By Dennis Loo (4/17/12)
I caught an episode of NBC’s new reality show “Fashion Star” the other day.
Can you say “derivative?”
This show looks like a rip-off of Project Runway and Victoria’s Secret wrapped up into a tight little package, masquerading as a show while raising the nature of the original Soap Operas - that were created to sell soap to housewives - to a new level – an ongoing promo for Macy’s, H & M, and Saks Fifth Avenue.
The buyers for those stores are on the set to decide on the spot whether a contestant/designer’s offerings are going to be in their stores tomorrow or not, tendering offers to the designers of either “No Offer” or something in the thousands or tens of thousands. They sit at a table like the contestants on “What’s My Line?” or “Jeopardy,” dispensing judgments like a (Commodity) Greek Chorus, deciding your fate before the Mercantile Gods.
In place of Project Runway’s smug “supermodel” Heidi Klum - who declares with clear delight on PR that someone is gone in each episode, reminding me of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland declaring “Off With Her Head!” – is another “supermodel,” Elle MacPherson.
Unlike Project Runway, where you see the designers actually having to sew some clothes, Fashion Star dispenses with such nuisances (no need for manual labor of any kind except the buyers pushing buttons) so that we don’t even see them making their clothes. Instead, there are numerous interviews, including with the celebrity “mentors” Jessica Simpson, Nicole Ritchie, and John Varvatos who offer their advice to the wannabe fashion stars.
I wondered out loud as I was watching this wretched show where the set for the sweatshop workers was so that we could see the work that would have to go into producing the clothes that were going to be on sale tomorrow at Macy’s, H & M, or Saks Fifth Avenue.
Perhaps we could have a group of sweatshop owners on the set, pronouncing judgment upon the workers sewing the garments. Shall this poorly paid woman or that one be fired, not productive enough to be Sweatshop Star?!
Then the Social Darwinist nature of so much of popular culture today with its disdain for the "losers" who, like the homeless, are quickly forgotten and pushed away like so much spoiled food, and its celebration of the "winners" who get to have it all would be crystal clear: it's all about individual victory and chronic envy of the "winners" in the cut-throat world that those who control our airwaves and economic, social, and political fates dictate.
A colleague of mine recently asked his students about manufacturing, as in, how are things actually made, and the students were a bit puzzled by the question. It’s no wonder that many Americans are at a loss to grasp this concept of making things and the people who make them, as those folks aren’t on TV and we don’t see them in the news or in ads. What exists in the world of “Reality” TV and news is entrepreneurs, American Idol contestants, fashion maven wannabes, housewives of athletes and Mafioso bosses, "job creators" who "create jobs" by destroying jobs, not, come on, actual workers.