There is no compromising the effects of style on an individual, especially a modern American individual. Even the social drop outs who claim to not care in the least about style, avow their individuality through no descript “guilt free” clothing, or clothing that wasn’t made in a foreign sweatshop. From the trendy to the punks to the goths, style is the mode of asserting identity, it is the means by which all of us proclaim our individuality (or lack thereof) and show the world what we want other people to think, and what we think of them. Style is the most visible and the most defining of our visual culture, it is the most absurd and the most everyday.
So it is only fitting that in a society that places such emphasis on an assumed reality, that style would play a large component. Style, like reality, has become the new farce of the entertainment industry. Just like “reality TV” delivers the scripted and manipulated reality of the personal lives of strangers into every living room in the first world, style has become the new mode of entertainment, and the new way in which the entertainment industry has turned towards for approval ratings by appealing to the most basic of cultural characteristics. The society we have built cannot live without style, and so, entertainment has staked its claim in the plentiful real estate of style and as uncovered a modicum of worthy subject matter and transformed it into a booming industry.
This new wave of entertainment glory came hand in hand with the boom of reality TV. In every episode of realistic fabrication that comes with American Idol, The Bachelor and numerous other reality TV shows, there is style. The symbolic nature of clothing and accessories has made of broke many familiar strangers of the reality TV phenomenon. But the fun style can bring through the big bad machine of entertainment does not stop there. Style has its very own shows that tell you what to dress, how to act, how to host a party, design your bedroom, your garden, your spouse. The greatest feat of all was the industries ability to create a network devoted to this mound of crap. The style network is a great idea, don’t get me wrong, just as much as I believe style is important to the formation and assertation of identity, I believe that our chosen modes of entertainment and the creation of such entertainment are fundamental to the human cultural experience. But why are we so eager to accept not style as representation, but style as both form and function.
I confess, I have my guilty pleasures, I thoroughly enjoyed Trading Spaces when it was fresh and funny, and I do get into the whole frenzy of American Idol every now and then; it just seems absurd to me that the ideals and attitudes of runway models, fashion mavens and designer guru’s that were once relegated to an elite group who looked down their noses at the rest of us bumbling fashion victims has not only lost a whole lot of class, but is a integral part of the average persons TV consumption. The dumbed-down versions of interior decorating, personal shoppers and grandiose makeovers are being sold to the public as the be all and end all of the ‘reality’ of life. Style is no longer seen as personal taste and expression, but that which is to be controlled and dominated, a mysterious beast that needs conquering not to mention a cast of characters to help you, worthy of Quixote himself.
3 replies on “Stylistic Reality”
Nice article Christine. The only show I’ve watched that you mentioned is Trading Spaces. I’ve seen it a few times. Not a bad show, not great either.
Good article, but I have to say alot of it seems kinda well.. grandiose… Ive writeen up some constructive criticisms (as well as some of my own thoughts as a reply) and counter arguments to this article. They arent meant to offend, or be agressive by any means, just though provoking. With that having been said, happy reading =^)
In the opening of your article, you state that style is expressed by the clothing we wear. But is that to say that style is limited to being a visual medium? Can’t someone possess style that cannot be seen? I think that there is more to style than meets the eye. Style is personality, finess, execution, and everything else that our senses (both physical and innate (sp?)) can take in.
In the second paragraph you claim that visual style has become the new farce of the entertainment industry. This although true is not really anything new at all. Style has always been the face of the entertainment industry. Entertainers by nature have some elements that pique peoples interest, and although they may not always be visually apealing they get the job done, and bring people in, hold their attention or maybe even more. So long as there have been the miss america pagent, corporate sponsors, fashion designers and fashion shows, swimsuit models (or swimsuits for that matter), magazines, television, county fairs, night clubs, professional business attire, etc, style has been an integral part of our society. Not just our society either, but the entire world over, style (in one form or another atleast) is a key part of life.
In the 3rd paragraph you mention how the entertainment industry has figured out how to suck billions upon billions of dollars out of the world’s populace by telling them what to buy, what to do, how to do it, etc. This also isn’t new. It stems from the exploitation of human nature, the most basic of which is the innate desire of every human being to belong and be accepted. This is only to expected since we as human beings are communal and social beings. We crave mental nourishment just as much as we do physical nourishment. Thoughts of individuality and rebellion usually come from alienation from a group (if you were content all the time, you may never feel the need to challenge what has been presented to you). Individuality is encouraged because it keeps life from being boring and drives people to achieve more as to not end up like those less fortunate (your attitudes towards those people generally are formed by your other values, liberal, conservative, etc), and without rebellion there is nothing to keep the side of human nature (serving ones self over the community) in check. Along with individuality comes this sense of style because it is an expression of individuality and collectiveness at the same time. Whether one is trying to fit in, or stand out it can be traced back to style. Knowing this, the business world has studied human nature and figured out a way to make it work for them and how they can turn a profit. Like a moth to the flame people are drawn to stylish things whether or not they are within reach of the average person its all for a glimpse of something desireable. Whether its a chance to win a million dollars, or become the next superstar (although most people tend to forget how short-lived being a superstar can be) people all want a piece of that dream of being successful/respected/loved. So in reality tv, you have no overhead from writers and other production costs such as costumes, sets (atleast not as many) which to businesses is a god sent. Knowing this, you can see why you get your joe millionaires, your american idols, and whatever else because of the marketability of “style” or one of its other pseudonyms.
We’re all human so we’re all suceptible to humanity’s urges from time to time. Does this justify what businesses are doing by playing on our baser human needs to turn a profit? Fuck no!, but it also really isnt anything that’s new. It may be more intense today than years ago, but make no mistake, this still isnt anything new.
And again, good article, very thought provoking, and keep up the good work,
wow!! chris, thank you so much for such a length and detailed response… you are every writers dream!!!
i’m glad you enjoyed it. i am not particularly crazy about the article myself but after holding on to it for the better half of three weeks and not finding anything I could do to make it say what i wanted it to say, i posted it. i feel its lacking something in statement and I feel that you hit part of it right on the head.
I wanst suggesting that this emphasis on style was anything new, or that corporate influence on television, consumerism etc is anything new either. in fact, this has all existed long before television was even invented; there you are most absolutely correct! But what i was trying to suggest was that instead of style being a part of the greater picture, the new fad of reality tv has taken it to a more modern level (whether it is worse, better or the same is a matter of opinion i suppose). But reality TV is treating style much in the same way it treats everything else. short of beauty pagents, treating style as not only function (ie. functioning to express, to market and to advertise) but form as well (a form of gross consumer entertainment).
perhaps style is getting societies warped version of respect in that it is being brought to the masses as art form, not just function. reality tv has imbued style with a sense of significance like never before (sure its been thier, but I would argue not quite in the same fashion–no pun intended). but as reality tv is want to do, it has “dumbed” down the value of fashion alone and used it to sell, produce, expose and degrade.
i think we mostly agree on this, although my article might not have conveyed my points so well. i simply meant to write and article on the latest trend in reality tv and how it has changed form of style (not nessessarily the function) just as one can argue that reality TV has changed the way we approach dating, love, marriage, money, self-image, musical entertainment. this is not to say that you and i have changed our opinions, tastes and beliefs about the entertainment we hold dear, but as for mass opinion… reality TV has most definately left a mark on entertainment, as any fad will do. i guess my interpretation about the effects of reality tv on entertainment will be judged by pop-culture history…