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Home > Media

Warning: imaginary cynic on autopilot

Ship Ship Hooray! to Cheap Date and Ship Ship Boo! to the Independent.

19 January 2004

If there's one thing the press needs, it's a more critical eye. (Apart from checking its facts.) (And not reiterating press releases.) (And learning how to write.)

Unfortunately, some writers know this, but make things worse when they fall into the habit of half-opening that eye and tossing out a few would-be sceptical apercus, the laziest of which is to quote someone and then do some semantic sleight-of-hand to show that they mean the opposite of what they say.

Take the following, from an article by Josh Sims in today's Independent. It's about the magazine Cheap Date, a Manhattan-based fanzine about how to dress well in thrift stores:

Thrift and vintage take notions of exclusivity to their logical conclusion. Be it an old Dior dress or some dead granny's cardie, it has the unassailable cachet of being one of a kind. To claim one's outfit is vintage now involves a certain inverted snobbery. Cynics might argue that this more exacting fashionability is what the Cheap Daters had in mind all along, not the cost savings.

Brilliant, Josh. Kudos to you. You've shown that avoiding the exclusivity of designer clothes can be just as exclusive. Touché! Oh, except that Exclusivity based on whether you have $429 to drop on a Prada handbag and Exclusivity based on the fact that a dress is quite old are different in every meaningful sense. There's nothing in the least bit wrong with being swanky in a skirt you got from a thrift store. So it's not "cynics" that might argue this (this is Josh's sneaky way of arguing it himself); it's idiots. Cheap Date's snobbery, in fact, is so inverted, it's no longer snobbery.

But the article has more to say about the magazine in general (he argues that the editors are in no position to criticise designer fashion because they know all about it) and also the idea of rich people going to charity shops. He pulls the same trick, noting that "some might even call [this] offensive". Enough already, Josh: The super-rich are allowed to go to charity shops if they want to. He's kind-of pulling a class warrior thing here, without really knowing what point he wants to make, or why. His prose is littered with "ironically, perhaps"es and "could be seen by cynics"es.

For crying out loud, say what you think! If these "cynical" observations are any good, claim them for yourself, rather than attributing them to your imaginary friends! Otherwise, it looks like you're just setting up some daft oppositions to pad out your feature and give it "depth".

And all at the expense of a potentially-great new magazine by some people who do know what they're talking about. A cynic might argue that this is potentially ironic.

It's also a real shame that this is in the Independent, who have some vague company policy of avoiding buffoonery. For some good writing about fashion journalism, you'll have to go through that weird experience of seeing the Microsoft logo on top of something which does something useful: it's at Slate.

Karen Lehrman talks about fashion from the perspective of knowing something about its history, and being someone with a good eye for design. Unsurprisingly, this makes for a better read. And we get some genuine cynicism here, in that she calls bullshit on the over-rated David LaChappelle.

About time too! From his fashion shoots to his terrible Elton John album covers, LaChappelle manages to avoid being a perfectly-good photographer with every trick in the book. Here's one of his most meretricious spreads:


Good call, Ms Lehrman.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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