Tuesday, September 27, 2011

2.5: Pyrite

"There is only one class in the community that thinks more about money than the rich, and that is the poor. The poor can think of nothing else." -Oscar Wilde

Paul:  And now we come to the topics of social class, economics, distribution of wealth, and envy.  Our designers are to design a dress for Nicky Hilton, the Hilton who has produced fashion design while existing entirely in the shadow of her swollen silk-stocking sister.

Oh, if I can make it through this without singing The Internationale it will be a miracle.

Conrad Hilton was the magnate of the Hilton Hotel chain, the great-grandfather of the Hilton sisters, and the source from which their wealth flows.  He started the Hilton Hotel line by buying a single hotel and working his way up, which sounds like a great Horatio Alger American Dream story until I think about buying a single hotel.  Even the single-story, drive-up "Bates Motel but with meth instead of murder"  across the street from me is above my paygrade.

Laurie:   I'm pretty sure I heard that there was a murder there several years ago.  But even so, as you say, we'd have to at least quadruple our wealth before we could afford to purchase the Budget Inn.

Paul:  So, it seems like a "rags to riches" empire story for sympathetic purposes, but really it's more like "upper-middle class to riches" empire story.

Boy oh boy, am I ever being a catty little Have-Not over this episode.  My point is that everybody knows that the game is rigged.  The Feudal Spirit is alive and well in America and there is a ceiling dictated by your last name, skin color, or gender identity.  There is the con that this is not the case perpetuated by those whose goal is to maximize their profit margin and those who are trying to get people to vote for them.  Everyone knows that sharing amaretto at the Four Seasons with the beautiful people, carefullly shaded from the cloying cameras of jealously, is much nicer than yesterday's Yuban in the break room across the silent table from Murray who is trying to get a middle management position by constantly pointing out your flaws to your supervisors.  
Murray buys the illusion of upward mobility, but there is only so far he can climb.  In what may be clever subversion or entirely unintentional on the part of the show, the designers are carefully taught that if they want the best slop, they must buddy up to the fattest hogs.

Laurie:  A recent article in The Economist discussed a report which posited, as did Wilde, that the poor can be just as complicit in this as the rich. No one wants to be on the bottom. This "last-place aversion" hints that everyone needs someone to look down on to feel alive. Self-worth, it appears, is relative and measured by comparing or associating ourselves with others. Self is central and others peripheral, valued or devalued based upon whatever currency, emotional or otherwise, they have to offer us. So there is a sense in which both rich and the poor depend upon there being someone poorer than themselves for their own happiness.

Paul:  Right!  We saw some of this in this episode I thought.  Nicky Hilton makes her appearances and does give a bit of an air of being "above" it.  Arguably that was necessary to maintain the illusion of a socialite deigning to bestow her largesse on the unwashed masses.  However, taking a step back we see the show promoting her line and, indeed, her persona.  In other words, she used Project Runway for a boost and Project Runway used her for a boost.

The designers are invited to a party in which Nicky Hilton makes an appearance.  The designers are reminded that part of the role of a designer is not just to sell a design to the client, but to sell their image or some such rot.  In other words, Santino is a shoe-in (as it were) and Emmett and Diana are doomed.  

Laurie:  As though every drop of praise might be the last in the parched Project Runway desert, Santino exhibited incredible discomfort  whenever anyone else's designs received credit.

Santino is an irresistible character.  Petulant one moment, hilarious the next.  Gifted beyond his ability to restrain himself, in more ways than one. He reminds me of a little boy whose maddening behavior is offset perfectly by his devastating charm, disarming smile, and apparent lack of guile. You don't love to hate him. You want to love him in spite of the obstacles he throws in your path.

Paul: There is another lesson here which I think flows nicely from the Daniel Franco episode.  Faced with the low ceiling of circumstance beyond any control of the individual, one is either faced with a life of frustration (the broad path) or the option to base one's values and importance on those things which are not dictated by the grand pecking order (the narrow road.)   If one is able to transubstantiate what is of value in this world from the monetary to the virtuous, one suddenly has a paradigm in which the ceiling is removed.  While the Hiltons of the world seek to miniaturize camels, a much simpler and more universally attainable and rewarding task is the daily attention to the condition of the soul.  

Another lesson from this week's episode is to bear in mind that if you are living in an enclosed space in which there is food available to you, running water which need not be boiled to prevent you from becoming horribly, immediately, and likely deathly ill, and are, in fact, able to read this, congratulations!  You are among the richest people in the world.  If you're starving to death without a home, it's not much of a difference (at least initially) between the barest minimum of government food and housing or living in hotels with your own name on them.  We are the fattest hogs, and the global economy is currently hitting the blip of having evolved to existing to feed that hog on credit and then panicking when the bill arrives.

This body and these things can come and go so quickly.  Out of every 25 people you see in a day, one will be dead next year.  Focus on virtue for a life with real flourish.

Laurie:   Wow, we've covered just about everything but the fashion this time around, and failed to mention the good deal of fun that was had.  How about I get that little thing out of the way.  First of all, the fun.  Once the awkward kissing-up to the heiress part of the party was over, and she unceremoniously ceased to be there, the designers let their hair down and played for a while.  They treated us and themselves to a rip-roaring good time by holding a "walk-off", with each of the designers doing their best representation of a runway model. Santino, a born mimic, made his appearance in slacks and stiletto pumps (yes, really), and stole that show. As good design would have it, he also went on to steal the challenge. His winning design is below. 

Santino's design image via sfgate.com
This is also the week we say hello and good-bye to Guadalupe Vidal, who I fear we've yet to mention here, due to a design better suited to Helena Bonham-Carter than Nicky Hilton.  Guadalupe's funky aesthetic failed to come across in the Project Runway challenges, though I could see the charm in it.  (I, for one, have always thought Helena Bonham-Carter gets a bad fashion-rap. She is who she is and dresses accordingly.  Though you couldn't pay me to mimic her style, I think there is something amazing about the image she presents to the world.)

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