The latest thing to be declared fashionable on the show Fashion Police is, apparently, quitting it. Kelly Osbourne did just that a few weeks ago after her co-panelist, Giuliana Rancic, made fun of the singer Zendaya's dreadlocks during this year’s Oscars. (Nominal reason for Osbourne's departure: the desire to pursue “other opportunities.” Probable reason for Osbourne's departure: Zendaya is a friend of hers.) Last week, Kathy Griffin—who recently joined the show as a replacement for the ur-fashion-cop, Joan Rivers—went and did the same thing: She left, too. Griffin explained, for her part, that her style of humor "did not fit well" with the series' "creative direction."
And now the show itself is quitting, in a way: E! just announced that it will be putting the show on an “extended hiatus” while it figures out a new direction for itself. It will purportedly be back in time to make fun of celebrities’ fall clothing.
Fashion Police, if you’re not familiar, is a show based on the slightest of concepts: It consists of a panel of commentators who sit around and judge—harshly but breezily—celebrities’ outfits. There is nothing less, and definitely nothing more, to it than that. The show is a kind of sprayed/shellacked/fashion-taped extension of the thing many people do when they watch awards shows: comment on the clothes that are making their way across the red carpet. The difference is that it makes media out of that practice.
Fashion Police has featured segments like “Guess Me From Behind,” which involves the panelists trying to figure out the identity of a celebrity based solely on pictures of their backsides, and like “Rack Report” (a similar idea, applied to cleavage). There’s “Busted!,” in which celebrities are made fun of for wearing the same outfit on different occasions; there’s “Starlet or Streetwalker,” in which panelists take turns guessing whether a picture is of a blurred-face celebrity or … someone else. Oh, and there’s also “Bitch Stole My Look,” which finds the panelists, after celebrities are caught wearing similar outfits, debating the classic topic of who wore it better.
There are also, during the show’s live coverage of events, tie-ins with E!'s infamous Mani-Cam, which requires female celebrities to stick their fingers into a camera-equipped box, so that their cuticles may be magnified and assessed, and the “360 Degree Glam Cam,” which takes a full-body pan of celebrities so that their outfits can be magnified and assessed.
Which is all to say, basically, that Fashion Police is one of the few “guilty pleasures” that actually deserves the epithet: It is so aggressively insipid, and so unapologetically snarky, that it is, in fact, pernicious. It celebrates meanness; it enshrines bitchiness; it makes sport of assessing other people’s bodies and clothing and overall “looks.”
Which makes it, in turn, a strange kind of litmus test. You can have lots of different reactions to Fashion Police: You can be horrified by it. You can be amused by it. You can be enthralled by it. You can be insulted by it. Whatever your particular stance—and it is, ultimately, a stance—you will be reacting not just to the show itself, but to the whole fashion industrial complex: to the basic idea that people exist not only to see, but to be seen.
And that is precisely how Fashion Police's departing panelists have treated it: not just as a show, but as a political position. Here’s how Kathy Griffin—with, apparently, an assist from Lena Dunham—explained her departure:
Listen, I'm no saint—I'm a feminist AND a Gurrrrl who loves an offensive joke or a well-timed barb and you will find plenty in my repertoire. But I do not want to use my comedy to contribute to a culture of unattainable perfectionism and intolerance toward difference. I want to help women, gay kids, people of color and anyone who feels underrepresented to have a voice and a LAUGH. That has been my platform for decades and my body of style does not fit with the creative direction of the show & now it's time to move on.
Feminism! Representation! A culture of unattainable perfectionism and intolerance toward difference! That is a lot to hang on a show that features a "Rack Report." But it is also a fair thing to hang on that show. Griffin continued, via an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times:
There is a chasm of difference between making a joke about Miley Cyrus wearing duct tape over her nipples in public—which I think is totally fair game—and simply looking at a photo of her on a red carpet and saying she is ugly or a bad singer or pathetic or something like that… Look, God knows my—how shall I say?—repertoire over all these years on TV and live touring has used some language I wouldn't use today, but people just aren't into that stuff anymore and I get it. Name-calling and alliteration with no comedic context is simply the lowest hanging fruit.
It’s worth noting that the show’s ratings have fallen during the brief time Griffin was an official member of its panel; it could well be, as Defamer claims, that all this bluster is simply Griffin’s way of pre-empting the fact that she was about to be fired.
But the way Griffin explained her departure—in terms of feminism, in terms of community, in terms of values—is, nonetheless, telling. It makes clear that even a show like Fashion Police, with all its smug nihilism, has a moral dimension. The show celebrates conformity; it punishes exceptions; it implies that fashion—and people—exist primarily to be judged. In that, even in a culture that gave rise to red carpets and fashion magazines and the extensive beauty industrial complex, Fashion Police is on the wrong side of history. And now, finally, it's getting the judgment it deserves.