March 26, 2010

Will You Ever Be Happy?

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"Participating in society": The Bebe Problem

I once dated a girl who worked at Bebe.  Is being hot a prerequisite for the job?  Not officially, anyway.  But is dressing well required?  Of course.  And she was definitely dressed well.  Didn't have to be Bebe, but it had to be this season and designer.  She liked DKNY.

But she was only making, what, $25k/yr?  She couldn't possibly afford to dress the way she was expected to dress for that job, not without credit card debt or money from parents or boyfriends.  Forget about saving, right?  And no, no health insurance.

But there she was.  It probably never occurred to her that going into debt in order to keep a job is preposterous, because that's the way it's been done there-- and for receptionists and hostesses and etc, forever.

That's not The Bebe Problem: The Bebe Problem is: she thinks she is choosing to do it.


No one told her she needed to dress like that, exactly.  But somehow the job selects for a woman who will.  Somehow she received the message that to work in a job like that she needs to dress up equivalently to the VP or partner or owner.  And they're great clothes, so she likes it, it helps rationalize the purchases.  That helps hide the obligation of it.

It's one thing to dress yourself up as a personal brand.  It's another thing when you are being dressed up by someone else as extensions of their brand.  And yet another thing when you don't even realize it's happening to you, when you think you're making the choice yourself.

I lied about the Bebe Problem.  The real Bebe Problem is that this is happening not just to sales girls, but to everyone.


They saved Pamela Anderson and Kate Gosselin for the end of first episode of Dancing With The Stars.  The host, Brooke Burke, said,  "and coming up next: she's the most downloaded woman in the world, and she's America's most famous mom!"

I had a moment of nausea, so I put down the rum.  Don't both of those descriptions more accurately apply to Pamela Anderson?  How is Kate "the mom?" 

The whole show is full of moms.  Brooke Burke has three kids, and unless she is eating them she is incontrovertibly a better mom than Kate.  On the DWTS website, contestant Niecy Nash (2 movies and 3 TV shows) lists "motherhood" as her greatest success in life. But she's not the mom either, because she's black.  She's the  "oh no he di'nt" girl.  TV is all about equality as long as everyone stays in character.

Pam is the sex object, even though she is no longer a sex object, nor does she need to be.

And Kate, who is more accurately described as The Woman Whose Haircut Cures Priapism, represents "the mom."  Why?  Pam and she both have hair extensions, they've both had plastic surgery, they're both hyperconscious of their appearance and image, so?   Truth be told, I'd let my kids live with Pamela Anderson way before I even let them visit the set of Saw IV that is the Gosselin house.  So?

Why is Kate "the mom?"  Because she plays a mom on TV.


DWTS is a reality show, of sorts.  What (theoretically) makes the show interesting, apart from the dancing, is you get to see people be themselves not their characters.  Pam Anderson is thus an awesome choice, because it's a rare chance to see the real woman behind the icon.  Unfortunately, on the first episode she was very nervous, and to mask it she overacted, she pouted and wiggled and bit her lip and went over the top sexy, the way an embarrassed child becomes spastic.  She hid behind her character, and in that setting it will make people find her annoying.  There are plenty of places other than DWTS or my basement to see her naked, that's not what we're here for.  She'd be infinitely more interesting if she was just real, because that's what we want to see.

That's not the case for Kate.  You already know what she's like in real life, or meta-real life anyway.  If you like Kate and are watching, it's because you want to see a "normal" person get the chance to be famous on TV.  The trick is fooling you into thinking she isn't that already.

Pam Anderson already had plastic surgery; Kate got it for the show.  That's why People adores her: she's a mom becoming something else.  If you find yourself rooting for Kate, because, like People, you think it's great that a regular mom is getting to have fun, then it's a fairly safe bet that you're miserable.


I hope it's obvious that Kate "the mom" is just as manufactured as Pam "the sex bomb." But  I'm staring at the TV, I am not drunk or insane or an imbecile, and I am trying my hardest, but even knowing everything I know I cannot stop seeing Kate as The Mom and Pam as The Sex Bomb, it is impossible for me to stop these unconscious, reflexive associations from happening.

If I was a woman of, say, 30, overwhelmed by hidden ambivalence, making next to nothing while spending next to everything, simultaneously unfulfilled by my excellent material possessions while protected from facing my actual social position; if I had to choose a direction in life but realizing that my choice probably didn't matter because the outcome had already been decided by the audience, yeah, I'd be on Abilify, too.


Someone ask Richard Wilkinson where he would place my ex-girlfriend, or Kate Gosselin, on his continuum of social inequality.