A Thousand Words

A Thousand Words June 20, 2013

NYT Fashion Photo

The above photo is from the men’s fashion area of the New York Times online edition

Why is it that New York Times fashion photography typically features people posed to look like they’re just back from a heroin bender plus possibly an orgy?

I mean, what is being communicated here? “Buy these clothes so you too can look like someone made miserable by a life of dissipation and wanton self-indulgence?” or maybe, “Narcissism – it’s the new black?”

Though I don’t expect to, I would actually be interested in hearing from the people who made this photograph – especially photographer Matthew Kristall and style editor Jason Rider – on what they are trying to say with this photo? What “story” do they want us to infer from the character being portrayed, and what should that story communicate to us, the viewers?

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  • A couple of thoughts come to mind, and I will ignore conventional wisdom and simply present them here, unfiltered…

    1 – I can’t help but think of the article that was going around Facebook last week, the one from the LA Times that talked about the increasing amount of young men with food and eating disorders. I mentioned this to my teenage daughter, who gratefully seems at peace with the flesh on her bones, but she remarked that she knew guys who were “obsessed.” This photo feeds that starved look once common only to female models.

    2 – Along those lines… In a culture that is rife with super sized, over abundant, bigger-better everything from portions to houses to cars and more, why are we always objectifying and staring at the thinnest people?

  • Melody

    Haha! The first thing to spring into my mind was “Dead men don’t wear plaid”; so I guess he’s still alive!
    I’ve often wondered what the media is trying to communicate with some of the fashion photos. One often sees women in similar poses, only with lipstick laid on thick, and lips slightly parted in an adenoidal stare. I guess maybe, too cool to show any signs of life.

  • R

    “The proprietors of this establishment are tired of you and your pajamas. Please buy something or go home.”

    That’s the story I infer from the photo.

  • The first thing that sprang to my mind was that, aside from the horrendous plaid, he looks like a character from a David Lynch movie circa 1986!

  • Ronald King

    “I am begging for attention”

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    Great question. As someone attracted to men, I cannot imagine finding the guy the picture attractive. I have never understood the whole “fashion” thing at all. I have in part assumed it is because I am constittuitively fashion-inept. But I think there is a larger ethos matter as well. I like people who look robust and healthy. naturally nobody looks that way every minute of their lives, and we all will get sick and die some day. Do we need to be reminded of it in adverstisement???

    The only thing worse than such advertisements is all the “perfume samples” that fill Vanity Fair and that you can’t avoid getting on you when you read it. I don’t think we even get it any more, though I am not sure because I stopped reading it years ago when we did. I think the Florida Water Cologne that I use smells much better than those supposed more refined colognes and perfumes, and it costs 3 bucks a bottle.

  • “Let my ugly, garish clothes suggest to you that I don’t give a rat’s ass about anyone but myself, and that, therefore, I am a perfect representative of your rabidly individualist social, economic and religious culture.”

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    I forgot to leave a quote, and was inspired by Dismas’s quite funny one — on a number of levels since it suggests an improbable but hilarious philosophical substratum. Anyways, here is mine, but to get it you will have to have followed some of the contretemps of those on the extreme right who see themselves and human relationships as the the opposite of the “Individualist culture” Dismas mentions, though there is clearly room to doubt that pretension of theirs. To wit:

    “Yuck, I am soooo depressed and need a nap! After Exodus folded and Maggie let us all go, all I can do is wait for that damn Chinatown bus to take me to my new life in New York, where they appreciate my dour beauty.”

  • I think this is basically a symptom of a culture that has given up the ghost.

    • Brett, I think it’s tempting to see it that way. Perhaps you’re right. I for my part am unsure of what it means. I think dismaldoben has come quite close: “I don’t care about anything” is probably the dominant suggestion. A similar thought as the OP occured to me the other day when I was looking at some fashion images of women. It struck me they were not too far off from aliens.

      But I am left wondering what one really wants in criticizing this, in being tacitly outraged in a moral sense. If our fashion models look like highly refined, ethereal, elongated extra-terrestrials, what does that say about us? That we want to be something other than what we are? Fashion, as an ornament…hasn’t it always had some element of superfluity and an (ultimately false) suggestion of independence from nature and our surroundings? Like other posters, the photo above does nothing for me, and suggests a groping on the part of its creators to find some means, some way of differentiating while creating the aloofness and self-sustaining quality its subject is trying to convince. It fails to aesthetizise that well, in my opinion (partuclarly in the stubborn insistence on plaid all the way through).

      Still, should we be outraged about the pure attempt, about a moral? What message does the adonis of the classical Greek statue send? Certainly no echo of the “blessed are the poor…”? Is that, there, a sign of decadence too? What exactly is off bounds for art to represent morally? Are we never unjustified in wanting to be “aliens”, masters of the galaxy, when we are really neither masters of our body or our earth?

      “Thou art a lady; if only to go warm were gorgeous, Why, nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear’st”.

      Fashion isn’t about what we need, and if it can suggest we don’t need anything at all, it is often deemed most successful on that point. I think it’s a dangerous area to wade into morally, for one would wind up hating anything that doesn’t look as though it were pushed into the dust.

  • Jordan

    Fran [June 20, 2013 4:56 am]: In a culture that is rife with super sized, over abundant, bigger-better everything from portions to houses to cars and more, why are we always objectifying and staring at the thinnest people?

    We are at a very interesting juncture in (“western”?) society. Prefabricated food, which is mostly starches, sugars, and oils, combined with a sedentary lifestyle prevalent across North American socioeconomic classes, has resulted in a generally overweight population with the most overweight often at the lowest socioeconomic rungs. The exaltation of the thin, then, is not ultimately an issue of sex, gender, or sexual orientation. Rather, it is a warped view of persons who spend an inordinate amount of time on exercise to counteract the effects of a carbohydrate-loaded diet while others willfully pretend that “some people don’t get fat”. No person in a wealthy developed economy can escape bioengineered foods which our bodies have yet to assimilate well, though some are wealthy enough to mitigate the effects of a western diet. The sexual fetishization of “thin” is an outgrowth of these more basal phenomena.

    The conspicuous consumption of cars and housing have other sources in my view (hint: who won World War II?), but I’d agree that expanding waistlines might have something to do with the mega-SUV’s. I drive a compact sedan, so I do have an axe to grind.

  • trellis smith

    I get your point and agree with you about the difficulty of avoiding all modified pesticide foods but processed foods can be easier avoided simply by choosing to buy the bulk of your food on the outside aisles of the grocery stores. Nutrient rich whole plant based food need not be expensive, in fact where I buy bulk I have cut my food budget in half. and increased the variety and enjoyment of what i eat. This consists of whole grains, plant based milks, unlimited vegetables fruits and legumes. i avoid all refined oils and sugars relying on nuts, seeds, avocados for essential oils and whole foods such as dates and date sugar for sweetness. I’m mastering spices which ounce for ounce impart anti oxidants and nutrients than any other food source, When I have to I keep it simple- soups , salads and smoothies. At our local food bank distribution kitchen following the Sara Miles model we teach basic nutrition and offer healthy cooking classes that disseminates into the poorer communities who feel they no options than to eat junk foods.

    • Jordan

      At our local food bank distribution kitchen following the Sara Miles model we teach basic nutrition and offer healthy cooking classes that disseminates into the poorer communities who feel they no options than to eat junk foods.

      Trellis, your food bank’s combination of food donation and nutrition education is an excellent idea. I’ve never heard of it before, but this is a great advance.

      There’s another barrier to healthy diets for lower income to poor individuals and their families. Many poor persons do not have a fridge, oven, or range. At best many have only a hot plate or a microwave. This is certainly a contributor to the fast food diet of many of the poor. I agree with the merits of your diet. In fact, I improved my “bad” cholesterol level and lost weight on a diet similar to yours. A raw foods diet is a good diet for persons without a kitchen. Still, the diet is predicated on the ability to source fruits and quality vegetables (i.e. romaine instead of iceberg for lettuce).

      Supermarket chains which redline certain neighborhoods committ an injustice against lower income persons . Granted, a supermarket is not a charity. However, Whole Foods has opened a store near downtown Detroit [Detroit News, May 28, 2013]. I wonder if the supermarket chain, well known for its high prices, will attract consumers even if prices are discounted. Yet, Whole Foods Detroit also offers nutrition classes. At least Whole Foods Detroit’s consumers are receiving some dietary guidance, even if this guidance is in the store’s interest.

      • trellis smith

        @Jordan, FYI Sara Miles wrote a memoir called Take his Bread ( the book cover is quite compelling) which is actually an extended meditation on the Eucharist and radical hospitality. I am sure there is much in her eucharistic theology that you would find orthodox and some you may disagree with as it is an apology for open communion. And yet I am certain you would find it most amenable to break bread with her. There is a passage in the book that I’ve learned is quite scandalous to the orthodox evermore so because of the power of its presentation. When in the kitchen, while dealing with the stress of a dying cantankerous friend in a moment of meditation and prayer to the Lord of all the pots and pans she takes bread and prays the words of consecration. One is impressed by the healing transfiguration of the moment and how even if in simulacrum, the power of the sacrament is conveyed.

  • trellis smith

    Most of our clients are elderly or working mothers with children and have the means to prepare and preserve food as they are not entirely without income or welfare supports. We do offer a bowl of hearty soups and whole grain breads on the morning of the day we distribute however there are actual daily soup kitchens for those homeless or without any means at all. We are part of the 12 pantries initiated by Sara Miles whose conversion to Christianity has inspired a renewed dedication and understanding of the sacrament of communion which has a nuanced understanding of the real presence manifesting as the body to which we are all members.

    Whole Foods has staked out certain positions favorable with its customers concerning fair trade and labeling of all GM foods. I believe the bulk of its produce and packaged foods is organic which accounts for its higher prices. but even there if you shop wisely you can still eat healthier for less. As I primarily use the bulk food section using the same containers to replenish my pantry I also cut down enormously on packaging waste,