Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Devil wrote this screenplay...

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Is it still true that a woman can not have a successful career and a successful relationship?

The movie The Devil Wears Prada would certainly like us to think so. When I heard about this movie, I was looking forward to seeing all my favorite hot spots in New York, seeing the latest fashion trends and seeing a triumphant nod to powerful women and the choices they make to be successful. For that was the buzz this film was garnering.

Unable to patiently await the film, I read the book by Lauren Weisberger one afternoon on a train ride back to Philly. I was stunned.

For those of you who have not read the book or seen the film, allow me to summarize: A young writer arrives in New York with a graduate degree and limited journalism experience. She scores a job as an assistant to the editor of one of the top fashion magazines in the business. However, our main character thinks fashion is stupid. So although she name drops every designer on a New York fashion week runway, she is somehow way too good for this business. And to make matters worse, her boss wants her to act like a personal assistant. Oh yes, but did I mention that this is her job title? Anyways, it totally sucks being on-call 24/7 and having to answer the phone and run errands in a private car service. Her boss is cold, invalidating, and grey. If your young like our main character then you know how gross grey hair is!

You might wonder how someone this cruel rose up so high in her field. But why bother trying to learn from this obviously neurotic demon devoid of emotions. Our heroine gets fed up after being dragged to fashion week in Paris. In the book, our poor little worker bee tells her boss off and flies home to the comfort of her boyfriend and rent free dwellings of mommy and daddy. In the movie, our heroine becomes disgusted with her boss. Not only is her boss unable to hold together her marriage, but when threatened with being replaced by someone younger and prettier she makes a business savvy decision to save her career. Our heroine walks away from the job without two weeks notice.

For starter, this is a poorly written novel. The first few chapters are filled with clichés and amateur writing mistakes. Further pain is felt in the writers attempt to convince readers she is way too cool for this shallow world, while making the mistake of painting a vision of enviable glamour, and sophistication. On the positive side, the book moved. I could look past the horrendous writing style for an inside glimpse at the world of fashion. I found myself relating to the feeling I was too smart for my industry and daily humbled by bureaucracy. But what was difficult to overlook was the naiveté of the author about her career. Her sense of entitlement and her outrage with the elements of having a job that the majority of the working force endures daily, made her an unattractive heroine. I found myself cringing at the end of the book, when she tells her boss to "Fuck Off" at a runway show. Hopefully this pathetic ending that was wisely not incorporated into the movie, did not really happen to Lauren Weisberger. Because the 'Princess and the Pea” sensitivities of this spoiled little sheltered girl will not serve her well if she wants to carve out a career anytime in her future. Especially if she continues to reside in New York.

Work is hard. You have to do things that sometimes feel demeaning. When you start out, you are not the boss. In New York especially, you are often underpaid for your efforts. You have to be at the bottom before you can be at the top. And this was a reality that seemed lost on the main character of the book, The Devil Wears Prada.

Although discouraged by reading the book, my NYC friends told me the flick was still a must see. I set out to see the film version and escape the Philly heat in an air conditioned movie theater on a warm and sticky Wednesday afternoon. I reveled in the comfort of the NYC street scenes and hit my friend in the arm every time the characters ate at one of my favorite coffee shops. I hoped the film version of this book would exploit the obvious message of this poorly written novel. But instead, the film added insult to injury and ended with the firm message that pursuing your career and success in your field will only leave you alone. Alone and grey.

In the final moments of the film version, rather than risk losing her college boyfriends affection again, our heroine gives up her burgeoning career to move to Boston where her boyfriend will be cooking food at the local Applebee's. See ladies, there are only so many men out there willing to love us and we don’t want to risk screwing that up so hold onto them and throw away whatever you must to assure he stays present in your life.

A double punch to this females gut. First, the book tries to tell me that this work stuff is demeaning and degrading and I'm just so wronged by being asked to get coffee for the boss or meet her unreasonable demands. Then, the movie tells me that it's okay to be complacent about my career choices because people who dedicate themselves to career fulfillment are destined to live a life of solitude paved by the sharp reminders of broken relationships. If we don’t get too distracted by career or too grey, we might find some boy still willing to save us from the harsh realities of the corporate world. Why don’t we ladies just go back to focusing on being good wives and mothers and leave the career stuff to the boys. What do you say?

Is this the 21st century version of the double standard? Because this story seems to be recycling the pre-Gloria Steinem concept that women are not meant to pursue fulfillment through career and should stick to rearing family and nurturing friends. It shuts the doors opened by the women that came before us. It doesn’t simply tell me to seek a sense of purpose outside of my career, it tells me that the only place I will find that is in the arms of a man. In Karl Marx’s book Estranged Labor, he talks about mans ability to create and control his destiny in the workplace as transformative. Why should I have to be cut off from that source of self fulfillment? Why should I have to make a choice between two worlds that men have been encouraged to infuse.

Well, I have news for the men that adapted this screenplay, and the characters of this breezy summer film. I can have both a job and love. I can have it all. I can have a successful career, friends and family that love me and not a single grey hair in my head.

Just watch me!!

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posted by Pop Culture Casualty @ 9/06/2006 06:40:00 AM |


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