For CR Fashion Book Issue 12, “crazy reality” is interpreted through the lurid, sometimes unbelievable world in which we live in today. Through celebrity endorsements and the public’s obsession with labels, here writer Patrick Sandberg explores our culture of mass consumerism. “We live in very…unique times: real yet surreal, banal yet extraordinary, sober yet completely insane,” Carine explains. “This issue is about a crazy reality of rapid change and extreme contrast, a new age of honesty and the crumbling of outdated institutions.”
When you woke up this morning, was your alarm ringtone set to the auto-tuned rasp of Countess Luann’s “Girl Code (Don’t Be So Uncool)”? You might have stepped out of bed and into a pair of black mink Birkenstocks by Kelly Bensimon and wrapped yourself in a NENE by NeNe Leakes for HSN Cold-Shoulder Crochet Cardigan before heading to the kitchen to pop a Skinnygirl K-Cup into your Keurig coffeemaker. (“Today’s agenda? World domination. But first? Coffee.”) Next, you might have applied Kim Zolciak-Biermann’s Kashmere Purifying Masque before beating your face with the coveted KKW Beauty Crème Contour and Highlight Kit. Once Kardashian-ized, it would have only been natural to reach for a Brazilian Body Wave lace front from the NAKED by Porsha Williams wig collection. If you were smart, you would have copped that #CLIP baseball cap from Dorinda Medley’s VIP Swag line, because who among us has time to trim edges before starting work for the day? Ah, work… Do you happen to identify as a BKBC? It’s short for Bedroom Kandi Boutique Consultant—in layman’s terms, an affiliate vendor for Kandi Burruss’s multilevel marketing scheme to sell women’s sex toys. It’s great work, if you can get it, and it can even get you off.
Sometime during the last decade, the reality licensing and product market went kaboom. I identify this shift in reality-centric brand opportunism as the Frankeling—the day, in October of 2011, that Real Housewives of New York star Bethenny Frankel sold her Skinnygirl Cocktail brand to the beverage conglomerate Beam Global for an estimated 0 million.
Back then, reality’s 2018 queen of commerce, Kim Kardashian, was in the tadpole stages of the nine-digit leviathan she would become. Aside from the scandal that accompanied her family’s foray into branded Master Cards, Kim was flourishing in the world of celebrity ambassadorship, backing products like Skechers Shape-ups, QuickTrim diet pills, and, paradoxically, Carl’s Jr. After releasing her first fragrance and inking a family deal for the Kardashian Kollection, a low-priced bag line at Sears, Kim was well on her way to market saturation, but it was Frankel who reoriented the playing field and kicked open a pandora’s box of ruthless capitalism among reality television’s most random stars.
A snarky, scrappy self-starter from Queens, Frankel’s presence on Housewives was initially that of a “project” for the yenta Jill Zarin, who imagined herself a Svengali for Frankel’s business pursuits and her love life. In between gigs as a private chef for Tommy Hilfiger’s sister and itinerant attempts to launch a baking empire by handing out scones to New York City tourists, Frankel became a fan favorite for her sarcastic asides and acerbic insights into the socialite dragons who swanned and shrieked in her orbit. After a series of books met with moderate success, Frankel coined “the Skinnygirl Margarita”—two ounces of Patron silver, the juice of half a lime, and a splash of Grand Marnier or triple sec—and unlike her previous product attempts, it caught fire. Frankel has since become Bravo television’s golden goose and sole success story. At the time, her co-stars naturally elbowed to get in on the act: Countess Luann claimed it was she who coined the term “Skinnygirl Margarita,” and Sonja Morgan would later endeavor to piggyback with her own prosecco line, Tipsy Girl. Along with most reality stars, they’ve scurried and scrambled to mogul-ize in Bethenny’s black-stiletto footsteps. The examples are endless—some successful (Kylie Cosmetics), others not so much (Morgan’s mythic toaster oven, now an avatar for branded endeavors that fail to launch).
Today, influencer product lines have become de rigueur in American households, with social media “spon con” all but replacing the infomercials of yore. In early 2017, the conservative scholar Tom Nichols published an article in Foreign Affairs magazine called “How America Lost Faith in Expertise, And Why That’s a Giant Problem.” In the piece, which attributes flaws in our democracy to patterns of information failure and social cocooning, Nichols reached a striking conclusion: “Living in a world awash in gadgets and once unimaginable conveniences and entertainments, Americans (and many other Westerners) have become almost childlike in their refusal to learn enough to govern themselves or to guide the policies that affect their lives.”
This particularly affects the consumer marketplace, thanks to the onslaught of subliminal messaging we’re exposed to in an average day. Everybody knows Warhol’s adage about 15 minutes of fame. Now, thanks to not only reality TV but also cross-platform reality-tainment (comprising Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat, etc) those 15 minutes have become a bloodsport sprint to maximize any fleeting glimpse of attention for profit. The very act of liking or following somebody increases their personal profitability in the eyes of investors. In castings, follower counts matter much more than talent, originality, or even personality. This often means individuals with superficial advantages (wealth, beauty, youth, sex appeal, or famous parents) rise to the top. With reality TV, our cynical, post-ironic osmosis of the lives of others has paved the way for a sort of debasement Olympics, in which adults compete to willingly humiliate themselves for capital—a dystopian spectacle as feverishly entertaining as it is ominous. Participants are willing to continue the cycle of abuse because while successes become legend, failures dissipate from the collective consciousness in as much as a swipe. (Remember Fyre Festival?)
It’s natural to blame the increased optics of merchant hucksters for the rise of the current American president, but the question remains: where do we fit into all of this, as consumers? One thing to advocate for is greater self-awareness. Perhaps holding back likes and unfollowing figures who give little to the culture might help restrict who earns a seat at the table. Far be it for anyone to deny themselves the pleasures of watching Countess Luann faceplant into a shrub while blackout drunk in Mexico. If anything, the desperate marketeering of reality figures demands the balance of our derision and laughter, as much as they themselves command our captive attention. In this instance, mockery isn’t only the sincerest form of flattery—it’s patriotic.
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createdAt:Thu, 15 Feb 2018 18:05:16 +0000