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THE RAYANNE PROJECT: WE NEED YOU

So a few weeks ago The Rejectionist and I were having one of our weird long gmail conversations about, like, this thing pissed us off and should we buy these pants and have you seen this cool thing on the internet and OMG the 90s, which naturally progressed into lengthy discussions about My So Called Life, because I mean, what else is there worth talking about?  And we realized that the same thing kept coming up — we get it, Jordan Catalano leans really well and like everyone ever thinks they’re Angela, but what about Rayanne?  While Angela’s the central character and the “most relatable” because of her “most normal” life, why don’t we ever take Rayanne seriously?  Why is it that she’s relegated to the secondary character of “the one with quirky style and attitude but like kind of an unhinged drunk slutty bad girl?”

And then we started thinking about all the other things related to that, like how maybe all of Rayanne’s sex and “slut potential” wasn’t totally consensual and why do we sort of ignore how rich her character is when the show does a pretty good job of it really?  Why do we just want to talk about how COOL she looked even though, you know, shit wasn’t exactly coming up daisies for her and her life was impressively complicated for a show airing at that time, and maybe we should talk about that? Why is every analysis of Rayanne and Angela’s friendship that we can find anywhere way too idealized and, frankly, kind of stupid?  Could we also see Rayanne some kind of accessible whitewashed pathway into talking about those “othered” (through race, class, gender, body, whatever) teen girl experiences that don’t get talked about as much? What about Ricky, what if we relate to Rayanne and Ricky more as well?  Basically — can we make Rayanne more than the quirky, slutty, sassy sidekick drunk with amazing hair? 

And how does that relate to other things we’ve been thinking about, like the devaluing of teen female experiences or how we’re both sort of grossed out by the fetishization and flattening of what could be loosely defined as “punk female identities,” and how a tattooed bisexual asskicking brunette does not a feminist storyline make? Or how it bums us out that nobody ever writes good fiction about what it’s like being sixteen and a girl who dresses funny or maybe was a little nuts but doesn’t need to be saved or married off or isn’t going to die or anything from making some bad decisions? Or how we totally can’t fucking stand that manic pixie dreamgirl trope and aforementioned asskicking bisexual tattooed brunette character?  Can’t we talk about teenage girls without it turning into a Choose Your Own Adventure of Pick One: crazy-pregnant-addict-anorexic-kooky-overemotional-shallow-lonely-doomed-virgin-whore?  And how does all that fun stuff like race and class and gender and sexuality and bodies and ability and everything intersect with those experiences? 

And then we realized that there was a lot to say here, and that it might as well not be said only to our own Gmail archives, and that we had an entire internet of people with Very Smart Opinions who we also wanted to talk about this. So: we want to know what you have to say.  Do you want to blog about this as part of a big ole internetwide Let’s Please Talk About Rayanne or Girls Like Rayanne Seriously kind of thing, our Rayanne Project, as we’re calling it? Do you not have a blog but want to guest-post on one of ours, or interview someone, or be interviewed? Are you overwhelmed with some other related creative impulse that we could also somehow e-share and show off your fabulousness? Awesome, because we want it all.

Ideally, since it was the basis of the conversation (and we basically really want to talk about Rayanne without being like OMG THOSE BRAIDS!! THOSE PATCHWORK PANTS! again, because we have that conversation twice a week) — we’d love for you to use My So Called Life as the basis of whatever you want to contribute.  But if you want to branch off into that multitude of related topics above, or have other really awesome ideas that relate, we certainly aren’t going to stop you, since we pretty much think enough can’t be said about this. 

We’re planning mostly on a blog conversation for starters which we may then later curate into another website — but if this goes as well as we’re hoping it will, there will be a zine coming out of it (!!!!), and some kind of event for those of us based in NYC.   

So!  If you’d be interested in contributing in some way, please email megpclark[at]gmail and rejectionistandyourmom[at]gmail by Thursday, May 12th just to say that you’d be down, and let us know some of your ideas, or how or what you’d like to contribute.  We’ll get back to you soon with more concrete details, posting schedules, and more guidelines later next week — because duh, we can’t wait to hear what you have to say.  

kourtney roy - soup magazine

What is it lately with my obsession with photographers who make creepy doll-like parodies of stereotypical feminine roles, images, or clothing?  I can’t get enough of this ed from Soup Mag by photographer Kourtney Roy. (Thanks for tuning me in to it, Alexa!) I’m sure I read too much into these or see a depth that wasn’t intended, and it’s not as if this sort of thing hasn’t been done so many times to almost be painfully trite (gag me with a spoon, Cindy Sherman), but I still can’t get over the stylized, sarcastic artifice of it all, and if it still gets to me, it can’t yet be overdone. It’s like a set of ominous tarot cards of possible female futures or roles: the virgin bride, the whore, the beauty queen, the mother, the cheerleader, the flight attendant, the secretary, the trophy wife… all presented in front of a bizarre painted Americana backdrop worthy of an AMNH “colonialism FTW” diorama.

in which at long last shiloh and suri are finally addressed.

Dear and darling readers, nothing makes me happier (no, seriously) than when you all email me offensively asinine things you find on the internet with a plethora of question marks and explanation points and WTFs and ask for my so obviously extremely qualified opinions!  For the most part I do my best to carry on snark-filled emailconversations with each one of you special snowflakes and then occasionally write about it, but some things are just too painfully stupid/offensive for me to even acknowledge (for example, I am refusing to even have any more conversations about the Acne “transvestite/transgender/transexual/insert other incorrect term they used in their press release” shirts or about “ethnic beauty is the new black OH WAIT" or anything involving feathers or Lara Stone’s tits ever again basically.) Other things are so epicly stupid and offensive that after an entire year of eyerolling I am sort of required to address it lest my eyes roll permanently back into my head.  HENCE THE ISSUE OF SHILOH JOLIE-PITT AND SURI CRUISE FINALLY SURFACES. 

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GENDER AND TISCI’S GIVENCHY IN W MAGAZINE

You know, honestly, why do I even read magazines anymore? Why is it that I etenrally have these epic high hopes for W, as if it’s somehow naturally superior to the rest of the bullshit out there? The September issue had a few hooks reeling me in again, though — a handful of gorgeous editorials (Mert and Marcus’ stunning oversaturated wide-angle golden-hour shoot in Red Hook, DROOL, and Georgia May Jagger looking slightly less Lara Stone than usual and Lara Stone looking slightly more Marilyn Monroe than usual) AND a whole gosh-darn article on Riccardo Tisci. The fact that I slavishly worship at the altar of Tisci’s Givenchy is no secret by now (lions and tigers and monochrome tailored androgynous goth luxe warrior princesses, oh my! What else could I want in life?! Other than maybe a Helmut Lang leather jacket.)   So I mean, seriously, love.

Plus, I figured maybe there’d be some interesting commentary or something.  I even forgave the asinine “gender bender” cover headline since I figured “genderfuck” or at least something less rhymey and twee just wasn’t okay to put on a magazine cover, especially not after the entire universe flipped its shit because OH MY GOD TISCI USED THIS MODEL WHO IS A WOMAN BUT LIKE USED TO BE A MAN OR SOMETHING, WHAT THE HOLY HELL in his ad campaigns/runway show, cool, whatever.  There was some fun shit there I was waiting for someone to talk about, and maybe even something about Rad Hourani and whoever else breaking with the menswear/womenswear shows and so on, and manskirts, and whatEVER, just make it better than that dreadful NYT article on ‘unisex’ dressing from last year or whatever.

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thread for thought // fashion in literature

Thread for Thought pulls together another nifty little piece about fashion in literature (for more great ones: a series of posts detailing the history of cross dressing/drag, the politics and evolution of mannequins.)

I feel like I’ve (and half the internet, or at least half the internet I read) been beating the dead horse of Look Guys Fashion Is Relevant In A Lot of Ways And Is Like A Big Cultural Signifier of Different Stuff for ages now, but this stuff IS really interesting, I SWEAR, and in some ways somehow I’d never thought of the role that descriptions of clothing and style played in much of the fiction I’ve read in my life.  

And while I tried to come up with several uber-highbrow examples here for you — that amazing painfully metaphorical passage about shopping for hats in Good Morning Midnight which is half the reason this blog is titled such! Nora’s dress crinkling in The Dead! probably something about class and femininity in Austen or the Brontes! anything ever about corsets and petticoats! something fascinating about costuming in Shakespeare! this essay about colourful fabrics marking alterity in drab, foggy, 16th century London which I loved to death when I had to read it senior year of college! 

But somehow the first thing I could really come up with was this weirdly striking memory of reading The Little House on the Prairie series when I was in third grade or so and there being achapter in one of the books where the mother takes the girls to buy fabric for a new dress, and there’s something about floral muslin or something. I remember being completely baffled by the concept that people mother’s had to travel far to fabric stores to pick out fabric for a new dress, and also not understanding what the heck muslin was, but whatever it is (I know now, jeez) it’s firmly entrenched in my memory along with blind sisters, badgers, and houses made out of sod as a sole indicator of Americana and pioneer life.   

INTIMACY AS TEXT | the new inquiry

…the reviewer’s rhetoric echoes a familiar view of technology as a binary opposition, with human connection on one side and computers on the other….To my mind, the relocation of social life to the internet is less a signal of the domination of machines or the loss of human connection than the perfect argument against anyone who claims the internet is making us stupid…. Internet socialization is far closer to a 19th century mode of intimacy than to a dystopian future of tragically disconnected robot prostitutes. There’s a Jane Austen-ish quality to online social life. The written word gains unmatched power and inarguable primacy.

Personal relationships now, to a much greater degree than, say, 30 years ago, hinge on our ability to write — if not necessarily well in a formal, Strunk & White manner, then at least effectively. This change makes us not disconnected so much as it makes us archaic. Austen’s characters easily expressed extreme emotion in long letters and then in person sat twitchily near one another, paralyzed with manners…. Our physical reactions when together are often cover-ups for what we could so candidly admit in writing.

I actually LITERALLY SQUEALED IRL while reading this, possibly because I live for defenses of antisocial textual introverts (hi world!!) and because I effing love media and above all things loathe Kids Today/The Internet Is Ruining Our Lives articles (not that there aren’t PROBLEMS but really this isn’t THE END OF EVERYTHING) and above all things really dig anything about language and bodies and text and bodies of text and ‘textual intimacy’ and I mean, yeah

Fitzgerald’s Jane Austen comment is interesting to me as well on a number of levels — we all know how I feel about Janie by now (and I’m guessing a lot of y’all are also familiar with the good time provided to us by our dear friend Eve K.S.) — and I think there’s a lot of interesing stuff going on there regarding technology alienation repression society norms blah blah blahdy blah blah, but for the most part just a really big YES THANK YOU.

 [via champagnecandy]

tiger beatdown | Conseil pour vous, personnes tristes! The Resurrection of Simone de Beauvoir

And more in useless-and-hilarious linkage posts (SRY INTERNET IVE BEEN RLY BUSY LATELY) — Sady Doyle quoting our girl Simone as dating advice probably more coherent than whatever crap you’re reading in those dreadful magazines at the gym/dentist’s office (it’s okay, I do it sometimes too FOR SOCIOLOGICAL PURPOSES.)  Am I the only asshole who laughed at this for about fifteen minutes straight? 

HATING SEX AND THE CITY AND IMPLICIT PREJUDICE AGAINST CONSTRUCTED FEMININITY

We’re just going to start this out with blatantly saying that I loathe anything Sex and the City related with the passion of a thousand burning suns, and the defense that’s been making the blog rounds lately — Jackie Ashley’s review at the Guardian — still falls short for me.  But while it does little to control my irrepressible sneer at any mention of the franchise, it brings up indirectly a lot of issues I’ve been wrestling with lately.  Ashley, a fan of the series and films, argues that a closet of Manolos, credit cards that pay themselves, an endless string of sexy men and best friends to always fall back on when they turn out to be jerks, are a female fantasy life, whereas the male fantasy life involves big cars and iPads and guns and porn, so back off and stop criticizing us for liking SATC ‘cause a girl can dream, ok?

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Female Photographers and Shouldering Responsibility

In this month’s Interview magazine, after answering a bunch of the usual asinine questions about being a size-4-fatty, Lara Stone came out with this little gem:

"Personally, I don’t like working with female photographers because they seem to never be able to make up their minds about what they want to do…. so many times it’s like, ‘Oh let’s try this’ and ‘Let’s try that’ and ‘Let’s do this’ and ‘Let’s do that.’ It’s like, ‘For fuck’s sake, woman!!’"

Which hit pretty hard.  I’d like to think that Stone is likely commenting on personal experience here and not intending to make some generalizations about women at large or whatever.  This is Lara Stone we’re talking about, and presumably the girl has worked with almost every top photographer out there at this point, both male and female — and I’d venture to guess that, tactless as it may have seemed, there’s some validity in her observation that many, but not all, female photogaphers aren’t as aggressive, decisive, or good at directing models as their male counterparts.

And the thing here also — and perhaps another reason why it upset me so much outside of feminist-gut-reaction — is that, as a photographer, I sympathized with this to a huge extent.  Studio photography and constructed sets still intimidate me, precisely because I’m (as of yet!) not entirely confident with directing people to fit my ideas.  Nan Goldin (who has also shot with Stone) comes to mind too, with her hatred of editorial and advertising photos (and the almost consistently lackluster results there), as well as innumerable statistics about the lack of successful female photographers (and film directors, which is a similar role) out there.  

So is there something valid in Stone’s observations?  Are female photographers, on average, more timid? Especially as compared to say, Terry Richardson and the like, wherein “jerk me off so I can take photos of you with jizz on your face and call it art in the name of fashion, or else” is the norm — and does this, in some way, impede our professional success?  Is our general tendency — which we’re all going to agree here is socially constructed and encouraged and if you have a different opinion on that, hurry along, wrong blog for you here — to use our cameras more as filters/fences and less as phalluses/weapons (blah, blah, blah Sontag blah blah blah) somehow making us less desirable or successful as creative professionals?

Which also had me thinking about these things in other ways — obvious things, but still complicated — about the way that social expectations of women play into how we approach our own careers, creatively and otherwise. A few months ago the feminist blogosphere’s big meme was that Clay Shirky essay on why and how women need to be self-aggrandizing jerks more often; that it’s expected of boys so they grow up doing it and so they ask for raises more, and ask for promotions more, and go after stupid vain ideas more, and therefore succeed there more often since they are less likely to be criticized for trying.  Society is uncomfortable with that sort of aggressive assertiveness in women, and in turn many of us fail to develop it.

So how much of that is “our responsibility”? To what extent is it my responsibility to be a self-aggrandizing jerk and be more aggressive, forceful, directive, “masculine?” And how does all that relate to fashion, writing, and photography?

In another recent article in S Magazine — which by the way is full of a lot of raunchy nonsense but also a lot of really beautiful photographs and smart writing — Caroline Weber, in a touching personal analysis of her own recent divorce, broke down the concept of shoulders and their relation to gender roles and power, both visually and metaphorically.  She cites historical examples of fashion and costume in which women are costumed with stronger shoulders as an indication (or even a totem?) of power — Joan Crawford, female monarchs whose womanly form is distorted by dress to indicate characteristics of a “king” (strong, ruling, weight of the nation on his shoulders, in control, aggressive) as well as the “queen” (soft power, sweet, gracious, motherly, intelligent, calm.)  Weber also questions the “complex and contradictory demands of modern femininity,” referencing the difficulty of balancing family and career (society demands that we wear power suits with shoulderpads, but also carry babies on our hips) and addressing the fact that while gender-bending fashion can be progressive or empowering, it’s also complicated and challenging to women, especially when strength is always still, as Weber puts it, “coded masculine” — whether that’s wearing the pants in a relationship, or shouldering a difficult problem. 

Weber concludes ultimately that women shouldn’t ever have to “take their shoulders off,”  but this also I think raises and echoes that extremely uncomfortable question —  to what extent is it our responsibility to put those shoulders on to begin with? What about slight shoulders, per se, is so bad? Why doesn’t Lara Stone like working with more polite or timid photographers?  And to what extent does putting those shoulders on guarantee (or not guarantee) another level of success?

Which of course in turn relates to concepts about fashion (as an industry, art, and concept), style (as the personal application of fashion), and costume (which presumably lets us “become someone else” and has some sort of magic performativity, if you will), and when and how the two interact.  And so as a woman who has — after a few years of floundering and thinking I’d feel okay ignoring the fact that I wanted to work more as a writer and photographer — more or less reasonably firmly decided to pursue (oh, GOD NO, don’t make me admit it!) a “creative” career, what does this mean?  Are “shoulders” are necessary for our success, and is there is a strong element of personal responsibility in deciding to “wear” them?  Literally and metaphorically, professionally and personally, socially and sartorially, what can I (and other female photographers, filmmakers, writers and the like) do to keep those shoulders on, and how will we balance that with the rest of our lives?

The Delineator, published by the Butterick pattern company from 1873 to 1937 (thanks, Wikipedia!) was one of the preeminent women’s fashion magazines of its time.  There’s plenty of copies and scans of various issues, ads, and illustrations floating around eBay and the internet… It’s crazy comparing this — text-heavy, flowery descriptions of the latest fashions, complete with intricate etched drawings — with today’s magazines or even, you know, MY BLOG.
Something else to note in reading these early issues is that a huge portion of it is dedicated to explaining to women how they can make these fashions for themselves or what fabrics will work best, though I guess the fact that it was circulated by a pattern/sewing company had some effect on that, as they sneak in a lot of references to their available patterns. (More of that 1883 issue here, and a 1891 one here.)
Prior to photography, obviously, fashion magazines had to rely heavily on illustration and text — I loved browsing the cover archives of the magazines and seeing how their cover design changed to reflect not only the fashions, but the developing art styles and flexibility of new printing techniques of the times. (Those first ones? Probably all etched and letterpressed… crazy… Must have limited layout and production so much.)  Some examples below from the magazine’s full run, more complete archive here.

The Delineator, published by the Butterick pattern company from 1873 to 1937 (thanks, Wikipedia!) was one of the preeminent women’s fashion magazines of its time.  There’s plenty of copies and scans of various issues, ads, and illustrations floating around eBay and the internet… It’s crazy comparing this — text-heavy, flowery descriptions of the latest fashions, complete with intricate etched drawings — with today’s magazines or even, you know, MY BLOG.

Something else to note in reading these early issues is that a huge portion of it is dedicated to explaining to women how they can make these fashions for themselves or what fabrics will work best, though I guess the fact that it was circulated by a pattern/sewing company had some effect on that, as they sneak in a lot of references to their available patterns. (More of that 1883 issue here, and a 1891 one here.)

Prior to photography, obviously, fashion magazines had to rely heavily on illustration and text — I loved browsing the cover archives of the magazines and seeing how their cover design changed to reflect not only the fashions, but the developing art styles and flexibility of new printing techniques of the times. (Those first ones? Probably all etched and letterpressed… crazy… Must have limited layout and production so much.)  Some examples below from the magazine’s full run, more complete archive here.

Terry Richardson now seems to be keeping a Purple-Diary-esque Tumblr/blog/diary.  (Can someone please make a comic of the adventures of Terry and Olivier?) Somehow predictably, it’s mostly photos of him being the CRAZIEST MAN EVER (see above, enough said), dogs, “yummy granola” that he ate for breakfast, cell phone pix of models he’s shooting, teddy bears having sex, labels on his archives such as ‘trannies’, and probably some of the most ridiculous (and most enthusiastically punctuated!) image captions I’ve seen basically ever.  Also, “terrysdiary.com”? Yeah.

Terry Richardson now seems to be keeping a Purple-Diary-esque Tumblr/blog/diary.  (Can someone please make a comic of the adventures of Terry and Olivier?) Somehow predictably, it’s mostly photos of him being the CRAZIEST MAN EVER (see above, enough said), dogs, “yummy granola” that he ate for breakfast, cell phone pix of models he’s shooting, teddy bears having sex, labels on his archives such as ‘trannies’, and probably some of the most ridiculous (and most enthusiastically punctuated!) image captions I’ve seen basically ever.  Also, “terrysdiary.com”? Yeah.

I’m not saying that fashion consumers are “fashion victims” (a sexist and anti-feminist description that implies irrational consumerism); I’m just suggesting that fashion consumers are not only political-sartorial actors but are also market actors whose range of consumer choices are embedded in a larger ethical-economic system that has long produced and managed consumer citizens by moralizing consumption. To celebrate sustainable fashion or inversely to denigrate fast fashion (the term itself inherits all the negative classist associations of fast food) is to forget that these sartorial spheres are stratified across class differences. Eco-fashion is expensive! So are the most coveted “vintage” fashions….. I get that the temporal trajectory and logics of thrift/vintage aren’t the same as Fashion but I’m not convinced that thrift/vintage is the feminist answer to fashion consumption…. That view presumes that Fashion is inherently anti-feminist; it also demands that we have a nostalgic relation to the past.

— Minh-Ha of Threadbared, from an extremely long and interesting conversation on the politics + motivations of shopping and thrifting.  Just in case you too are an asshole who gets off on phrases like “politics of sample sales,” “sartorial-ideological positions,” “commodification of ephemerality” and “valorization of vintage as postmodern historical borderlessness.”

ny mag | the cut | fashion companies don't like it when blogs run ads early

You know, just when I think I can’t get any more frustrated with how idiotic the entire universe seems to be when it comes to teh intarnetz, I run across this.  Dior: “OH NOEZ! OUR ADVERTISEMENTS ARE BEING SEEN BY MORE PEOPLE THAN WE INTENDED, FOR A LONGER PERIOD OF TIME THAN WE INTENDED, AND WE AREN’T PAYING FOR IT! FUCK!!!! THIS IS SO BAD!!! WE NEED TO TAKE LEGAL ACTION!!!”

Only possible comment:

Snark aside, this isn’t even an issue of copyright or artistic license — the only thing I could possibly understand if the companies were frustrated if these were not approved and “final” ads and they somehow “distort” brand integrity?  If anything, one would think that perhaps the magazine would be frustrated that the blog’s circulation of ad campaign images on "untrustworthy" and "unprofessional" blogs was somehow damaging the exclusivity of the ad buy and might somehow threaten their ability to charge totally inflated exorbitant prices for ad placements. When I was 16, I definitely used to buy magazines just to tear out the Juergen Teller Marc Jacobs ads to put on my wall, and whether or not kids are now printing the crappy JPGs off TFS or their blogs or whatever before the magazines come out seems to damage nobody other than the magazine. Who are already pretty damaged.  Yet it’s the advertisers throwing a hissy fit?

It’s not like music, where you can debate whether the MP3 is the advertisement (for a show, merch, brand, etc) or the product (something with value) — we are talking about promotional images here, images which serve no function other than to promote a brand and encourage purchase of the items photographed, images which are meant to be seen by as many people as humanly possible because, in theory, more impressions —> more purchases.

Especially considering all the recent hoopla about how in fashion, an editorial blog placement/endorsement has more effect on retail than a billboard or Vogue ad spread, it’s seriously nothing short of stunning that any brand on the planet would get that up in arms about not having to pay for more effective, longer-running advertising for free.