Yoga Pants, the New Perfume

When I lived in Europe and read celebrity magazines (I’ve always been a sucker for celebrity magazines), I often wondered why famous people go out in public in their workout clothes. And get caught on camera. In Europe you don’t go outside of your home or gym in your workout clothes. Now that I’ve spent so much time in LA I finally have an answer: it’s not the people, it’s the city! I wrote a very fun article for the February issue of Gloria Glam about LA’s obsession with yoga pants. I was very honored to speak about this topic with Catherine Adair, acclaimed costume designer whose work on “Desperate Housewives” brought her an Emmy. Cate’s first reaction was: “Cars!” 

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Hollywood Stars With Brushes and Rubber Gloves

I’m having so much fun with my new (and absolutely fantastic) position as the Los Angeles (and Hollywood) correspondent for a big group of magazines which includes (among others) a high end fashion magazine (Gloria Glam), a gourmet magazine (Delicije), a celebrity magazine (Gloria) and another fashion magazine (Gloria In). A story I wrote for the  December issue of Gloria Glam took me inside of the world I would have otherwise never entered: the world of Hollywood’s celebrity hair colorists. When I started researching, I was stunned with the fact that there are people in this city who  pay $400 for hair color. But what I learned is that the star colorists won’t even start work for that amount. Largely depending on the services, their work goes for around $800 or more. Some of those colorists are such big stars that I had to go through their agents and PR people  if  to get an interview.

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“It is necessary to stop being a patient"

Eva Illouz, one of today’s most established sociologists (yes, I am a HUGE fan), whom German “Die Zeit” called one of a few people that will shape the thinking of tomorrow just published a very interesting essay on psychology titled “How therapy became a multimillion dollar industry”.  In 2008, Illouz published a book on this topic called “Saving the Modern Soul: Therapy, Emotions, and the Culture of Self-Help”. In her new essay, she talks about some very important and interesting (but also controversial: Israeli psychoanalysts attacked her strongly because of the essay) aspects of the commercialization of psychology.

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Reconnect

Yesterday, Black Friday (day after Thanksgiving, when sales start in US), a woman pulled out pepper spray and injured 20 people in order to get a discounted Xbox. A man was leaving a store with his family and got shot when he didn’t want to give up his purchase. Another man was stabbed in a shopping mall. Rihanna’s latest video, widely watched in US is banned in France. It is showing, and glorifying, a couple of drug addicts smoking crack, popping pills, drinking, having sex, tattooing each other. All to a funky beat, her happily singing “We found love in a hopeless place”. It looks like so much fun! Her “S&M” video was banned in Europe for glorifying S&M practices. 

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Only Bad Mood?

Norway: A right wing radical puts a bomb in the government building in Oslo and then goes to an island where he kills 77 teenagers in a summer camp organized by the social-democratic party. He wanted to warn the party, which he accused of letting too many Muslims into the country. Austria: A yearly youth study shows that more and more young people support FPÖ, the right-wing party. FPÖ directly appeals to (and then nourish) their fears. The study shows that Austrian youth is increasingly anxious. It also shows that those sympathizing FPÖ are much more scared (than those more left oriented) of the future: of inflation, terrorism and one day not receiving their pension.

USA: In current debt-ceiling debate, the Republicans are bringing the country - and the world economic system to the verge of a catastrophe. The only thing they want to achieve is – ultimate power. Even if the world crashes.

Brusselles: EU is facing a political disintegration and economic collapse. We’re facing a catastrophe, hand in hand with USA.

See any links? Well I do. For me, all of these are puzzle pieces of the same story. In September 2008, our western system known as democratic liberal capitalism proved to have failed. Under the strong lobby of those who hold the money, but not officially the power, we didn’t do what seemed impossible but was the only solution – erase and start from scratch. It wouldn’t have allowed rich to get richer, as they did since the crisis. Instead, we took the corpse, dabbed on it some make-up (couple of trillions of dollars worth of make-up) and pretended it’s going to be OK. Well, it’s not. The corpse has rottened and there’s nothing left but a huge mess and unpayable debt.

Of course people are scared. This could be the end of the world as we know it. The systems, the beliefs, the rules, the rulers, everything that should keep us in place and safe from chaos and suffering - it has all proved (continuously) to have failed. In our globalized world that means there’s nowhere to escape. We fail, you fail.

One more time, the only solution would be to start from scratch. But how do you start from scratch and change the whole paradigm? How do you explain to people who speed up when you signal you’d like to change a lane, just so that they don’t have to let you in front of them (even if it means endangering yours and their life) that the only way this poor planet and its billions of people can survive is if we LIVE solidarity, respect, altruism and modesty? There’s no space here for greed and power games.

Either we reach that or we’ll go through a catastrophe in the scale of WW III. Unfortunately, I’m afraid we’ll need to experience such a tragedy to (re-)learn real value. It’s human nature.

Yes, I’m in a bad mood today.

Democracy, Consumption & Bob the Builder

Zagreb  is not the town it was when I left 20 years ago. During the war in 90’s, the population doubled within shortest period, turning the city into a mess. And the only investments done were shopping malls and volleyball stadiums, while the old center was left to fall apart and hospitals haven’t changed since Franz Joseph (who died in 1916). The country is suffering financial crime and corruption. Many wild things have happened on Croatia. Here the latest. Couple of years ago, one of Croatian “moguls” decided to ruin Cvjetni Trg (one of most important squares in the city), tear down old (and actually protected) houses and build a shopping mall incl. residential area (for other moguls, or their children, I’d guess) and a public garage. Everyone who knows old European cities knows that there is no space for cars so the strategy has been to remove cars outside of city centers – Zagrebian (corrupt) politicians allowed this huge garage in the center, turning pedestrian zones (while other European cities fight for more pedestrian areas) into driveways and clogging the already clogged area. Already angry citizens got even angrier and for years, hundreds of thousands of Zagrebians went out on the streets to protest and tried everything to stop this project from happening. It was yet another proof of what an illusion democracy can be. Money decides.

The mall was opened yesterday and Jutarnji List (daily newspaper) has a couple of excellent pictures on their website. Some of which were really interesting.

While intellectuals (in sandals and sweaters) are protesting and getting arrested (why are they all men?), girls with carefully straightened hair and blasé looks patiently wait at H&M. And check out the guys who actually built the whole place but are complete outsiders to what’s going on. What a nice illustration of the world we live in...

Consumerism, capitalism and global poverty

As found in the IPK invitation: "Has there ever been a better reason to shop?" asks an ad for the Product RED American Express card, telling members who use the card that buying "cappuccinos or cashmere" will help to fight AIDS in Africa. Cofounded in 2006 by the rock star Bono, Product RED has been a particularly successful example of a new trend in celebrity-driven international aid and development, one explicitly linked to commerce, not philanthropy.

In Brand Aid, Lisa Ann Richey and Stefano Ponte offer a deeply informed and stinging critique of "compassionate consumption." Campaigns like Product RED and its precursors, such as Lance Armstrong's Livestrong and the pink-ribbon project in support of breast cancer research, advance the expansion of consumption far more than they meet the needs of the people they ostensibly serve. At the same time, such campaigns sell both the suffering of Africans with AIDS (in the case of Product RED) and the power of the average consumer to ameliorate it through familiar and highly effective media representations.

Using Product RED as its focal point, this book explores how corporations like American Express, Armani, Gap, and Hallmark promote compassionate consumption to improve their ethical profile and value without significantly altering their business model, protecting themselves from the threat to their bottom lines posed by a genuinely engaged consumer activism. Coupled with the phenomenon of celebrity activism and expertise as embodied by Bono, Richey and Ponte argue that this "causumerism" represents a deeply troubling shift in relief efforts, effectively delinking the relationship between capitalist production and global poverty.

Lisa Ann Richey is professor of international development studies at Roskilde University. She is the author of Population Politics and Development: From the Policies to the Clinics.

Stefano Ponte is senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies. He is the coauthor of Trading Down: Africa, Value Chains, and the Global Economy and The Coffee Paradox: Global Markets, Commodity Trade, and the Elusive Promise of Development.

Institute for Public Knowledge

Artificial Biological Clock

I don’t know what I’ve been waiting for. I guess this one. I found it in “Why Design Now?”, National Design Triennial at the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. If you are in New York, see it – you have time till Jan. 9 2011. This is not just a design exhibition, it is more about projects from various fields of design such as architecture, product design, fashion and new media trying to solve some of our most important human and environmental problems. See how creative people propose to save the world. I’m missing one main point: how about moving away from the culture of consumption (and that’s asap)? But I guess poor designers are a very wrong address for that one. Here my favorite project: “Artificial Biological Clock” by Revital Cohen. The point is that through birth control, ideas of self-realization and career, independency, youth cult, Peter-Pan complex, hedonistic way of life, etc., we have completely lost the idea of biological clock - so why not have the artificial version (I’m sure Steve Jobs could think of a very cool gadget here. Actually, why not simply making an App out of it?). This one “reacts to information from her doctor, therapist, and bank manager via an online service. When she is physically, mentally, and financially ready to conceive the object awakes, seeking her attention.” Yes, alienation, my favorite topic. And a perfect example of critical design. Bravo, Revital.

More on Why Design Now?

More on Revital Cohen

45 Years of Chiffon

Almost fainted in my bathroom while re-reading the June issue of British Vogue today. Those cool British fashion people had a wonderful idea of shooting a fashion editorial in Cuba ( with pictures of Che in the background of course). Because enormously expensive clothing looks soooo boring against a non-contrasting background. On one of the pictures, a svelte blond model (looking like an alien who just landed on Cuba) is sitting in front of a shabby wooden door painted with a Cuban flag, wearing what is described as following:

“HOW BETTER TO HANDLE THE HEAT THAN CHLOÉ’S WHITE WASHED BREEZY, CHIFFON LAYERS? Pleated silk cape, £910 (€1100). Pleated silk dress, £4,510 (€5400). Both Chloé, at Chloé, Harvey Nichols, Matches and Selfridges”

Average monthly salary in Cuba is £10. This means that someone can live for 45 years from these the two pieces of white washed breezy chiffon layers. 542 people can survive for a month.

What to say about this enormous amount of stupidity, ignorance and lack of sensibility? Except “I’ll never buy that shitty magazine again”. And be proud of handling the heat in a white cotton t-shirt (€5, at H&M).

P.S. I couldn’t fall asleep last night, so instead counting sheep, I did a bit more math. 45 yearly salaries translated to UK-terms would mean taking a picture of a Cuban woman in front of the Buckingham Palace wearing 2 layers of (white washed breezy) chiffon worth  £1,045,980 (€1,257,036). Have fun shopping!

Hookers-Time

What happened? Are we all hookers now? Last night, I went to the traditional summer party organized by Vienna’s snobbiest bar. I used to be a regular guest in that bar - Back then, when I was still a snob. And when I was still partying.

I know I sound like my grandma, but: Things were different back then.

I don’t know if that is the new fashion, if there are more prostitutes in Vienna or have women all turned into hookers? The bar to which we used to go to wearing LBDs (for the male readers: Little Black Dress) was now filled with porn stars and hookers. The dresses were tight, (too) short and see-through, the heels were all above 15cm. My (male friend) told me: “Look at them. The moment you show them your brumm-brumm (no clue why he’s speaking baby language. Maybe too much skin melted his brain) you don’t need to put in any effort anymore. And if they see the house (he has a gorgeous villa in Vienna hills) they’re done. Yours on the spot.”

Hmm. Either the times were different back then, or we were different back then. Or we were simply naïve. That’s also a possibility.

And then he went on: “Look at that blonde in the red dress at the bar. Polish call girl (I don’t know why he knows. Maybe if you have a villa and a brumm-brumm you also have an overview of the hottest call girls in town). Turn around and look at that sexy Czech group behind you. For sale.”

I don’t know. I have a feeling that prostitution is on the rise. Not necessarily the “official” prostitution but the unofficial kind.  Wearing a skinny dress to be able to “give” yourself to the ones with more expensive brumm-brumms. It is the greed. It is the hunger for luxury. It is the “money as religion” thing. It is “get as much as you can while you can”. It is the whole new value system. Has it turned us into hookers?

Tajder in EMMA

I am happy to announce that my commentary about "Sex and the City 2" is going to be published in the next issue of EMMA, the most renown feministic magazine in German speaking countries. As announced on the Website:

"Alice Schwarzer hat für die nächste EMMA einen Kommentar zur Sache von Ana Tajder in Wien bestellt – und das Resultat begeistert uns EMMAs alle sehr."

Link to the EMMA article

"Sex and the City2". Or "We're all Stuck in the Dessert!"

“Sex and the City 2” is coming to European cinemas on Friday. I, as the ultimate S&C fan should be ecstatic. Well, I’m not. I passed by a cinema with a jumbo poster above the door featuring Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha and Miranda (in a dessert?!) and I had a very strange feeling. It was a bit like looking at a corpse. A mixture of curiosity, disgust and sadness. S&C used to be our Bible. What we watched on TV screens were our lives. Yes, we were just like them. And our stories were just like theirs. We were educated, had great jobs, paid for our own luxury, we looked good, had enormous fun and we shagged gorgeous men (Really! I was so offended when Playboy commented on my book: “Is it at all possible that all those men were that gorgeous?” Yes, they were!). We were completely independent. And mesmerised with our lives. We were experiencing the probably best phase of our lives. And S&C was an affirmation for it all.

This was 12 years ago. Many things have changed since then. Towards the end, the series wasn’t as true, cheeky, crispy and fun as it was it the beginning. The first S&C movie came to cinemas and, although we were glad to see our old friends, we were disappointed. And now the 2nd part? I’m not sure. I’m even wondering if we should go to see it. I’m afraid it will be everything but empowering.

First of all: Sex is not what it used to be. The S&C sex, that is. The S&C sex was about freeing a new form of female sexuality. Sexuality which was in the same time our weapon and our shield. Sexuality as the ultimate proof of the newly conquered independence in all aspects of our lives. Unfortunately, the sexuality we freed back then has quickly turned against us. The moment we turned female sexuality into a mean for achieving a goal, somebody else used it for their own purposes: To earn money. In no time, our society has became overly sexualised and pornographised. Fashion copies SM styles. Music spots look like soft porn. School kids are watching hard core on their phones. Media is bombarding us with the new image of a woman, a über-sexualised, über-natural sex doll. She is created by using styling, plastic surgery and Photoshop. She fills us (both women and men) with craving for unreachable, constructed “perfection” and makes us spend billions trying to buy it.  She is turning women into objects. Again. Our grandmothers and mothers fought against this - how did we, the S&C generation, allow it to happen?

And then there was shopping. They spent fortune shopping. And they had enormous fun shopping. So had we. Shopping was symbolising the connection between our financial independence and our newly freed sexuality. We were buying (with our own money) sexy stuff that made us feel great about ourselves. And that helped us manipulate the world which is known to be easily manipulated by attractive looks. But hen came the financial crisis. And made it very clear to us that we became hostages of our own consumption. We worked to consume, we identified with the consumed, and we searched for fulfilment where it couldn’t be found.  It all became painful when we realised that the consumerist attitude reflected on other aspects of our lives. We were consuming men, relationships, friendships. Ourselves. And then came the threat of an environmental catastrophe. It is not fun paying for stuff which you know will burry you one day. No, we don’t shop any more.

S&C showed us how fantastic a friendship can be. A constructed family. Four friends, all obsessed with themselves and their tightest circle. Four friends and their never-ending search. For love, for the perfect relationship, for THE man, for happiness… The search lasted for 12 years. And it goes on. It used to be cute. It’s not anymore. Because it is a product of the individualisation which is ruining our society. One of the biggest lessons we were supposed to learn from the financial crisis is that globalisation made us all interdependent. We cannot be solely focused on ourselves anymore. If Greece crashes, Europe crashes. Same is with women. We cannot live our emancipation alone. There are African women sold to our men as sex workers. Indian women are sewing our jeans for $16 a month. And there are many gorgeous East European girls who, of lack of alternative to support themselves, accept traditional gender roles. They are willing to trade their youth and beauty for financial security. Having a beautiful East European wife who keeps her mouth shut and is satisfied with a gift of designer shoes became sort of a trend: Viennese businessmen travel to East Europe searching for wives. Scared of losing their “competitive advantage”, many West European girls are giving up emancipation.

Yes, the world has drastically changed in the 12 years since S&C first became a symbol of our emancipation. The financial crisis revealed a deeper crisis – our whole system is in crisis. In order to survive, we have to rethink everything anew: The economic system, the values, the priorities. To be able to inspire us again, S&C would have to drastically change. And here an idea: Now that it is clear that we have reached the limits of the male world order, how about offering a new alternative? A female, solidary, cooperative, humanistic world order.

I know - it is too much to wish from a US TV-series-turned-film.

But please, allow me to dream.

The Story of Stuff Project

I've seen Annie Leonard on Christiane Amanpour's show (have I ever mentioned I want to b Christiane Amanpour when I grow up?)  and her cartoon won me over. Sweet, charming, amusing and eye-opening. Her project is called "The Story of Stuff" and it is consisting of a book, the cartoon (20 minutes, you can watch it on the website) and the website (including interesting articles, links and ideas for action): www.storyofstuff.com

A very charming critical analysis of and warning against consumerism and its effects on our planet, health and well-being.

Yes, American, cartoonish and simplified but a great idea in a great direction!

Consuming Love - Literally

I have again (look at my post from 7 Nov. 2008) found a heart in my fridge. Yes, it sounds funny but it again made me very happy - I like believing in signs. I started analysing what all this food coming to me in form of a heart could mean. I wished for something egoistic. But then as I was pealing the potato to make a soup, I realized that each piece of food that came from mother earth actually is a little heart. They don't have to have a heart form. Because they are pure love - they are the signs and gifts mother nature is giving us to tell us "I love you". Because they keep us alive. And healthy. And all it takes is some soil, sun and rain. That is all we should need to survive.I am not joking: we should see each piece of food nature gave us as a little heart. And each time we take it into our hand we should say "Thank you". Our major problem as a society is that we are ungrateful.

div2009-012

Consuming Love, or What is Left of It

From The Vienna Review, February 2009 In two seminal books, Eva Illouz analyses the influence of modern capitalism on love and romance. A perfect topic for Valentine’s Day. Ana Tajder met Eva Illouz in Vienna.

Consuming the Romantic Utopia: Love and The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism

Will you be celebrating Valentine’s Day? Will you buy roses, go for a dinner in a luxury restaurant, buy a little teddy bear with a big red heart? Or will you boycott that kitschy capitalistic product of American culture, condemning it as a crass celebration consumption? Or will you simply be ambivalent? Well, don’t be. As Eva Illouz shows in her two books about the impact of capitalism on romance and love, the topic is too interesting for ambivalence. Professor of Sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a member of the Center for the Study of Rationality Eva Illouz is ready to challenge the most intrenched cynic. Her earlier book, Consuming the Romantic Utopia: Love and The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (1997) created a milestone in research of love and romance in capitalism. Following up on the topic was the 2007 Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism, a sampling of her 'Adorno' lectures. Whenever you finally meet a person you had found fascinating by reputation, you will be surprised about how much bigger you often imagine them than they really are. Our brain projects the size of our fascination with the person on their physical dimensions. When I meet Eva Illouz, this surprise stretched even further, to the nature of her personality. Her books are so well researched, so strong in their analysis, conclusions, theories and findings that you expect a very powerful, maybe even insistent personality. A rock. The reality is quite different. Eva Illouz is petite, gracious, and with the most gentle expression in her huge blue eyes. Contrary to my expectation, she does not project, in fact, at all; she absorbs. Still, the gentleness of her appearance cannot hide the immense intellectual power working in the background. A lot has changed in the ten years between the two books, Illouz confessed, and with it, a major shift in perspective. “Choice!” she exclaimed. In her first book, she explained how the economic ideas of choice emancipated human relationships and gave them new possibilities. Commodities did not corrupt relationships and feelings, she believed but served as a way of enhancing and transmitting those feelings. But then came the Internet and a culture of choice. “The problem is, people don’t know how to deal with choice,” she said. “Studies have shown that choice creates confusion, apathy and a shift from being a satisfier, a person who is happy with good enough, to a maximizer, a person who always wants more and better. “The problem is that we do not have a natural mechanism to stop the processes of maximizing our life choices.” In her lecture on Jan. 26 at the Bruno Kreisky Forum, Ambrustergasse 15, in Vienna’s 19th District, Illouz analysed the disenchantment and rationalization of love that were central to the discussion in Cold Intimacies. Three cultural phenomena are principally to blame for this, she said: The Internet technology of dating sites and social networks that has exploded choice; the emergence of popular science that influences our picture of love, and second-wave feminism that blames romantic love for deepening the divide between men and women. “Feminism tore down male chivalry and female mystery, taking the enchantment out of love,” claimed Illouz. So is it back to pre-18th century mode of arranged marriages? No, modern rationality is different, Illouz said. Two hundred years ago, parents made the decisions, based on a few basic criteria: good health, social class and an ability to provide. Sentiment and reason were kept safely at arms length. Today, this rationality comes from ourselves and hinges on a long list of criteria – including emotional compatibility, sexual compatibility and social compatibility. It is ideal that cannot be reached, one that gets us stuck in a rut of endless refinement. “We don’t have the cultural resources to reach the ideal.” Illouz says. The problem of choice cannot be emphasized often enough. While in pre-modern times, love was accidental and the object of love not subject to substitution, now the sheer volume of choice forces rational and analytic criteria. Choice also gives potential partners the characteristics of consumer goods and partners can always be “upgraded” for someone newer and better. So while choice has given us freedom, especially improving the position of women in our society, now that freedom again puts women at a disadvantage. While men still have the socio-economic power and love is still the way for women to gain a piece of this power, the disadvantage lies in the dimension of time. Men can profit from the choice their whole life long, especially if they are well situated. Women have a choice up until their early thirties. But at that point, if they want children and family, they must take the first choice that is “good enough”. Eva Illouz is currently a researcher at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin. The topic for next book is “Why love hurts.” Now that’s a perfect Valentine’s present.