After Chiara de Blasio released a video on Christmas Eve in which she revealed that she had long struggled with both depression and substance abuse, it didn’t take long (in fact, it took mere minutes) for the media to push aside the human element of the video (we are, after all, talking about a 19-year-old and her all-too-common experiences with depression, drinking and drugs) in order to explore the political angle of the story.
New York magazine’s Chris Smith writes that “because Chiara is the daughter of the mayor-elect, this is also, inescapably, a political story, and in some ways it’s emblematic of the new First Family’s style: at once open-hearted and highly calculated.” This is a sentiment that was echoed in both the New York Times and the New York Daily News among other publications, and is one that is valid and worth exploring. Chiara’s video is, after all, not only a highly professional, well-shot production that was released by her father’s team, but also became public on Christmas Eve. Timing is everything, and Christmas Eve is traditionally a dead news day when public figures can confidently release information with the implicit assurance that it will be dead in the water. (Also announced yesterday, Eliot and Silda Spitzer are officially filing for divorce, only important because it led to one of the better New York Post headlines of the year: “Spitz-ville.”) However, simply because there were political motivations behind releasing this video on Christmas Eve—or even the fact of of its release at all—does not negate either the message that Chiara delivers (which is that those who suffer from depression and substance abuse are not alone and should seek help), or the fact that it doesn’t make a politician some Machiavellian mastermind because he wants to take control of a media story that involves his teenage daughter. As Smith mentions in his article, reporters had already been hearing rumors about Chiara, so it makes perfect sense—both from the perspective of a politician and that of a parent—that Bill de Blasio would prefer to address these rumors on his own terms rather than have his daughter “exposed” in some sort of malicious takedown.
But so, while it is valid to say that this video is not really an example of the de Blasio family being incredibly open with the public, and that it is instead nothing more than a calculated political move, Smith and Mike Lupica of the Daily News (which, when did he start writing about things other than sports, and can he stop, please?) take the conversation in a really bizarre direction when they assert that the mayor-elect has always used his family as a prominent part of his campaigning, including with other shocking revelations that have come to light during de Blasio’s run for and subsequent election to the office of mayor. Smith predicts that it will be a”dramatic next four years” because of things like Chiara’s struggles with depression, drugs and alcohol, “Chirlane [McCray]’s lesbian past, [and] Dante’s ‘fro.” Which, wait. What? One of those things is not like the others. One of those things is not like the others at all. While I think that it is ridiculous for either Chiara or McCray to be in any way shamed for their pasts (and hate more than just about anything when situations like this are framed as “admissions,” as if it were a crime to have been depressed or had lesbian relationships), it is at least understandable in our society that pasts such as Chiara’s or McCray’s might be exploited by the media as examples of “skeletons in the closet” or some other ridiculous, puritanical thing. But why bring Dante’s Afro into the mix? How is the way a teenager wears his hair viewed as being as much of a provocation as finding out that Chiara has a history of substance abuse? Is it simply that these journalists have fallen prey to what my colleague Henry Stewart wrote about this summer, “white people’s obsession with black people’s hair“? Or is it that a teenager’s natural hairstyle is actually truly alarming to these people? Whatever the reason, it is a bizarre and false equivalency to jump from the fact that Chiara de Blasio suffers from depression to the fact that Dante de Blasio wears his hair naturally, and then to further reason that de Blasio’s mayoralty will therefore be full of drama. All any of these things prove is that the de Blasio family is human and not some android alien clan like the Romneys. Which, actually, is more than fine with me, and I’d imagine, most of the residents of New York.
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