Unprofessional, obnoxious, rude, boring, bullying—all adjectives that can apply when middle-aged men comment incessantly on a woman’s looks, when that woman has met with them to talk about her career. The cringe-factor is magnified a thousandfold when it’s broadcast over airwaves, or fiber and 4G. The actresses and singers who have endured such abuse in front of audiences spans the history of radio and TV.
Blondie’s Deborah Harry got the treatment. Subjected to “years of superficial, tedious, and demeaning questions from journalists,” notes documentary production company Public Interest, she finally “devises a brilliant way to turn interviews on their head.” The video above pulls together a montage of interview clips in which both male and female talking heads start nearly every conversation with Harry by referring to her as “a reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe” or something to that effect. She is visibly annoyed but keeps her cool, which a couple interviewers take as an invitation for near-harassment.
Some might claim the crude interest in Harry’s looks was justified, given her early persona as a punk-rock pinup, but note that most of the interviewers never get around to talking about the music—the reason we know and admire her in the first place. Instead, one British TV presenter follows up the Marilyn Monroe question (if it can be so called) by asking if Harry is “thinking about going into marriage.”
The questions aren’t always lecherous but they are always inane. Harry is clear about one thing. It’s an obligation; she’s there to sell a product. How does she turn the tables? A stuffed animal mascot, a few well-placed “can you believe this shit?” looks at the camera, and a flat-out refusal to answer any questions about Madonna, for a start. Lou Reed and Bob Dylan get credit for being some of the crankiest interview subjects in rock and roll, but Harry had more reason than either of them to hate this part of the job.
See how she handles it, and for contrast, read an interview she did with Bill Brewster in 2014, when Blondie released the reunion album Ghosts of Download. Brewster keeps the focus on the music, and she seems totally thrilled to get the chance to talk about it.