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Monday, 22 March 2010

The Fashion Industry = The Catholic Church

I saw the White Ribbon at the weekend. A marvellous film with a nightmare cast of characters who look like they've walked out of August Sander's early portraits.

Who would be the village photographer to go with the abusive doctor (that is his daughter in the picture) and manipulative pastor who help make the film such a masterpiece description of sexual repression and abuse of power? How about Terry Richardson, currently on the end of a slamming for being exploitative of young models.

He'd fit right in, no, the whole fashion industry would fit right in. There is the conceit that the fashion industry are some kind of inclusive, liberal institution where freedom of expression and thought are held to the fore - and in places that is true. Yet Terry Richardson has been manipulating models/wannabe models into sexual contact with him in front of his lackeys, with the implicit premise that if you do as he says then success will come ("It's not who you know, it's who you blow."). These young models are ambitious and some are easily manipulated into doing things they don't want to. Throw in a few body-image problems, mental health issues/eating disorders and then the vulnerability Richardson is preying on becomes positively abusive. It's not just a bit of harmless fun in other words.

What is interesting is how people have sprung to his defence ( here and check out some of the comments out on Photo-Editor). It's no secret that Richardson and others have been doing this, indeed half the fashion industry (ant the photography industry as well) are complicit in it - which to a certain extent excuses Richardson, but only inasmuch as it condemns the fashion/photography industry as a whole, an industry that has absolutely no interest in monitoring what goes on in the name of promoting and producing its products or in preventing the abuses that accompany this promotion and production.

They are like the Catholic Church (and you can substitute the religion of your choice here and the sentiment will still apply); editor-cardinals, designer-cardinals, art-director-cardinals and photographer-cardinals - covering up and remaining silent over the abuse that is going on in their midst, and pretending that they are nice and liberal and promoting freedom of expression and freedom of thought. But they are worse than the Catholic Church, because at least some members of that church are doing something to confront the paedophilia, jew-hating, homophobia and misogyny in its midst. You can switch the prejudices around but the wilful denial and obfuscation of what are quite clear-cut employment related ethical issues is so deafening that it is news when anyone steps out of line to speak out (as Rie Rasmussen did with Richardson). Being a model is a job and nothing more. ("So, Miss Jones, now before you get that promotion to head teller, how about a little hand job. It'll be fun!" How does that sound? ).

Can legislation, some kind of regulation  or some kind of boycott change this. Probably not. I'm really happy to boycott Gucci and all the rest, but then I don't buy it anyway. And I think the only people who would boycott their stuff are the people who don't buy it already. 

I'll end this ramble with a quote (by Banksy), because the real reason I despise parts of the fashion and photography industry is because of the way they inflict their distorted, degraded insecurities on us, the way they try to devalue our minds, our bodies and our values in a way we can't escape. They do it to me, my wife, my daughter and everyone I love. And much as I try to escape it, I can't. It's everywhere. .

"The people who truly deface our neighbourhoods are the companies that scrawl their giant slogans across buildings and buses trying to make us feel inadequate unless we buy their stuff."

The other films I saw at the weekend were High Noon, and then The Seven Samurai. Fashion as a small town? What kind of a town?


Stan B. said...

What nineteen year old anywhere would balk at the chance to frolick with a receding hairline more than twice their age?

Sister Wolf said...

Excellent and eloquent post. Thanks for directing me to that comment thread at Photo-editor...what a world.

Andrew Lamb said...

Just to play devil's advocate, Irving Penn worked in the fashion industry, didn't he? So did Avdeon, Louis Faurer, Doisneau, Saul Leiter etc..

We are agreed that, Terry Richardson is a reactionary buffoon. However, not everyone in the fashion industry can be tarred with the same tacky, phallo-centric brush, surely?

colin pantall said...

Thanks Sister Wolf and I hope the letter writing ruffled some feathers even if it's only for a short time.

Thanks Andrew, no they can't all be tarred with the same brush. I'm not sure about this, but I'm sure Irving Penn never got naked with Grace Kelly and suggested she give him a handjob.

I'm still in a bad mood today, so the comments on the fashion industry as a whole still stand. As for those who promote distorted body image, materialistic values and inflict them on the rest of us in indiscrimate fashion, yes, sure, why not tar them with the same brush.

Andrew Lamb said...

Well, given Grace Kelly's reputation...

On a less flippant note, I'm looking forward to seeing Mr Penn's exhibition at the NPG.

Can't be bothered saying anything further on Richardson et al.

Andrew Lamb said...

Well, given Grace Kelly's reputation...

On a less flippant note, I'm looking forward to seeing Mr Penn's exhibition at the NPG.

Can't be bothered saying anything further on Richardson et al.

colin pantall said...


Anonymous said...

In regards to your last thought: if you feel inadequate than that is a defect of your own self-worth, it's time to stop blaming "them".

And in regards to the fashion industry: it's a sad state of affairs but it's more complex than you make it out to be. The fact that you mention Vogue and Gucci indicates that you don't have enough understanding of it to realize that what it is today is inevitable.

colin pantall said...

Indeed, Anonymous, I must do better with my self-esteem.

But don't you think that having visual and graphic messages that constantly reinforce that anything other than a fantasy ideal is a failure affects people in a negative and very simple way.

Of course it is complex how this works but at the same time it is very simple - if you tell somebody they are a fat, ugly arse several times a day, then that person will not feel as blessed as when you tell them they are a beautiful charm merchant who is free to choose their own clothes, body shape and lifestyle.

What if the negative messages were from apartheid South Africa, or Nazi Germany telling blacks or Jews about their inferiority - would the depression, doubt and fear that arise out of this be due only to individual's lack of self-worth. Is legislation against discrimination of all forms, against bullying and prejudice a bad thing - or should we not bother about any of that because it's only people with no self-worth who are going to be affected.

Inevitable? You have a different defintion to me, Anonymous (Anonymous?).