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Wednesday, 27 September
Project Cynicism

If you don't watch the Bravo show Project Runway, you can stop reading now. On the other hand, if you have Bravo, and have ever watched it for more than ten minutes, then it is highly likely that you have seen Project Runway!

(Incidentally, I will be revealing some stuff about the latest episode, so if you're all wiggy about that, you should probably go away.)

We had a couple friends over tonight to watch the latest episode of this show, another "reality" show that features young, talented fashion designers who compete to be top designers while weekly enduring torrents of scorn and abuse and invective from a panel of fashion mavens like Heidi Klum and Michael Kors. Having nothing but scorn for most of the ridiculous fashion industry in the first place, this turns out to be kind of fun, as is mouthing off about these poor designers, like I do to my wife, when I manifestly 1. already admitted that I hold this shit in low esteem in the first place, and 2. what the fuck do I know about fashion anyway? It was the wife who turned me on to this show in the first place, as she really likes her some fashion. It's all sort of tiring, really, so I don't think about it too much, and content myself at hooting things at the screen like, when the wife jokingly said, "So when is Tim Gunn going to come out of the closet?" Replied me: "I think the closet just sort of collapsed all around him. He just stood there blinking one day with the remains of a closet lying at his feet."

Project Runway is an oddity of sorts in the reality TV world in that it is highly subjective. Not like The Amazing Race, where it's pretty cut-and-dried: who came in last? OUT! Or even the dreary Survivor: got the most votes? OUT! No, each week of Project Runway has the celebrity panel simply bouncing whoever fucked it most that week, or sort of, or not really at all, quite frequently, since the panelists routinely contradict themselves, sometimes within seconds. Like, say: "Uli, we've seen this same dress from you before. We'd like to see you stretch." Moments later: "Jeffrey, this design is really you. It's what you're good at. We loved it." And then you get to see poor Uli wilting while Jeffrey flares the gill flaps on his neck.

The other thing one has to remember about Project Runway is the heavy (and largely unapologetic) mediation from the producers. This show really makes no bones about the fact that they keep people around purely because they're entertaining, or beloved, or deranged. Hence the ridiculously cruel longevity of hopeless contestants, such as Vincent, a harmlessly unhinged B-talent with a penchant for erupting into sustained gouts of baffling nonsense; and the heartbreakingly sweet and heartbreakingly doomed Kayne, who spent every single runway session nodding his head ruefully, grimly acknowledging the panelists' heaping invective upon his heartbreakingly clownish designs. These guys hung on late into the game while the incomparably adorable Alison was sent packing earlier on, prompting the kind of outraged screams from fans of the show that TV producers probably record on their TiVo and fall asleep to at night.

In other words, the whole affair is a tremendous pile of complete horseshit, which probably explains why I enjoy it so.

The big deal tonight was that they were to winnow the final four designers down to the final three who would then all go compete for the big fuckin' prize. The challenge was: design a garment that most essentially defines "who you are." As an added third-grade touch, the designers were to come up with three words that described their point of view. MESSAGE: "We think you are so hilariously shallow that you can be summed up in three words." SECONDARY MESSAGE: "It's going to be so hypocritically awesome when we crucify you for your designs in which we claim that you don't know you better than we do." TERTIARY MESSAGE: "We've never given a shit about anything you think or claim to think; in all honesty, we ran out of ideas, so this is what we pulled out of our asses."

Honestly, this was really stupid. What designer (or artist) ever thinks, "Hmmm. I'm going to approach this project as someone else, using their point of view." Wouldn't every single design they attempt be representative of the individual's point of view? This is ignoring the show's long-loved convention of making ridiculous demands on the designers, like "Here's a bunch of recycled garbage! Make a dress out of this." (Really.) Anything would have been better than this weird challenge to the axiomatic. "We're going to judge how well you do, uh, doing you." How about:

"Your challenge this week is to create undergarments for your models as you imagine her in dog form."

"What we're looking for this time can be summed up in one word: bukkake."

"We want to see how you would design a cocktail dress for an actual cock. Your next challenge is to design a bouncy outfit for Tim Gunn's gray penis."

But no, we got this lame shit, this "You do you!" crap that is perfect for the judges to cross themselves up riotously with self-contradiction. Michael got creamed for his (in my opinion lovely) evening gown, with Kors declaring "He's a sports clothing designer." Note that Michael is black. Hmmmm! Laura's insipid gown was rightly derided for being more of the same, with me shouting, "Yeah, boobless!" Laura routinely features plunging necklines on these models who have absolutely no real estate. Jeffrey, he of the neck literature, featured a strange mess that was all right up top but whose bottom looked like someone who had rolled around on a tablecloth. Ultimately the "winner" of the challenge was the much-maligned Uli, who spent all season being ragged on for serving up one flowy print dress after another, and this time came up with . . . a print dress that wasn't flowy for a change. Great. This is sort of like Disneyland announcing a bold new direction by declaring that they're closing down Space Mountain for a while. It's the same dress as ever! I just cut the bottom off of it.

Anyway, here's the big moment! Who is going home? OUR TWiST ANSWER? Nobody. Michael and Jeffrey are the two in peril, but there's no peril, because, as Ms. Klum says, "We have faith in you. You're all going." There's no final three! It's a final four!

And this, really, sums up reality programming. It sure as shit is programmed, from this show's cynical production-team heavy hand to its fairly standard requisite amounts of product placement. But what it really knocks out of the park is the reality. The TV part is practically secondary, except for the potency of the method of dissemination.

Here we have a show that purports to be meritocratic, even-handed and thematically coherent; it is none of these. This is also how we like to imagine (or how we cope with) life itself. Here is a show which is cynical and hypocritical and capricious and cruel. This is a program that portrays itself--its panelists and its contestants--as civilization itself, a dynamic between the you that puts yourself into the world of others by saying this and the they that either welcome you or crushes you with the inevitable that. What it never talks about is how arbitrary the whole process is. This is a show that almost exactly mirrors real life: one person is elevated to the pinnacles of success; many others are relegated to shit jobs, shit lives, shoveling shit. And the arbiters are the people we revere and also the people we hate, and they never, ever have to even make sense.

And when these unfortunates get shown the gate, bounced, sent off, they all say the same thing: "Thank you." This after weeks of routine humiliation and nonsensical punishment. ("We're bitterly disappointed in you for failing to live up to the theme of 'The History of Aluminum' after we generously gave you twelve hours to complete the garment using nothing but lichen. Get lost." "Thank you.")

Maybe this is the realest show out there.


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Comments

iiiiieeeee!
I am a gay 30something woman.
You are a strait, 30something married man.
It is safe to adore you :) and your biting wit.
Seriously, the video piece and now Project Runaway. I do not observe and gripe alone. How I wish my girlfriend would read blogs so she would come to know I am no the only one! But then, she found herself unable to break away from Rockstar Supersuckoff, so go figure.

Comment number: 008429   Posted by: alyxmyself on September 28, 2006 09:23 AM from IP: 67.155.164.227

(A tangent before I get started -- I wish people would quit ragging on Rockstar. Fuckers.)

Anyway, how is it that "Reality TV" has drifted so far from whatever thin strand of whatever the hell offered some foundation for using the term "reality" in the first place? These things, I think all of them, are pretty much extended game shows. Regular people come on and do something to try to win money (or contracts or... whatever.)

No The Real World... THAT was reality. They said so. Right in the title.

Comment number: 008430   Posted by: i, squub on September 28, 2006 09:47 AM from IP: 216.207.65.57

Gosh . . . I . . . sure was full of shit last night, wasn't I? Jesus.

Comment number: 008431   Posted by: Skot on September 28, 2006 10:00 AM from IP: 66.150.9.2

...or maybe booze...

Altho, I totally concur with:

"-one person is elevated to the pinnacles of success; many others are relegated to shit jobs, shit lives, shoveling shit. And the arbiters are the people we revere and also the people we hate, and they never, ever have to even make sense."

Pure poetry!

Comment number: 008432   Posted by: Mhatt on September 28, 2006 11:25 AM from IP: 151.151.73.167

You're not doing a great job of convincing me to watch more TV and movies.

On the other hand, I only read one blog entry this visit before I almost drowned in my own beer. Normally I get down a few screens (and glasses) before it gets to that stage.

Keep up the fine work, I'm just off to the fridge...

Comment number: 008434   Posted by: Guesst on September 28, 2006 01:24 PM from IP: 84.58.134.162

Hahaha, I loved this one.

I haven't seen the show... but the final 4 rather than final 3 surprise seems par for the course, particularly if Mouthbreathing America gets to call in votes (for $2 a pop)... milk it another week, and you're looking at how many millions?

Comment number: 008440   Posted by: Linda on September 29, 2006 05:58 PM from IP: 68.255.103.193

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