Friday, November 13, 2009

The Devil Wears Prada, David Frankel (2006)

(In selecting this still from the film I realized I am posting on two Emily Blunt films in a row, which was not intentional. Oh well.)

I don't really have much to say about the film as a whole—it's competent—but I do want to dig out one brief interchange in the film which was frankly one of the most thought-provoking I had in a movie theater during the past few years. Here's the video:

And here's the text:
Miranda: This... 'stuff'? Oh... ok. I see, you think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don't know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise, it's not lapis, it's actually cerulean. You're also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar De La Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn't it, who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of 8 different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic casual corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of stuff.
Walking into the film, I was most certainly of the general opinion which Anne Hathaway's character (appropriately named Andy) expresses with her little derisive snort: the fashion industry is completely disconnected from the rather mundane but serviceable wardrobe I have—I exist completely untouched by it, am exempt from it. It is not even so much a question of my taste differing from, say, Tom Ford—differing assumes the possibility of co-existence, and as far as I was concerned, Ford and I dress ourselves on different planets.

I wouldn't say that this little interchange—or rather Streep's extremely cogent declamation—exactly opened my eyes to my intricate imbrication in the fashion industry, but the line about the millions of dollars and countless jobs was a nice little meta-comment about the experience of watching a movie that I was also thinking was completely unrelated not only to the demographics to which I belong but, more particularly and more narcissistically, to me. The fact of the capital and labor power expended in producing this film placed me in a relationship to it that in a very real sense trumped taste: the desire to separate myself on the grounds of taste from this specific film (or to believe myself already separated from it) is a rather embarrassingly empty gesture in comparison with the sheer fact that I was watching a film, and thus participating in the more general order of production and consumption which has made this particular film possible.

In other words, no matter how picky I am about what films I watch (just the flip side of "no matter how casual I am about selecting my clothes"), which films I watch are of lesser importance to how many films I watch or how I watch them (at home or in theaters) or the fact that I watch films at all, rather than reading only books, or watching only television. The scrabble for individual taste is always an ant's-eye-view of one's real participation in a much larger ecosystem. Smirking at my non-belonging or atypicality relative to the rest of the movie theater crowd of Devil Wears Prada is as pointless and self-delusive as Andy's smug assumption that her sartorial blandness is an effective means of separating herself from the world of haute couture. The workers and the money that stand in between her "lumpy blue sweater" and Oscar de la Renta are a stronger link than can ever be severed by taste, or the lack thereof.

My point is not that you cannot avoid or get outside "the system" but rather that we quite often focus on the (largely imagined) ways we try to cordon off a pure corner of the system ("I only watch independently produced films; I only read books published by small presses"). Obviously there is a strategic (and sometimes real) value to things like boycotts, but I am more thinking about how our positive decisions—what we do buy, what we do watch or read—weigh in our mind as something efficacious and even virtuous without thinking about how connected any form of consumption may still be to a larger system, to those "millions of dollars and countless jobs" Anne Hathaway's character thinks disappeared or never existed, which connect her and Miranda.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hey andrew,

i recently encountered the same kind of revelation about the material traces and effects of the fashion industry on my body through dorinne kondo's book about fashion and asian/american studies.

here's a link if you want to look into it: