Everyone is Right

A maelstrom blew up in the past few weeks in the massage field, over Lifetime TV’s new series, “The Client List,” starring Jennifer Love Hewitt as a massage therapist who has gone over to the dark side, working at a spa that in reality is a brothel. The show originated as a TV movie that aired last year, and now premieres as a series in April. The massage community has expressed strong disapproval of the program, in the form of letters of protest/condemnation, online petitions, Facebook postings, and a few thoughtful blog posts. I thought that, beyond our correspondence with Lifetime, I would share a few thoughts about the issue and what it says about us as massage and bodywork professionals. Everyone who works at ABMP objects to the characterization of massage in an unsavory light. That is probably not a surprise to anyone. To a person, we also just about universally enjoy being entertained. I can also tell you I am not a Puritan; I have been known to enjoy Tosh.0, off-color jokes, and am a huge fan of “The Hangover.” My objection with “The Client List” is the associative properties of television. My favorite movie of all time is “Midnight Run,” which stars Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin. Grodin plays an accountant who embezzled from the mob. Now I know, and you know, that most accountants are decent, hard-working people who in all likelihood do not embezzle. But part of entertainment is there needs to be a story; in the case of “The Client List,” the fall from grace is the story. We object because we exist to defend and support the rights of massage and bodywork professionals, and “The Client List” is offensive to the public perception of those professionals and potentially threatens their very safety. TV shows by definition are not reality; this instance is no different. But local ordinances regulating “massage parlors” have been a reality for us in the not-too-distant past; that is why we should remain diligent in making sure our profession continues its positive evolution in society. Steph Lasch wrote a very good blog post about the issue. She also criticized the stance ABMP took regarding the show, suggesting we were petty for offering an outlet for members to complain. I disagree; there are varying levels of disagreement within our massage and bodywork community. Professionals have every right to express their upset with Lifetime for perpetuating a stereotype that is potentially harmful to them. Steph’s post appropriately characterized the show as “sensationalism.” But this does not mean that we as professionals should sit idly by if we find it offensive. And that is why we, and many others, have acted. Kat from the LMT or Bust blog also really seized on the opportunity a situation like this presents for therapists—an opportunity to educate folks about what we do and who we are. We all can take a page from her playbook. My friend Laura Allen wrote a post contrasting “The Client List” with one of the real challenges to our profession—the shifting sands of regulation. Like a good therapist who does deep work, Laura knows what spots to hit. As the title of this post states, everyone is right—Steph is right for reminding us to not get too worked up about this, Kat is right for suggesting the opportunity in front of us, Laura is right that there are bigger fish to fry, and I think we were right for standing up for our members and the profession. And Lifetime is in the entertainment business, so they probably think they’re right, too. I just wish next time it was about an accountant. Prefer to receive more from Les in small doses? Follow him on Twitter — @abmp_les.

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