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Last night, atop an impossibly garish neon-lit stage, television and televised commercials reached a horrible event horizon in Fashion Star, America's first primetime network show in which product placement supplants entertainment completely. It was vapid, tacky, and embarrassing.
But it's going to make a shit ton of money, so we're probably stuck with it.
On Fashion Star, designers parade their designs before a studio audience and two judging panels: Celebrity fashion "mentors" like Jessica Simpson and Nicole Richie, and "buyers" from Macy's, H&M, and Saks Fifth Avenue. If the buyers like the clothes, they bid on them; by the end of the night, winning designs are available for purchase on the stores' websites. In theory, this is a show about the practical side of the fashion industry. Where Project Runway is designed to explore creativity, Fashion Star is designed to explore retail.
In practice, it's just the Home Shopping Network working the pole in Vegas. Literally. Cage dancers and a fog machine accompany runway presentations.
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The judging is meaningless. Buyers' bids are plucked out of thin air. Apparently $50,000 is a reasonable offer, but why? Are the buyers paying for the design, or an order of completed garments? Sometimes the stores sell all three outfits from the contestant's mini-collections. Sometimes they sell two or just one. These details, however, are beside the point.
The point is that absolutely anything that appears on TV or near a celebrity will sell. It's the same principle that made the Kardashians, the Hiltons, and even the unfathomably dull Lauren Conrad into branding juggernauts: If on TV, then famous. If famous, then desirable.
Three of the garments from last night's Fashion Star (a maxi dress, a mini dress, and a mini skirt) have already sold out. Yes, they may resemble clothing you've already seen in countless stores, but as one contestant explained, "You haven't seen it with my label before." Nor have you seen it with this level of interactive multimedia marketing.
The New York Times gave Fashion Star a rave review. "It's the ultimate in product placement, a new achievement, if that's the word, in the transformation of television into one giant commercial," Neil Genzlinger writes. "But dang it, it's kind of fun."
No, it's not. It's a dystopic nightmare where no moments of our lives are without corporate sponsorship. Though impressive from a logistical standpoint (Can you imagine the contracts and legal stipulations involved in getting all these corporations, manufacturers, and "media personalities" working in tandem on an airtight schedule?), I'd rather rubberneck at emotionally abusive adults traumatizing children (Dance Moms, Toddlers & Tiaras) or violent alcoholics attacking strangers (Jersey Shore, The Real World) or freak show presentations of mental illness (Hoarders, My Strange Addiction) than submit to the acquisitive stupor of Fashion Star.