Monday, March 28, 2005

Comparative literature (and cinema)

Over the course of many flights, I had a chance to read many fashion magazines. Well, three: Vogue, Elle, and upstart Nylon. Between the three magazines, two had profiles of Beck, at least two made a fuss about Jonathan Safran Foer, and all, as far as I could tell, showed the same clothes. Nylon, however, is apparently for hipsters (or possibly just for teenagers, given that many teenaged stars were interviewed for the issue). This means that new bands are mentioned, and that the models wear the same designer outfits as in Vogue or Elle, but without any glamor or subtlety. At one point, Nylon basically orders its readers to buy trench coats. The more established magazine would just assume its readers understand that, if an item of clothing is shown within its pages, then you're being urged to buy it.

Vogue and Elle, on the other hand, were more or less indistinguishable, except that Vogue's latest is the "Shape" issue, which means that identically-built A-through-D-list celebrities were divided, in what seems like an almost arbitrary fashion, into the following categories: short, tall, curvy, pregnant, and--get this--thin. How does one dress to compensate for the unfortunate fact of having been born skinny? That Vogue is, year in and year out, devoted to this very problem is ignored. We instead get a too-long article by Cameron Diaz about how tough it is to effortlessly thin. As with most such articles, we get the whole, "kids teased me, kids are cruel," line. We also, strangely, get to hear about how desperately she wished (and still wishes!) she were fatter. This all might be slightly believable (the coexistence in this society of ways to straighten and curl hair suggests that different people want different things) were it not for all the accompanying photos of flawless Ms. Diaz, in various skimpy outfits, reminding us that, effortless or not, her body brings her fame and money, and should she reach the point where she gets that bit of flesh around the belly she claims she so desires, that money and fame would not last long. At the end of the piece, Diaz urges women to love their bodies for what they are. Oh well.

That, though, was not the peak of airplane-entertainment dippiness. On one of my flights, I had the chance to see what may well be the two most white movies I've ever seen. Now, I am, by most accounts, white, so I'm probably not supposed to notice such things, but Wimbledon really pushed things to the limit. Wimbledon is a movie lacking both pigment and plot. In the film, a very blond guy (like, he might have benefitted from some mascara) meets a very blond girl, and they play a whole bunch of tennis. There's never any real doubt that the two will both live happily ever after and win all the important matches in which they play. The villains (i.e. rival tennis players) and goofballs (a divorced, money-grubbing tennis agent) of the movie can all be identified by their darker coloring. At the end of the movie, I turned and noticed that the preppy middle-aged woman sitting next to me had tears welling up in her eyes. Kirsten Dunst and the British guy finally spawned! And he won Wimbledon! This was just too much excitement, it seemed.

Then (this was a long flight) came First Daughter, the story of Katie Holmes and her uncomfortably close relationship to a man playing, at one and the same time, her father and the president of the United States. That Holmes is maybe 30 and the actor playing her father perhaps 40 makes all their cutesy late-night bonding scenes more than a little creepy. Also unsettling was the subplot of Holmes's roommate, a black girl with attitude (as opposed to Holmes, who's got some tasteful stud earrings, shiny hair, and little else) who doesn't like that Holmes, as the president's daughter, takes her out of the spotlight. The roommate is chided, by both Holmes's character and the film itself, for a) demanding attention, and b) kissing too many boys, all of whom, needless to say, are black. She does not, in effect, know her place, but at least she has the decency to stick with her own kind as Holmes does the same. Ick. During this movie, I should add, the woman next to me was equally involved in the proceedings, and looked up at the screen with her hands almost in prayer, waiting to see if things would turn out for this J. Crew-personified heroine.


Haggai said...

No desire here to see First Daughter, although it should be pointed out that Katie Holmes is 26, and Michael Keaton is 54, so that aspect of it isn't so bad. Some of the leading men from classic Hollywood had weird parental-age situations in a few of their movies. Cary Grant's mother in North by Northwest was played by an actress who was basically the same age as him, and James Cagney's mother in Yankee Doodle Dandy was more than 10 years younger than he was!

Anonymous said...

Media coverage of Terri Schiavo's plight has focused on right-to-life issues, implications for abortion, etc. but has touched only tangentially on what it was that most likely doomed her--her possibly fatal desire to be thin. If bulimia killed Schiavo-- and, by implication, grossly detracted from her pre-vegetative quality of life--then she was a victim of the social pressures to be thin generated and reflected in magazines like Vogue and Elle. If her husband pressured her to be thin--as has been reported in the press--his desires reflected a norm.