7.25.2006

The Kiss and Tell

The discussion around The Devil Wears Prada has died down, but the film remains on my mind. So much went unsaid around the book-to-film transition, conversations far more interesting than Meryl Streep’s fine acting and other little dissections of the movie, and some of it gets uncomfortably personal for me.

In the book, the boss was an out-of-control, clearly unsympathetic character. The extreme behavior made it clear that this was one disagreeable human, regardless of gender. She had nasty self-centered person written all over her. But when that boss made it onto the big screen, she was softer. Not all the time and not in all ways. But enough. Enough to come to her defense. Enough to generate the conversation that if her character were a man, she’d be considered tough but not the devil.

I don’t buy the defense, and I hate that feminists saw the discussion as applicable in this case. Even in the watered-down version, I find the Meryl Streep character despicable – I’d say so of any boss who routinely disregards the humanity of an employee – but I see the lure. The movie tinted Streep’s character with kindness, an occasional glimpse and lingering expression that says, “I’m-doing-this-for-your-own-good-and-you’ll-thank-me-one-day.” Lauren Weisberger, the novel’s author, may ironically agree at this point, but the book remained completely unambiguous, the boss always out of control and cruel, insensitive and demanding, and overall insane.

Usually with a book-to-film adaptation, these points are hideously dissected. In this case, they’re surprisingly overlooked. By softening Streep’s character through speeches and scenes not in the book, the film weakens the drama of the ingĂ©nue’s transformation. Her good to evil barely exists in the movie, her transformation mostly visual. In the book, you truly feel as if she’s been seduced by the dark side, adopting offensive behavior unnecessarily. In the movie, I see her as doing what is required to keep her job, which is where it gets personal for me.

In Hollywood, we all have our kiss and tell stories, yet most go untold because of the keeping your job factor. Or more accurately, the remaining in the industry factor. Hollywood is web-like. You bite any of the spiders, and you’re cast from the mesh. For good. At least that’s the aura of the threat, so bad behavior gets gossiped about but never reported, at least not by those who can get hurt by squealing, which is a shame because I’d like to splash my kiss and tells all over the place, to offer a little comeuppance for the proud and the boastful of the Hollywood elite.

But, like my peers, I remain silent. Some call me smart for I am protecting myself. But in truth, I’m protecting more than that. I’m protecting an ideal. I’m protecting the cause.

Weisberger was harshly criticized by some for her kiss and tell with tauntings like “Poor you. You took a job. Worked less than a year. Wrote your exposĂ© and made a bundle and a name for yourself. How disgusting.”

Excuse me. Why disgusting? If she’d taken the job with that intent, maybe. But still maybe not. In reading the book, I bought the innocence of her character. I believed the writer woke up in a story rather than shrewdly seeking one. She has every right to write what she lived. Maybe even a duty.

And this is where it gets personal again.

Much is asserted of the liberal media, how liberals are in control and why all the good work of conservatives goes unreported or gets skewed. Iraq is going better than reported; it’s the liberal media bias that makes the world look as if it’s falling apart. That argument is so full of holes, I won’t even go there. Besides books have covered the issue.

But I do see a liberal bias, a different liberal bias, the kind where you don’t out bosses or coworkers for the kind of behavior liberals despise because you support their cause. So you remain silent, do your job, let the press cover your boss in a glowing way while all the little worker bees behind the scenes cackle and gossip about the truth, about the hypocrisy. And in remaining silent, you add to the duplicity, but you justify it – in fact mandate it – because you don’t want to join the other side and undo the work you so believe in. The bad behavior – the not paying of health benefits or overtime, the insensitivity of excessive work hours and in not regarding employees as people with families at home, the skirting of unions – continues because no liberal whistleblower wants to undermine a film that reveals greater evils. To support the cause, you remain mum and grow bitter and feel dishonest.

I should be writing a kiss and tell, taking that bold step of courage and exposing the wrongs that lurk behind the work I do. But in a political climate so deeply entrenched in us vs. them, all adhere to their own camp. The crime must be pretty brutal for the whistleblower to come out, and even then in this era, that brave individual gets massacred and the claims seldom addressed. It’s a suicide dive, seldom with the desired results.

My liberal friends support me as I rail against my own hypocrisy in betraying my liberal values. “Both sides do it, and no one on the right would come out and betray their own,” they say. Fine, but I hold my side to higher standards. I thought the point of being liberal was to strive for justice. If you make a film exposing evil business practices while putting your employees through the same conditions, I think that’s big news. A story worth revealing.

But as my friends point out, in a country divided by hostility, it’s foolish to kiss and tell unilaterally. You do arm ‘the other side’ and thus weaken the grand cause of your goals.

My friend suggests that the filmmakers behind The Devil Wears Prada had to play nice – or nicer – to get the fashion industry behind the film, that perhaps otherwise designers would have run from the production for fear of angering Anna Wintour, the real life human behind Meryl Streep’s character. Maybe the choice was practical. Or maybe the filmmakers believed they had to make a powerful female character more palatable. Either way it’s sad when we soften or hide our stories.

But obviously we all make our deals with the devil.

1 comment:

ecm said...

I haven't read the book or seen the movie, but I love how this essay starts at The Devil Wears Prada and travels along to make new insights and jump to bigger ideas. Well said, as usual. :)