Cult of Martha draws devotees
So she might have been tipped off to sell some stock before it plummeted—definitely not a “good thing,” but to the throngs of Martha Stewart supporters rallying at SaveMartha.com, her questionable stock sale is beside the point.
Launched in July 2002 by “Martha’s biggest fan,” New York marketing consultant John Small, the site describes the stock scandal as “a tempest in a Cuisinart.”
Small seeks to exonerate America’s favorite domestic diva from the iniquitous public accusations and criminal charges that threaten to destroy the empire and the icon known as Martha Stewart.
Other of Stewart’s fans have similar sentiments.
“I think they are picking on her because she is so identifiable,” says Jan Martin, a family and consumer science teacher at Spanish Springs High School. “Instead of making our lives so fast-paced, Martha lets us slow down and enjoy the good things.”
On Tuesday, Stewart’s faithful followers united by the Save Martha site created a human billboard outside of the courthouse during jury selection for her trial. Protesters brandished kitchen tools, homemade signs and “Save Martha” aprons (sold for $21.99 at the site). The group had hoped to buy a billboard in Times Square. The sign would have read: “If her stock sale was legit, you must acquit.” They raised more than $20,000 for the cause but needed $28,000 more to purchase the sign.
As with O.J., Kobe and Michael Jackson, polarized opinions and passionate certainties of guilt or innocence can erupt among the public when loved celebrities are accused of crimes. More than 5 million people have logged onto Save Martha, and their reasoning often seems so relatively astute, so convincing that you may want a “Save Martha” apron of your own.
One argument concerns the charges being leveled for Stewart’s 2001 dumping of ImClone stocks the day before the FDA announced it wouldn’t approve the company’s new cancer drug. Charges against Stewart include securities fraud, conspiracy to obstruct justice, make false statements and commit perjury. All seem spurious to Stewart’s supporters because they all presume that she’s guilty of insider trading, a crime for which she’s never been charged—let alone proven guilty.
Authorities claim Stewart lied to investigators and that by publicly proclaiming her innocence in the ImClone matter, she was illegally manipulating the stock of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, preventing them from taking a plunge due to bad publicity. But, supporters ask, what was she supposed to do?
Regardless of guilt or innocence, those at Save Martha feel that she is taking a fall for corporate America. Stewart is more recognizable perhaps than Enron chief Ken Lay or Tyco titan Dennis Kozlowski. In a post to Savemartha.com, a fan named Terry laments the 30 years Stewart faces in prison for the dubious deal that netted her $50,000.
“There is something very wrong with our society that we can allow the true corporate criminals who rob billions from the public to get away with minimal humiliation and the least amount of punishment,” Terry writes.
Others at Save Martha argue that Stewart is being punished for being a powerful woman in a man’s world. The site features a Rosie the Riveter poster that reads, “We can do it. Save Martha!” Posts a fan named C.J.: “Well behaved women seldom make history! Martha Stewart has made history by competing in a male-dominated world and has won!”
Stewart has embodied domesticity for more than 20 years yet never had the warm and fuzzy persona expected of someone preaching about growing orchids and baking buttermilk biscuits. From the knife-wielding, cabbage-chopping Stewart on The Early Show who just wanted “to focus on my salad” to the Cybil Shepherd impersonation on the mini-series Martha Inc. shrieking, “I asked for merlot!” depictions of Stewart are often less than flattering.
This inability to fit a traditional homemaker role raises the question: Do people want to see her punished because they think she is a criminal or because they think she is a bitch?
Those joining the SaveMartha.com community contend that Stewart has enriched their lives. The heart of the Save Martha campaign beats with praise for America’s domestic deity, one who has shown the masses a more tastefully decorated version of their own worlds. These people want to save Martha because Martha has already saved them.
Paula writes of watching Stewart bake a pie: “You just made me feel that I could do it. I love you for that.”
Susan adds: “I’m looking forward to seeing you free to do what you do best—making the world a more beautiful place.”