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Normal Gets You Nowhere
Trust Me, They're Lying to You
By Kelly Cutrone, Meredith Bryan
Copyright © 2011 Kelly Cutrone
All right reserved.
The media's the most powerful entity on earth.
They have the power to make the innocent guilty and
to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because
they control the minds of the masses.
All of us who professionally use the mass media are the
shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society, we can
brutalize it. Or we can help lift it to a higher level.
These days, American life is pretty much set up to allow us to
feel as little as possible. We've been
desensitized by the thousands of choices capitalism presents us on a
grocery store, sixteen different vitamin drinks, forty-seven brands
of jeans. In the words of Pink Floyd, we've become "comfortably
numb." While horrible things happen all over the world, we spend
a lot of our time deciding, Hmmm, should I get the Honey Nut Cheerios
or the organic almond Kashi granola? Should I buy a boyfriend jean or a
skinny jean? Should I watch HBO or TiVo? Let's face it, we are in a
capitalistically overwhelmed state. And this is no accident. While you're
in the grocery store or the Gap deciding what to eat and what to
wear, there are lobbyists and politicians in Washington passing bills
that you know nothing about. They might be limiting your rights at
the airport, in an abortion clinic, or at the gay pride parade. But you
wouldn't know, because you're wondering whether your cereal has
antioxidant powers or if that new pair of jeans will get you fucked.
Make no mistake. The government, the media, and commerce
are actively collaborating to distract us from what's really important
in life. After all, unconsciousness is a very effective commercial
political, and even military strategy. Keeping droves of
citizens medicated and over stimulated with bullshit distractions
pretty much guarantees that when they go to their polling places
to vote, many will have no idea who the candidates on the ballot
are, let alone what the propositions they're voting on say or mean.
Whoever said less is more was right: the less bullshit and
frivolity you have in your life, the more attention you have to
focus on what is really going on.
I want you to be able to see underneath, around, above, and
through things, so that you can form and shape your own opinions,
instead of just blindly going along with everyone else's. A
good place to start is by understanding the media. I'm going to let
you in on something: every media outlet is a brand with its own
point of view. Writers who work at major international
newspapers are asked to express themselves in a different way than
tabloid reporters. Even my book is a brand! If I appeared in a pink
the languages of different media brands. After all, if you're going
to pitch a fashion story to an industry publication like Women's
Wear Daily or Style.com, you may need a different slant than you
would with Life & Style Weekly or USA Today. We like to say you
have to frost the cake differently for different publications.
If you take a minute to actually look at these brands, from the
major networks to the national newspapers, you'll see that many
are owned by huge, multibillion-dollar corporations (that's
billion with a b, baby!). Whether bringing you gossip or hard-hitting
readers, viewers, or advertisers. Last time I checked, none of these
major papers or networks had ".org" after their names; they are
businesses. That means they have one responsibility to
carry out for their owners and their boards: to engage you, the
consumer or viewer, and keep you coming back for more.
How do they do this? At the top rungs of these networks
college graduates. If you were to sit in on their creative meetings,
you'd hear phrases like, "Wouldn't it be wild if we . . . ?"
and "Can we try . . . ?" Many of these brands will try anything
that works. I mean, let's be honest. How many times have you
bought a tabloid promising that your favorite movie star couple
was getting divorced or that some young starlet had suddenly
One of their favorite tactics is fear. Hundreds of producers
employed by news organizations sit around every day scouring
the Internet, reading every paper from coast to coast and every
news feed from around the world. What are they looking for?
Stories that are going to keep you hooked, scared, trusting them,
and coming back for more updates, whether they're about Amish
girls being slaughtered in their one-room schoolhouse by a milk
truck driver in Pennsylvania, or the unspeakable home invasion
paths, but playing them over and over during the evening hours
when most American families watch TV feels like an additional
attack, both on the crimes' victims and on the rest of us.
I don't know about you, but this news is really freaking me
out. And not just when I'm watching it eitherit continues to
haunt and stalk me afterwards. It's almost as if, after seeing the
nonstop, sensationalized reporting of the Amish girls' story in
2006, my mind and heart opened a permanent portal through
which I constantly revisit the scene of the crime, and I continue to
pray for those girls and their families today. After being similarly
besieged by coverage of the unspeakable tragedy of the rape and
killing of three members of the Petit family in Connecticut, I
could no longer just be at the mercy of these fears; I had to look
at how they could be a teacher for me, and where I might actually
be vulnerable. So I invested in a heavy-duty security system and
started insisting on background checks for every person I hire at
People's Revolution as well as independent contractors for my
home. Only then did I start sleeping even remotely better.
You have probably already seen the warnings on various
TV programs saying, "What you're about to see tonight is very
disturbing." Well, I think these warnings are messages from the
brands toothat you're about to get a big dose of your favorite
drug, FEAR, delivered! Instead, I suggest a simple blue screen,
perhaps counting down the numbers 3, 2, 1. And while we're at
it, let's put blank covers on our newspapers, so that stories about
young Disney stars "cutting" themselves and being diagnosed
with borderline personality disorder don't menace our eight-year-
olds when they pop into a bodega to get a candy bar on the way
home from school. (I mean, can it really be a coincidence that the
candy and newspapers are always stacked on top of each other?)
The people who work at media brands are experts at giving
us not what we want to see, but what they know we won't be able
to turn away from. They make it so that we can't help but look
or click; they ensnare us with a combination of the Divine and
the sadistic. In doing so, I believe they not only keep us numb
and distract us from what's important in lifethey manipulate
us into wreaking more havoc on ourselves. After all, what we
think is what we manifest, and I do not need or want people in
the media helping me sculpt my thoughts.
Don't get me wrong, I love many members of the media, and
I work with them all the time. (And my own industry has
problems too; many designers put girls on the runway who look like
carcasses.) But I'm tired of being terrorized by the "news." Over
time, our perception and intention of ourselves and our lives
can't help but become aligned with this fear-based messaging. It
can make us paralyzed instead of proactive.
At the end of last year, I was reminded of the way some
members of the media like to fuck our brains out with fear when,
on the day after Christmas, the entire East Coast was hit with a
blizzard. I mean, blizzards happen every year on the East Coast,
but for some reason this one made front-page news in all the
major papers and merited around-the-clock coverage by TV net-
works. To watch the news, you'd have thought that it was
dangerous to even leave your house if you lived anywhere north of
Georgia! I happened to be down at my mom's in Virginia, and
when I walked outside and looked around, I made the decision
thatdespite several states' governors having declared states of
emergency, which was being eaten up by the mediaI was from
upstate New York, and I could handle this. I knew the Weather
Channel was probably just thrilled about all the attention it was
getting and blowing it way out of proportion, anyway.
I grabbed my daughter and got into my black SUV and we
had a more than lovely drive, solo on the highway through
several states. Sure, I went slow, but I made it to Baltimore in less
than a day, driving mostly on black pavement. There, we checked
into a four-star hotel and had a fabulous dinner. Meanwhile,
Philly, one town over, was on near lockdown, as the Weather
Channel continued to inform citizens of the dangers all around
game will be cancelled! New York is totally shutting down!" You
could practically see the local weather people wetting their pants
with excitement. For them, this wasn't about protecting the
citizensit was their big moment! Their brand was blowing up!
It all reminded me of living in L.A. in my twenties, when
on several occasions I was chilling at my friend's house on
Joe Strummer from the Clash, when old acquaintances from New
York would call me. "Are you okay?" they'd ask. "Have you
they would say, "Topanga!" which was eighteen miles away. Of
course, the news stations would be carrying on as if the whole
city was burning to the ground.
The truth is, it's a reporter's job to report; they have to report on
newsor create itto keep their jobs. National tragedies are not
happening 24/7, but the news cycle is. As a publicist, I can tell you
there's no one more receptive than a newsperson on a slow day.
It's a gold rush: they need content! At the same time, you'd better
hope Tom Cruise doesn't rescue a civilian in distress and that no
one jumps off the Empire State Building on a day you're launching
a press campaign or issuing a news statement, because you'll be
fucked. It's the same reason you can't launch a new fashion label
on Election Day. Sometimes you just can't compete.
Even the best news stories should just be a starting point, not
the final word.
We can use them to pique our interest, but then we need to do
our own research and create our own beliefs. There are too many
capitalistic interests at work in the mediathe media brands
themselves plus the publicists and lobbyists whose job it is to
news organizations exist just to inform us, but really they are
distribution networks for branders, advertisers, and publicists, all of
whom try to roll their ball down the lane and get a strikethat is,
impact consumers. Think of the whole system like a big bowling
alley, or better yet, an octopus whose tentacles are all intertwined.
As a publicist, it's my job to work with the media to get the
word out about my clients' brands. Let me tell you how this works
in the fashion world. If, for example, you're a publicist who has
just taken on a new clienta hot young designer you want to
blow upyou may start by making sure he or she is sold in the
like this, and it will help you get a strike. Then, you'll want to
"gift"send the clothes completely free totwenty or so really
cool celebrities, editors, and stylists. Once those packages have
been signed for, technically you can say that Miss Major Movie
Star rocks your product.
Another useful tactic is to simply call the celebrity's manager or
agent and throw down a money offer for the celebrity to wear the
brand, whether exclusively through a three-, six-, nine-, or twelve-
Globes, the MTV Music Video Awards, or the Oscars. This way you
don't have to worry about celebrities dropping your brand at the last
minute, because their publicist or friend from high school thought
your competitor was cooler. It's a legal deal, babes. And this kind of
thing has now has become its own industry: smart fashion brands
look at last year's Oscar winners, who are sure to be this year's
presenters, and make sure to get them on the payroll early! (This year's
nominees aren't guaranteed to end up on stage, after all.)
Publicists are not the only ones using the media to get the word
out about their brands. Government does it too. When the White
House "leaks" information to the press, it's probably less a "leak"
than a deliberate PR move. It's like sex tapes. I mean, do we really
think those are accidents? Even citizens know how to use the media
these days. Look at the "Balloon Boy" dad in Colorado! Every PR
company in the country should have had its tail between its legs
after that incident, because we're paid millions of dollars to get our
Colorado who wanted his own reality TV show managed to
command the attention of news crews on both coasts for forty-eight hours!
It's really kind of easy. There are many ways to use and manipulate
the news media to your or your brand's advantage, whether your
brand is Gucci or the Obama administration.*
Excerpted from Normal Gets You Nowhere by Kelly Cutrone, Meredith Bryan Copyright © 2011 by Kelly Cutrone. Excerpted by permission of HarperOne. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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