Op Ed: Is it time to pull the plug on Fashion Police?
It might be the end of an E! network era. Thanks to a legacy of body shaming, the recent racism scandal, and what seems like the unwillingness to adapt to evolving social and comedic norms, E!’s Fashion Police looks like it’s about to commentate on that big red carpet in the sky. And that isn’t a bad thing.
Following Giuliana Rancic’s post-Oscar comments about Zendaya’s dreadlocks, our attention was brought to a very real truth: the show’s brand of satire isn’t working anymore. In fact, its approach to weight, race, and self expression is so outdated, broken, and damaging that not even its hosts want anything to do with it. (Seriously: In an industry where jobs are scarce and fame is scarcer, two stars have just up and quit their jobs.)
So if not even its cast wants to stick around, then why make the show at all?
This question has been coming up a lot recently. In the days following Rancic’s remarks, Kelly Osbourne made her exit, having previously tweeted her intentions to do so. (Although, for the record, she’s contractually obligated not to detail too much about her decision.) New addition Kathy Griffin then followed who, after seven weeks on the series, used social media to make her announcement, too.
“When I chose to step into the shoes of my beloved friend Joan Rivers at Fashion Police, I was thrilled to continue her legacy as a woman being brash and eccentric on television,” she tweeted. “I am a freedom-loving female and gay rights activist who loves to find the funny in all people, attitude, beliefs, and appearances, but only when the context permits intelligence humor.”
“My brand of humor, while unrepentant and unafraid, is all about CONTEXT,” she continued. “There is plenty to make fun of in pop culture without bringing people’s bodies into it . . . I do not want to use my comedy to contribute to a culture of unattainable perfectionism and tolerance towards difference.”
Which is where Fashion Police have gotten stuck. What was once a show about style choices has morphed into a platform for chastising celebrities on what they look. So, to avoid hosts’ scrutiny, celebrities have to fit a certain body type. If they don’t, they’re fair game for insults and ridicule. And through that ridicule, the Fashion Police cast perpetuate the myth that size matters, one body type is best, and anything other than “perfection” is wrong.
“Perfection,” for Fashion Police, has also meant white. In her “jokes” about Zendaya, Rancic insinuated that she looked like she “[smelled] like patchouli oil or weed.” This prompted a beautifully-written response from the actress, who reminded the host of the harmful racial stereotypes she was perpetuating — as well as the pressure many women of colour feel to look white. This obviously wasn’t thought about (enough) in the Fashion Police writers’ room, proving that in addition to being racially and culturally ignorant, their brand of comedy is cheap and offensive.
Was Fashion Police built on cheap shots? Yes. But to start, there can only be one Joan Rivers; a woman who made a career of her own body image issues and used humour to challenge gender, fashion, and physical norms. She also represented a different era, grew up in a different school of comedy, and gave women in entertainment permission to take what they wanted while being themselves.
Joan’s presence in comedy also represented a shift in the industry that’s at its best when it’s evolving. Right now, that evolution is real. Thanks to movements like this year’s #AskHerMore, a collective push for body positivity, and emphasis on self esteem and acceptance, we’re even more aware that shaming women based on their size, hair, or anything else seems as lazy it is.
These reasons are why we’re seeing so much support for Griffin as opposed to the franchise. According to a source, Griffin’s allies in names like Lena Dunham and Jane Lynch mean Fashion Police are losing out on celebrity endorsement. Which is a problem for a show that is about and needs celebrities to participate.
But celebrities know better now. We know better now. Fashion Police knows better. So despite TMZ’s news that E! is working on a new format and that Griffin wasn’t cutting it as co-host anyway, the controversy surrounding Fashion Police says it all. Proving that unless the series pulls a 180 and emphasis style over body and race, and then hires newer, fresher, and non-racist writers (to say the least), it’s time to say goodbye. Bullying isn’t satire. Not even in context.