Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Femonomics reads the internet so you don't have to: Kevin Smith vs. Southwest, Sarah Palin vs. Family Guy, and Fashion Week vs. the Recession

Two epic feuds and one made up one.  Read on.

Kevin Smith vs. Southwest
As you've probably heard by now, Kevin Smith was ejected from a Southwest flight when the captain decided he was too fat to fly safely.  Southwest has a longstanding "customers of size" policy, which dictates that passengers that cannot sit within the armrests of a seat must purchase an additional seat prior to travel.  The cost of the seat is refunded if there are extra seats on the flight.  The policy doesn't seem all that crazy, and is something many other airlines have recently adapted.  What's ludicrous is the capriciousness and insensitivity with which it is enforced.  Smith was ejected after he was seated on the flight, his carry-on was stowed, a desk agent had approved him flying with only one seat, and he had demonstrated he could sit completely within his seat, with both armrests down.  Smith's plight brought light to the issue, but reading the comments on Southwest's blog post revealed other customers with similar experiences, who had been ejected from flights in front of their peers or otherwise treated with insensitivity.
Smith is fighting back, railing about Southwest on his indignant twitter feed for days, appearing on shows to promote his cause, and generally calling Southwest out on their thuggish behavior.  People on both sides of this issue has been vocal, with some commenters expressing gratitude for Southwest enforcing this policy, and recounting horror stories of sitting next to overweight individuals encroaching on their territory, and others rightly claiming that trying to fly while being overweight shouldn't constitute an automatic signing away of one's dignity to the whims of Southwest.  I agree that some customers may need two seats, but firmly believe this should be handled privately at the check in desk, and not adjudicated at random on a packed flight.  Plus, let me add that to my eyes Kevin Smith is far from the most overweight person I've seen fly in only one seat.  Jezebel's asking that airlines stop pretending this is about overweight individuals, and simply admit their seats are too small for most, but I don't think this solution is likely.  We might like to present airlines as corporate behemoths praying on customers, but in reality their profit margins are razor thin.  Rather, I say what's required is a certain sensitivity and consistency in enforcing policies designed for safety and comfort, but which have serious potential to offend, or worse.  What do you think?

Sarah Palin vs. Family Guy
Family Guy did an episode where Chris went on a date with a girl with Down syndrome.  The girl says, "My mother is the former governor of Alaska" as a throwaway punchline.  Sarah Palin is outraged, and says so on her facebook page.  Unfortunately, it's a little more complex than she makes it out to be.  While Family Guy is notoriously insensitive, and they did take the opportunity to have Stewie sing a song about Down syndrome playing on many popular stereotypes, the inclusion of the character was not offensive per se.  She was just a girl who Chris went on a date with who happened to have Down syndrome.  She wasn't represented as stupid, or bumbling, or as a caricature of disabled individuals.  She was demanding, picky, and high maintenance.  In other words, her character's defining feature was not her disability, which seems to me like a milestone wrapped in an insult, rather than a straight insult.  The character was voiced by Andrea Fay Friedman, who herself has Down syndrome.  The incident has provoked many thoughtful responses about the portrayal of people with disabilities in the media.  Over at the HuffPo, the mother of a child with cerebral palsy applauds Family Guy for including a disabled character in a way that realistically represented how others tend to respond to disabilities, and yet lampooned their assumption by making her smart and opinionated.  EW points out that, by Family Guy standards, this was downright progressive.  Jezebel seems to take this side, as well, while Gawker came out in Palin's camp.  It's difficult to know how to include people with disabilities in popular culture in a sensitive way.  But is the alternative, pretending they don't exist, really any better?

Fashion Week vs. us all being poor
Fashion week is in full swing, and the pretties are being shown by the likes of Sophie Theallet, Rodarte, and DVF.  I know I can't afford any of these clothes, but frankly, I don't care.  I'm happy to just be able to admire the beautiful looks, and try to look for new ideas to try to incorporate into my wardrobe when the trends inevitably trickle down to H&M and Zara.  I also love looking for more current ways to wear things that I already have, or for items in the back of my closet that might be coming back into style.  However, for those of you who are on a budget but actually want the real deal, online sample sales are the new... well... regular sample sales.  NYMag has a new piece on Gilt Groupe, a members-only online portal to limited-time-only designer discounts.  The article fascinatingly details how retailers and design houses have always needed a place to offload their unsold wares, but tried to do so as discreetly as possible, in a way as far removed from their core customer base as possible to avoid devaluing their brand.  Will the person who buys $3,000 dresses at Neiman Marcus want to stand in line for two hours to try jeans on in a parking lot?  No?  So smelly tent sample sales were in.  Designers resisted going on line for fear of permanently signaling a lack of quality in their products.  But, like so many things, the recession changed that.  Facing huge cash-flow shortages, fashion houses couldn't afford to be picky about how they made sales.  Enter Gilt, Rue La La, and countless other retailers of last resort.  Fashionista has a nice guide to the major players, for those of us inclined to spend $800 on a Vera Wang that used to be $4,000.  For the rest of us, there's always H&M.
Ooooh... look, Not a Knockoff has more info on these very sites.

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