character misidentification

Last week, Dec and I went to see The Devil Wears Prada. Dec loved it. Our friends loved it. I did not love it. I actually found that I really didn't like it. This was disappointing to me considering that Meryl Streep was brilliant (as always) and that Stanley Tucci and Emily Blunt were great supporting players. Anne Hathaway was, well, Anne Hathaway, neither good nor bad. Much of the dialogue was really quite good. The cinematography wasn't all that bad either.

So if nothing was bad, why should I really, really dislike this movie? As I thought about it, I realized that I didn't like this movie because of character misidentification. As an audience, we were supposed to identify with and cheer for Hathaway's character. She's the naive, young girl who has to change who she is to fit in, only to realize that she shouldn't change because everyone else is just evil. When she walks off at the end of the movie and abandons her job responsibilities, we're supposed to be happy. After all, good has supposedly conquered evil.

You see, this movie is the story of an outsider who kinda sorta just falls into the magazine publishing world. She doesn't like it, so she decides to change it. And we're supposed to praise her for her efforts to buck the system. It makes me wonder who she thinks she is.

Publishing, in booth books and magazines, is very much an apprenticeship world. There are norms that are followed, regardless of how obnoxious they appear to be. You enter the publishing world as an assistant. Your job is to get coffee and answer phones and do whatever it takes to make your boss happy. Masochistic? Yes, of course. And, as I understand it, magazines are far worse than books. (When I was at NYU, one of our speakers in the book section told us that if you want to work in magazines, particularly at the fashion magazine center of the world that is Conde Nast--which he referred to as Conde Nasty--you have to be skinny as a rail, wear all black, smoke a pack a day, and say f*** a lot.) I made more in college working on campus than what an editorial assistant at a magazine could expect to earn. But your reward in book and magazine publishing in the end is your knowledge of how the business works and your list of contacts. Publishing is a small world, and everyone knows everyone.

So when I watched this movie, I found myself rather upset that Sachs had no issue making and exploiting contacts (such as her one at the New Yorker). She had no problem using Priestley's skills. And you can't deny that Priestley wasn't good at what she did--she knew how to get a fat magazine out every month, on time; she knew how to get the best out of her people; and, yes, she knew how to preserve herself and her job. Had it not been for Priestley, Sachs wouldn't have been able to pull off some of the feats she did.

In the end, I think Sachs was the real devil who wears Prada.

1 comment:

Absent-minded Secretary said...

I saw this the first weekend it came out. During one of the times where she could have dumped old guy for exciting new guy I leaned over to my Friend R and said "I totally would go for the new guy! What is she thinking?" And she said to me "I know you would. Which is why it's good that you choose a different type of career."

That and your comments have made me think... quite a bit, 'cause I don't want to be the devil.