Sunday, May 27, 2007

Bizarre Defense: The Fashion Industry Made Me Do It

Apparently, not only does the devil wear Prada, s/he also made Peter Braunstein, former media columnist for Women's Wear Daily, "sexually molest and terrorize" a co-worker for 13 hours. Yes, you can go "WTF?!" now.

From The NY Times, "The Devil Wears Prada Defense That Didn't Fly". See if any of this "resonates" with you. Or maybe just makes you go "what?!" (emphasis added):

Something strange happened in court during the Braunstein “fire fiend” trial. That was the moment when Anna Wintour’s name came up as someone Mr. Braunstein had fantasized about killing. It began to dawn on everyone, from spectators and reporters to, perhaps, the prosecution, that they were about to witness the first use in a high-profile criminal case of the “Devil Wears Prada” defense.

Plot twists lurking below the surface in the Braunstein story suddenly emerged full blown, propelled by the fevered writings in Mr. Braunstein’s diary and manifesto. In a written evaluation, the defense psychologist, Barbara R. Kirwin, stated that for Mr. Braunstein, the sexually charged, celebrity-driven pressure cooker of the fashion world was toxic, “the proverbial recipe for disaster.”

Was it true? Is fashion so catty, judgmental, obsessed with appearance and attitude that it can drive someone insane? Is it so poisonous that it can lead a person to commit several felonies? While the “fashion made him do it” defense ultimately failed — the jury resoundingly convicted Mr. Braunstein last week of kidnapping and sex abuse, and he faces 25 years to life in prison — some elements of his lawyers’ claims do resonate.

There is no doubt, several fashion insiders and former insiders say, that working in the industry can be brutal. “Fashion is what fashion is,” said Fraser Conlon, a former publicist for Tom Ford and Donna Karan, who now runs Amaridian, a gallery of sub-Saharan art in SoHo. “If you’re not grounded and don’t have a strong sense of yourself, sure, that could affect you.”

Mr. Braunstein, now 43, was fired from Women’s Wear Daily in 2002 for, essentially, being obnoxious to the wrong person. Before then, he had been a lowly freelancer and graduate student in pop culture; working in the newsroom of Fairchild Publications, the oracle of the fashion industry, was his dream job. He had access to celebrities, he could make magazine editors quiver through “Memo Pad,” WWD’s answer to Page Six, public relations as gossip.

But he was also a seemingly willful misfit, according to former colleagues, someone with bad clothes, bad hair and tone-deaf social etiquette, on the order of Heathcliff, Ugly Betty and, yes, Andrea Sachs, the Wintour character’s clueless assistant in “Devil,” in a world that prized all the opposite qualities.

It was not so different, perhaps, from high school, and in the end, after his dismissal, he became a monster, Stephen King’s Carrie, humiliated at the prom.

After Mr. Braunstein was fired, the psychologist said, his latent paranoid schizophrenia emerged, and he plunged off the deep end. On Halloween 2005, he impersonated a firefighter and tricked his way into the Chelsea apartment of a co-worker he barely knew, where he sexually molested and terrorized her for 13 hours.

Mr. Braunstein put Manolo Blahnik sandals on his victim, which some commentators have described as fetish-like behavior. It was not a fetish, his lawyers say — the shoes became “props” in his crusade to destroy fashion icons.

Mr. Conlon wondered why Mr. Braunstein would have been attracted to an industry that was so toxic for him, an industry dominated by strong women, which was certainly no place for a misogynistic male.

Still, he said: “I would be hard pushed to be convinced that it was the industry that drove him to do what he did. You are or you aren’t that person. I would believe some far more deeply rooted psychological trauma would make him do something like that.”

In his manifesto, Mr. Braunstein exhibited a grandiose need to justify himself by tearing down those who, unlike he, had survived the steely, exacting mistress that is the fashion world.

“O.K., you get to call me a psycho,” he wrote, “and in return, I get to tell you, irrefutably, that I’m someone who saw through and willfully renounced the inane regimen of petty satisfactions and petty grievances that you all live every day.”

Who in the fashion world would not recognize that sense of self-importance?

If the Prada fits, wear it.

I'm sorry, nothing in the above "resonates" with me, no matter how many comparisons to high school mean girl hazing the author makes. Am I supposed to feel sorry for a guy who breaks into his co-worker's apartment, kidnapping (for non-lawyers, you don't have to be "taken away" to be kidnapped, but rather unlawfully restrained for a substantial period of time) her and sexually molesting her in perverse ways? Am I supposed to believe his "fashion bitches made me do it" defense? That doesn't excuse his misogyny, much less his terrible criminal actions.

I don't know what's worse, that the Fashion section of the NYT is discussing this in such a bizarrely sympathetic manner, or the astute insight "fashion is what fashion is"--thanks! I get it now!

It's tough being a misogynist in an industry dominated by "strong women"--and I guess that "steely mistress," so unforgiving, just brings out the psychosis in some misogynists. I guess working with "strong women" made him want to exact revenge on a "weaker" one by molesting her and terrorizing her. Oh, and he could stick it to the fashion industry as a whole by humiliating her with expensive footwear. And in doing so, he renounced the inane pettiness of the fashion industry. Renunciation = rape. Yes, that makes sense.

Or maybe he just is a garden-variety psycho whose schizophrenia was triggered, as many could and do to a sudden stressful event as a job, and committed a heinous crime.

Perhaps what he and the female-dominated fashion industry share is some sense of ego--but aren't there different types of ego? The kind that believes itself superior by a certain metric, and the kind that believes itself justified in the most heinous of crimes? I'm not defending the self-absorbed and prettier-than-thou nature of the fashion industry. I'm just saying that's an entirely different type of ego, and while probably neurotic and insecure, isn't psychotic and criminal. There's a difference between disdainful indifference to the wrong types of shoes and extreme indifference to human life, dignity and the law. At least I hope so, or else there's a lot of raging psychotic rapists and killers walking on Madison Avenue.

I hate that the above article conflates such psychopathic self-righteousness with superlativeness, seemingly implying that brutal misogyny is just one step away from cliqueish mean girls/high school nature of the fashion industry.