Emeril is a real jerk in person!”

Bob Ross used to do a show teaching people how to do landscape painting. Did anybody rant about what a “phony” he was? Did anybody curse him, or accuse him of making them feel guilty for not painting “happy little trees”?

Bob Vila does shows teaching people how to do home repair. Do people get angry at him? Do people write exposes about Bob Via, or dig for dirt on him?

NO! NOBODY does that. People either like those guys and watch their shows or they don’t like those guys and they change the channel. Why people can’t treat Martha Stewart the same way is puzzling.

I imagine the fact that she also has a magazine and so many products has something to do with it. She’s rather visible.

I’d also add that because she does this very domestic character, it’s that much funnier to make the jokes about how evil she is.

Astorian, I do ignore Martha Stewart’s existence most of the time (just so you know I’m not a Martha-hating-obsessive before I start).

But she’s virtually un-ignorable. At least, to many of us homemaking moms–and there are a lot of us. Many of our friends are Martha fans, and spend a lot of tome and effort on home decorating and so on.

It seems to me that there is an element of guilt and “you really should be like this” that goes with Martha Stewart that isn’t present in other Emeril/Bob Vila types. Maybe because she is (er, was) on the top of the heap? Perhaps because a lot of women still feel remnants of the old cultural imperative to have a clean, attractive home no matter what else is going on in their lives. Actually, I guess it isn’t so old. And I’d like to have that too–it’s just that with a 3-yo and a newborn, it’s not possible right now.

Anyway, I think a lot of people look at Martha Stewart’s stuff and instantly feel guilty about what they’re not doing, even if they don’t want to collect milk glass or 30’s dishware, and don’t like profiteroles or whatever it is she wants us to bake now. Not to mention the gardening and the crafts. (I like gardening, I hate crafts. I quilt, though.) Bob Vila doesn’t make me feel guilty for not building my own Craftsman cottage; maybe because I can look at his stuff and say, “hey, that would be neat to do someday. Maybe I will” --whereas I feel like Martha wants me to go produce a topiary right now. I’ve never seen Emeril. Actually, I’ve never seen more than 5 minutes of Martha’s show. But I used to work at an upscale bakery where several people were Martha acolytes.

Sorry about the incoherency here, but I’m holding a baby.

What astorian said.

Also, there’s a strong element of jealousy around the disdain many have for her. She built a huge empire around basically giving cooking tips (built into a multimedia conglomerate offering tv shows, magazines, online shopping, household goods, etc.), and when she went public, she was actually a billionaire.

Frankly, I’m very impressed with her on a number of levels, from her ability as a chef to her ability as a business woman. (In fact, I have a strange fascination with her that amuses my wife no end, but that’s another story.)

She’s broken a few eggs along the way. She had a failed marriage and she’s supposed to be very detail-oriented and steps on people that get in her way, but that’s how you get from here to there sometimes.

In my opinion, she’s gotten a bum rap over this insider trading thing; it was for a very small amount of money and there doesn’t seem to be any actual evidence of wrong-doing. But I suspect I side with her because I like her; the same reason that people who despise her don’t side with her and feel karma is biting her in the ass. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

Irrational anger? IRRATIONAL ANGER? I’ll show you irrational anger!

Seriously, astorian – I think genie’s onto something when she mentions gender roles. No matter how “liberated” we career gals are, no matter how strongly feminist our mothers may have been, the imperative to “make homes” has crept into many (most?) women’s consciousness. The whole cooking, cleaning, crafts, decorating, thing – the making of the home – is (has been) seen to be women’s work. Martha Stewart presents an ideal of that that is not truly attainable by an actual human being leading the messy disasters that most of us call our lives – Martha pulls it off because she has a staff of however many that she treats like doo-doo (according to friends of friends, the gossip columns, etc – IOW, no actual cites). This leaves us feeling guilty and angry, and ambivalent about our guilt and anger, and angry about our ambivalnce, and guilty about or anger, and…

You get the idea. It’s not so simple as irrational hatred – there’s a whole maelstrom of mixed emotions about who and what we’re “supposed” to be as women.

And the whole smugness thing doesn’t help. :slight_smile:

I once saw her lose her cool demeanor on her show once. She was cutting an acorn squash in half, and the squash was a bit stubborn and her knife got stuck. She started smacking it against the cutting board, harder and harder, her forehead wrinkling as a Norman Bates-esque vacant hatred crept into her gaze. Then the squash finally split. I have no doubt that had it not split, there would have been a mass butcher knife murder of the film crew in her kitchen that evening…

Have you seen the show where she cooked Polish food with her “Mother Martha”? Her real mom? You can really see what she’s like on that one, and where it comes from.

There was an NBC show on Martha Stewart (played by Cybill Shepherd) that was kind of enlightening. I don’t know how much of it was actually based in fact, but if it was - hoo boy.

I admit to ordering stuff from her website and reading the magazine, watching the show, getting some stuff from K-Mart, and even getting her catalog (which was VERY pricey - but very nice stuff). I used to get a subscription for the magazine for my mother every year. But then, she asked me to stop. “Why?” I asked. She said, “That woman makes me tired.”

What I find amazing is that given how she acts, or rather is perceived to act, if it were a man in the same position it would not be a news story. When a man acts aggressively, it’s part of being a man, when a woman does, she’s a bitch, or worse. To paraphrase Martha’s catchphrase, it’s NOT a good thing.

That said, she should be prosecuted for illegal activity, same as anyone else.

Martha Stewart, indicted… It’s a good thing.

No. Any why? Because there is no justice in this world, dammit. Bob Vila - how I despise him! The putz. With his neatly trimmed beard and his clean polo shirts. The bastard! With the Sears commercials…and the constant product placement in his show (“Ah yes, Riley, I see you are using Georgia Pacific veneered plywood”)…and the boring neverending tours of antibellum mansions…and…and…

It’s a construction site, Bob! Lose the loafers and the khaki slacks! You’ve been a self-styled home improvement guru for decades and you don’t even look like you could saw your way out of a wet paper pag!

You have done the impossible – you have actaully gotten me to like Steve Thomas in comparison. You’re a poser. Norm carried your sorry ass all those years, man!

[sub]there. I feel better.

And don’t even get me started on Emeril.[/sub]

But I always liked Martha. With her come hither eyes and her impressive rack
[sub]of All-Clad cookware.[/sub]

I am not a Martha fanatic (no magazines, sheets, whatever) but I can see why people are irritated by her smug and “I’m better than you” persona. I hope that’s not what she really intends the public to see, but it does come off that way. From what I understand, her magazines include a calendar of what she’s doing, and paints her as this hyper-efficient do-it-all. “It’s the end of November, you really should have finished all your Christmas shopping and have started making homemade wrapping paper by now.” I just laugh; whatever. The truth is, she has a dozen hired hands do the nitty gritty for her, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, but she takes the credit for all of it. What it may come down to is that her real personality is so different from what she shows in public, and while everyone is like that to a certain extent, hers is so stark that it is easy to poke at.

If she didn’t hold herself out to be the perfect domestic goddess, I think people would give her more slack.

As for comparing her to someone like Emeril, I’ve watched Emeril a couple of times and he seems to really enjoy what he’s doing and isn’t so exacting and eager to project an image of perfection. He just looks like he’s having fun, while Martha seems to be preoccupied with image and appearances.

Exactly! I once watched one of Martha’s Christmas specials, and one guest was Julia Child. You can tell that Martha really admired and was somewhat in awe of Julia, and that she was excited to do a project with her. It was some some thing with little pastry balls that were piled up into a conical shape. Martha’s, of course, was 100 percent perfectly symmetrical – Julia just started slapping hers together any old way. You could see Martha’s internal battle reflected on her face – the need to “fix” Julia’s array vs. the fact that it was Julia Child who was slapping this mess together.

I laughed, I cheered …

But of course, eveyone knows that Martha Stewart is really an evil warlord

No one is mentioning the rumor factor. Martha Stewart is often described as cold, bitchy and unreasonably demanding by various people who come in contact with her.

I’ve come in contact with her, too. She didn’t kick my puppy or anything, so I can’t say the woman is evil. She seemed to have a “don’t f*ck with me” attitude, but then again she might have had a bad day. Not the nicest of people, at that particular time.

she is a jerk. i don’t buy things that jerks promote. she tramples on those that work for her.

for me it is not gender, it is,“are you a jerk”. long ago the frugal gourmet was all over the place. he was at a book and cook thing at strawbridges in phila. the first thing he did when he walked in the store was say: " i will not sign a book for anyone that works in this store." he then found fault with the chair, the table, the lighting, etc.

there is a way to say things and get things done with out trampling on people, neither martha or jeff could do it. my mom never watched the frugal gourmet after we talked to friends at strawbridges and she threw out his cookbook.

of course a few years later the frugal gourmet ended up on the wrong side of the law as well, for a much, much, worse charge than those martha is facing.