Wednesday, August 17, 2011

1.6: You're Soaking In It.

Paul: And now on to the subject of reducing our fellow human beings in our minds to mere objects or tools.  This week was the swimwear edition.

Laurie: The design challenge for this episode was to create, in five hours, a swimsuit which could double for evening wear suitable for the pool party at an upper-crusty hotel which both designers and models would be attending that very evening.  The winning designer would be the one who could engage a certain newspaper fashion writer at the party and make a profound enough impression with design, demonstration, and demeanor to garner a mention in his column in the next morning's paper.

Paul:  When I think of swimwear, I think of something to wear in the water which will not bunch or inhibit my progress in swimming, but will also not reveal my Falstaffian folds to the offended world.  I used to actually own and wear an Edwardian era reproduction of a man's one piece bathing suit.  It was black.

I understand that everyone in this episode has an almost polar opposite ideal in swimwear from me.  I am just trying to be forthright in what I am bringing to the table.  It seems to me that the key element in modern feminine swimwear is to inspire the prurient spirit in men and, strangely, defensive self-loathing in women. [Laurie:  I'd say the real intention is: to inspire said prurience in men and envy in other women and that the self-loathing is an unintended by-product of the fact that only a tiny percentage of women actually look enviable in a swimsuit.]  Paul:  I should imagine that swimwear that is marketed in this manner would never sell because everyone who looks at a magazine image of a model in swimwear must think "I don't look anything like that."  Including the model herself.  Which is an awful lot of angst to pile onto the simple act of not bathing nude in public.  I don't know, maybe I'm just speaking to my own naturally inclination to reject anything that makes me feel that someone is trying to exploit me.

I've never understood this form of advertising, which I think speaks to very different expectations and paths available to females in our culture.  If I see an image of what our culture deems an extremely physically attractive man in a certain swimsuit, I think, "Boy oh boy, I am way too fond of the taste of hops to ever look like that!"  Then the chances of me purchasing that swimsuit are about the same as the chances of me winning the lottery without buying a ticket (which, if I understand statistics correctly, is almost exactly the same as my chances of winning the lottery if I do buy a ticket.)  I am unclear on how the swimwear industry stays alive (every fiber of my trained-seal being dictated that I say "afloat" but I fought it and won!)

Laurie:  Alas, Paul, as I have often said, you are no ordinary man!  I can't tell you the number of men I've seen and known whose bathrooms must come equipped with time-travel mirrors.  These men take one  look at themselves, suck in an inch or two, pat their 24-pack and say, "Yep, I still got it. Today I'm going with the Speedo!"

Most women, on the other hand, and I include myself in this group, are not in the least bit comfortable with the way they look in swimsuits. They dread shopping for them, and dread wearing them. The only thing worse would be going out naked, and there's only a tiny bit of fabric's difference really. This episode would show us that even our runway models, of necessity not the most modest bunch, seem to have limits to how much they are comfortable exposing.

Paul:  When the challenge is first explained to the group, Austin immediately thinks of Esther Williams, complete with a cut to a quick video montage, which is a holographic encapsulation on why Austin should not only win on this show, but in life as well.  When they talk about a model in swimwear, Robert thinks of the front cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.  Austin immediately thinks of this:

Laurie:  Austin's completed design is at right.

Paul: The designers make their swimsuits and then are to take them to the party where one Robert Johnson shall be in attendance. The party takes place at an exclusive New York spot which I will probably die without even ever having walked past.  Mr. Johnson writes the "Page 6" gossip column in that titan of class and standard for decency in journalism The New York Post.  Mr. Johnson's portion of the party is edited in such a way that it seems as if he is leering at a 16 year old the entire night.  Mr. Johnson is probably not quite old enough to be her grandfather, but let's just say that one could imagine him thinking of music from the year she was born as "new."

Laurie:   Yes, he even joked to the effect that he ought not be leering after learning that Austin's model was underage. Occasionally he appeared to make an effort at averting his eyes, which, in some fairness was a little difficult as he was rather cornered by this 16 year old who can I put this delicately?...quite intent on being noticed.

Paul:  Don't get me wrong, I'm not condemning sexual attraction wholesale here.  None of us would be here if it didn't exist.  But the whole scene seemed to me like something Nixon would have done to an opposing candidate.  [Laurie: Exactly!]  Paul:  Johnson himself reacts to the information that the girl is 16 years old by spending the rest of the night not ogling her out of herculean will power.  Never before has a fashion contest been so Kafka-esque.  It is a pubescent nightmare with all of the clunky moral overtones of a 1980s slasher film (where it's utterly baffling as to why morality is being preached at all in that context.)  It may be important to remind our readers of two things here: the model's sole purpose is to get noticed, so she is parading and flirting, but also important is that this is the Esther Williams outfit we're talking about.  We are not talking about the one swimsuit made from two shoestrings.

Laurie:  And let us not forget, she was not the only model hoping to be noticed.  When the rest saw Esther Williams getting so cozy with Mr. Johnson they, one by one, made their way back until by the end he was not only cornered but absolutely surrounded by scantily clad models at varying degrees of tipsy doing whatever they could to attract and maintain his attention.  It was a pathetic and rather disgusting scene.

Paul:  And let me add that reducing fashion to the merely prurient is as a hyperion to a satyr.  The goal of fashion is the elevation of human beauty and reflects some of the highest aspirations of humankind.  I hate to always be the one to bring a six-pack of bleak to the party, but to me when I see fashion used in this manner it reminds me of poor Philo Farnsworth who did so much hard work on that tool of the future, that great invention which would accelerate the education and evolution of human civilization, the television.  Poor Philo who was so discouraged by the emergent vast wasteland produced by the rip-tides of advertising that he wouldn't let his own children watch television.  I've stated the equation of my own devising before, but I'll say it again: The level of crap is in direct proportion to the level of attention to the profit margin.  That is Mathers' Law.

So, back to the party, Jay dresses up as Jay-sus again.  Near the end, he comments on how he was a little put off by what he described as the "whoredom" of the event.  [Laurie: And this from the fellow who walked out on the porn industry because it was dirty!] Paul: I know, right?  Suddenly Jay is our moral compass on the show.  There is also a tense exchange between Robert Johnson and Jay later when Johnson confronts Jay on his flamboyant personality.  He says that he has a hard time imagining Jay at a business dinner at The Four Seasons.  Jay tells Johnson that he could see himself there if they gave him a high-chair or booster seat.  We literally burst into applause.

Laurie: NosireeBob, Jay's having none of it!

Paul:  As a strange aside, Laurie turns to me at one point in the episode and tells me that Jay reminds her of me.

Laurie:  I'm not sure I can explain, but I'll give it a go.  Much of it is the "I don't care how hard you're selling, I'm not buying" attitude that just won't conform for the sheer sake of conforming. Part of it is the flamboyant personality and style. Part of it is a slightly non-conformist sense of humor, and a tendency to form sudden and deep bonds with the most unexpected people. Part of it is body-type.

Paul:  Fair enough.  I'm okay with being similar to Jay.

Laurie:   As for his contribution, he says it wasn't exactly what he'd hoped it would be, but it turned out pretty well just the same. I agree, though I must add, the front view was much more flattering than the rear.

Paul:  Kevin picked Morgan as his model.  Lord, what fools these mortals be!  As soon as he announces his pick of Morgan, Laurie said, "You can't take her to an exclusive party!"  About 15 minutes later, we see exactly what Laurie was talking about playing out before our very eyes.  It was like watching a snuff film.  After the Project Runway event, Morgan insists on leaving in Kevin's outfit to go visit other of the Big Apple's nightclub offerings.  Kevin lacks the intestinal fortitude to physically tackle Morgan and, predictably, she shows up the next morning with the outfit in tatters.  Outside of the improvements, the judges don't notice.

Laurie:  Poor Morgan, I get the feeling her episodes are numbered.  For our designers, there's something of the train wreck about her which makes her as nearly irresistible as she is disastrous and prevents them from voting her off. I think, though, that they are reaching their limits. The other designers who found out that Kevin had entrusted his design with her for the evening were just short of taking bets on whether it would come back in one piece or whether it would come back at all.

Paul: Robert says something disgusting about women being like vintage sports cars.  One of the judges actually calls him out on this. 

Laurie:  I've heard men say this before, and they always think it is a compliment. It was clear that Robert had no idea what he'd said wrong until he was asked to explain himself, and appeared to suddenly realize what the implications were of what he'd just said.  The symbolism is troubling.  A car is an object to be driven, to be controlled, to give a man a sense of power and a sense of status.  A woman is a human being created in the image of God.  Big difference. Robert ended up muttering something only vaguely coherent about men naming cars after women. Considering the angry tone of the judge, (who says you can't argue against the objectification of woman while judging a swimsuit and runway model competition?) and the unimaginative design of the suit, I suspected this might be the last we see of Robert.

As it turns out, however, he squeaked by yet again. This time thanks to a few key flubs on the part of Alexandra Vidal.  Her name hasn't come up much here because, like Kara Saun, she creates no drama. She is a lovely young woman in her early 20's.  She always looks calm and well put-together. Episode after episode she accepts her challenge, keeps her pretty head down, and ends the show with a respectable finish.  She creates consistently complete, tasteful, and likeable designs, but generally nothing too imaginative. This is the week her lack of originality, and a few errors of judgment, caught up with her.  Her first mishap became apparent when the model showed up to try on the suit. The suit was quite lovely, very elegant, but it was much too small in every way. The model was clearly uncomfortable with showing so much unintended skin, but went along with it like a sport. It was the second mishap, though, which would prove her undoing. She admitted to the judges that she had been inspired by suits she'd seen by a couple of other designers, who she named.  So, the moral is, keep your inspiration to yourself.  Be as derivative as you like, but whatever you do, don't admit it. No hypocrisy there.  One thing that is becoming abundantly clear as these judgments begin to pile up, is that people are decidedly oblivious to their own inconsistencies and the sliding scale -or as you would say, Paul, "the movable feast" - that is their own moral compass.

That said, during the course of this season, Alexandra has made a very favorable impression on me. I have little doubt that she has a bright design future ahead of her.  (Since we are nearly eight seasons behind I felt justified in checking up on her via a little Google search. It would appear that, as I suspected, she's doing quite well for herself.)

So, I was really rather disappointed to see the talented Miss Vidal go while Robert and Wendy squeezed their way through yet again.  Wendy stood in real jeopardy this round too.  Her bird of paradise inspired swim "suit" ended up being a swimsuit top.  The bottom she made was unwearable, so the model had to wear her own thong under it.  Fortunately the top half was quite lovely, like the bird of paradise that inspired it, and long enough to cover the exposed parts.  Even though she was forced to admit her flub to the judges, and even though it was really a dress and not a functional swimsuit, she still got away with it. It was really pretty though. I would definitely wear a swimsuit like this one - assuming it came with a full coverage bottom half that is!

Paul: At the end of the episode, Jay and Austin are on the runway as the two potential winners.  In order to find out who won, they must wait until the next morning's Post to see which of them was mentioned by name on Page Six.  The next morning, Jay and Austin walk into a liquor store, which feels a bit like taking a giraffe into the DMV.  They find that Austin has won.  Jay is encouraging and graceful in his reception of the news until they cut to a "bit" in which Jay attacks Austin later and we realize that we would devoutly watch a show of just these two goofing off every week.

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