Vanessa Richmond

The Olympics and Its Stars Pimp for Junk Food

Maybe you thought that junk food and soft drinks would take a hike during the Olympics, the world’s largest celebration of bodies at the peak of health and fitness. But if you thought that, you’d be wrong. McDonald’s and Coca Cola are almost as ubiquitous as the five rings up here in Vancouver. 

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10 TV Shows You Have to Watch to Understand the World

When we need a break from the tyranny of reality -- from the forces of injustice and political extremism, Wall Street baddies and corrupt politicians -- there's the sweet escapism only 22 or 42 minutes of scripted life can provide.

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4 TV Series That Should Not Be Missed

The following is the second article in a three-part AlterNet series appearing on Fridays on television and culture by Vanessa Richmond.

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Is Angelina Jolie the Next Feminist Icon?

"Oprah Winfrey is dead. Long live Angelina Jolie," trumpeted one paper last week. In this year's Forbes' rankings, kind of like the Stanley Cup of celebrity competitions, Jolie deposed Winfrey's long reign as monarch of fame. She whooped some serious head-of-state heinie too: Obama was the top-ranked head of state, but with his paltry $2 million annual salary, he came 49th.

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Is Breeding a Sin?

Let me get this straight. One spotlight hogging, serial baby-maker is a paragon of sexiness and virtue, and the other is a crazed lunatic.

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Seven Things I Learned from Pop Culture in 2008

Ah, the joys of reading and learning. I hope you agree my hours spent reading the mainstream media, blogs and tabloids have paid off. Here, I'm sharing with you the life lessons I've picked up this year.

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Rise of the Aristo-Brats

So You Think You Can Dance, the underdog but odds-on-favourite in the race to be America's Next Top Reality Show, gets going for real tonight. If you've been watching for the last few weeks, you've seen hundreds of ugly ducklings and a few swans audition, all with stardust in their eyes.

Nigel Lythgoe, a co-producer and judge, told them last week, in fact, that if they didn't want to be stars, they should get off the stage. They all stayed put. Because that's what it and other star-making TV shows are about -- achieving the American Dream through the most meritocratic contest around.

But though I have been glued to the box since its first season, I have seen no previous winners of the show anywhere after. And this is true of the other shows; I have only seen anything of three winners of American Idol -- ones who have actually gone on to have songs on the charts. And only Adrianne Curry, the first season winner of America's Next Top Model, has had even moderate career success (if Playboy counts as such).

Interesting, then, that despite a few dips in Idol's ratings last season, these are among the most popular shows on TV, when some, like Radar Magazine, have just declared the meritocracy officially dead.

They shall inherit the glory

Forget talent and hard work as the route to fame and power. In "Attack of the Aristo-Brats!," Radar welcomes readers to the new age of nepotism saying, "children of the rich and famous are taking over the world," and "an aristocratic chill is gripping the nation as never before."

Cruz Beckham's impromptu breakdance at a Spice Girls' concert at Madison Garden got more screams from the 15,000 audience members and more media chatter about future career success than the winners of So You Think You Can Dance enjoy. Miley Cyrus is already a more famous singer (and whatever else she is), at 15, than any of the Idol winners can hope to be. And as far as modeling goes, Riley Keough (Elvis' granddaughter), Frances Cobain Bean, and Keith Richards' daughters Theodora and Alexandra, among others, are appearing in shows and glossy ads for designers like Dior. "Indeed, with each new fashion season, another genetically advantaged aristo-brat elbows some anonymous Lithuanian bombshell out of the way."

Given the obsession with corporate branding, the phenomenon of second-generation celebrity should come as no surprise, Radar argues. "Increasingly, children are just brand extensions in person form -- human sequels, easier to green-light than untested projects." When Maddox Jolie-Pitt decides to make his first film, studios will likely outbid each other for it (very similar to what local film students experience, I hear) because regardless of whether it's good or terrible, audience members will pay to find out. His is a household name and story, and many want to find out the next chapter in the tale.

Look no further than the current A-list crop in Hollywood to see where last name gets you. Some are talented, some not, but all start on the top floor: there's Gwynneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Anniston, Kate Hudson, Tory Spelling, Nicole Ritchie, Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian to name a few of the royal daughters.

And the next generation proves to be even bigger -- already getting attention, contracts and tabloid coverage as young as the age of three: Lourdes Ciccone Leon (Madonna's daughter), Bindi Irwin (daughter of late croc hunter, Steve Irwin), Ally Hilfiger, Ivanka Trump, and even Rumer "Potato Head" Willis. They're models, singers, artists, talk show hosts, novelists, actors and talentless but tabloid-hogging stars.


MTV's new show, Rock the Cradle, is an American Idol-style competition show starring only the children of famous musicians. Most aren't great. But even so, they'll likely easily surpass their non-aristo-brat, non-celebreality TV show brethren -- like the winners of American Idol -- in contracts and fame.

And, of course, there's also a new episode of Living Lohan on tonight -- a show that follows Dina Lohan as she tries to make Ali into the star Lindsay is (though with how well Lindsay's doing lately, as a result, it's a wonder the show doesn't feature the intervention of child authorities). Ali Lohan is already in the tabs and will probably grace screens, but hopefully not rehab centres, soon.

Because the meritlesstocracy is becoming so blatant in Hollywood -- and elsewhere like the White House -- people are starting to scratch their heads. Recently hosting Kim Kardashian on The View, Barbara Walters tried to get her to explain what's been going on in the last decade, culturally, that could make someone like Kardashian a household name. "Why are you famous?" she demanded, perplexed, furrowing (well, kind of). Then, unsatisfied by the answer, "But what do you do?" Maybe Walters should invite Dubya on next week for the same grilling.

Sure, a hand up from mom or dad is nothing new -- we all want the best for the people we love. What are we going to do -- institute a law where kids aren't allowed to go into the same professions as their parents?

And spawn do have some genuine advantages; athletically, it's clear that super-genes are real (see Peyton and Eli Manning). And artistically or politically or otherwise, if you grow up with mentors and lessons and practice, and hear adults talk shop at the dinner table, you clearly do have a leg up over others who start the process a couple of decades later.

Obama to the rescue?

But it's the power of the powerful to open doors and trade on favours that clearly is accelerating a lot of young careers in Hollywood these days.

As it has in Washington, and other centres of political power. Which brings us to another refreshing aspect of the Obama moment. Perhaps, as some have claimed, the fact that he is more popular than the aristo-brat Bush, and defeated the royal Clintons, signals a cultural sea change. Having won the Democratic Idol contest with grit, talent and hard work, many expect the third black American senator to resuscitate the ailing American Dream.

I tried that on a friend, who said Obama can't revive a meritocracy that never existed. The celebretocracy, in one form of another, has always the main show. But despite that, some producers manage to sell us the idea of hope.

So tonight I'll be watching, riveted, as 20 dancers try to become stars in their own eyes -- if no one else's.

What Does the Decay of Journalism Have to Do with My Huge Appetite for Celebrity Gossip?

"You're the problem," a male friend told me sternly a few weeks ago. I'm why the rich are getting richer and poor are getting poorer, why political apathy abounds, why environmental catastrophe looms. Because I, and people like me, read pop culture stories -- celebrity ones in particular. And because that's what more and more media are covering instead of what they "should" be (i.e. politics, the economy and international affairs). Hence, society is going to hell in a hand basket.

His criticism is equivalent to what gets posted in the comments sections of The Tyee and other news sites after almost any pop culture story. After blogging celeb Emily Gould's article "Exposed" ran in this weekend's New York Times Magazine (about the emotional trauma she experienced as a result of sharing too much of her and her friends' and boyfriends' lives online) many comments were variations on these ones: "Why is this important to me???????" and "I expect more from the New York Times."

Sure, it's true that there's no shortage of real, crucial issues right now. And I do read "serious" stories about them every day. But I am proud to say my reading diet includes far more stories that are considered to be the journalistic equivalent of genetically modified, non-organic candy corn.

I'm hardly alone. The readership numbers for pop culture stories -- which I count as celebrity, social trend, TV, music and film pieces in both blogs and traditional media -- are skyrocketing as readership of traditional news and newspapers is on the decline.

Talk among yourselves

It's not just democracy -- readers voting with their clicks -- that has convinced me about pop culture's worth. I actually think that much maligned celebrity "gossip" pieces can provide a rich forum for values debates. So I'm proud to say I know as much about the Greek drama of celebrity life as I do about the sub prime crisis or about the rising cost of oil. And I consider them to be not candy, but flavorful parts of the main course.

That's because pop culture journalism is like a misunderstood, blonde friend who seems air headed but actually gets the best marks in school, is the most fun to hang out with and the liveliest to talk to. That New York Times article by Emily Gould had 1212 comments posted after it by noon on Monday (before comments were closed). The most popular political op-ed column of the day had 102. That's not unusual.

And that pattern plays out in the real world, in my experience. Last week, at a dinner with some friends, I mentioned a story I'd read about peak oil and the impacts on flying. "Oh yeah?" said one smart, well-read friend. Then she told us about a recent flight she'd taken where the airline had lost her luggage. Later, I mentioned a story I'd read that listed "hippy-crite" celebs -- ones who say they're concerned about the environment but whose actions suggest otherwise. John Travolta recently said "everyone can do their bit" when it comes to global warming, but travels in his 150-passenger jet -- alone. Madonna headlined Al Gore's Live Earth concert in London but has $2 million invested in mining and oil exploration companies. Brad Pitt spearheads a green reconstruction project in the Hurricane Katrina-stricken Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans -- but flies in his private jet to and from meetings there.

The conversation about the environment, policy and personal responsibility lasted most of the evening. What are the worst environmental offenses? What's inexcusable and what's unavoidable? What should governments be doing and what's up to the individual?

Even the Emily Gould article is about the costs, benefits and limits of free speech, about censorship and privacy, about ethics in journalism. Did she go too far? What is too far? That's what people talk about.

Fame, fortune, families

Or how about this week's reports that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt bought a $60 million chateau in Provence, France: the perfect spot for Jolie to give birth to twins in a few months. Mention Canada's declining fertility rate or the fact that the housing affordability crisis means many middle class Canadians are finding breeding just too expensive and you'll get a few polite nods. But mention Brangelina's recent purchase, along with the fact that each of their children has a personal nanny, or that Angelina Jolie says she wants three more kids (becoming this generation's Mia Farrow), and people shout over each other to weigh in. People talk about the cost of children and the consumerism around it. Some say it's wrong for a mother of four young kids to star in three movies this year -- or to constantly uproot the kids to various houses and schools around the world as she does so.

To add to that, this week Jenna Jameson said that, inspired by Angelina Jolie, she's going to stay unmarried and "go for the babies." And Kirsten Davis, also inspired by Jolie, has said she might remain single but adopt a baby. In response to these stories, people I know talk about the value of marriage, about the ethics of having children vs. adoption in an overpopulated world, about the difficulty of being a single parent, about a woman's right to choose when she has kids and how, about childcare and about men's role in raising kids.

On the other hand, there's Arianna Huffington's blog post "unmasking" John McCain's record on reproductive rights. In short, he has a 25 year record of voting against a woman's right to choose, his website says he's against Roe vs. Wade, against insurance companies covering birth control, and only believes in abstinence-only education. This week, McCain appeared on Ellen and said that he wishes her well, but is against the fact that she's now legally allowed to marry her partner, Portia de Rossi, in California this summer. Pretty similar discussions happen as a result of discussing Jolie's choices and McCain's positions -- but I bet more people know about Jolie and more people discuss fertility, reproductive rights and marriage as a result.

Trashy biases

I mention this to people who doubt the complexity of the values debate spurred by celebrities, and they don't tend to believe me. But the same or even more heated arguments transpire -- verbally and in the comments sections of news sites and blogs -- than political ones between insider politicos with brand name degrees. The difference is, pop culture readers accept that news readers read news, but not the other way around.

In fact, most of the people who are critical of my reading tendencies would be horrified to hear that they're being sexist or elitist -- but that's often the case. One friend who is a news addict (an admirable habit), said every woman he knows reads celebrity trash, and that every time he sees a tabloid around -- at home or work -- he throws it in the garbage where it belongs. He acknowledges men may read about sports, but says celebrities are far worse, and thinks women are slaves to powerful media companies (gosh). Another friend said that with two university degrees, I'm capable of understanding the news (read: unlike some people) so don't need to spend my time on trash. He meant well, but doesn't see his own bias.

Talking about patterns in pop culture is at least as useful a vehicle for social criticism than pure politics. It is politics. It's also democratic. Pop culture is popular not because it's dumb, but because it's usually about the crucial questions of life and society, told with interesting characters and a constantly updating, suspenseful storyline. And just like with Emily Gould's piece, pop culture pieces tend to get the big readership.

The Wright approach

Do I think all celebrity stories are valid and true? Well, I don't tend to trust anything with unnamed sources -- in news or pop culture. Do I think more media sites will start to publish only high readership pieces and ignore the news? Well, if they do, they'll lack credibility and lose readers who want a balanced diet. And don't tell me that I can't sample tabloid journalism without becoming its dupe. Some critical distance is the best stance when imbibing any form of journalism, including celebrity soap operas.

Do I think the current methods of gathering celeb news are OK? I have to admit, that like my other omnivorous eating habits, I eat meat but don't actually kill the animal myself. I've never stalked a celebrity or hung out with the paparazzi and don't plan to. In fact, I find the idea distasteful and would prefer that there were more ethical standards in place. There's more than enough fodder for discussion from what celebs say themselves on talk shows, statements, media conferences and premieres.

And as Lara Cohen, the news director at Us Weekly pointed out in her piece "Who Are You Calling a Tabloid?" a few weeks ago, political writers aren't exactly angelic. "To say the news media's coverage of Reverend Wright has been exhaustive is like saying that Us was mildly interested in Brad Pitt's split from Jennifer Aniston. The true hallmark of sensationalized journalism is ginning up controversy to drive sales. Wright's outbursts were the mainstream media's equivalent of Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah's couch -- a train wreck no one could turn away from. And so they milked it, regardless of the impact on the very race they were supposedly covering objectively."

At least I know what I'm eating.

Is Feminism Compatible with the Kitchen?

"I don't cook. So I made my eat-in kitchen a fabulous walk-in closet," announces a young, attractive woman in the newest Citibank ad.

It's part of a $93 million campaign called "Tell your story," that's appearing in print, magazine, TV and online.

"My name is Grace and I live in a small apartment in a big city," the ad continues. "And since I enjoy a day of shopping far more than, say, cooking, I decided to do a bit of home remodeling. So with my Citi card in hand, I set out to get some closet organizers. I bought a shoe rack for the oven, sweater boxes for the lower cupboards and some 12-inch baskets for handbags up above. I saved room for plates, glasses and silverware. And one large drawer stuffed with take-out menus."

Citibank is so confident that women will identify with "Grace's" sentiment, they're even running the ad in February's issue of Gourmet Magazine.

Their assumption, I guess, is that even a good number of Gourmet's readers (who are mostly women) don't actually cook; they're just sampling the food porn.

This idea -- that liberated women don't prepare food -- isn't one that Citibank just cooked up. In fact, as one female friend of mine quickly pointed out, it's still part of the Sex and the City cultural hangover. Carrie Bradshaw, of course, famously used her oven as a shoe cupboard far before Grace, as a kind of feminist triumph: she likes sex and (therefore) doesn't like to cook. Shopping, friends and men sustained her instead, along with the occasional restaurant meal.

Last of a breed?

But since Sex, the phenomenon has heated up. Recently, I talked to a middle-aged male film director about a dinner he had just cooked for friends. When I subsequently told him about a meal I'd made, he raised his eyebrows. "I don't know a single other woman who cooks -- or at least admits to it in public!" he exclaimed. "You're like a relic!" His male friends all cook, he said. But no women of his generation or younger that he knows prepares food.

Why? In short, men come across as evolved, sexy and creative when they mix things up in the kitchen. But women seem stuck in Leave-it-to-Beaver-land when they step in front of the stove: domestic suckers who aren't paying enough attention to their ambition or their libidos. They're not third wave feminists, embracing women's traditional skills or sexy, busy people who make time for health and family, but women who need a good empowerment talk.

I spoke to a few of my other female friends about it. "I never had anything in the cupboards before I had kids," one friend, a professional singer, told me proudly. "I was out having fun."

"I can't even boil water," another told me, smiling. "If my husband is away, I just eat cereal or get take out." She's never been taught to cook and has no desire to learn. Plus, her husband's dad was a chef, and he loves to cook elaborate meals.

"I put food on the table for the kids every day or whatever, but my partner does the fancier cooking for guests," said another. "It's easier than getting him to help with anything else around the house -- he knows he'll get lots of kudos for being the chef, but none for cleaning the toilet."

Cooking as spectator sport

So actually, two things are happening. One is that some women aren't cooking at all because they see it as low status or unnecessary. And sure, women have been unfairly stuck with the brunt of domestic labor for a long time in a culture that has deemed it lower status than, say, working in an office. Stepping away from the hearth is a form of rebellion and liberation and a way to gain more cultural status, which are both motivations I can sympathize with (even though I think they're both ultimately the opposite of liberated and healthy -- more on that later).

And the other is that many women do the daily food prep but don't count that as "real" cooking. For this, I blame the rise of foodie culture. There are plenty of shows on the Food Network that feature quick and easy meals. Like from one of my favorite celeb cooks -- Nigella Lawson -- in which, in the promo, she claims doing her hair and putting on lipstick takes more time than making the entrée.

But it's clear this type of cooking is very different from real cooking -- i.e. highly fetishized, specialized, time consuming, expensive chef-ing, mostly done by men, both in restaurants and at home, and often involving blow torches. It's really a spectator sport, but it's somehow become "cooking."

Michael Pollan's latest social recipe

A friend of mine, who is a chef, spent two weeks making a meal for his wife for her birthday. It was the best meal she's tasted.

But the meals they put on the table every day for themselves and their four-year old daughter are also real meals and actually more important socially, culturally and health-wise, says Michael Pollan in his new book, In Defense of Food.

In The Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan unearthed the rot in the food industry, and left many people scared to eat. Then, in an article for the New York Times Magazine a year ago, "Unhappy Meals," he caused an even greater cultural revolution with the following seven words: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

In his recent book, which followed from that magazine piece, he advocated a different way of approaching food. "You would not have bought this book and read this far into it if your food culture was intact and healthy," he writes in the book. "Nor would you eat substances like Go-Gurt, eat them on the run or eat them at mealtimes that are so out of sync with friends and relatives that the real family dinner is an endangered ritual."

He advocates eating local, organic food, even at the risk of elitism. He says to buy fresh, local organic food (which is more expensive) but eat less of it, and you'll still be ahead financially. He says eating at home is better than eating out. And that eating simple food together is the highest form of health and happiness.

Hand me that spatula

"We have more choices now than we've ever had," Pollan says in a recent interview, "An Omnivore Defends Real Food." "There is organic food at Wal-Mart. The big challenge is that you do have to cook. A lot of us are intimidated by cooking today. We watch cooking shows on TV but we cook very little. We're turning cooking into a spectator sport. This process of outsourcing our food preparation to large corporations, which is what we've been doing the last 50 years, is a big part of our problem. We're seduced by convenience. You're going to have to put a little more time and effort into preparing your food. I'm trying to get across how pleasurable that can be. It needn't be a chore. It can be incredibly rewarding to move food closer to the center of your life."

Who knew liberation would be found in a kitchen cupboard full of produce, not purses?

In fact, anyone who's ever cooked will tell you the act of preparing food makes you more powerful and sexy. The old saying, that a way to a man's heart is through his stomach, always seems to hold up for both genders in my experience. Who can resist a warm hearth as shelter from storms of all kinds? And as for a spatula making a woman into a relic, it's all about the glint in the eye.

Shopping for Fame and Fortune

"It's like you'd be wandering around a big fitting room, somewhere in New York, pulling things out. And celebrities are standing there, and you're like, 'Ok, you're wearing this, you're wearing that!" Then you all go out and photographers take pictures of them on the red carpet, then you all go to the party together."

So says a 15 year-old from Kelowna. She's not shy about her desire to be a stylist. She wants to work with Kate Hudson and Mischa Barton, in particular. Along with her entire grade ten fashion merchandising class, she spent five hours on a bus to get to the Kwantlen graduation fashion show. There, the auditorium was packed with hundreds of girls from rural and urban British Columbia (BC) who, glassy-eyed, shared similar career aspirations.

Many of those young women are now taking their first college fashion courses, and they're attending shows at this week's Vancouver Fashion Week. Testimonials from teen girls and the success of shows like America's Next Top Model may show that modeling is still one of the top career choices for many young women. But while even five years ago, many young women talked about wanting to be fashion designers, now, few do. Over the past many months I've asked dozens of 15 to 25 year olds about their aspirations. I heard over and over again that "no one" wants to be a designer anymore. Most want to be stylists - celebrity stylists.

Ticket to fame

Enrollment at BC fashion colleges reflects this. New programs are springing up (at the Art Institute of Vancouver, for example), and at existing colleges such as Blanche MacDonald, fashion merchandising classes outnumber fashion design classes by over three to one. Most of these are at private colleges where the tuition can be up to $10,000 a year, and "dreams" are as high.

So what's life like for a recent grad, determined to make it? "I have to wake up at 5:00 a.m. and set everything before anyone else shows up on set. Sometimes, I'm there 24 hours straight. I get the blame if anything goes wrong. I've got a radio attached to me and people will yell at me to bring socks, bring coffee for the director, sweep something up, anything."

"I didn't get paid anything for the first couple of years, now sometimes I make fifty dollars a day, sometimes two hundred on a really good one," says Stephanie Hartwick, a Vancouver-based fashion merchandising grad. "In Vancouver, you have to be really motivated and constantly networking and partying with the right people. If you're starting out, it's labour intensive, and people aren't nice to you, but if you're really determined, you can do it," According to her classmates, she stands a far better chance than most (several classmates raved about how talented and amazing she is). But Hartwick is one of the only people from her grad class who is getting any work. Hartwick says she'd like to stick with it, but will likely be moving into a more full-time career in retail, keeping up her styling on the side.

Marketing dreams

A cynical or savvy adult might have seen that coming, but most young women don't. And marketing materials for "stylist" programs don't help the critical thinking process. One program gushes, "Envision putting makeup on Jennifer Lopez and Al Pacino in their latest movies, styling Britney Spears' sleek and shiny hair, and having the photos of your creations published in Elle, Glamour and Self. You hang out with the world's most stylish people; some are celebrities, some are members of royal families and some are 'ordinary people' with discriminating tastes. These people admire you for your Midas touch that turns everything into sparkling diamonds. Most importantly, they love you and your works because you make them feel beautiful inside and out."

But marketing materials like these point to why the dream of being a "celebrity stylist" is becoming more widespread. There's the promise of an easy path to celebrity, and a day filled with shopping. Oh yeah, and a future filled with adoration, popularity, and friendship.

There are a few practical explanations for the rise of the stylist: reality TV has exposed roles in the fashion industry that were previously "behind the scenes." And even though many young women aspire to be "supermodels," few have the height or weight (read: eating disorder) requirements to make it big.

The body project

But really, most want to be in fashion because of "the body project," an idea coined by Joan Jacobs Brumberg who is the chair of human development and gender studies at Cornell and the author of several books. She thinks that society leaves young women vulnerable to the forces of popular culture and marketing, and they're getting bombarded. She says girls have always had a "project" but while in the Middle Ages it was religious piety, and in the nineteenth century it was decorum and "good works," now it's their bodies. Girls' create their identities through their clothes, makeup, hair, accessories, and thinness. They spend more time thinking about these things than schoolwork, boys, parents, or even friends.

And it's heating up. When I was a teenager 12 years ago, I had to worry about thinness and clothes. But as Brumberg points out, "now, the newest thing is that they even have to have perfect pubic hair designs." It's all consuming.

So consuming

Consuming is the key word. Girls create their images through shopping. One 16-year-old girl told me, "I love shopping. I mean it's so, so creative. It's so fun." Clothes define how girls see themselves and each other, how they choose their role models (many young women still list Sarah Jessica Parker as one of their main role models even though Sex and the City is long gone), and how they see their futures (for example, they talk about how they'll be wearing Manolo Blahniks -- $500 shoes - rather than trendy sneakers).

In Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy argues that shopping and consumption were what made Sex and the City the compelling hit that it was. "The truly defining pursuit of their world wasn't sex so much as it was consumption. Sex and the City romanticized the weather in Manhattan, the offices of Vogue magazine, the disposable income of the average journalist, but what it romanticized most was accumulation.

"There was as much focus on Manolo Blahniks and Birkin bags as there was on blow jobs. Buying things became a richly evocative experience as seen through the lens of Sex and the City … a feathery pair of mules became of the linchpin of a glamourous, romantic evening in Central Park. It was as though without the shoes, everything else - the moonlight, the trees, the man - would dissolve into the night, leaving nothing but the bleak mundanity of regular life in its place."

For young women, shopping isn't just a way to obtain the clothes and makeup they need to create their identities, it's the main backdrop for their relationships. Brumberg points out that, "So many girls shop with their friends and mothers, so there's a fantasy about friendship. They think, 'Because I select these beautiful things for the celebrity, she'll want me to go to the party.' Girls bond over shoes and clothes. So in wanting to be a celebrity stylist, they're looking for friendship more than wages. It's important that the celebrity they'd like to dress is the same sex - it's not about being a stylist for a man. It's about their development needs as a young woman."

Buying love

Many girls hope that through these relationships, and through the shopping, they'll become the fabulous celebrities themselves. Magdelene Ow, who just graduated from the Kwantlen fashion design program admits, "Most young women go into fashion for the fame. And when you're a teen all you do is shop, so you think 'I'd love to shop for celebs then I'd see them wear my ideas then I'd be famous too." She says those girls don't know about the 14-hour days she and everyone else puts in.

The celebrity industry succeeds by making fame. As one 18-year old woman from Vancouver says, "Maybe it's reality TV, but it's just so easy to be famous." Reality TV (like America's Next Top Model and Project Runway) makes it seem as if you simply need to beat 20 other contestants to gain instant fame. Even those cast off the show often go on to "make it."

Compared to that, fashion design, the career choice young women talked about even five years ago, seems less appealing. Many young women say they can't sew and don't want to learn. Many say, "sewing seems so hard" - unlike shopping. Others say sewing seems like being a tailor, as opposed to something glamourous and high status. Yes, some young women are interested in fashion as art or fashion as cultural expression and they're slugging it out over their sewing machines. They love textiles, color theory, and form. But that's not what stylist aspirations are about.

Instead, most are interested in shopping their way to fame. They won't make it. They don't know that. And it's hard to blame them.


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