Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Who Needs The Joneses When We Have Hollywood?...

Last night I went to a press screening of Demi Moore and David Duchovny's new film, The Joneses. I'm not going to talk about what I thought right now, as the PR firm has an embargo on reviews until early April, just before when the film will be released. I will say I've noticed this: generally embargoes are only put in place when a company fears for its product being panned and wants to give it a fighting chance at least opening box office numbers before the critics attack. Here, though, the movie was already screened and reviewed at the Toronto Film Festival, so holding thoughts until closer to the wide release seems more of a marketing move to get eyes on the project when it really counts ($$). Anyway, that's not really the point of this piece! After screening the film, which is about a "family" that is basically placed in communities to sell the hottest new products-- ala the age-old saying, keeping up with the Joneses-- I got to thinking about how many people get sucked into wanting pretty, shiny things simply because others have them. Look at Hollywood, for example: this town is built on the belief that people will want what the stars have. And it is thriving!

I admit it: I have gone through moments (mostly in my adolescence) when I would see my favorite actor wearing something and I'd scour stores to try to find it. It wasn't even necessarily a particularly trendy item (red leather pants? I mean, really??), but the simple fact that someone I admired had it meant I wanted it, too.

See, "back in the day," I knew who I was pretty early on, but I desperately needed to believe it was "okay" to be who I was and believe what I did and want what I did. And since I didn't have anyone in my immediate life who seemed like me-- or who didn't roll their eyes, criticize, or offer warning "advice" when I would talk about such things-- I looked toward public figures. I know now, after packing on the years and some maturity, that most of the qualities I found in those I was admiring were my mere projections. I needed to believe I could find others like me succeeding in the industry in which I wanted to be apart, so I would selectively read certain articles or hear certain interviews in order to get what I needed from them. But even in doing so, I wanted the full package, so I'd go looking to collect the "things" they had, as well. I still don't quite know the reasoning there.

But let's forget about me because though this blog started as a personal site on which to rant and rave and share, it has quickly evolved into something a little bit more professional. And my case certainly is not unique. In the past decade or so, the media's focus has shifted greatly onto the image and lifestyle as portrayed by those in the public eye. It is not enough simply to do great work: comedic genius Sandra Bullock may have just won an Oscar, but that's not going to stop reporters from shouting at her on the red carpet to ask who's she's wearing. The viewing public at home can't go buy an (even a knock-off) Oscar, but they certainly can find a Versace or Michael Kors gown. Whether or not they actually have an appropriate occasion for such a thing is not the media's-- nor the retailers'-- concern!

I have never done any true socioeconomic research studies. My knowledge and experience comes strictly from the phenomena I noticed growing up in a middle class neighborhood in the fashion capital of the United States: New York City. My mother, a woman who earned six figures at a time when that amount could really buy you something, was obsessed with image in her own way. A trait I believe handed down from her own mother, my mom would take me to Bloomingdale's and specialty children's clothing shops to get me unique and one of a kind "outfits" that I would grow out of within months. She taught me about brand names and the importance of sometimes paying a bit more for the simplistic, staple items because they're usually better made and will therefore last longer. My mother worked hard and liked to treat herself well. But I don't think even she would deny that a part of it came from the desire to fit in-- or "keep up," if you will-- with every other upper middle class family in the neighborhood. She liked to prove she could provide the best, even as the only moneymaker in the family.

My mother didn't care about Hollywood. She never got sucked into the lights of Tinseltown. Obviously I did. And if I relied so heavily on it, I can only imagine that the youths of today do so ten-fold more. After all, it's much more accessible to them what with the invention and addition of DVRs, on demand programming, and the internet. I know I'm not alone in saying I knew more about those celebrities (even with my own crazy-ass assumptions and inferences) than I did the adults in my own life. They graced the pages of the magazines; they were featured on the entertainment news and talk shows; they turned up to awards shows (and awards suites!). You were supposed to want what they had because they had achieved the so-called American Dream. They were-- hell, they are rich, privileged, and cool. And they have the stuff to match. It's hard not to get sucked in!

In high school, in many ways, I was one of the Joneses. At least to my miniscule social world at the time. I'm not bragging here; it's actually somewhat upsetting that so much of my appeal to some of those who hung around me was just the stuff with which I came. But because I was the first of my friends to get a credit card, a cell phone (though I suspect that was just because my mother didn't know how to use hers), a driver's license, and designer purses, I was special to some. Some. Not all. The preppy kids and the stoners had no use for me because I hated polo shirts and smoke of any kind. I sometimes wonder if they knew I, too, was simply trying to keep up with someone else. But that in and of itself I do not think is a complete detriment. After all, if we're never striving for something more, and if we don't have those in our lives who push or challenge us, even if in just the material ways, how can we ever better ourselves??

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