Saturday, August 15, 2015

Early Project Runway Thoughts


So, the first two episodes of "Project Runway" have aired, and we are still at the point where I barely remember these contestants names but a few things seem to be clear.
1. Tim Gunn is concerned.  Normally Tim Gunn starts off the season convinced that this batch of contestants might be the most talented they have ever seen. Now, sure.  I am aware that Tim Gunn is paid to hang out there, he doesn't show up out of the kindness of his heart (although I have the firmest belief that Tim Gunn's heart is kind). And there is no reason not to start each season with great optimism.  But, he seemed extra worried in the first challenge that too many of them were just not pushing hard.
2. I am concerned.  The reasons for this are many.  But let's start with a number of the contestants all showing particular excitement that they were THERE, on "Project Runway", with Edmond saying he had auditioned every year (but clarifying that he got closer every time, which does not seem possible when you consider that this is season 14, and I don't think there are 14 stages of the audition process, but that's hardly the biggest problem.)  Maybe, I thought to myself, these people are going to be ready for things.  But then we discovered 3 of them showed up without a scissors to their name. Now, two of them were international and one did mention a luggage overage issue. I still would have kept my scissors and tossed a pair of shoes, but airport desk decisions are not always made in the best of circumstances. I also understand thinking that scissors might be provided given they provide sewing machines, but given every sewer I've known is very protective of their scissors, I am still surprised.
3. I realize the producers encourage statements of disbelief, but a number of them have already exclaimed that these challenges are fast, they hate working fast, they hating working with others, they don't like working near other people, they are not here to make friends, and they don't like working with non-fabric.  This seems like the wrong attitude for being on this show.  I realize this show presents a special spotlight, but, that's only if you survive long enough for people to remember you, and honestly, I think lotto tickets are probably slightly better odds, and you could get a job that paid you for thirty days while you bought your tickets. 
4. There are a high number of problematic comments being made, right now about Swapnil.  Sandya, on the prior season was also Indian, and certainly she was not universally loved, but the comments the audience saw were about her sense of style, which befuddled the designers because she was doing well with the judges, doing things that the other contestants were not fans of. Swapnil, and yes, he was one of the scissor-less, has already gotten on camera comments from Merline about how since he's Indian he could do something with pattern, he could do something Bollywood, and that he was hard for one of the other contestants to understand because Blake doesn't speak "Indian".  Swapnil was speaking English, accented English sure, but not even accented heavily enough that they were adding captions, the way they already had with two other contestants.  (Full disclosure, I usually watch with captions on, not because I can't understand the contestants, but because that way if a truck starts backing up outside, I can still tell what is going on. But I can still spot when they add captions for viewers who haven't turned the captions on.) Now, this is a classic example of micro-agressions.  Saying someone is good with pattern is a compliment, right?  Except when you are saying they must be good with it because of their country of origin, and not because they are wearing pattern (he was wearing black) or have actually made something that you can see that demonstrates pattern deftness.  Saying someone can do a Bolllywood number because they are Indian, is just as ridiculous as assuming any random American contestant could contribute a square dance. And, look, these contestants (although it will only get worse) are operating on little sleep, in an unfamiliar situation.  People say stupid things.  If you meant to say, sorry, I'm not used to your accent yet, so I don't quite know what you said, and instead said, "I don't speak Indian" it's, well, it's not okay, but it's a thing that could be recovered from with an apology.  And, assuming the editors do not have it in for Blake, the idea, that his way to talk about it in his mannequin chat was to say, "Oh, I just don't have a filter...but I'm adorable"  (slightly paraphrased there), um no.  Unless the part in between was "I don't have a filter, so sometimes I say terribly ignorant things, but thank goodness I'm adorable so when I apologize to people they tend to forgive me". 
So, there are two possibilities here.  Either, for the first time "Project Runway" has a larger number of contestants unprepared to experience and or work with people from differing backgrounds. Or, this is all leading up to something that we, the viewer at home, need to know about.  And that makes me worried.  For Swapnil, who seems to be the target of most of this (even though he is not the only foreign contestant, accented contestant, or contestant of color).  And also for us.  Certainly, if this leads to opportunities for viewers at home to further examine micro-aggressions, then great.  But I worry, that much like the problem "Big Brother" has experienced, the show is not set up to address such behavior, so they have been keeping it off camera until now.  If so, I'm not convinced they are now better able to address it.  Nor do I think Swapnil should need to be the guy to educate his fellow contestants or the viewers at home why this behavior is unacceptable.  I recognize that existing at any intersection of marginalization requires one to develop a thicker skin for it.  I realize that reality show contestants sign up to deal with all manner or ridiculous behavior from their fellow contestants.  But man, this is shaping up to be a memorable season for all the wrong reasons.

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