|By quirkybird - Source: Flickr|
It is often assumed that discussions about clothes, style or looks are superficial and frivolous, at best. But when I started thinking about my personal style and looks, it made me ask myself a lot of questions on my cloth consumption and choices, which brought a lot of topics about self esteem, identity construction, consumer behaviour that I found very interesting.
However, I have come across some stuff lately, that make me kind of understand this assumption. While most feminine magazines are nothing more than a big brain-washing advertisement catalogue on what to buy and how to adopt a standardized “fashionable” look, even the pieces about cultural works (films, books, TV shows...) seem to be reducing everything to supercificial matters. It is like there is a whole movement out there that obliterates interesting topics brought up by these works and limit the discussions to superficial looks or by-product related topics.
I have two striking examples that actually shocked me as completely missing the point of the works and limiting discussions to superficial matters. These two examples of are the Mad Men TV series and the Hunger Games books and film.
- Mad Men
But what has been reflected of this message all over the press (mostly feminine press)? Articles about feminism and the progress we have made since that time? The path there is still left to walk to more equity and freedom? Nope. In fact, articles about Mad Men in feminine press are nothing but a praise of the characters’ looks – dress like the women from Mad Men! As Mona Chollet explains in her book Beauté Fatale, les nouveaux visages de l’aliénation feminine (Fatal Beauty, the new faces of feminine alienation), "the series explores the damage caused by obsession over looks, but the media reception and commercial strategy [of the series] only talked about… looks".
Basically, what she is saying is all the interesting thinking behind the concept of Mad Men has been completely obliterated, and, ironically, one main thing the creators are trying to criticize, how women existed through their looks, is the very thing feminine press puts emphasis on when they write about Mad Men. They urge women to dress like a woman from the sixties, with skirts and high heels and well-groomed hair – so trendy. Where is the fight our mothers put up against it these past decades? Are we regressing to be only interested in the shallowest subject of our looks and seduction instead of actually work, think and free ourselves from this out-dated vision of women?
I am still thinking and researching about all this, so I will leave the Mad Men case at that for now, but I must admit I find this very scary.
- Hunger Games
What I find striking is rather the commercial strategy around it. To place the Hunger Games book trilogy into context, the universe of this dystopian fiction places our future in a world where a small group of shallow idle rich people from a big technologic city abundantly consume, party, eat and drink while the biggest part of the population is parked into industrial Districts, living in poverty and manufacturing all these goods to be wasted by the richest.
As a reader, I saw a message in this dystopian universe where the murder of teenagers is reduced to a fancy TV show, where everyone wears trendy dresses and eccentric looks, completely oblivious to the suffering of the District people. I saw it as a sort of criticism of our own consumerist society, consuming and wasting energy and goods while the biggest part of the world work to create these very goods and starve in poverty. This should make us think about our consumption habits, our society, and our whole economic system.
|Source: Brand Channel|
But instead, it makes us buy Hunger Games branded stuff. Katniss uses a bow to kill her fellow Games tributes? Well, the sales of bows have increased in sport stores. And people buy Hunger Games branded T-Shirts, pins, bags and underwear (!). Even more ironic, Lionsgate studios created a tumblr about how to be trendy like the Capitol people (yes, these rich and shallow people…). So, wait a minute here, the book is describing a caricature of our consumerist society embodied by the Capitol people, who dye their skins, have cat whiskers surgically implanted and wear ridiculous outfits, and what do we do? We actually start dressing like them???
Even worse, the book describes how ironic and cruel the Capitol society is by interviewing tributes (the young people who are going to die in a TV game arena a few days later), making them wear designer clothes, train for the Games, conduct interviews on stage, as if their fate was nothing but a subject of amusement, and what do we do? We create a fitness programme called “train like a tribute”.
So, not only don’t we understand and discuss the intended message on our society, we actually behave as dumb as the Capitol people do in the book. What does it say about us? Or maybe I am overthinking and there is no such criticism in the Hunger Games, but I still find all this very scary indeed.