Monday, October 26, 2009

Yeah, I cringed

Patronizing defined? Or just evidence that fashion blogs work best as purdy purdy pictures and that forays into social commentary can only end in embarrassment?


Matt said...

I don't know- it seems okay to me. What about it seems bad to you? (Certainly the idea that people with all sorts of jobs can take pride in their work and do a good job is fine, I'd think, and mentioning this also seems fine. The photo was very good and the tone seemed okay to me, so I'm curious to know what about it seemed bad to you. I've only looked at that blog 2 or 3 times before so perhaps there's some background that makes it seem bad to you, though to me it seems perfectly okay.)

Phoebe said...

What seems bad? A number of things, but first off, I think it's key to remember that "patronizing" isn't ever outright hostile, so if you're looking for outright hostile in the post, you won't find it.

So... for one thing, the rest of the photos on the page (save a couple of Cary Grant from a million years ago) are in color, while this one is in black and white. Given that nostalgia for a time when photos were black-and-white can read in this context as nostalgia for a time when respectful black men served white men... But even a less dramatic interpretation suggests that he places this man in a different category than he does his usual fashion editors and models. They're his world; the rest is background that he deigns to acknowledge on occasion.

Then there's the text. I do find the tone patronizing, and find that pointing out that one can have pride in all sorts of jobs is, if not untrue, quite problematic here, when what the writer's basically saying is, 'Look, who'd have thought this man with an absolutely crap job would grin and bear it?' His emphasis on the man's "pride", along the same lines, suggests he'd have expected otherwise. And, for that matter - how on earth does someone who rode in the back of someone's car for a couple days at most know that their driver's dress is about pride in their work? For all the Sartorialist knows, the driver - no doubt like many of the fashion assistants - has a crap job and either is mandated by his employer to dress and act a certain way, or just dresses up despite the crap job. But more to the point, the reference to the driver's "politeness" did not, to me at least, sit well.

If what the Sartorialist really wanted to get across was that style is everywhere, he might have gone with a photo like the others with at most a caption, "Driver, San Francisco," and some comments about the clothes.

Anyway, I read the blogger's own response to criticisms similar to mine here (11:44 PM on the thread), in which he does not even attempt to engage why people might have found the combination of the shot and (particularly) the photo off-putting, and am not encouraged.

Matt said...

As I mentioned, I don't normally read that blog (I don't find it very interesting in general) so can't say anything about how this post contrasts with what he (or she) normally writes or posts. You may well be right that the contrast is jarring. I thought the photo was very nice, myself, but perhaps the contrast is great. But, as someone who has worked many jobs that are worse than being a driver, the discussion of how he did his job, being polite, etc. didn't strike me as bad in itself. (Again, perhaps the contrast with other posts makes it seem such, but I can't imagine myself wanting to read enough of the other posts to know.) There's a tendency among some people to think that any job they wouldn't take is one that no sensible person could take pride in doing, and so that any discussion of someone taking pride in such a job must be patronizing. This seems to me to be clearly wrong, but I suspect it's behind at least some of the reaction people who read that blog might be having. Taken on its own, the post didn't seem at all patronizing to me.

Phoebe said...


I suppose I've read the blog more than you have, but I think the issue is we're noticing different aspects of the post itself. What I've caught onto is the idea that the blogger is startled to find reasonable behavior and concern for dress in an 'inferior', and I found his tone reminiscent of the one used when someone white calls someone black 'articulate.' I get the sense from the post that the person the blogger's addressing who wouldn't imagine a driver to have pride is not his reader but himself.

You're certainly within your rights to interpret the image and text differently than I do, but I don't think you've accurately assessed what it is I find patronizing. It's not patronizing to say that people have pride in all jobs - it's a platitude that even those who don't really agree with it would agree to if asked aloud. What's patronizing is... everything I mention in my last comment. The blogger doesn't know if this man is an example of someone with great pride in what he does, or if he's someone who'd always wanted to do something else, and somehow got stuck driving around fashion bloggers for a living.

(In terms of having had jobs worse than driver - I'm imagining most of us have, although I can't say for sure in my own case, because while I'm aware of jobs I've had that were less than fulfilling or that would sound that way if described, I can't, you know, drive. I think what matters here is in part the age of the driver - we get the sense that this is not a job he's taking with the hopes of ending up doing something else.)

kei said...

I'm surprised Schuman responded to Stephanie in the tone and with the words that he did. It's also disconcerting that in his second comment, he responds with not only a heartless "my bad," but an accusation that Stephanie was being as "harsh" on him as he was on her. Surely I am not the only one who thought she was being entirely civil and bold, given the number of sappy "This post made me tear up" comments. It doesn't seem like he made much of an effort to understand her criticism or to consider whether it might be, in some or any sense, true.

On the one hand, I want to dismiss this and say, "His business is fashion photography and blogging, not a political theorist, so I don't expect any Sartorio-Moral-Social-Political Revelations on this blog." But on the other hand, I can't get his post and his responses to criticisms out of my head. He is a human being, his job requires him to interact with other people (even intimately, I'd argue, given that he takes their portraits and posts them on a well-visited blog), and above all, he makes claims (interpretations) about these people and their identities, so that in the end, I don't feel that he is at all excused from self-examination and owning up to his choice of actions. And there's no good reason that I know of to think anyway that a theorist has to do more work thinking about these things than a professional non-theorist, but that's another rant for another time.

What I wonder if this post would have appeared before the book deal, before the dates with Garance Dore, and so on, or if it is more time-sensitive.

Phoebe said...


First off, I'm glad I'm not the only grad student who knows who these fashion-bloggers are.

I think the issue with the Sartorialist isn't that he's attempting theory, but that he's got a massive audience due to something he's talented at (taking photographs of beautiful people in beautiful clothes) and has on occasion chosen to subject this massive audience to something he's not talented at (writing that doesn't come across as egotistical, incoherent, or both). Take the time he referred to himself as being good in bed. See, the shots of him with Garance Dore are lovely, but who wants to hear him talk about this?

Again, the man is good at what he does, both the photography itself and the marketing thereof, so it's understandable he has acolytes. But the entire commenter atmosphere is somewhat disturbing - even the most ordinary shots get heaps of praise far beyond what the shots themselves could possibly merit. I suspect a mixture of selective comment deletion and commenters' naive belief that if they praise enough and then link to their own blog, they too will get discovered and get driven around San Francisco by particularly dapper, 'dignified' drivers. Whatever the case, the don't-say-anything-unless-you-say-something-ridiculously-nice mood suggests that even if the blogger was once capable of taking criticism, he's perhaps let that capacity get rusty.