Friday, March 05, 2010

On precocity

I just read a post by Minh-ha Pham at Threadbared. It is a source of perennial infuriation to me that this blog does not have comments, so the only way to engage with the bloggers is to respond on my own blog. Except that: a) I don't always have the time to log in here and write an entire post; b) what I want to add to the discussion isn't always long or coherent enough to deserve its own blog post. Sometimes I just want to add another relevant link, or a passing observation.

Anyway. Minh-ha is talking about a topic that does deserve its own post: our attitudes towards the increased incorporation of "fashion bloggers" into the fashion industry apparatus. These include invitations to runway shows, industry events, private views of upcoming collections and magazine shoots. They also include access to PR graft such as free gifts and product giveaways for readers, being allowed to style and curate for major brands and retailers, and being the 'inspiration' or 'muse' of designers.

This is actually a topic I've struggled with myself lately: mostly in my observations of the graft-happy ways of Australian fashion bloggers, feeling alienated by Patty Huntington's insider discourse, and in my annoyance about the way in which Tavi Gevinson is being hailed as a new force in fashion journalism.

Minh-ha identifies three main issues with the snarky way in which the old school of fashion commentators have been defending their turf. She observes a techno-generational divide between older fashion journalists and younger bloggers; she sees the more established commentators bemoaning the "massification" of fashion journalism (and, especially, representating 'the masses' as feminine in their disorderliness); and she identifies a shift in the perceptions of 'democracy' in the creative economy. In this new understanding of 'democracy', blogging becomes a kind of industry apprenticeship – a foot on the bottom rung of the ladder – and bloggers will endure industry exploitation as a show of good faith in meritocratic capitalism.

These are good ways for me to organise my own reservations about the relationship between blogging and "the fashion industry". I'm sure I've written this somewhere before, but the term "fashion blog" elides the complexity of the blogging about clothing that goes on.

I am not a fashion blogger, because I not especially interested in participating in the cyclical machinations of 'collections', 'fashion weeks', 'key seasonal trends' and industry gossip about designers and models. I also do not publish photos of people's outfits on the street, and nor do I presume that my daily clothing choices will interest other people. However, I am a style blogger, because I am interested in the ways that people use clothes, and the more abstract processes behind the circulation of particular clothing motifs.

Many other fashion bloggers want to get involved in the machinery of the industry because they want careers in that industry. Their blogs operate as CVs, demonstrating that they can speak the right language, they know the right people and look the right way to be taken seriously as insiders.

This is the central problem I have with Tavi. I realise this is quite a conservative position to take, but she is a fucking child and the ethics of interpellating her in this industry machinery at such a tender age are appalling. I can't believe Tavi took a week off school in order to attend New York Fashion Week. I have heard terrible rumours that she is being wooed to attend Rosemount Australian Fashion Week – where do they get off, flying a kid across the world just so they can look zeitgeisty?

I feel the same way about her that I feel about 13-year-old Eastern-bloc Olympic gymnasts or classical music prodigies who perform Rachmaninoff like tiny tin toys. I feel it's sinister to welcome children prematurely into the adult world, and I think that attitudes of "we shouldn't patronise the genuinely gifted, they want to do this" are the worst kind of relativism. We view these children as novelties to be exploited for our entertainment, and we take advantage of the plasticity of children's brains to sculpt them in our own images.

The ethics of the industry employing young models have been discussed at tedious length, but because of the 'massification' of bloggers, Tavi gets to elude these discussions because we can pretend that she's just an 'amateur', that she's not at work when she's at fashion shows. Yes she is. She is being invited to these shows for economic reasons, so we're not just talking about techno-generational issues; we're talking about child labour.

When I wrote about 10-year-old bodybuilder Maughan Wellham, I was far more measured in assessing the ways in which we understand childhood and respond to instances in which we perceive it as under threat. I feel I still haven't got to the heart of my discomfort over Tavi Gevinson, but anyway, there you have it.


slanderous said...

Yeah, we know the "no comment" policy is annoying, but it's a mental health/continued employment issue -- since none of TB "counts" toward our tenure files, as much as we love writing for it, we try to minimize our time on the blog and allowing comments would NOT help us do so! We both like being able to ignore it at will.

Anonymous said...

I have been intrigued by the trajectory of Tavi's 'career' since the early days of Style Rookie. Like you, I find the way that she is being courted by the fashion industry complicated and a bit unsettling.
It seems that her age is a central component of why she is desirable- the question that hovers around her seems to be 'how can someone so young speak so authoritatively and be so knowledgable about fashion?' - a question that is never addressed in any of her collaborations.(As far as I can tell, LOVE mag. was the only one to frame her as extremely youthful in their second issue.)
It feels inauthentic to me that her fashion collaborators pretend that her age isn't part of what makes her a novelty, but only her knowledge of fashion and personal style- there are other bloggers who are as articulate, quirkily dressed, and opinionated as her, and yet somehow it is only Tavi who is on simultaneous magazine covers and conducting Fashion Television interviews.
Futhermore, as a result of these manifest collaborations, her authorial voice has changed- the defiant rulebreaking joy with which she used to write has now subsided.
Her writing for POP reads like any of POP's other writers, and I find that eerie, because part of what set her apart was the very irreverent tone which only seemed 'permissible' because she was so outside the industry.