In Defense of the Fug Girls and Red Carpet Criticism
Was Olivia Munn's attempted takedown of a fashion blog justified?
Last night, actress Olivia Munn posted a “short essay” on Twitter blasting fashion bloggers Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan of Go Fug Yourself for their “ugly behaviours.” Before we get into the what and why of this misguided rant, it must be stated that Munn’s letter was in direct response to something the two women, who go by The Fug Girls on Twitter, wrote about a recent outfit Munn wore to an event. That said, there’s a lot to unpack here.
Though she’s responding to a personal slight, Munn attempts to cloak her statement in righteous rage on behalf of feminism and civility. “For years, fashion-policing celebrity has been an accepted mainstream media critique, even though it mainly focuses on females and not men, which ultimately contributes to the perpetual minimization of women and propagates the idea that our worth is predominantly (or singularly) tied to our looks,” writes Munn, adding that blogs like Go Fug Yourself (which we’ll refer to as GFY going forward) are at the forefront of this problem, with “their snarkiness and hypocrisy on full display.”
Only someone who has never read GFY (or has only read the not-so-complimentary posts about themselves) could conclude that what drives the site is a desire to criticize a woman’s looks. The blog, which was launched in 2004, takes great pains to separate a person’s outfit from their looks, weight, body type or other personal features. Far from fixating on just actresses’ appearances, it regularly features male actors as well, with whole slideshows dedicated to what men wore to awards shows, movie premieres and other public events. What’s key to GFY’s success (they have a relatively small but dedicated base of loyal and enthusiastic readers) is the fact that they intentionally and thoughtfully stay away from the snark and vitriol that was once associated with red carpet criticism. I’ve been a GFY reader for years, and can think of no other media outlet that has made me guffaw at my desk and marvel at its writers’ wit and good humour. (They’ve also written for Vulture, Vanity Fair, The Cut and Cosmopolitan, so Munn’s odd “blogs will be blogs” dig has even less of a leg to stand on.)
— Olivia Munn (@oliviamunn) April 25, 2019
A few examples of their recent posts about Munn, starting with the one that launched her Twitter tirade:
About the sparkly ‘70s suit that Munn wore earlier this week, which has tassels swinging about the knees for some reason, they wrote: “This is just kinda like she got roped into making a sequel to American Hustle that ended up going straight to on-demand. Things could be worse.”
For her look at the Predator premiere, they wrote, in addition to a lengthy post applauding Munn for being the only one amongst her castmates to publicly speak out against an actor on the set who was charged with sexual assault: “She looks super in this — very much a movie star. Maybe a TRIFLE like a mannequin?”
They’ve (very accurately) compared a recent dress of hers to a “formal SHIRT made of tulle and coffee filters, that makes you look like you’re peeing a wedding veil” and described some other choice looks of hers as “munnfortunate” and “munnderwhelming” which even she’d have to admit is pretty smart right?
But the petulance of Munn’s open letter in response to these public slights isn’t the only problem; there are other, larger issues at play. For one, she seems to have taken the Trumpian approach in that if there’s something written about you that you don’t like, the only option is to try to discredit the person who said or wrote it. For Trump, the easiest way forward is to call it all “fake news,” and for Munn, it seems to be by claiming that Cocks and Morgan are not “legitimate critics.”
She also takes issue with the act of red carpet criticism in the first place, which is laughable considering how big a role the red carpet plays in the film industry, aka the industry in which she works. Fashion criticism is a valid, legitimate form of art criticism, and red carpets are a big part of the larger cinematic process. If it didn’t matter what actors wore for their public appearances, why would they pay big money to stylists to attend runway shows and dress them in designer clothes? Why make an effort when heading to a red carpet? Why pose for pictures? In an interview with Vox last year, Morgan noted the importance of reporting on red carpets, something they’ve been doing for close to 15 years, becoming as close to experts on red carpet trends and the optics of fashioning one’s public persona as one can get in the process. “They’re big business, to be frank: A celebrity making a giant splash in a gorgeous gown helps her own career, in terms of visibility, but she also gives a tremendous boost to the designer who dressed her. Fashion is a difficult business, and the name-brand exposure that comes from a major red-carpet placement can be huge for designers… So it’s not just a totally fluffy enterprise — lots of money rides on red-carpet exposure.”
Munn also engages in some mental gymnastics, comparing the work that Cocks and Morgan do to teenage boys ranking the appearance of their female schoolmates, going as far as to say that the Fug Girls are complicit in the “suppression of women.” Aside from the fact that conflating fashion criticism with sexism or anti-feminism is frustratingly reductive, it must be noted (again) that the two have run GFY for over a decade without ever taking pot shots, using offensive or misogynist language, or body shaming. Considering that GFY is a place readers have long counted on for respectful, engaging, perceptive and witty fashion commentary, decrying their good-natured criticism as being somehow instrumental in advancing the toxicity of our patriarchal culture is especially baffling. “One of the things we talk about a lot at Go Fug Yourself is that the way people chose to dress themselves for major events is always saying something,” Morgan said in the Vox interview. And perhaps more than anything she’s ever worn, this open letter has said a lot about Munn.