Confession: I love a good fashion competition show. It’s fun to critique people’s outfits, I enjoy watching designers do their craft, and it’s a way to turn my brain off to the world for a bit. Sometimes I just need to fill my head with trash television. But something about the third season of Making the Cut is making me think, and I don’t like it.
It’s a Project Runway spin-off hosted by Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, where every episode they send a designer home by repeating their cheesy little tagline of a pun, “I’m sorry, you’re not making the cut.” Every time Heidi says it (wearing, I must add, increasingly more hideous outfits with every episode) I just think, that would be me!
Actually, I probably wouldn’t even make it to the first elimination, because I’d have a complete breakdown trying to work as fast as they expect and walk out before I finished anything. The time pressure they put on these designers is absolutely horrifying — even watching it stresses me out.
7 hours to design a dress. Two days to create a high-fashion runway piece and an “accessible” piece (their term for something the proles could buy) that are both cohesive as a pair but different enough to be interesting on their own AND in line with whatever theme they’ve thrown at them for the week AND perfectly representative of their brand AND new, fresh, and “urgent”, whatever that means.
It doesn’t seem like they get much sleep or rest in between, either — in episode 6, while the contestants are working in the studio, one of them says, “I’m getting a bit confused. Am I being stupid?”, and another responds:
This is directly after a challenge in which Moschino director (and millionaire) Jeremy Scott literally screams and throws his book at the designers for disappointing him, something that would count as workplace abuse in any other context. But honestly, Jeremy, what do you expect, when you treat human beings like little production robots?
Good art takes time and requires mistakes — artists are not machines. But the show itself, owned and operated by Amazon, is a sort of factory:
What makes it different, beyond watching designers get snipped from each episode, is that you can shop the looks on Amazon’s Making the Cut online shop — right after we see the looks on-screen. The winning look from each episode — as we watch 10 designers compete for $1 million to invest in their fashion brand — is available to buy instantly. The final winner, who will create an exclusive line available on Amazon Fashion, will be announced in the season finale.
Much of the show’s focus is on the designers’ business acumen and marketability. They’re not just being judged on their art, but on their entrepreneurialism. Nicole Richie, one of the judges, said:
"So, for us, we're like, what are your plans to do with the money? Where are you going to use it?" she continued. "There's all of that behind the scenes of really building a brand, and I think that's what this show is so great in showcasing is that you of course have to be an amazing designer, but you also have to be business savvy, and really roll with whatever is coming your way, which is parallel to what happens in real life, too."
Richie is, unfortunately, correct. Artists have to also be their own marketers, accountants, and business strategists these days to make any sort of living. It doesn’t matter if your art is good — can you turn it into a successful TikTok account? Can you build a massive email list? How many brand deals can you land on Instagram?
In a 2015 piece in The Atlantic, critic William Deresiewicz traces the historical evolution from artisan to High Artist to our current form, the “creator”, who is both artist and entrepreneur. The creator has no buffer between themself and the market, as High Artists had with their publishing houses and gallery representation.
The creator has become the producer, and what they create has changed:
Works of art, more centrally and nakedly than ever before, are becoming commodities, consumer goods. Jeff Bezos, as a patron, is a very different beast than James Laughlin. Now it’s every man for himself, every tub on its own bottom. Now it’s not an audience you think of addressing; it’s a customer base. Now you’re only as good as your last sales quarter.
This GIF of Heidi’s reaction to a designer’s piece on Making the Cut perhaps says the same thing in fewer words:
Is it good art? Who cares. Will anyone feel like they need to buy it? That’s the real question now. Deresiewicz makes no hard predictions about how this will change art, but he does say this:
It’s hard to believe that the new arrangement will not favor work that’s safer: more familiar, formulaic, user-friendly, eager to please—more like entertainment, less like art. Artists will inevitably spend a lot more time looking over their shoulder, trying to figure out what the customer wants rather than what they themselves are seeking to say.
Making The Cut is a study in this new creator landscape. It shows us what happens when corporations take control of art-making, dangling a cash prize over working class people, forcing them to spill their saddest stories about their traumatic childhoods for entertainment purposes while pushing them to compete at such an irresponsible speed that they injure themselves (two contestants had needle-related sewing injuries this season — one refused to go to the hospital until he’d finished his garment).
It’s hard to call it a show about design when it doesn’t operate on design thinking principles at all — there’s no time for iteration, and failure is unacceptable. You sit down, you draw the thing, you get the fabric, and you make something amazing in 7 hours, or you go home and disappoint everyone who loves you.
Ultimately, what they end up making is pretty disappointing — the judges this season seem desperate to like something. After one runway show, Heidi says their designs felt “tired.” But this is your art on capitalism: rushed, uninspired, pinned together with your sweat, blood, and dreams.
It doesn’t make me feel excited or motivated or emotionally moved when someone wins this show, it sort of just makes me sad.
There goes my no thoughts/head empty trash TV, I guess.
Honestly there’s so little TV I can watch these days that doesn’t induce extreme anxiety in me. Even normal sit-coms that rely on dramatic irony are a lot. Jeopardy is really all that’s left that is super enjoyable consistently. I can be amused for a couple episodes of the silly semi-elimination competition shows, like “Is It Cake?” or “Nailed It” because it is posed as lighthearted. But my attention isn’t long for those.
I definitely can’t do the super fast paced competition shows anymore though. Or even like the renovation shows with a time crunch. It’s all SO much like architecture school. Everyone pulls weekly all-nighters, except for 5 years straight. The amount of deliverables you are expected to produce is absurdly unreasonable. You have to stand up and present your shit that you didn’t have any time to really think through to a panel of judges (other professors and outside professionals). Not just at the end, but multiple times throughout the semester. Some of those critics will literally tell you are worthless and to drop out.
The studios (everyone has their own large desk) are an absolute shit-show and during mid-terms and finals it is utter chaos. People keep pillows and blankets there all semester. There are plenty of good professors but also tons of them that will demand you stay up all night (which people were going to do anyway) and just spew absolutely abusive shit. And this is all romanticized. It’s bragging rights to have survived it. “Archi-torture”.
I literally had seizures one year from sleep deprivation (and lack of food/water/etc, but definitely no seizure disorder, I did spend two days in the hospital afterward to double check) right as I was standing up to present my final project. It’s actually a good thing it happened then, because if it had happened that morning at home or something, no one would have believed it and I would have probably had to repeat the whole year or some garbage. After that incident, I tried to manage my time as best I could and set boundaries about sleep. The year after I only pulled a handful of all nighters, spread-out, and the final year I successfully slept at least 5 or 6 hours minimum every night except my very last night before my very last final, and I still slept 3 hours that last night. And a lot of people were pissed at me for upholding that boundary. Project partners, professors, etc.
So anyway, ha. I definitely can’t watch those shows. It’s all so fucked. And just like, a really sick microcosm of the entirely of capitalism (but somehow it’s desirable because it’s a ~creative~ industry) put on display for entertainment.
Here’s a question—what do you think about the idea that reality TV is just the spectacle of exploitation?
I think there may be a net effect of current popular culture as a whole that slows the develop of a shared class consciousness in America. What do you think?