Someone just send me a New York Times treatment of Bonnie Fuller. It made me think of the time I visited Fuller’s editorial office in Toronto. Bonnie was kind enough to give me a tour and stopped to ask what I thought of the cover for the next issue.
I didn’t realize that in the fashion biz this is not a real question, but instead a cue to gush. I said that it was a pity that you couldn’t see the model’s tarsal lids. (I’m not sure why but visible tarsal lids often make people look a little smarter, and this model was otherwise going to look like a complete moron. I didn’t say this last part.)
Wrong answer! Bonnie and her assistant took turns criticizing my clothing on the ride down on the elevator. It was a little like that scene in The Devil Wears Prada when Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) instructs Andy (Anne Hathaway) on the significance of cerulean. I was pleased to have this chance to see myself through the lens of fashion, but I would have preferred a gentler delivery.
The NYT treatment is more snarky than laudatory, and this is apt, I guess. Fuller has done so much to shape the celebrity culture, it seems only right that she should be subjected to its voice. A little bit like being hoist by your own petard.
Still the article is a frustrating one. It flits from thought to thought to thought never allowing a larger argument to form. And here the Times must be criticized for allowing the discourse of the subject to infect the discourse of observation. Fashion prose may be restless and hyperactive but surely serious journalism mustn’t ever "go there."
The most illuminated observation comes from Janice Min. I have been a fan of Min’s since I covered a fashion forum a couple of years ago. She was evidently the smartest person in the room, with the surest grasp of the the celebrity culture. (More comments on Min below in the essay called "Muddles in the models.")
Here’s how Min explains Fuller’s success.
She is able to almost distill the id of the reader. She channels them in a way few others do, and what she heard is: ‘I don’t care about your acting method in your last movie. I just want to know what workout you used to get that fabulous body.’
This suggests that there has been a shift in the celebrity culture, a movement from admiration to imitation. Fans now treat the star less as a god and more as a set of transformational pointers. Celebrities by this reckoning are better than us but not different from us.
This is a very big change. Among other things, it marks the democratization of celebrity and the rise of a culture in which everyone imagines themselves a star, or at least transform themselves with a star’s effort and care.
A whole lot of consumer and online behavior makes more sense if we make this assumption. But never mind. The point at hand: Fuller might be the person who helped fashioned this second stage of the celebrity culture, no small accomplishment. Too bad she didn’t have more effect on my fashion sense.
Carr, David. 2008. 101 Secrets (and 9 Lives) of a Magazine Star. New York Times. June 29th, 2008.
McCracken, Grant. 2008. Transformations: Identity Construction in contemporary culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. on Amazon, here.
McCracken, Grant. 2007. The Devil Wears Durkheim. This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics. April 2, 2007. here.
McCracken, Grant. 2005. Muddles in the Models. This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics, October 21, 2008. here.
One more example of what my partner and I call the “look at me culture”. When we are all the stars of our own creation, the stars ARE just like us.
Google mostly doesn’t know what a tarsal lid is…
That article wasn’t in the Sunday magazine, though it was long enough for it. I believe it was in Sunday Styles. At any rate, it was on newsprint.
I wasn’t sure what a tarsal lid was either. I kept thinking of metatarsals, but they don’t have lids. then I remembered tarsal mites. But I’m still not sure how eyelids link to toes …
The shift in celebrity culture seems to lead to two different levels (concepts?) of relationship with celebrities: Celebrities might now belong to two different categories:
a) The ladders
b) The stars
The former group is composed of “affordable” models that help people to learn how to become a celebrity. Ladders somehow show the way, pointing out the dos and don’ts, the right outfits and the places to go to enter the celebrity planet.I think that Eva Longoria might be placed in this group
The latter is still hard or almost impossible to reach and is more worshipped than imitated.It is a group that is less sensitive to fashion and brands, very difficult to depict with a few words (this turns real stars into horrible testimonials for luxury brands since they tend to adopt very personal attitudes towards products and brands).
In case you were not aware, the imitation goes as far as having surgery on television to replicate the ‘look’ of your favorite star:
I Want a Famous Face
Somehow the link did not come thryu on the last one:
I feel like such a loser I didn’t know who Fuller was. I did take an anthropology course at York U. with Suzanne Boyd way back when: she told me where the cool nightclubs were…