"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 13 November 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

The Mediatrix



Lynne Russell puts the "top" in

top-down media.


The prime-time weekday anchor on

CNN's Headline News, Russell

possesses an uncommon ability to

"massage and romance the camera"

(as Headline News Executive Vice

President Jon Petrovich puts

it), though her on-camera

subtext is pure dominance and

bondage - Network's ball-busting

Faye Dunaway meets The Avengers'

leather-clad Emma Peel.


[Sex Bar, Not Heath Bar]

Russell often wears her long,

Cherry Coke-colored hair in a

tousled version of bondage pinup

Bettie Page's Prince Valiant

'do, its artfully mussed abandon

suggestive of postcoital

languor. There's a retro S&M

quality to her tight-sweatered

curves, recalling the hyperbolic

glories of muscle cars,

Minuteman rockets, and Jayne

Mansfield. On occasion, she

sports a red jacket with gold

trim that looks like Wacko

Jacko's idea of a Mountie's

tunic, or a black blazer that is

equal parts soccer mom and Wild




But it's the delicious cruelty of

her broad, vulpine mouth, an

ear-to-ear slash of red

lipstick, that makes her the

dominatrix of subliminal

seduction. That, and her

unsettling habit of punctuating

even the grimmest items with an

incongruous smirk. Her

sang-froid in the face of each

evening's body count shades, at

times, into an almost Sadean

relish; with her sardonic

half-smile and raised eyebrow,

she pushes the unflappable

composure of the traditional

anchor to just this side of Greg

Kinnear-level postmodern irony.



If this sounds like one man's

overheated hermeneutics,

consider Mark Leyner's

description of Russell, in

August's Esquire: "Xena, Warrior

Princess, of anchorwomen." Or

the Atlanta magazine cover that

features her in a leather

miniskirt, matching jacket, and

high heels that are a

fetishist's wet dream, flashing

a look that says, "On your

knees, worm!" The article,

"CNN's Secret Agent," is a

heavy-breathing puff piece that

makes much of Russell's

off-camera alter egos: private

investigator, reserve deputy

sheriff, and practitioner of

Choi Kwang-Do. "The hearts of

male viewers race when Headline

News's sultry Lynne Russell

reads the news," pants the

story's lead. "But don't make a

pass, buster. She's a volunteer

law officer, private

investigator, and bodyguard with

a first-degree black belt."


[Guns n Girls]

Playing on the Freudian symbolism

of a spike-heeled anchorbabe

packing a rod, the author notes

that Russell carries a "sleek,

purposeful" SIG Sauer 9mm

handgun, color-coordinated "in a

tastefully muted black that goes

with everything" - a sex(y)

pistol that "causes a jump in

the heart rate" when she

"reaches under her coat" and

whips it out for the author's



The coy revelation, in a People

profile, that her husband gave

her a thigh holster for

Christmas neatly encapsulates

the seducer-enforcer duality

that gives Russell her S&M

frisson. Journalistic odes to

her killer-diller looks and sexy

weaponry cast her as Freud's

Phallic Woman - a timeless

archetype incarnated in other

pistol-packin' mamas such as

Anne Parillaud in La Femme

Nikita and Drew Barrymore in




Obviously, the institutionalized

sexism of TV news and celebrity

journalism conspire to contain

Russell's power by locating its

source in her sex appeal. The

Atlanta profile downplays her

professional accomplishments -

the first female solo evening

news anchor in the business, she

has done live field reports and

worked as an investigative and

courthouse reporter - and

accentuates her Junoesque good

looks, her "powerfully kinetic"

body language, the "suggestive

way she tosses to the package"

("tossing to the package" is

TV-speak for the anchor's live

intro to a taped segment). When

society's need to restrict

female power to animal magnetism

intersects with the obvious fact

of female authority - even the

symbolic power wielded by a TV

anchor - the woman in question

is transformed into a

mass-mediated Mistress - a side

effect seen in the infamous Spy

cover of Hillary Rodham Clinton

in studded bondagewear, or J.G.

Ballard's very public obsession

with Margaret Thatcher (whose

Fleet Street sobriquet, "The

Iron Lady," is worthy of a

mistress at New York's

Nutcracker Suite).


But there's more to Russell's

dominatrix demeanor than meets

the camera eye. On a deeper

level, she puts a sultry face on

the cable upstart that taught

the old boys' networks (ABC,

NBC, and CBS) who's the boss

when the going gets tough,

catching them with their pants

down during the Gulf War. As

well, she literalizes the

Tofflerian notion of TV as a

hegemonic, "top-down" medium

that overmasters the passive

masses. Not for nothing has the

Old Left critique of mass media

and consumer culture as

inescapably repressive been

characterized as the theory of

"hard domination."



At the same time, Russell's

public image alludes, however

obliquely, to the mainstreaming

of S&M, evidence of which is

everywhere, from Madonna's Sex

to Versace's bondage couture to

the appearance of pleasure

dungeon imagery in Nine Inch

Nails videos, Pulp Fiction, even

the Batman movies. Ironically,

S&M, like piercing, the Burning

Man festival, and other forms of

"modern primitivism," represents

a way of jolting ourselves back

into our bodies in the

desensitized, disengaged Society

of the Spectacle we live in - a

world of white noise and

flattened affect created, in

large part, by TV. More and

more, we live in a virtual

reality like the one in

Cronenberg's Videodrome, where

the deadpan, affectless media

personality, Nicki Brand,

requires the bracing shock of

extreme pain to bring herself to

her senses (literally). Deadened

by the nonstop shock treatment

of information overload,

distanced by the multiplying

layers of electronic mediation

between herself and embodied

experience, Brand savors the

sadomasochistic pleasure of

searing her bare flesh with

cigarettes. "We live in

overstimulated times," she




The posthuman psychology of this

terminal landscape is

characterized, as Ballard notes

in the introduction to Crash, by

"the preempting of any free or

original imaginative response to

experience by the television

screen." According to Ballard,

the "demise of feeling and

emotion," in such a world, "has

paved the way for all our most

real and tender pleasures - in

the excitements of pain and

mutilation; in sex as the

perfect arena... for all the

veronicas of our own

perversions." Sinuous,

insinuating Veronica to the pert

Bettys of network news (Katie

Couric, Jane Pauley), coolly

mocking accountant of each

night's grins and gore, cynosure

of the global gaze and,

according to Atlanta, "the face

letter writers...say they go to

bed with as often as with their

mates": Lynne Russell may one

day supply the cultural DNA from

which the Nicki Brands of

tomorrow's Videodromes are


courtesy of Wayne Gale