Espresso One

Paula Hendricks' blog


San Francisco, California,
April 05
Cinnabar Bridge
author, writer, reader, book coach, book designer, book producer, photographer... 5th gen northern californian, new york city, new mexico, and now living back in san francisco, ca... photos on this blog are mine unless otherwise noted... involved with Bay Area publishing community... interested in profit, people, planet - a sustainable world -- and energy of all kinds - fuel, human, spiritual... love cities, the new mexican desert, blues, watching men work, mysteries, b/w photos, bridges, driving my car, public transpo, the F train, and faces emerging from shadow.


FEBRUARY 21, 2009 1:04PM

Stephen Fowler - Shame on You

Rate: 6 Flag

I just came across an article about the Stephen Fowler fallout from his performance on Wife Swap, a show I have never watched. And he should be ashamed of himself. He has done damage to himself, his family, San Francisco, liberals, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, Brits, ex-pats, men, and so many people trying to live their lives in good ways.

I suppose it’s like watching a train wreck – the horror is there, but I can’t stop watching it either.

The Fowlers, who live in Noe Valley in San Francisco, switched wives with the Long’s from rural Missouri. On camera, he called Gayla Long stupid and uneducated and insulted her over and over in a wide variety of ways. I’m surprised, frankly, that the show’s producers let this abuse continue.


My respect for the folks from the MidWest just went up and I have a deeper understanding of why they might resent liberals from San Francisco – of which I am one.

I was appalled, disgusted, and ashamed. How are we going to solve our collective problems when we have so many who think so little of others? We may not be alike, but we are all Americans and we are all human. My brother and his family live in the MidWest – in South Dakota and Minnesota. We don’t agree on a lot, but I respect them. I get angry at him sometimes because he doesn’t see my way, but he sees life differently and his experiences are different from mine and I respect that.

I'm glad Fowler has resigned from his non-profit boards -- he has done them such damage. 

 For more, go to The article at Yahoo News, the Stephen Fowler Sucks web site, the  Facebook group, "I Can not Stand Stephen Fowler from `Wife Swap,'" and Renee Stephens (Fowler’s wife) blog comments and his apology

How do you feel about this kind of insensitivity? Am I over-reacting here?

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You're surprised? No offense but that is pretty much how the S.F. elite do feel about the rest of us. And like Fowler, they rarely try to hide it.
I've seen a couple of Wife-Swaps, years ago and I swore I would never put myself through that much abuse ever again. But... I'm a liar as I watched this to see what it was about.

Besides making liberals look bad (and pretty much all of San Francisco), he made Brits look bad and everyone who has a more advanced education. He did more to created a "two Americas" than anything Bush had done, though this time I feel ashamed to be part of.

However, that this was aired begs to point out, how is this different than only showing red necks from the South? The program, I've found, does its best to reinforce stereotypes.
I am lumped in with Stephen Fowler because I live in San Francisco, have progressive values, and so the rest of the world see me as him. I feel like "the rest of us" too.... you might consider me the SF elite but I don't see myself that way and so many of my colleagues and friends don't feel this way either. It's sad.
the media is partly responsible renaissance. i agree with you. it hurts so many people in such deep and powerful ways.
I hope most people understand that these producers were wanting to base these episodes on the most extreme stereotypes of people they can find as it makes for good drama. One episode I had watched focused on a religious fundamentalist / racist from the South. The Fowler episode chose instead to focus on what most Red States think of as being the attitudes of a typical liberal Blue State. Regarding liberals places and ideals, he might as well have dropped a nuclear bomb on them.

Sadly, there are some people in the world (and at least one on OS) who agree with the stereotype. It is for them to apologize, not you. I'm saying this as someone who grew up in Texas and had to endure many of the stereotypes thrown at me. It cuts both ways, neither of which is OK.
hmmm...I actually saw the show in repeats last week on Lifetime, I think (gasp! but I had been home for days with a sick kid, really!), with no knowledge of the Stephen Fowler backlash.

these are my thoughts: He's an ass! What a snobby, assuming, ridiculous man. I saw it more as a reflection on his British-ness than on American liberals.

However, I cannot fathom what would possess anyone to go on that show. It is totally set up to be a train wreck. In its inception, it seemed like they a good premise - to see how others live and maybe learn something. But, it has gotten increasingly sensationalized and ridiculous - the other show that day was a woman who raised pigs somewhere and and a belly-dancing woman who stayed home and got $300/day spending money from her husband (I didn't stick around for that one).

I think the people on the show are BEYOND stereotypes. They are extremes and set up to intentionally polarize. I think of it as a giant-sized, animated satirical cartoon. It goes overboard to make a point but it isn't always clear that the point they want to make is the one being made. Fowler is case in point. :-)

I no more think Fowler reflects what SF elite or most liberals feel and think than I think that the ATV riding, paint-ball playing family reflects all mid-Westerners (and guess what, I went to actual college with a bunch of THEM!)
I've seen snatches of this show before. Understand that focusing on any redemptive and educational qualities to be had from swapping spouses would be the death of the show. All the touchy-feely stuff is saved for the five minutes at the end. The thing to remember about these kinds of programs (faux reality) is that they intentionally compound viewers' limited experiential knowledge with the misinformation fed to the viewers through the media.

We all know Brits are snobs, Californians are liberal New Age tree huggers, and Midwesterners are country hicks, right? When you throw in the answers from a few carefully crafted questions, a good editor, and the public's general desire to hate their fellow man, this is the kind of primetime dung you come up with. Any ire one feels towards Mr. Fowler or the show's producers is better spent advocating for affordable and rigorous education or helping the less wealthy achieve the level of environmental and health consciousness the Fowlers' enjoy.
I agree -- these kinds of shows push the limits and want exactly this kind of action. but beyond that -- it just does so much harm... to the individuals and to us all. i appreciate your thoughtful comments RenaissanceLady + lpsrocks.
Education is important and I'm hoping that observing and commenting on something many feel is accurate is also a good thing. another post on OS about what we measure tells us what we think is important and one of mine on changing our language so we can move on to the right questions are also in this same vein. If we don't comment and show the pain of what our culture can do, that is also an abdication.

I also agree Eric that time needs to be spent on moving forward... thanks for the thoughtful comment.
In _The Bell Jar_, Sylvia Plath tells a story of how she went to visit a prominent woman and mistook the finger bowl for soup. Her hostess never gave any indication that Plath was doing anything uncouth. People who have reached a level of success in their own lives are generally secure enough in themselves that they don't need to point out others' shortcomings.

From outside appearances, Fowler looks like a successful person who should be secure enough in himself to not feel like he has to constantly prove his superiority. Yet there he is, cutting down a woman who is not a threat to him. It makes me wonder what happened to him when he was young, that he still to this day feels the need to behave that way. It's sad.

(And that "apology!" "Some of my best friends are Midwesterners." ugh. It's like back in the 70's, when racists would try to show that they weren't racist by saying, "I'm not prejudiced, some of my best friends are Black!)
the sylvia plath story -- wonderful. thanks zella. and yes, i agree. i expected him to be better than that. his wife's reaction was very interesting too. i wonder what will happen to their marriage.
i don't think you're over-reacting paula. as someone from the midwest myself, i have to admit it gets under my skin sometimes, the way people from more "progressive" or i guess they'd consider it advanced areas tend to write off many of us here in the flyover as imbeciles. on the other hand, there's plenty of prejudice on the part of people from this area who tend to demonize a lot of you east and west coast folks as all being of a single stereotypical "type." mainly i think what people from all areas need to do is realize that making broad generalizations about people based on where they're from does none of us any favors. you san francisco liberal you.
i am progressive | liberal. I do live in San Francisco, right down town. I do think our political agenda isn't progressive enough, yet. and yet this man makes me cringe. and sometimes i think i am so far left i meet very very conservative folks i agree with.

and since we are now in uncharted waters, who the he** knows what's going to work. and my sister in law (the one in south dakota) would trust me with her life (and her kids' lives) and that's an honor i never expected to have.

good to see you again. loved listening to those blues. put up some more!
Hey Sis - I like your take on the show. Unabashed and elitist arrogance doesn't know political or social boundaries. I know as many ultra liberal as ultra conservatives who strut like peacocks and lets everyone nearby that they are barely worth stepping on let alone acknowledging the other person's presence. I deal with these type of people everyday, and when they are not on the phone or in your face everyone has a good laugh at the peacock's expense. Like is too darn short to be so petty! I often want to ask them if they hire someone to wipe their snotty noses and butts. But, then I think that I am too good a person to sink to his/her level.

Yeah, we may disagree on some things. We do agree on most basics, we may disagree on which path to get there. Just remember, the love is unconditional.
so what
where were you in the 60 and 70's and 80's and 90's and now
get real
the sky is falling
I've watched wife swap several times--it's fascinating, like watching a train wreck. I never heard of any of the people they have on there, but they are some of the weirdest extremists I've ever seen--I have NO IDEA where they get these people--and quite honestly I sometimes wonder if they aren't hired actors they are so far out there. I also wonder if the people themselves aren't coached to parody themselves or whatever they are supposed to represent just to make the program fly. Last week they had some but case out there claiming to be an astrologer. These people were living in a half a million dollar home--the woman claimed to talk to plants and eat dirt--and this guy was running around in a "towel-skirt" screaming about universal love! They had one kid. Where did the money come from? It didn't look like anyone really worked! I think the programmers left out some essential information here. They swapped with a couple from Texas who ran a ranch and were serious Rodeo competitors. The Texans, rednecks to the roots of their hair, came off looking more human than the dirt eating crazies! Honestly, if there WAS a real person who got exposed on this program, it would be good. In the meantime, it's really fiction posing as "reality" which is, I guess, what all reality shows are anyway.