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In the stills leading in and out of commercials as well as in the promos for the MSNBC television show Morning Joe, co-host Mika Brzezinski is featured in running clothes - running. While this imagery clearly supports her campaign to get Joe Scarborough and the entire nation to eat better and exercise, it also suggests a number of other subtextual messages that producers and marketers may not have intended.

In addition to backing Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign, appearing in an NBC PSA about making healthy nutrition choices, and advocating for Mayor Bloomberg's campaign to ban large sizes of sugary beverages, Mika supports the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act. In her book Knowing Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You're Worth, Mika details how painful it was to watch Joe - as well as co-host Willie Geist - get much better contracts with MSNBC both in terms of compensation and in terms of workload (Mika's contract committed her as a news reader and substitute host for other shows).

The stills and promos feature Joe et al. laughing, lounging, drinking, smoking, and/or gambling, while Mika runs full speed through the streets. This imagery suggests how much harder many women have to work just to break even with men - let alone get ahead. In the concluding remarks of her book, Mika quotes Chrystia Freeland who says, "What's astonishing and quite disturbing is at the top of the capitalist pyramid there are almost no women. The areas where the real money and power reside are still occupied almost exclusively by men." Woman have made strides, Mika concedes, but they still have a long way to go.

Much of Mika's book recounts her own need to play catch up with the men on the show in terms of negotiating a better contract for herself. On another level, she was working her Blackberry around the clock to bring in high profile guests - thus proving her value to the show as well. Mika's running reveals her own eternal hustle to be a successful woman on television - over forty at that.

Another subtextual suggestion speaks to Mika's image in the media - a media landscape dominated by such pop culture female figures as Snookie, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and the Kardashian sisters. To say the least, Mika provides a contrast to those personas and suggests a possible alternative for young female viewers in terms of the possibilities and the aspirations for their own lives.

Indeed Mika is frequently shown running in the opposite direction of the crowd. In one particularly telling still, she runs from right to left - while a woman dressed in a short skirt and high heels - ready to party - walks from left to right. Mika's action encourages women who seek to be strong and intelligent - women who perhaps don't value some of the other characteristics held up as desirable by the ways in which many women are represented in the media. This interpretation is further underscored by the now famous anecdote of Mika's refusal to read a news story about Paris Hilton's release from jail - the very reason Willie now hosts the "News You Can't Use" segment. Serious women interested in serious business can find a role model in Mika.

Mika recently underwent a makeover - she is now a little more tan, a little more blonde, clad in J.Crew-esque monochromatic sheath dresses - but it is not this aspect of her style that viewers will find the most intriguing. Rather, it is in the imagery we see in the stills and the promos - the images of Mika in running clothes, running - that we see a woman fighting, hustling - strong and intelligent - providing us with a role model both in terms of her contract battles and in terms of offering an alternative female image in a media landscape dominated by vacuous party girls.

July 2012

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