Not-So-Porno Chic | Crooked Media
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April 20, 2023
Stiffed
Not-So-Porno Chic

In This Episode

As Viva continues to stumble along and figure itself out, so does seemingly everyone else in the 1970’s. In the midst of the sexual revolution and the rise of “Porno Chic,” there’s a chorus of anti-porn feminists attacking Bob Guccione’s publishing empire, and Viva’s caught in the middle.

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

Jennifer Romolini: It’s late 1975, just a few months after Bette-Jane’s fired from Viva. And Viva publisher Bob Guccione is under fire. Bob’s a central figure in the sexual revolution, but he’s also a central enemy of anti-porn feminists, a group that’s expanding with a chorus that’s growing louder by the day. 

 

[news clip]: The marchers aim was clear. Let’s kill the $4 billion industry that exploits females and female bodies, young and old. / I’m ripping this up for incest survivors and rape victims. This is what I have to say to Bob Guccione. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: The early seventies, famously ushered in a new kind of get hip, get sexy sexual liberation, which was mostly liberating for men. But we’ll get to that in a minute. But by the mid-seventies, porn makers like Bob are sorting out just how far this liberation can go. So while Kathy has been ramping up the cocks at Viva, Bob has been pushing the limits of what porn can be at Penthouse, which means more vulva, shown more explicitly than ever before. Bob’s getting attacked in both courtrooms and the court of public opinion by groups on both sides of the political aisle. By some, he’s considered a free speech martyr and a hero. But mainly, he’s seen as a larger than life symbol of everything that’s wrong and misogynistic about porn. Here’s Bob defending himself on 60 Minutes around this time. 

 

[news clip]: What do you say to those people, particularly women who say the sole purpose of Penthouse and the other magazines is to demean women? 

 

[clip of Bob Guccione]: We laud women, we uplift women. We make life seem impossible without them. We were the first people in New York to help finance the Equal Rights Amendment. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: He’s talking about the ERA, a proposed constitutional amendment which would have guaranteed equal rights for all sexes. An amendment that came close. But for a variety of reasons, conservatives being one never passed. 

 

[clip of Bob Guccione]: We were the first corporate group to come out and donate money to the equal rights movement was Viva. And I have more women working for me than I have men, more female executives working than I have male executives. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: Bob loves to talk about how pro-woman he is, how many women he employs, how much he pays. And all of this is true. His approach to business and sexuality is incredibly progressive for the time, but he’s not letting his argument stop there. 

 

[clip of Bob Guccione]: If it wasn’t for the fact that we are, all of us so damn dishonest about sex, we wouldn’t have the guilt that we have about it if we didn’t have the guilt we have about it, we wouldn’t have the problems that we do. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: Now the guilt and shame that Bob is referring to is a very real thing for everyone. But guilt and shame regarding sex for women arguably comes from a very different place than it does men. It’s a lot more complex, and it’s made even more complicated by men like Bob and despite what he seems to think. The get hip, get sexy attitude of Viva and Penthouse isn’t necessarily helping alleviate that guilt in a lot of ways. It might even be making it a little bit worse for some women. So Bob’s now at war with anti-porn feminists while publishing a feminist porn magazine, which means Viva well, it’s kind of at war with itself. And in order to understand what happens next at Viva, in this episode, we’re going to zoom out from the day to day Viva story and dive into the seventies feminist porn wars. Because like any war, this one’s complicated, full of skewed history, conflicting motivations and beliefs. And the good guys, they’re not quite as easy to identify as you’d think. From Crooked Media and iHeartMedia. I’m Jennifer Romolini and this is Stiffed, episode five, Not So Porno Chic. [music plays] Act one, Zipless Fuck Over. Now, none of us will really know why Bob Guccione hated Viva’s rape issue enough to have editor Bette-Jane fired over it. But it’s fair to say by putting out their rape issue, the Viva editors were tripping a wire. This topic is a hot button, not just for their boss, but for the public in general. And according to Bob’s 60 Minutes interview, that’s not the kind of content the Penthouse universe is about. 

 

[clip of Bob Guccione]: I regard Penthouse as an entertainment medium first. I don’t think I’m not a missionary. The fact that it may also be informative, is, by the way, it is first an entertainment medium. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: And in his defense of his porn empire. Bob’s also beating another drum, one directly related to Viva’s rape issue and quite possibly why he was so defensive with Bette-Jane. Here’s Bob in an Nightwatch interview from the eighties with Christopher Glenn. We heard part of their conversation earlier in the series. 

 

[clip of Christopher Glenn]: So some people say when they speak disparagingly of your activities that reading magazines such as yours increases violent sexual crimes, etc., etc.. And sure enough, here comes a study published last week by researchers at the University of New Hampshire. They say it says essentially that the higher the readership for men’s magazine in a given state, the higher the incidence of reported rape. 

 

[clip of Bob Guccione]: Well, let me tell you that that’s a lot of crap. It’s a lot of balderdash. Anybody came out with a study like that is faking it. It just simply isn’t true. And every single study that’s been done, including the presidential study under I believe it was Johnson. 

 

[clip of Christopher Glenn]: Mm hmm. 

 

[clip of Bob Guccione]: Where you have real sexually explicit material available to the public. There is an enormous decrease. Decrease in any incidence of sexual crimes. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: What Bob saying here is not entirely untrue, but he’s pushing the argument a little far. In recent studies, like one from the University of Texas in 2020 that explored the connection between porn and sexual aggression over the past 40 years. Researchers found there was no correlation between sexually explicit material and sexual violence. But that doesn’t mean access to porn decreased crimes. Here’s Bob digging in further on that argument. And this time, it’s definitely a giant stretch. 

 

[clip of Bob Guccione]: There are a lot of people that require what you call hard core smut for its therapeutic value. You know, that that’s sort of guys kept from invading the privacy of other citizens and kept from committing crimes of rape and other sex crimes. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: Yes. He’s saying Penthouse and porn itself prevents rape. Not the chillest nor most accurate argument. But remember, Bob is not chill about porn right now. And neither is anyone else. In fact, by the mid-seventies and ramping up into the eighties, the whole country is freaking the fuck out. 

 

Erica Jong: The feminists hated porn because they felt it was the man’s view of sex and that women were not included. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: That’s feminist writer and icon Erica Jong, talking about a certain fraction of feminists starting to crop up at the time. 

 

Erica Jong: Okay, so I would ask the question, what if we wrote our own explicit stuff? How would it be different? How would women’s explicitness be different from men? And if women have a different view of it, let’s write about it. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: Erica Jong is one of the first women starting in the seventies to write explicitly about women’s sexuality in a big, proud, mainstream way. But let’s back up a bit. John’s work in the early seventies probably would not have received the attention it did without the pro sex, pro female pleasure feminism of the late sixties, a movement that imagined what a true sexual liberation could look like for women. 

 

Nona Willis-Aronowitz: In the early consciousness raising sessions of the late sixties. We’re talking 1967, 1968. There were women talking about their desires and talking about pleasure. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: That’s writer Nona Willis-Aronowitz, author of the book Bad Sex: Truth, Pleasure and an Unfinished Revolution. What she’s talking about here are the same consciousness raising groups we talked about at the beginning of the series, the ones attended by Viva editors, like Pat Lynden and Gay Bryant, the ones where women started asking questions about their lives they’d never really asked before. 

 

Nona Willis-Aronowitz: What do we want from these relationships? What do we want from sex? It’s not like one female experience materialized from these sessions. But the point was prioritizing this quest for pleasure. And I think it was exhilarating for these women to just say their desires. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: This pro sex late sixties feminist movement is mostly underground, but it sparks something broader. In fact, it’s the spark that helps light the fire of the seventies sexual revolution, a fire that’s ignited in part by Erica Jong’s landmark feminist novel, Fear of Flying, which comes out in 1973, the same year as Viva. Fear of Flying is a runaway success, an international bestseller, most famously and importantly, the book introduces the concept of the zipless fuck, which basically said straight women sometimes wanted sex with no strings attached. Here’s journalist Christine Emba reading one of the most famous passages from Jong’s Fear of Flying. 

 

Christine Emba: The zipless fuck is free of ulterior motives. There’s no power game. The man is not taking and the woman is not giving. No one is attempting to prove anything or get anything out of anyone. The zipless fuck is the purest thing there is. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: Emba talks a lot about this kind of pure casual sex. In her own book, Rethinking Sex, which covers sexual ethics from the 1960s to today. 

 

Christine Emba: Basically, what she’s talking about is sex, like women being able to have sex without being used, without their sexuality being used for something else, like to prove something or like just having sex for sort of the pleasure of it. And yeah, I think that did resonate with women because, you know, for so long there was this discourse about how men want sex, women want love. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: Emba devotes an entire chapter of her book to the zipless fuck and what it meant to the sexual revolution. 

 

Christine Emba: When the term the zipless fake was popularized. What the public understanding of that was like, oh, women just want to have casual sex with no feelings really fast. [laughs] Like, they. They just. They just want to have empty sex with more people. And I guess that conclusion felt surprising to people, too. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: It’s true. This idea of Erica Jong’s about centering female pleasure in the seventies, it was extremely controversial. Here’s Erica again. 

 

Erica Jong: I was amazed, actually, that people were shocked because I thought what I was saying was so obvious that there was a whole realm of feeling that was being unreported. I didn’t think this would surprise anybody. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: But talking about women’s desires in the beginning of the sexual revolution, weirdly did surprise lots of people. 

 

Erica Jong: I was absolutely commenting on what I thought was missing from the conversation. The conversation about sex was had in male terms. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: The sex industry was then, as it is today, mainly straight, male shaped, male funded and male benefiting. But there are pro sex feminists in the early seventies like Jong, who were trying to change this. 

 

Erica Jong: I tried to introduce the female view, the female feeling really that that’s all. And the fact that anybody found that shocking is amazing to me. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: The success of Fear of Flying makes Jong the face of a kind of feminist sexual rebellion. She’s everywhere in the seventies. There’s even a big profile of her in Viva. Though not every feminist is psyched about her success, and not every Viva editor appreciated her work. I asked Viva editor, Pat, do you remember Erica Jong at all at this time? 

 

Pat Lynden: Oh yeah. Yeah, I do remember. I didn’t think too much of it. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: Henry Miller said that she was changing women’s lives the way he had changed men’s lives. 

 

Pat Lynden: Baloney. She did a sort of porny kind of stuff. She was just one of many. And she had her own voice. And she was. And, you know, she was making it. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: Now, Pat’s more on the conservative side of things. And while she’s not totally anti-porn, she’s emblematic of the split in second wave feminism at this time, a fracture in the movement that’s about to quake because the thing that’s splintering them is porn. And porn is suddenly everywhere. It’s unavoidable in your face. And for the first time, it’s not just in print. And with the explosion of mainstream porn. The initial mission of the pro sex feminist starts to get twisted. And the fire sparked by Erica Jong and others in the early sexual revolution, start to blaze out of their control. 

 

Christine Emba: Understanding and valuing female sexuality does not look the same as like, Well, here’s a porn set. Now you can just like help a man get off even more times than you would have in the past. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: Act two, Feminists at War. By the mid-seventies. It’s fair to say pornography is everywhere in America. It’s on local newsstands and magazine form, but it’s also in your hometown’s neighborhood movie theater. Here’s Viva’s film critic Molly Haskell. 

 

Molly Haskell: There was sort some softcore porn and they went mainstream and people were talking about them. They weren’t. They were opening at legitimate theaters. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: Most famously, the porn movie Deep Throat’s playing in dozens of mainstream theaters across the country. It’s bringing in millions of dollars. It’s a must see. 

 

Karina Longworth: Deep Throat was a hardcore porn film starring Linda Lovelace, who appeared to show off in it a talent for taking a penis very deep into her throat. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: That’s Karina Longworth, the film historian and longtime host of the podcast. You Must Remember This. And it’s important to know that before this time, porn movies didn’t really exist. There were stag films, but they were short. Poor quality, didn’t have plots. There was no Internet, no streaming. If you wanted to watch porn back then, you could maybe, maybe see these films in a private men’s club, which meant only men saw them. Women had not been involved in porn viewing, and suddenly now they were. There’s an in the know cool factor surrounding Deep Throat, and it helps kick off an entire cultural trend. Porno chic. 

 

Karina Longworth: So the New York Times came up with the term porno chic to explain what was happening when people who were not creepy men in raincoats started to see movies like Deep Throat in movie theaters. And it started to become expected that you would go see a movie like Deep Throat so that you could keep up with cocktail party conversation. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: If books like Fear of Flying helped spark the pro sex, feminist movement, movies like Deep Throat unleashed anti-porn feminist fury in a way that becomes impossible to contain because the Americans going out to see Deep Throat in the seventies cannot be dismissed as young perverts. They’re regular people and not so regular people. They’re celebrities like Johnny Carson and Jack Nicholson and even Angela Lansbury, who are proudly, publicly lining up at the box office and telling their friends. 

 

Karina Longworth: There’s a period of, I think, two, maybe three years where amongst the top ten highest grossing movies of the whole year of all movies, there is an X-rated hardcore pornography movie on that top ten, the first one being Deep Throat, which is on the same top ten as The Godfather II. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: And Deep Throat is important for all sorts of cultural reasons, but it also perfectly encapsulates the question who exactly is being liberated by sexual liberation during this time? 

 

Karina Longworth: The narrative suggests that this is a frigid woman who has had sex but has never been able to enjoy it until she discovers that her clitoris is deep into her throat. And so the only way to reach it is by like sticking a big dick all the way down in there. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: This discovery is made by Linda Lovelace’s doctor, who is, of course, a man. Here’s a clip from the film. 

 

[clip from Deep Throat]: Have you ever taken a penis all the way down to the bottom of your throat? / No. I try, but I choke. / Oh, well, now in here. It’s a matter of discipline. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: And while up until this point, pro sex feminists were trying to center their own sexual pleasure in the sexual revolution, this is not exactly what they were bargaining for. 

 

Karina Longworth: The sexual revolution sort of pretended to be about women’s pleasure, but really wasn’t. You know, this is a narrative of a film which says it’s about giving women orgasms, but women do not have clitoris’ in the back of their throats. It is absolutely possible that some women enjoy deep throating. They could enjoy it for many reasons. They could even feel orgasmic from it. But women do not have clitoris’ is in their throats. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: Also important is that right before Deep Throat and porno chic pro sex feminists had just started bringing awareness to female anatomy and what it meant to pleasure it. And part of that awareness was an education about clitoris’ and how clitoris, not vaginal penetration are the key that unlocks the door to where a woman’s orgasm is hiding. Here’s Nona Willis-Aronowitz again. 

 

Nona Willis-Aronowitz: You know the clitoral orgasm was on the tips of everybody’s tongues, no pun intended. So I think in some ways it was like a positive representation and a positive osmosis to some feminist messages. But on the other hand, there was a backlash embedded in a lot of these narratives where ultimately men were recentered in female pleasure. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: In other words, when it came to mainstream porn, the central figure, both viewer and subject, was most often men and more specifically, male anatomy. 

 

Nona Willis-Aronowitz: That was a way, I think, to reassure all of these men who are looking at these porn movies. Even though women are liberated, don’t worry, they are still obsessed with your dick and they need it in order to fully realize their sexual pleasure. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: So Deep Throat is in many ways a mockery of female sexuality, a joke about clitoris’ and female orgasms. And if there was ever any question about who the so-called sexual revolution is for, Deep Throat makes clear that in straight relationships for straight women, sexual satisfaction is about one thing kneeling at the altar of the dick. An idea, incidentally, that Kathy and Viva and all of its cocks is pushing at this time to. 

 

Karina Longworth: And so this movie, which ends up becoming effectively part of the sexual revolution because it opens up mainstream movie theaters to hardcore porn, is is selling a lie. That is a lie that serves what men want to do sexually more than it serves what women want to do sexually. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: Deep Throat and porno chic itself is a big turning point in the sexual revolution. Straight men suddenly feel even more entitled to sex. Here’s Nona Willis-Aronowitz again. 

 

Nona Willis-Aronowitz: The sexual revolution was through the male lens and created new kinds of binds for women. All of a sudden, after the sexual revolution, there were all kinds of pressures to be groovy and be with it and not have hang ups. And I think women felt like, why am I even having sex when these guys don’t care about my pleasure? But if they didn’t have it, they were like lame or they were prude or frigid. I think it really did put women in this frustrating bind. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: And some of the women working at Viva very much felt this dichotomy. Here’s Viva writer Annie Gottlieb. 

 

Annie Gottlieb: It was pretty bad time for women. Because we were making ourselves sexually available, but we really didn’t have any sense that we. We still felt like we needed men’s attention to make us worthy. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: And all of this makes some women think they need to show up sexually in a different way than how they actually feel. Here’s Viva editor Pat. 

 

Pat Lynden: I think everybody was putting on a big show about, you know, how liberated they were. You know, everybody is trying to be something, something that is fashionable, something that’s hip, something that’s with it, whatever word you want to use. And the one thing that that you were not supposed to be was a woman who wanted a relationship with a man. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: And this is where things start to split feminism in a big way. 

 

Nona Willis-Aronowitz: Well, man hating is interesting, right? It’s like, of course, if you are heterosexual, you don’t hate men because you desire them sexually and or desire them romantically. You want to build lives with them. You want to have children with them. But at the same time, if you’re raising your consciousness and becoming a feminist, you are going to be angry at men and you are going to have these aha moments of saying what the fuck? 

 

Jennifer Romolini: But this, this man hating, man loving is just too many truths for the feminist movement to hold at once. 

 

Nona Willis-Aronowitz: Once we hit the mid seventies, the, one sect of the feminist movement is really very focused on protection for women, protection from men’s impulses, protection from rape, domestic violence, sexual assault and pleasure really wasn’t censored or part of that conversation. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: And then there’s the other side. 

 

Nona Willis-Aronowitz: I think that pro sex feminists, as they were called, weren’t dismissing these problems, but they were saying, we have to talk about a balance between pleasure and danger. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: And so by the mid to late seventies, feminism breaks into, there are pro sex feminists and anti-porn feminists. And the latter is quickly overtaking the movement with more and more women joining their cause. In fact, by 1980, Deep Throat actress Linda Lovelace will join the movement after stating publicly that she was physically abused on set and coerced into many of the scenes in the film. Lovelace will ultimately testify before Congress, the quote, “Every time someone watches that movie, they’re watching me being raped.” But Lovelace isn’t the loudest nor earliest voice in the anti-porn movement. Women like Andrea Dworkin are out years before her, ferociously ringing this anti-porn bell. 

 

[clip of Andrea Dworkin]: What we’re doing is saying that pornography is an institution that helps to socialize men to rape. And that without that kind of socialization, we don’t take it as inevitable that men will rape. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: You can hear how Dworkin’s stance is in direct opposition with barbs from that Nightwatch interview earlier. And while neither is actually wrong per say, both views are extreme. Bob took pro pornography a little too far, and Dworkin’s position was in many ways limiting, exclusionary and even disempowering because if porn. And I’ll throw in exotic dancing and sex work here too. If these things can only ever be about perpetuating violence against women. Then it goes to follow that if you are pro any of them, if you don’t want to blow up the system so much as rehabilitate it, then according to Dworkin’s limited lens of feminism, you’re considered outside the fold, even anti sisterhood and anti-feminist itself. Here’s Pat again. 

 

Pat Lynden: There’s a memory and an image of being what feminism was about. But no, it was big messy mess. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: And this is where a magazine like Viva could have been a bridge to be both anti-violence and pro female desire to push boundaries, to bring together anti-porn and pro sex feminists who really did have a lot of the same goals in mind. 

 

Nona Willis-Aronowitz: They both broadly wanted the same things, which is to be able to have sex and pursue pleasure without male dominance and male misogyny getting in the way. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: And consciously or not, the Viva editors were in real time trying to deliver something that combined the two perspectives by interviewing sex workers and writing openly about straight women’s sexual fantasies, while also covering topics like sexual violence and consent in the rape issue. This utopian goal of liberated sexuality is the direction they were starting to go, but given everything they were up against, this is a tall order. A magic trick that’s incredibly tricky to pull off. Here’s editor Gay Bryant, who was there at the inception of Viva. 

 

Gay Bryant: You would think that Viva, sexy and intelligent, would reflect how we see ourselves, but it turned out not to. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: And why did it turn out not to? Well— 

 

[news clip]: Still to come on, the news hour, the never ending battle over pornography with Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione and others. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: This is Bob on yet another news show defending his pornography against the anti-porn feminists. Remember, Bob doesn’t even like leaving his house. But this issue is important enough that he’s going out on TV a lot, and this time he’s up against the anti-porn powerhouse Dorchen Leidholdt.

 

[clip of Dorchen Leidholdt]: What pornography does is it makes every woman the actual or potential victim of sexual violence. It functions as a kind of terrorism. It keeps us silent. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: Leidholdt was president of the group Women Against Pornography, or WAP, which had a different meaning in the seventies than it does today. I know what played a major role in the feminist porn wars, and they wanted pedophiles shut down or at least censored. But Bob’s not a newbie when it comes to this debate, and he’s not afraid to dig in. 

 

[clip of Bob Guccione]: This is a totally subjective affair. And what demeans women, in her opinion, may not demean women, in my opinion, or yours or someone else’s. Let me just answer by quoting from a former head of the National Organization of Women. She read the magazine—

 

Jennifer Romolini: He’s talking about Penthouse here. 

 

[clip of Bob Guccione]: She went on to say, I couldn’t do what I was asked to do. She said on the September issue, I could find no putdown of women, no suggestion that women were asked to be exploited, hurt, oppressed, or even asked to cook dinner. There was no suggestion that women would be forced to have sex against their will, she says. Penthouse. Sexy? Yes. Sexist? No. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: What Bob overlooks in all this vigorous defending of Penthouse is that he might have actually held the key to unlocking this battle with anti-porn feminists. Viva Magazine. Like we’ve said before, Viva straddled the line between pro sex and Anti-porn, especially with its rape issue. But Bob forbids the editors from addressing any topics like this. As a result, they can’t possibly make a relevant feminist porn magazine. Their hands are tied. They’re kept from meeting the moment. And as for their other boss, Kathy, she doesn’t help matters. She stands by her man and ignores the concerns of the anti-porn feminists entirely. Here’s Kathy on Arlene Herson show. 

 

[clip of Arlene Herson]: Now, here you are. Successful business woman believer in women’s rights. And you’re Mrs. Bob Guccione. I’m sure you get a lot of flack from people. 

 

[clip of Kathy Keeton]: Oh, from people, a lot of extreme feminists I get flack from, but they really don’t pay attention to them. I mean, they’re crazy lunatic fringe anyways. [laughs]

 

Jennifer Romolini: And in her inaction around Bette-Jane’s firing and her inability to define Viva in this important moment, Kathy sets the tone for an inevitable sea change. The fatal turn off course in Viva. That’s just about to come. 

 

Robin Wolaner: I don’t know anybody who wants to look at pictures of male penises. I just don’t. And, you know, I like the idea of a sexy magazine for women, but this isn’t sexy to me. 

 

Jennifer Romolini: Stiffed is an original podcast from iHeartMedia and Crooked Media. It’s produced by Crooked Media. It’s hosted and written by me, Jennifer Romolini and produced by Megan Donis. Sydney Rapp is our associate producer. Story editing by Mary Knopf. Music, sound design and engineering by Hannis Brown. Our fact checker is Julia Paskin. Additional production support from Nafula Kato and Ines Maza. From Crooked Media our executive producers are Sarah Geismer, Katie Long, and Mary Knopf. With special thanks to Alison Falzetta and Lyra Smith. From iHeartMedia our executive producers are Beth Anne Macaluso and Julia Weaver.