A Secret Pie Recipe ~ Book Review of ‘The Help’ by Kathryn Stockett

March 9, 2012


The year is 1962 and the world around Jackson, Mississippi is changing much to the chagrin of many who want to keep their world the way it has been for several generations with its strict code of social status and interaction. However change is around the corner and with it is a new awareness. ‘The Help’ by Kathryn Stockett is the examination of how the lives of privileged white women and their black maids intersect and how when the channels of communication are open it produces surprising revelations.

‘Help’ is narrated from three different perspectives. The first, Aibileen, is a maid/nanny for a mother who is extremely unhappy but does everything in her power to put up a front. The toddler of the home, Mae Mobley (I thought this was a character great name) is the apple of Aibileen’s eye, but then again all of the children Aibileen has raised have been the apples of her eye until usually the time they start school and start learning to view the world through a racist prism. However, Mae Mobley is especially dear to Aibileen since she is still recovering from the tragic death of her adult son. It is nice to find solace in a child who loves unconditionally.

The second narrator is Minny who is Aibileen’s younger friend, also a maid, and has been fired more times than she can remember for shooting off her mouth to the white folks who employ her. Through a slight deception, Aibileen finds Minny a job, but it is with a mysterious recently married young woman who apparently doesn’t know the social rules of conduct about how a white employer should present themselves with a black employee – if you haven’t guessed, she isn’t from Jacksonville.

The last narrator is Skeeter who has just graduated from Ole Miss but has failed at the larger goal of college for a southern belle; finding a husband. So she has to revert back to a life of evenings filled card games and days filled with Junior League meetings with her two best (now married) friends from back in the day; Elizabeth (who employs Aibileen) and Hilly (who used to employ Minny). She would like to be a writer but there isn’t much job opportunity for a woman in Jackson, Mississippi if they aren’t black and willing to work as a maid and those positions are precarious to the whims of their white employers.

Together these three characters participate in the writing of a book about the lives of the maids who populate the best homes in Jacksonville, Mississippi.

I found ‘Help’ to be slow reading for the first sixty to hundred pages, but then I couldn’t put it down. There is a juggling act of mysteries the women are left to discover about each other, such as what happened to Constance the maid who help raise Skeeter. She mysteriously disappeared after writing to Skeeter at college that she had a surprise for her when she returned home. Skeeter sets the ball rolling because unlike her peers she realizes that she owes much to Constance (a woman who was more of a mother to her than her own) and is both confused and sadden that no one is willing to tell her the truth besides the her mother’s obvious response, “she is no longer employed by our family.” When talk about providing separate facilities (toilets) for the help working in white homes, Skeeter realizes this talk is not only a step backwards but a ploy for her friend Hilly to be even more of a social leader in her beloved junior league.

This is Stockett’s debut novel and what it does brilliantly, in my point of view, is examine the race relations between the black and white women by not only examining the plain horrible, but also some of the good that arises in human companionship despite the barriers. Further, these barriers really only benefit a select few in the community while everyone else plays along because they are afraid of violating stated and unstated set rules – the price for infringement includes severe social isolation for whites and unemployment or massive physical impairment/death for blacks. No one really wants to go there, yet there is a feeling in the ether that if they want to change their world that is exactly where they have to go.

The criticism that has been leveled at ‘The Help’ include that it is a white woman writing with a black dialect, that there are no positive black male characters, and I suppose (although I haven’t seen this complaint, but am fairly sure that someone has said this) that the character of Aibileen falls under the category of what Spike Lee has proclaims as ‘the magic negro’– in terms of films, ‘the magical negro’ is the black character amongst a group of white characters who imparts wholesome Zen-like wisdom which makes the lives of the white characters (usually from a privileged class) better while the black character remains in humble circumstances.

I think the whole literary ‘blackface’ problem is one that has started to fade in terms of modern culture. The sensitivity of having non-blacks portraying black characters still exists, but isn’t with the same vigor of say back in the 1970s where such an act was seen as the ultimate in being disrespectful. I don’t know if Stockett’s dialect is necessarily spot-on in terms of how people spoke at that time, but since she is from Jacksonville herself, I imagine it is. My impression was that her interpretation was on the whole balanced.

Contrary to some reports I did find positive black male characters within the book; I thought Aibileen and Minny’s preacher was one. However, a reader has to keep in mind that this book is told from the point of view of women living during a time of not only American apartheid, but also extreme and limiting sexism. With that said, I thought the story could have been better served if one character had not been burdened with an abusive husband, especially when his abuse wasn’t established earlier in the story, but was thrown in within the last third of the book.

Aibileen is really the central character and the heart of the book. It is her change that is the most significant, both personally as well as historically. Although she starts off from a position of wisdom, she is never the less changed through the experience. It is apparent that she has fewer flaws than the two other major characters, but she experiences trepidation over all that can be lost to her if the experiment of the book goes afoul. I especially enjoyed that the novel ends not only with her, but her conquering what in the past had terrified her. She also plants a seed that she believes will bear fruit in twenty years.

What I furthered liked about ‘The Help’ was the gentle humor as well as one character’s ingenious use of an ‘insurance policy’ that involved a pie recipe that I hope no caterer will ever reproduce. The last bit of criticism I have is that I wish there wasn’t a point made about the one angry maid who lays it on the line with Skeeter who then turns out to be not as generous as the other maids with the money she has been given to participate in the book project. This statement might only make sense to those who have read the book, but I felt this minor character reflected the feelings of a younger generation of black women living through civil rights and that although she might have seemed unduly harsh to the lone white woman writing down the tales it was a justified anger. I wish that Stockett hadn’t cheapened this character’s hostility by making it so that she lacked compassion for a fellow maid.

Overall, I really enjoyed ‘The Help’, which is now in paperback. I think it is a meatier summer read, but not overtly heavy for reading out by the pool. The movie version of this book comes out in August.

Westerfield © 2011

Goatse Not Goat see

April 1, 2011

March 31, 2011
Topic: Goatse

Is it horrible that I know what a Goat See is? Last night at a gathering the topic came up and I just naturally assumed that most of my hipper than thou friends would know what I was talking about, however that wasn’t the case. This left me with trying to explain exactly what such a thing is. It is a popular Internet meme, but apparently hasn’t spread to everyday knowledge as say that kid after dental surgery asking if life was real. To further add to the buffoonery, I think the concept of a goat see actually originated on a Kansas City website…Go K.C.!

I was painfully reminded that I’m much better conveying ideas through the written word than I am verbally and semi-drunk. I kept trying to explain that the concept had nothing to do with an actual goat and that I really didn’t know why the word ‘goat’ was used to describe the pulling back of the sphincter as if they contents of the body were the main attraction and the buttocks were but curtains for the show. Despite my best efforts my friends could only concentrate on the idea that a goat was somehow involved, which led to an interesting discussion about goat eyes. Interestingly, they didn’t need pictures to understand the concept of ‘pegging’ which of course makes me wonder.

In the end J. was able to look up the Wikipedia definition on her Iphone, but I believe my vindication fell on deaf ears. C. did congratulate on educating her about pegging by giving me a high five – have high fives recently replaced fist bumping because I always find it easier to complete a fist bump instead of a high five because I’m white and most of my friends are white and we never seem coordinated enough to make a believable high five.

I just received an email from C, apparently the word is Goatse. I think this further proves that I’m not the Goat see/ Goatse expert people take me as.

Is ‘The Daily Show’ the Fifth Estate?

March 15, 2011

In the book ‘The Daily Show and Philosophy’ contributor Rachael Sotos argues that ‘The Daily Show’ is the fifth estate in that it keeps the fourth estate in check.  One of the major focuses on the show is lampooning news outlets regarding how they cover politics.  Let’s face it, ever since news went on a 24/7 cycle which combined with post 9/11 news has been news lite.  I doubt that Americans would have supported the initial war in Iraq if the various news agencies had not either been asleep at the wheel or too afraid to question the Bush administration for fear of appearing unpatriotic.

                For ‘The Daily Show’ to be truly the fifth estate one would have to examine if news organizations have changed the way they conduct themselves due to exposure on the show.  I think that there is an increased sensitivity among news shows, but the Fox Network is still as biased and unprofessionally as it has ever before.  

From 2008

It Was Sadder Than I Thought ~ A Review of the ‘Bodies Revealed’ Exhibit That Showed at Union Station in Kansas City

March 14, 2011

I could blame my recent bout with cancer for the reason, but I think I would have felt sad regardless. It didn’t bother me before that the bodies used in this exhibit were probably Chinese prisoners whose families had no choice in what to do with their remains, but the further I went into the tour the more it did bother me. I suppose it is showing disrespect to the dead to laugh when first eyeing a corpse, which is what I did when I spied the guy on the shoddy bike, but I couldn’t help it. He looked like a funny Halloween mask with his bulging eyes and huge Dumbo like ears. The exhibit is made out of several displays of corpses that are posed in different positions such as batting a baseball or throwing a tennis ball. They are situated as such to show the various muscles, bones, and nerves that make up the human body when conducting everyday activities. There are also smaller display cases where human organs are shown off individually…and yes, the uterus with cancer gave me pause.

There weren’t any women corpses until near the end and then they were primarily used to show reproductive organs. I think the one that showed a woman and her fetus disturbed me most. I felt like I was invading a very private space and knew in my heart that the woman probably would not have wanted to be displayed in such a way (further, I can only believe that she died tragically). The progression of the human embryo at different weeks was interesting along with the various multi-colored displays of blood vessels going through different organs. I can’t say I learned much besides the reiteration that I need less fat in my diet and should be thankful I’m not addicted to smoking.

Overall I wondered if the exhibit would be half as popular if the organs and body displays weren’t real. Many of the isolated organs and bones seemed coated with caramel candy although I know it was that plastic stuff the owners of the exhibit used to preserve them. To be honest I don’t think it would be, but at least I would not have felt as if I was invading the privacy of the dead. Afterwards, when exiting the gift shop (you know how all exhibits tend to do this) I didn’t have the urge, as I usually do, to purchase a refrigerator magnet. I know it is a tacky thing to do but I have quite the collection and when I travel they are cheaper than the t-shirts of which I used to spend too much money. I didn’t buy one for the simple reason that despite enjoying my time with a friend I didn’t really want to be reminded of the exhibit. Maybe it is just my frame of mind.

© 2008 Westerfield

The Great Praying Mantis Rescue That Almost Didn’t Happen

November 26, 2007

windowslivewritercostcosellingprayingmantisasinsectcontro-83af129014cll22.jpgJerome kept singing, ‘It Ain’t Easy Bein’ a Pimp’ he was all of eight years old and about to get popped on the head by his sister.  Actually, Valerie Clarkson wasn’t his real sister, she was his foster sister and from the looks of everything that was happening she seemed to be the only one who was annoyed by Jerome’s singing. 

Perhaps, it wasn’t so much the song as it was the word ‘pimp.’  Valerie had always hated that word, but she hated it more today because this morning Dennis White told her that if she ever needed to make a few bucks he would be happy to pimp her out.  Due to the fact that she let him feel her up yesterday after school, and now apparently he had told all his ‘homies’ about it, she felt trapped and humiliated.  She laughed at his joke and swallowed the part of her that wanted to cry.  She would have told Kiera, her fifteen year old foster sister, but was afraid Kiera would only make the situation worse.   Besides who was Kiera to give advice, she had yet to tell their foster mom that she hadn’t had her period in the last four months.

            To add to all of her other twelve-year-old angst, Valerie was now attending a street fair that her foster mother dragged them (four in all) to because she felt it would “expand their horizons.”  Becky, or the Beckster as they called her behind her back, was one of those women who got into foster parenting because she believed in the mission.  She believed that what all children needed to be happy was to be loved, but now she was seeing that there was much more to it then simply love, although she still believed love was the best place to start.  She was a Christian whom six months ago told all of the children when they first came to her home that Jesus loved them.  Now though, with mounting frustrations and a marriage that was heading south, she was more likely to utter, “For the love of Christ, why would…” this was usually followed by a word not used in a church setting and declaring someone needed an ineffectual time out.  Valerie had been in the home for four months.  Becky and Roger were her third set of foster parents since she came into the ‘system’ at the age of ten.

            Becky was trying to point out how funny the clown was, but it just left Valerie feeling as if there was a whole universe of difference between them.  She wouldn’t be surprised if Becky and Roger threw in the foster parenting towel in the next few months.  To make matters almost unbearable, it had rained all afternoon and now Valerie’s red canvas shoes were dirty.  She had purchased them with money Becky had given her for doing chores around the house and although they were cheap, Ms. Anderson, the most stylish teacher at school, told her they were cute.  As she examined her shoes and pondered if she could wash out the mud, something caught her eye.  It was green insect trying to swim in a puddle of water.

            It was all hinged up in various places and had an odd looking head.  The name of the insect came to her the moment she thought back to the time she had studied insects in school when she spent a semester in an advanced class; it was a praying mantis.  He was struggling and if he didn’t get out of the water filled street pothole his fate would be death.  The more he struggled the more it appeared he was losing the battle.  Praying mantises aren’t the kind of insects that are built for swimming.  She thought maybe she could put him out of his misery, maybe her misery, and just step on him.  She looked down at her canvas shoes and thought why not they were ruined anyway.  That was when she saw a boy walk by, dragged more like it, who reminded her of her biological brother – all quirks and no grace.  He had a list of diagnoses that seemed to grow longer with each evaluation.  It had taken a long time to for Valerie to get to the point where she blamed he mother for her brother’s problems, but once she got to that point; there was no forgiveness in her heart and no amount of preaching forgiveness by the Beckster could ever make her think well of her mother again. 

Oddly though, on some level Valerie still loved her mother, maybe because she carried memories of the woman before she was a meth head, but she could no longer respected her and definitely wouldn’t trust her as far as she could throw her across the street.  Instead of stepping on the praying mantis and freeing him from the more prolonged death from drowning, Valerie turned around and tore a twig from a well-manicured bush that decorated a storefront. 

“What are you doing?” Jerome inquired pausing from his pathetic attempt at rapping.

“None of your Goddamn business.” Valerie gave him a hard stare.

“I’m going to tell Becky you used the Lord’s name in vain.” 

“Go ahead, she’s over there with Lynn buying cotton candy.  You tell her I said ‘Goddamn’ and I’ll be forced to explain half the things you rap about.”

That shut Jerome up and Valerie felt confident she found a way in the future to make him clam up.  She took the twig to the puddle pushing two women away, both looked at her with disgust as if she were a cockroach, but Valerie didn’t care, she was doing an experiment.  Would the praying mantis understand she was attempting to rescue it?  She thrust the twig in the water and sure enough the praying mantis grabbed onto it as one would imagine a sailor would nab a lifeboat if his vessel had sank. 

Now that she had the praying mantis on the twig, she didn’t know exactly what to do with it.  She spotted a little park area half a block away, the type of place secretaries sit on pretty days to eat lunches they brought from their homes.  She addressed Jerome who was starring at her as if she were insane, “Tell Becky I’ll be right back.” 

Jerome called out after her, “Don’t touch that thing, I bet it bites.”

Valerie didn’t reply.  For some reason this praying mantis rescue had lightened her day and although she was carrying a bug on a stick through a street fair it seemed as if people were clearing a path for her as they did for the Beckster when she was pushing Lynn in her wheelchair.  She took the twig to a tree and told the praying mantis, “You’re free.”  She then sat for about a minute watching him.  He grabbed on to the truck and it was as if he was studying her right back.

“Valerie, there you are!” it was Becky.  “How could you leave Jerome all by himself?  I thought you were more responsible than that!  For the love of Jesus, where is Kiera?  She said she would be by the fountain in ten minutes.  I should have never let her go to the bathroom by herself!”  Valerie shrugged her shoulders and rejoined her family, which resembled the Island of Misfit toys from a cartoon. 

For the rest of the day she forgot about her praying mantis rescue, it wasn’t even something that she considered her good deed of the day.   Instead, she concentrated on weightier subjects such as when she was going to see her brother again and contemplating if she really did want to see him.  Was she destined to be a school slut like Kiera?  A court hearing was scheduled in six months to determine if her mother would lose parental rights to both her and her brother; was this good or bad?  Would her mother even bother to attend?  No, it wasn’t until Valerie was asleep that night, and in a deep sleep at that, she would experience her first encounter with the power that was within the rescued praying mantis.  Although it is true that most praying mantises are just that, praying mantises, this praying mantis was something very different.  I don’t want to say it was an alien in bug form exactly, but that wouldn’t be too far off the mark.  I wouldn’t even want to suggest that it may have originated on the planet Mars (NASA has yet to discover certain facts about the red planet).  Nor would I want to say it may have passed through folklore under the guise of a genie because that would be a disservice to Barbara Eden.  I don’t want to say those things, but on the other hand…I’m just saying.            

 © 2007 Westerfield

An Open Letter to the Girl Who Works at the Hot Topic at the Legends Shopping Mall in Kansas City, Kansas Who Didn’t Know Which President is on the American Dime

November 20, 2007

dime1.jpgYou broke me.  I have always been an advocate for members of generations younger than myself (I admit an ever increasing minority).  I have never scoffed at whatever people want to wear, listen to, do with their hair, or pierce.  Although I do not personally like tattoos, I have never thought that those who have them were any less then myself when it came to both positive and negative attributes.  I embrace pop culture trends, not always to the degree of actually participating, but always appreciating the creativity from which they sprang.  I know a lot of people are dumb in this world and I know each generation is burdened by the education older generations have deemed necessarily for their development – thus, some of ignorance and arrogance on the part of the young can be lain on the feet of those older than themselves.  This is how I believed, this defined how I treated others, and only now do I fear I might have been wrong all of this time.

            I’m going to venture to guess that you are at least eighteen.  Past that, I have no idea what your life is like or what your history encompasses, yet I will take it upon myself to make assumptions all because you were serious when you asked me who the president was who was on the American dime.  “Is this Truman?” you asked as you flirted with the guy who stood next to you at the register.  I give him credit for at least looking slightly embarrassed about the encounter.  “Truman was bald, right?”

            I know this has been a complaint handed down from generations fearful of the destabilization of the Roman Republic, yet I utter it anyway, *  sigh  * I fear American democracy, literacy, and/or the value of human knowledge will not survive you.  I know you didn’t exactly pluck Harry Truman’s name from the ether.  No more that a forty-minute drive (depending on traffic) from where you work is the Truman Presidential Library, thusly indicating that ‘Give Them Hell Harry’ came from our neck of the woods.  What you may have not know, because you slept through third grade to freshman year social studies classes, is that Truman had hair, although not the luscious variety as sported by Andrew Jackson (don’t bother looking it up, mainly because I trust you wouldn’t attempt such intellectual satisfaction, Jackson is on the twenty dollar bill).

            I know I’m sounding a bit harsh but listen, I wouldn’t expect you to know that Truman had hair if your Hot Topic was located in the Mall of America.  That is in Wisconsin, but don’t take my word for it, Wikipedia it yourself.  Yeah, I figured you would take my word for it.  (Shh, don’t tell her it is actually in Minnesota.)  I’m assuming you thought it may be Truman because you have heard his name in passing…such as that time your fifth grade class went to his Presidential Library and you got into trouble for talking excessively to Jim Boner.

            I realized later that you might have been confusing Harry Truman with Dwight Eisenhower, another presidential name you may have heard bandied about in the fine state of Kansas – Dwight being from Abilene, Kansas.  Now, I don’t expect you would have ventured all the way to Abilene, it being at least an hour’s drive away, to see his presidential library.  If you had, I’m sure you were too busy making out with Ted Player in the back of the bus while the teacher wasn’t looking, to actually pay too much attention to the experience from an educational standpoint. 

            Honestly, I don’t expect you to know that Dwight followed Harry into the presidency…that being the American Presidency if you were confused.  All I really want you to understand is that both men were from our part of the country.  No, no, no dear, we live in the Midwest.  Perry Lake does not constitute an ocean, ergo neither you nor I live on the east coast.

            I do admit that you earned a few points when I replied it was Roosevelt on the dime and you stated that you thought he had a mustache.  That was Theodore Roosevelt you were thinking of, which you may have seen portrayed by Robin Williams in ‘Night at the Museum.’  Oh, you weren’t paying attention because you were bumping uglies with Edward Hardcock; that guy who was in that band that disbanded soon afterwards.  Remember, and you caught an awful case of _____  from him.  Here is a bit of trivia, Theodore and Franklin and were fifth cousins – that is a four-cousin difference from the relationship between your parents.

            I know I have been harder than necessary.  You are young, working at Hot Topics, and have a nose ring.  You are just trying to find yourself and if that means that you don’t know whose picture is on a piece of coinage you handle every day, then so be it.  I suppose I must take comfort in what the dime says to the left of Roosevelt, “In Edward Gorey we trust.”

            Shh people, don’t tell her.        


© 2007 Westerfield

Pass the Alien Rolls ~ Thanksgivings of My Childhood

November 17, 2007

1510131.jpgNot everyone can claim a Thanksgiving tromping through a forest of turning leaves off to grandmother’s house.  Most of us are stuck eating dinners in confined spaces on paper tablecloths decorated in cartoon Indians and Pilgrims.  Thanksgiving isn’t that much of a holiday since it is all about eating.  I even find the food served during a traditional Thanksgiving not that appetizing.  Basically, Thanksgiving is the Jan Brady of holidays, stuck between Marsha Christmas and Cindy Halloween.

            Besides, the joy provided when one family member makes another cry, there usually has to be something else to satisfy a deep-seeded need to entertained and I’m sorry, but football doesn’t quite cut it.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you my family tradition of the Alien roll.

            Back in 1979, a movie debuted called ‘Alien.’  The first time I saw it was at the Cineplex with my cousin who had incidentally seen it before.  She made the mistake of telling me that the guy who was the android was a droid, to which I responded by shouting, “That guy’s an android!” thus ruining the surprise for everyone else in the theater.  There were many elements of that film to be admired, a spooky spaceship with an unbelievable scary creature who had acid for blood (unbelievable scary creatures don’t come much cooler than that) plus, it had like three mouths stacked inside each other like Russian dolls.  It also had female empowerment since Lt. Ripley was a kick ass take-charge type of woman!  Yet most of all, it had an awesome scene where after John Hurt’s character comes out of a coma after having a vagina looking octopus creature stuck on his face and he is eating with the crew in the mess hall when…an alien pops out of his stomach!  God, can you really get enough of that scene?  Dare I utter the cliché – they don’t make film scenes like that anymore! 

Ergo, a family tradition was created.

            Okay, I know that most families wouldn’t cotton to taking a dinner roll, hollowing out the inside and then take scraps from everyone’s dinner plates and stuff that stuff into the roll and then put it back with the other rolls, but I’m telling you it makes for lively discussion once someone bites into the Alien Roll.  No one wants to bite into said roll of course, but if you are caught unawares, then damn, let the fun and laughter begin! 

Unfortunately, no pictures remain from the Alien Rolls episodes.  You can only do it for so many Thanksgivings before even the most dimwitted of relatives catch on, then you have to amuse yourself by pouring salt into your Grandpa’s highball glass (dear Grandpa, I miss you still).  I suppose enough time has lapsed since the last appearance of the Alien Roll so it might be time to reclaim the tradition.  After all, there is a whole new generation to torture and many of them haven’t even seen the original ‘Alien’ movie so it all win-win.  Let’s see, this year I’m responsible for cranberry sauce and a dessert…maybe I’ll stir up some buttery flaky dinner rolls as well.        


© 2006 Westerfield     

‘Project Runway’ is Back ~ Was it Worth the Wait?

November 16, 2007

2007-11-08-projecturadjhsf2.jpgThe fourth season of one of ‘Project Runway’ debuted last night and overall it made me miss the first three seasons.  The Bravo Network has been advertising heavily for the premiere by featuring the contestants saying cleverly scripted sound bites, but my gut reaction about them panned out during the first episode – most are reincarnated freak show exhibits. 

            It’s not that I mind the eccentric personality of two, but this season is top heavy with them.  There is Sweet P, the ex-biker chick whose forearms scare the hell out of me.  Accompany her tattoos with the clichéd baby doll dresses and you have a taste of her sweetness. 

Kit claims that life is too short to wear ugly clothes so I suspect she only has a month to live (in lieu of flowers, please send donations to your nearest Salvation Army donation box). 

Carmen was an ex-model who has fuglied herself up post catwalk career. 

Jillian used to work for Ralph Lauren and you know just by the way she tilts her head just so she is an unstable bitch.

Christian, who I believe is the youngest contestant on the show, seems like a medical experiment gone wrong…or a ‘project’ within ‘Project.’ 

Marion hails from Dallas and owns a flower shop where he also sells his designs.  Odds are pretty high that he keeps disassembled body parts in a freezer at his mom’s place…just saying, he seems like that kind of guy. 

Kevin is the token heterosexual male designer – he wanted to make that clear to the viewing audience in case we were so callous as to stereotype men in the clothing design profession. 

Ricky grew up poor, moved to New York to dance, started his own lingerie line, and now wears colorful train conductor hats on TV. 

Jack reminds me of a preppy gay jock who enjoys marathon tennis games. 

Rami has been in the designing business for some time and appears, compared to the rest of the cast, to actually be somewhat normal. 

Simone…I don’t know why I am even bothering to mention her because she was the first to get Heidi’s signature, “Auf  weidersehen.” 

Steven is from Chicago and almost made it onto Season 3.  He comes across as someone who has had his fair share of wedgies.  I don’t even know the guy, but if I saw him on the street I would steal his lunch money. 

Victorya was born in Korea, but judging from her accent has spent most of her years in the good ol’ US of A.  Like Rami, she seems normal, but previews of future shows paint her as a prima dona or perhaps that is just intriguing editing. 

Chris seems fairly nice with a career that involves designing outlandish clothes for stage productions.  If ‘Project’ doesn’t work, there is always next season on ‘The Biggest Loser’…get it, he’s a bit big. 

Of course, last but not least, is the marionette clothing designer, Elisa.  Although I have been hard on the oddballs of Season 4, I have to admit that Elisa interests me.  For one thing, her design experience is totally off the beaten path and her methods of design are unconventional (for instance, instead of pinning a dress on the dress making dummy she pins it on herself while prone.  Usually you say marionette and I’m gone, but there might be more to Elisa than what first meets the eye.

Perhaps I might have thought differently about the designers if Bravo had aired a ‘Road to Runway’ special as they had before the debuts of Seasons 2 and 3.  These shows were nice transitions between the old cast and the new.  They updated what the designers had been doing since the show, which was nice because, let’s face it, this show is a phenomenon.  Further, it was always fun to see finalists of the previous seasons now in positions of judging other designers.  I would have given anything to see Season 3’s Laura’s face when Elisa explained she designed dresses for fifteen feet tall marionettes.  Then again, both women came into fashion through non-traditional methods, Laura was an architect. 

Yet, most of all, the audience saw why these people were on the show.  Michael from Season 3, who had a hip-hop sensibility, might not have made it into the cast if Season 2 winner, Chloe Dao, did not state upfront that although Tim Gunn wasn’t impressed, she saw something in him.  Wouldn’t it have been great to see Michael give the same sort of encouragement to the new contestants? 

Part of my disdain for Season 4 is that I don’t know these people.  I didn’t see what clothes they brought with them to the auditions, which is a good indication if I like their design sensibilities.  I didn’t see where they came from and how where they came from influenced their sense of style.  One of the major strengths of ‘Project Runway’ in the past was that the contestants were from all parts of the United States.  People from small town USA were able to compete head to head with designers seasoned in New York…and sometimes people from places like Norman, Oklahoma triumphed and sometimes they didn’t.

I suspect that one of the main reasons there wasn’t a ‘Road to Runway’ special was because Tim Gunn is just too damn busy.  He now has his own show, ‘Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style’ and is the Chief Creative Officer at Liz Claiborne.  In other words, ‘Project Runway’ has made Gunn a star!  When the show began, he was the Chair of the Department of Fashion Design at Parsons New School for Design.  Since the show is filmed at Parsons, Gunn must have seemed like the natural person who could play mentor to the contestants.  Although I wouldn’t begrudge him any of his recent successes (few TV personalities come off as intelligent or as sincere as Gunn) already the show feels a little loss without all of his input.  In the past, he was the person sent to several cities to judge the talents of contestants and help decided who should be cast.  When this season opened, Gunn makes a speech alluding that it was the first time he was meeting everyone.  As always, he spouted the company line that each season draws more and more talented designers, but I disagree.

The first challenge for the designers was grab a bunch of material that was donated by Mood (which is now the most recognizable material store in the nation due to the show).  From there, they had a time limit of over twelve hours to make a dress to reflect their design philosophy.  Yes, the time constriction sucked, but they had tons of great material to choose from – yet, the results were under whelming.  Look, I live in Kansas City, not the fashion capital of the world.  I know some of the local designers and have gone to shows, but the problem with Kansas City fashion is the problem with the fashion sense of too many of the designers on Season 4; they have a ‘Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Halloween’ art aesthetic.  This not only makes the clothes ugly and uncomfortable, but it is the same damn s*&^ people have seen for the last thirty years!  So for all of you biker chicks with Rainbow Bright inspired names who have tattoos all over your body and wear baby doll dresses, guess what?  I HAVE SEEN IT ALL BEFORE AND YOU BORE ME WITH YOUR LACK OF CREATIVITY!

In the end, Rami won for a cute gray dress (an off the shoulder number).  It was beautiful and cool and most importantly, I would have worn it.

BTW, all above opinions expressed about the designers are subject to change if they demonstrate wit, creativity, and talent.  Sew, let the games begin! 

  © 2007 Westerfield

Pretty on the Outside

November 5, 2007

view-image-gather.jpgEver since I can remember there has been discussion about how women in fashion magazines set up an impossible ideal for the rest of society.  Makeup, lighting, professional hair, and designer dresses all add up to cover girl magic.  With each passing year though, it is less about the makeup, lighting, professional hair or the fit of designer dresses – it is about photoshop. 


Some of the ‘edits’ I have seen are amazing.  It is almost as if now photographers want harsh lighting because it may be easier to wipe out the flaws for the computer technician/graphic artist.  I no longer feel that women on covers (men too) are something to work anyone up in a tizzy, primarily because NO ONE can live up to the ideal even the model/celebrity themselves can’t live up to their own image.  The photos on most covers are more illustration than they are photography. 


Glamour photography back in the 1920’s through the 40’s in Hollywood often made the subjects look good only in the studio.  Over-plucked eyebrows, plucked hairlines, bleached hair, and other practices left actresses sometimes looking like totally messes in everyday life.  On occasion, the plucking was so severe that the eyebrows didn’t even grow back.  Sometimes the artificial hair color destroyed the integrity of the real hair thus many actresses were forced to wear wigs or cut their hair super short.  When all movies were filmed in black and white, many actresses who were supposed to be redheads had to dye their hair pink.


As the art of photography progressed, any unsightly moles on a model or celebrity could be deleted out of the final picture.  Facial lines that could give away age were softened.  Now a celebrity on a cover of a magazine seems never to age.  Any sag, wrinkle, facial flaw, or red eye vanishes with an expert click of the enter button.  They are perfectly toned to the point that sometimes they don’t even recognize themselves.  Here are a few sites that show the miraculous changes (Madonna) http://www.iconique.com/flash/forum/threads.php?id=711_0_7_0_C (Gwen Stefani) http://www.flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?id=359537992&size=o (Brittany Murphy) http://dlisted.com/node/13878 and (Faith Hill) http://hollywood.outsidethebeltway.com/2007/07/faith-hill-photoshopped-for-redbook-cover/ .  The inspiration for this article came from Gallery of the Absurd,  ttp://galleryoftheabsurd.typepad.com/14/2007/08/post-2.html#comments ( personally, when I think of Britney Spears I think of the before girl, and sadly, not the after). 


Overall, I suppose that now thinking these cover shots set the ideal is ridiculous.  With a few swift edits, I too could look like the sweet siren who lures men to crash their ships on jagged shores…and so could you.  Besides, who needs to skip a few meals when a tiny waste can be given to anyone?  Who knows, maybe the journey of seeking perfection in beauty has finally met its omega.




© 2007 Westerfield