The story behind the hot banker story

You’ve probably heard of Debralee Lorenzana – the New York City banker who
was essentially fired for being too hot. How do you know? The author
explains how her story went viral within hours of posting it online (and
yes, the photos helped).

The story was written by the Village Voice‘s Elisabeth Dwoskin, who explains how the hot banker went viral in a piece for the Columbia Journalism Review:

“Within the span of twenty-four hours, my story [“Is this woman too hot to be a banker?”] rose to be the seventh most popular English-language Google search in the world. In the days that followed, it inspired a Maureen Dowd column, received coverage from just about every news outlet in the country, and had flown as far as Bogota, Colombia, where a reporter friend heard the story on the national radio station there.”

Dwoskin explains that her story was about a gorgeous banker that was fired from Citibank, “allegedly after her bosses found her body to be so distracting that they couldn’t concentrate on work.”

The story ran photos of Lorenzana in her rather appropriate office attire, as well as some studio shots where she’s posing sexually in her Saturday-night best.

Dwoskin writes:

“I watched this unfold in real-time—a punch-drunk, surreal, I-don’t-want-to jinx-myself-but-I-don’t-think-this-will-ever-happen-to-me-again sort of experience— extremely pleasurable, and also slightly disturbing. As a journalist, you spend so much time plugging away at stories that you hope will impact society. Then, suddenly, you hit on a sexy banker who lost her job, and, delighted as you are, you also can’t help but wonder: Is this what it takes to be talked about all over the world?”

She adds:

“Everyone I met knew about the story. I didn’t have to send out those shame-inducing mass e-mails beseeching far-flung acquaintances to click on my link. When I asked random people if they’d heard a story about a “hot banker,” people actually said, “Oh, I was just talking about that at the dinner table last night.” That’s an extraordinary, delirious feeling.

“It was also unsettling. I never had any illusions that this was my most important or best story (as the 574th commenter wrote on our Web site, “Shouldn’t we be focusing on trying to stop the oil spill?”). Everyone knows about stories that ‘go viral.’ There’s always a story, usually popping up the upper left hand corner of your Yahoo news feed, that you click on because you just can’t help it. Having one’s story go viral has become a huge barometer of success. When that can’t-help-it story is yours, the experience affords the opportunity to examine just what it is that that barometer, which is so seductive and mystifying to news organizations, actually measures. The story was fascinating in its own right, but its success also depended on the herding mentality and the Web’s tendency to legitimize commentary as news.”

That the story quickly got world-wide attention made it seem an important event. The writer says:

“No one expected the media frenzy that followed—certainly not me. In the span of twenty-four hours, it had transformed from a very interesting feature to something like breaking news of national and even international import.

“In one sense, that might seem overblown. In another sense, it’s absolutely fine: we too often forget that a simple story can be an access point for huge and deep questions. Lorenzana, as a friend pointed out to me, is the ultimate water cooler story. It struck a major chord with so many different kinds of people, and that in itself cannot and should not be discounted. Maybe the majority of people were engaging with it on a ‘that chick is hot’ or ‘that chick is slutty’ sort of level, but a lot more was at work here. It turned out that the story tugged at so many points of cultural fascination that once it got out there it was almost unstoppable.”

There are many factors that made the story attractive. For one, the woman is attractive, and the photos are undeniably sexy. But there’s more, the author points out. That she worked for Citibank – and a branch in the U.S.’s news leader city no less – was newsworthy, and then there was the contradictions. In the news gathering that followed some reporters discovered a plastic surgery documentary that featured a young Lorenzana boasting about her breast augmentation, saying she’d like to become “tits on a stick.” Dwoskin writes: “Why would a woman fighting a lawsuit against oversexualized attention desire so much sexualized attention?”

The final push toward water cooler infamy is that the story focuses on office attire – a subject most people can relate to, whatever they think of Lorenzana’s pencil skirts.