It’s a tough job market, that’s for sure. Industries we previously thought provided lifelong careers are now as flimsy as your excuse for getting back with your ex (again). So why not take aspirational inspiration—career counseling, if you will—from great works of literature? I mean, we heed the words of Austen, Bront�, Shakespeare and their ilk when it comes to matters of love and manners and melancholy. So why not on matters of work, the obvious yin to that homelife yang?
Maybe “noblewoman,” “unmarried eldest daughter” and “orphaned English governess” are not the most realistic or relevant ambitions in the wake of the industrial revolution, but that’s why we’ve got to, well, shift our timeframe and standards a bit, and let ourselves be inspired by the distinguished muse that is contemporary chick lit.
Meander for a moment with me, and let’s explore some professions available to anyone with some wily womanly ways and the printed page as a guide.
I never much believed in chain letters as a kid. In the age before reciprocal voyeurism and plugged-in home offices, it seemed tedious and wasteful to hand-copy and address notes about luck, love and death. I never believed I’d be cursed with a dateless prom if I failed to pass on the correspondence, and I never believed I’d get $100 in return for my single crumpled bill. It seemed unkind, too, to burden my friends with the weight of potentially breaking the chain. Who wants that kind of responsibility on her prepubescent shoulders?
So I hated chain letters. I’d get them in the mail from pen pals and find them in my cubbyhole from classmates, and I’d self-righteously toss them with the reassurance that, phew, I was above such brainless, self-indulgent malarkey.
Then chain letters became interactive in a way that transcended copying and pasting, that went beyond dancing babies, $200 Neiman Marcus Cookie Recipes and cautionary tales of drunk driving and computer viruses. Chain letters became a way to tell stories. And I became hooked. With lengthy biographical surveys passed through email and MySpace bulletins I learned that I like to talk about myself. A lot. (Imagine that. A columnist who enjoys talking about herself. Uncanny.)
And with this current, unavoidable, “25 Things About Me” Facebook meme, I’m learning that my friends like to talk about themselves a lot, too. The New York Times reports that nearly five million notes—many, if not most, of which are “25 Things” lists—have been created on Facebook this past week, and that this number is double the previous week’s and larger than any other single week in the history of the 5-year-old social network’s existence.
So why are people posting these lists? Why do we feel it’s necessary to share with our buddies that we’re lactose intolerant, failed gym in high school, heart kitties, drink a pot of coffee a day, sometimes miss cable TV, find mayonnaise unpalatable, like to do handstands and voted for Nader in 2000 (none of which are my “Things,” by the way)? Because we’re narcissists. All of us. And that’s okay. That’s how people connect. We talk about ourselves. We share stories about our pasts, we admit the somewhat endearing flaws in our presents, and we reveal our hopes and dreams for our futures.
We cultivate personas on Tumblr and Twitter and Facebook that are in line with how we’re known in “real life,” but just a little more forthcoming and sexy and sweetly cynical than how we present ourselves at the office or the gym or the bar. We say the things to our friends online in list-form that we sometimes forget to say, or are too timid or ashamed or distracted to say, in the busyness of our everyday. We confide our fears on Facebook, and idiosyncrasies that strike us as somewhat scandalous, and the things only our mothers and significant others know about us because it doesn’t feel right to share these things while watching the Super Bowl, or in the line at the movie theater or checking out the latest local band that doesn’t blow. Those are the times when we talk pleasantries—where we want to go on vacation, whether or not we have plans for brunch, if this week’s Flight of the Conchords was funnier than last week’s. We have a few select friends to whom we reveal everything, and many to whom we reveal only the illusion of anything.
I’m the first to admit that I’m horrible at asking questions. I automatically assume, and wrongly so, that everyone is as chatty and ingenuous as I am. I assume that if someone has something they’d like divulge, they’ll tell without me having to ask. I don’t like to pry. It feels invasive, and I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. But I’m learning, through reading friends’ “25 Things,” just how little I know about some of them. How was I unaware of a brother’s death, a mother’s sickness, a divorce, an accident, a childhood in gymnastics, a shared love of James Spader?
I know it sounds cheesy—okay, okay, beyond cheesy—but maybe this “25 Things” trend could teach us something. Maybe we don’t ask enough questions of our friends or demand enough answers. Maybe we ask the wrong kinds of questions. Maybe we shouldn’t have to wait for a Facebook meme to reveal how much we have in common and how much we have yet to learn. It’s cheesy, yes, but maybe this viral narcissism is productive in creating something other than just a culture of self-obsessed surveillance. Maybe it’s creating better friends.
When I pleaded several months ago for readers to watch and save Pushing Daisies and Lipstick Jungle, that was rational, or at least kind of rational, as far as “rational” is defined by a TV-addled entertainment junkie. Those are shows I loved and continue to adore in moratorium (and in limbo for Jungle); shows with season-long legs and existing—if miniscule—fanbases. Shows that had proven their worth, at least to me and a handful of ultimately ineffectual others, with some combination of quality writing, empathetic characterization and stunning visuals—in Daisies, the sets, costumes and cinematography; in Jungle, the designer fashions and Robert Buckley’s freshly waxed six-pack.
When I begged readers to embrace Pushing Daisies and Lipstick Jungle, it made sense. Because I had watched those shows from the beginning, and knew them inside out. Now I’m begging you to watch Dollhouse. I’ve never even seen it. But I’m telling you, it’s going to be good.
My Grandma wanted to hang this week, which in retiree-talk means sharing a sugar-free, salt-free, fat-free early bird and a chick flick matinee. Having already indulged with fellow self-loathing 20-somethings in Bride Wars and You’re Just Not That Into Him Either, or whatever it’s called, me and the matriarch settled on Confessions of a Shopaholic. My Grandma’s a shopaholic of sorts, she proudly admits, though her vice is the dollar store, and I’m not sure how disastrous an addiction to ceramic statuettes and affordable paper products really is. Like, has anyone ever gone into debt over off-brand deodorant and made-in-China angel figurines?
Was Shopaholic a great movie? Nah. But it was everything a chick flick should be, meaning pink and sparkly as a glass of Ros� Brut, and completely and offensively cliched. Shopaholic, like almost every other rom-com these days, operates on the assumption that we live in a post-feminist time in which women don’t really need to resist the stereotypes that keep us down; we should simply embrace them and locate our power in our pleasures. Or whatever. Which, of course, results in some pretty nasty stereotypes—women as uncontrollable consumers whose identity politics play out on their credit card bills rather than in activism for institutional change; heteromance as the ultimate goal; gay folks and people of color as peripheral to the pretty, rich, white girls and boys.
Lame, right? Yup, as lame as could possibly be. A sad reflection of the state of society, even amidst an economic meltdown. But sometimes I enjoy turning off my brain and turning into a blithering, if self-critical, idiot. And I’m not alone. Shopaholic was fourth in the weekend box office, and He’s Just Not That Into You dropped just one spot down to number two after its opening weekend top slot. After weeks of the Paul Blart: Mall Cop, estrogen escapism reigns.
One of the most prevalent critiques of Shopaholic is it reinforces the very conspicuous consumption practices it pretends to tear down. And, well, that’s not untrue. Confessions of a Shopaholic is the story of a wannabe fashion journalist who must take a job at a financial magazine to help pay off her debts in the double thousands. While the movie moralizes that spending money you don’t have on things you don’t need is bad—it can damage not just your career, but also your love prospects and your relationship with your enabling best friend—Shopaholic also makes shopping look so damn fun. There are unapologetic Gucci boots, Louboutin stilettos and $200 Marc Jacobs underwear. Isla Fisher’s wide-eyed Rebecca Bloomwood is deep in debt not over necessities or even frugal indulgencies (Trader Joe’s cheeses, Seven jeans at Marshall’s, Tria for just one zippy white), but actual luxuries I actually want. Or would want if only I could afford them without going into Shopaholic-esque debt.
This preoccupation with cotton candy couture feels uncannily familiar. But where Sex and the City conflated labels and love, Shopaholic maintains that love trumps labels, that designer fashions are just a placeholder until we meet a man on whom to lavish our affections instead. Shopaholic ultimately preaches shopping as destructive and simply a substitute for “real” happiness, i.e. a man who is fabulously rich and good looking in the vein of Hugh Grant before he got squidgy around the edges. The takeaway message is that while thousand-dollar shoes will just get you in trouble with Visa, a man will love you back. While a dress from Joan Shepp will make you swagger taller down Walnut Street, a man will validate your existence.
The problem is that neither labels nor love are particularly healthy addictions. But maybe with unemployment in Pennsylvania being, like, over six percent, co-dependence is indeed a healthier fixation than spending money, even if you’re just hitting up the dollar store with Grandma. Those ceramic angels add up.
This week, Shmitten Kitten—one of my favorite blogs both locally and in the whole, wide webiverse—hosted a “Break Up Extravaganza.” Seems some lame-o dude had the audacity to dump our dear dating voyeur Amanda Mello. And because parading your broken heart for anonymous commenters really is the best catharsis, Amanda disclosed her tasteful tales of woe.
“I still want him to take me to the planetarium for my birthday,” she wrote. “I still want to go to Puerto Rico with him in March … I still want to spend an excruciatingly painful day couch shopping in New Jersey with his dumb ass.”
The Shmitten Kitten’s “Break Up Extravaganza” was all about the shameless sharing, a refreshing alternative to the usual apologizing for anguish. The Kittens offered no shame about neediness, desperation, retail therapy or drowning in a pint of soul-soothing Ben & Jerry’s.
With one exception: Self-help books.
When detailing the vital contents of an emergency breakup kit, Amanda blushingly instructed readers to invest in a copy of It’s Called a Breakup Because It’s Broken, by married duo Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt and Greg Behrendt, the very Sex and the City contributor who co-authored He’s Just Not That Into You—which, yes, is now coming to a theater near you.
A million chicks are giddy to see the star-studded self-help flick next weekend. Opening night viewing parties are already sold out, and have been for weeks. So why are the Kittens so timid about advocating the self-help genre?
Looking at the It’s Called a Breakup Because It’s Broken website, apparently, made Amanda “cringe.” She even suggested wearing a disguise to purchase the book (because it seems, for the recently dumped, there is no such thing as Amazon.com). Ultimately, though, she still recommended the tome calling it “helpful” despite the fact it’s “corny” and “stupid.”
Anyone who’s ever been let out to pasture can recognize the humiliation. While dealing with my own shattered heart a few years ago, a friend dragged me to Barnes & Noble’s self-help section—which I had previously, strategically avoided—and demanded I purchase a guide or two on how to sort out my post-breakup habits of self-pity, the constant urge to call him and my inability to go more than five minutes without lamenting the possibility of ending up a wrinkled spinster. I balked.
Like the Shmitten Kittens, I thought I was above corny, stupid self-help books. So I ducked behind my oversized shades, scoffed at my friend’s recommendations and disappeared into the cookbook shelves, thinking I could overcome my problems with enough cocktail therapy and screenings of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. (Hint: Wait at least 60 days post-breakup to watch that weepy).
I wasn’t wrong. I’m healed. Still, though, I wonder, why—like the Shmitten Kittens—I was so averse to self-help at the time I needed it most?
It’s not like we’d be alone. According to Micki McGee’s Self-Help Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life, the self-help industry is worth about $2.41 billion per year in the U.S. alone. Besides the top-selling self-help books (The Last Lecture, The Secret and The Purpose Driven Life, just to name a few) self-help TV and movies are now insanely popular. So much programming—especially reality programming targeted to women—centers on dissatisfaction.
Almost all the shows on TLC instruct viewers how to improve their wardrobes, figures, families, homes, dinner menus and weddings. Similarly, Lifetime has shows about how to look good naked and about the emotional journey of going from “fat” to “fit.” WEtv is all about “healthy lifestyles” and “new beginnings” when it comes to love, sex, weddings, fashion, your body, your money and your job. The Style Network offers plenty of confidence-boosting “inspiration” for weight loss, beauty, interior design and, yeah, your wedding. And let’s not forget about Oprah, the self-help queen, whose daily therapy sessions educate viewers on how to live their “best lives” when it comes to matters of health, style, relationships, home, food, money, the world and the spirit (the sub-categories of Oprah’s ever-instructive website).
And next weekend, thanks to serial dumper/dumpee Drew Barrymore, He’s Just Not That Into You is making the leap from self-help book to self-help flick—though admittedly one with a surprisingly decent soundtrack featuring the Ting Tings, Lily Allen, the Cure and Wilco. Will anyone feel the need to wear a disguise to the theater to engage in this collective self-help exercise?
Because when our self-help has disguised itself as entertainment, we’re less wary and less resistant to distance ourselves from the fact that we’re all emotionally flawed, clueless losers who could all use a little self-help kick to improve our lives.
Some history: In 1635 two Spanish boats filled with African slaves shipwrecked off the coast of St. Vincent in the Caribbean. The survivors escaped to the island, where they mixed with the indigenous Caribs and Amerindians—and the Garifuna people were born.
Resisting French and British colonization, the Garifuna people were later deported to the island of Roatan, off Honduras. From there they dispersed along the Central American coast, from Guatemala to Nicaragua.
An isolated and endangered culture, Garifuna eventually found a spokesperson in Andy Palacio—a punta musician from Belize. Palacio championed his native music, language and culture.
His internationally acclaimed 2007 album W�tina became the brightest cultural spotlight ever to shine on the Garifuna people. In many ways he saved Garifuna music from extinction.
Unfortunately, while critics still praised his success, and news headlines in Belize regularly boasted his name, Palacio died of a massive heart attack at 47 in January.
Andy Palacio had been scheduled to appear in Philly tonight. Instead, an all-star lineup of Garifuna musicians—many of whom appear on the W�tina album—will perform a tribute in his honor.
PW caught up with Palacio’s producer Ivan Duran, on the phone from Belize, prior to the show.
This past weekend Saturday Night Live became marginally relevant for the first time since Andy Samberg rapped about The Chronicles of Narnia and Natalie Portman rhymed about killing dogs for fun. This time, though, instead of a hip-hop parody going viral, it’s a pleasantly sweet skit about a “straight” chick going to some mythically lezzed-out Melissa Etheridge concert and loving every minute of the Sapphic experience, from the Suze Orman booth for gay mortgages to the athletic ladies in tank tops, from the Indigo Girls performance of “Closer to Fine” to Ellen DeGeneres chatting about being closeted as a youngster.READ MORE
Things I’ve given up: light beer (like drinking sewer water), girl-cut concert Ts (for chestless chicks only, and I’m not one), high heels (I curse a lot, then fall over) and cheap clothes (the fits and lifespans suck).
That’s why Loehmann’s was the best. Three floors of fashionable, well-cut and well-made designer (or at least designer imposter) goods even a broke grad student could afford.
Note the past tense. Loehmann’s was the best. The Center City location at 16th and Chestnut is closing. After two years of attiring half of Rittenhouse Square and most of the Jersey commuters who work nearby, Loehmann’s registers are scheduled to ring their final sales June 1, though due to the lack of clearance merch, last call may come earlier. And that leaves me and every single one of my girlfriends devastated.
Where are we supposed to find majorly discounted French Connection blazers and Michael Kors shades? Where are we supposed to find officewear and “going out” outfits we can actually afford?
Don’t even try to comfort me with the reminder that Center City is rich in H&Ms;, that Target’s just a bike ride away, that TopShop is only a click away, and that the Zara on Walnut and Wet Seal at the Gallery at Market East offer plenty of dirt-cheap designer knockoffs.
I want nothing to do with that tomfoolery. Those brands are crap. Their garments fall apart after one swirl through the washing machine, and—I swear—are not only made by 12-year-old Thai boys, but cut for them as well. (My hips have never fit properly into a pair of H&M; pants.)
But alas, it’s supposed to be this way. These clothes are disposable, meant for fickle teenagers and a couple twirls around the dance floor or water cooler. They’re meant to last just as long as the trend lasts and not a second longer.
I want clothes that last longer than a second, though. I want clothes that make me feel beautiful. And Loehmann’s was my—our—way of achieving that. Our way of cheating, of passing as smart and sophisticated professionals in Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses and J Brand skinny jeans instead of some unlined, poly-blend atrocity or pancake-bum pants that warp after one wash.
Loehmann’s was how we lived above our means, how we felt successful, how we felt hot, how we fit in with the rest of the office clackers in their tailored suits and shirts with buttons and collars instead of band names and tour dates. Loehmann’s was like snagging a fine Burgundy on Chairman’s Selection for the price of a white zin.
Now, due to high rent and tough business, that’s been taken away. We still have Daffy’s at 17th and Chestnut, but Daffy’s is more Nine West, Guess and some never-heard-of Italian brand than Marc by Marc Jacobs, Juicy Couture and Missoni. And yeah, there’s the promise of discount department stores in the faraway ‘burbs, but I haven’t got the cab fare, the PhillyCarShare membership or, most important, the time to schlep an hour (each way!) via SEPTA for a shirt-dress and pair of ankle boots.
I don’t fill my apartment with IKEA’s self-assembled styrofoam furniture (it’s ugly, less than comfy and falls apart after one too many hours in front of the tube), so I certainly don’t want to fill my closet with IKEA’s clothing kin of cheap, disposable styles.
A wardrobe is something you should build, not something to be thrown away when it falls apart. And without Loehmann’s, we’re left with one less building block.
This week’s How I Met Your Mother had a gooey sweet surprise at the core of its customary hilarity. Neil Patrick Harris’ he-whore with a heart of silver Barney shared a kiss with Cobie Smulders’ gun-toting, cigar-smoking, former ‘80s popstar Robin. A passionate kiss. A kiss that was kind of a total shock (as in, when it happened I gasped, “Oh!”) but kind of expected—the characters have been sharing minor shadows of flirtations for the past few weeks.
Anyone else remember that season-one episode in which Robin “suited up” and went “bro-ing” around town with Barney? They played laser tag and drank Johnny Walker Blue (that’s grade-A foreplay in my book) and Barney tried to sleep with Robin. He tries to sleep with every woman, but still. We saw how the two might work as a duo, but were quickly routed back to the main action of protagonist Ted’s romantic dalliances.
Ted’s trysts have always been and will always be dull, even when he’s courting stellar guest stars like Mandy Moore and Sarah Chalke. But he’s the central character, the narrator, so we watch. Sure, it’s an ensemble cast, but the show isn’t called How We Met Your Mother. There’s a first-person pronoun there, folks. So even though he’s a cad, Ted’s the main dude, and Barney, Robin, Lily and Marshall are his supporting players.
But it’s their relationships that are most exciting.
If, for instance, it turns out the Barney/Robin smooch is more than a one-time thing, we could have my new favorite TV couple on our hands. Because it’s secondary romances that continually outshine the lead counterparts. I have no patience for whiney, self-obsessed protags and their over-wrought relationship woes that are supposed to keep us tuning in week after week. Who has the energy to deal with Ross and Rachel? Buffy and Angel? Meredith and McDreamy? Dawson and Joey? I mean, you know what’s going to happen with these center-stage romances. They’ll have “feelings” for each other and angst over those feelings, then get together, then break up, then have angst over breaking up. Then they’ll probably get back together and have angst over how much they missed each other when they were apart. I mean, c’mon! I get enough of that in my own life. I don’t need that kind of messy narcissist uncertainty in my entertainment.
Which is why peripheral romances are the best.
Supporting characters, as far as I can tell, squeeze by with some of the most captivating relationships on television. While the central characters’ heartache provides the story arch structure, it’s behind and underneath and around that structure that some of the best intimacies are given space to flourish.
Like, if Gilmore Girls‘ Lorelai and Luke hadn’t been so hot and cold for seven seasons, Sookie and Jackson, Paris and Doyle, and Lane and Zack never would’ve happened. And those couples were so cute, such the perfect comedic antidote to Stars Hollow’s most hesitant star-crossed lovers.
Sure, there were the occasional riffs—like when Jackson didn’t get that vasectomy even though he swore he did, or when Paris broke up with Doyle for all of a day because she was convinced you can’t meet the love of your life in college—but mostly there was organic produce and type-A PDAs and rock ‘n’ roll. All good things.
And on Lost we’re supposed to be wrapped up in this Jack-Kate-Sawyer triangle that’s now expanded to include Juliet, but you know which couple I’m totally head-over-heels obsessed with? Rose and Bernard.
They’ve got their issues—like, isn’t it just infuriating Bernard won’t accept his wife’s cancer as terminal? Actually, no, it’s not infuriating at all. It’s endearing. Because everything about Rose and Bernard is endearing, and whenever they get their few minutes of obligatory “hey, they still exist” screentime, I swoon.
Everyone knows Jessie and Slater were the real draw to Saved by the Bell (Zack and Kelly were too squeaky clean); and Chandler and Monica made Friends palatable when Ross and Rachel were having cringe-worthy breaks and one-night stands; and Willow and Tara were so amazingly cute and well matched to each other, where Buffy and whichever vampire-with-a-soul were just all wallowy and sucky with each other.
Maybe peripheral TV romances are so appealing because they’re not given the same priority in screentime as their central counterparts. The supporting love lives become the principal focus only when it’s convenient for the progression of the lead lothario’s narrative. So we get to see some cracks in the facade, but only the most engaging ones—the excruciatingly dull brooding happens off-screen or in the margins of the camera’s lens.
There’s something appealing about Kimmy Gibbler and Duane canoodling around San Fran while Jesse and Rebecca babysit the Olsen twins, about Barney and Robin playing Battleship and making out while Ted’s still on the prowl for his future kids’ mother. About skipping the monotonous mope and going straight for the passion, and staying there.