Melissa Rivers may not have inherited her mother’s superb meanness—after all, god gives the gift of such great spite to humankind just once or twice a century. But today in Hollywood, Joan’s best, most democratic lessons will be upheld. Rivers the younger, now a presenter of television’s punishing Fashion Police, has voiced her disdain for the #AskHerMore campaign that urges media employees to ask questions of female celebrities other than “what are you wearing?”
Many ladies attending tonight’s Oscars would like to be taken more seriously. Don’t ask them about the $30,000 sample-size gowns they are wearing! Ask them for their views on international development. They have some advice for the IMF.
Some media organisations began to comply last year when Reese Witherspoon refused to talk about the bespoke Tom Ford column dress and Tiffany diamonds she’d been forced to wear, presumably by Hollywood ISIL. Rivers won’t. “I’m not going to ask you about your feelings on world hunger when in the 30 seconds I have with you on the red carpet, you also have to say who you’re wearing, who is paying you to wear it and get your plug out for your film.”
Supporters for this “representational” movement point out that men are asked more interesting questions on the Oscars red carpet. Perhaps this is because they wear less interesting clothes. Or, perhaps it is because the red carpet broadcast, which emerged as a separate broadcast entity about a decade ago, exists almost entirely to showcase the gowns of famous women. Men just aren’t the stars of this particular show.
A red carpet broadcast that does not secure the answer to “Who are you wearing?” makes about as much sense as a football commentary that will brook no mention of the ball. If you do not wish to be asked about your frock, perhaps you might consider some dungarees. If you are impatient with the way in which visual culture measures a woman’s worth, perhaps you might consider not subjecting yourself to the glare of three-point lighting. It’s not compulsory, Reese. Just go in the back door.
Perhaps you also might consider not spending months in conversation with designers, stylists and assorted estheticians to build a look of such perfect inimitability that the world cannot help but gasp. How are we to ignore a spectacle that has been precisely contrived over time to hold our attention? Are we “victim blaming” if we’re fascinated by the singular beauty that you have worked so hard to attain? And, more to the point, how can your designer continue to provide expertise and garments, and often a fee, without credit?
As Tom Ford, one of the great architects of Hollywood glamour, said in interview last year, it is bad business for a female celebrity to collaborate with a designer, whose gratis work she may reject, and then refuse to namecheck the creation. Designers, “do spend months and make five dresses for them and send them. If you wear one of those dresses and a company has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars, or has paid you. Yeah you say who it is, of course.”
Rivers is one of the few remaining red carpet commentators either guileless or cranky enough to point out that a red carpet is unfurled for a very particular reason. It is an event designed, managed and lit to document visual glamour and if you don’t want to endure what I am sure is the very rum posture of a skinny arm, then don’t.
It’s not just the peculiar hypocrisy of a “movement” that demands media continue to document extraordinary glamour without actually mentioning it that rankles Rivers, Ford and others. It’s the fact that celebrities, gifted of so many forums for expression, are demanding one more.
According to Lena Dunham, another advocate for this latest waste of “awareness”, the new Hollywood woman would prefer to be asked about “the causes she supports”—in Dunham’s case, FYI, these would be (a) the criminalisation of sex work and (b) the expulsion of Bernie Sanders from the nomination race. Like any student of gossip, I know the conservative causes that Lena Dunham supports, because she talks about them all the time. She even writes about them in a newsletter. That she should demand another opportunity to bang on about her centrist beliefs just seems selfish.
Actually, reporters would be doing Dunham a great service to focus on her gowns. The more she talks about “the causes she supports”, the less inclined I am to support her art. #AskHerLess
This campaign has been endorsed by a number of eminent women and has as its foundational belief the basic tenet of neoliberalism: if we give privileged people more privilege, then this privilege will become eventually available to everyone.
Yeah. It won’t. Financial capital doesn’t trickle down to us povs and neither does the Glamour Feminism of 2016.
Now, tell me who you’re wearing.
Featured image: Cate Blanchett “calls out” a cameraman for panning down from her face, mid-interview at the 2014 Screen Actors Guild Awards