Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Model Agency, Channel 4

It's been a while since the fashion industry has been represented in a thoroughly cold, calculating light on the TV but The Model Agency on Channel 4 tonight reflected the saddest aspects of it.

It was never going to be easy to portray modelling sympathetically because it's the most enraging element of fashion for most of us. Female models are usually very young and the women and girls who are chosen to be models are picked purely for their appearance. That in itself is quite shocking when taken in terms of everyday western existence because appearance may be prevalent but it's rarely the only criteria that has a bearing on our opportunities. The decisions made by the fashion industry (editors, agency bookers, designers etc) keep the perpetual cycle of young, tall, white, rake thin going and individuals usually maintain a denial of their complicity in that perpetuation of norms. That denial is possible because so many different people with different jobs are involved in giving models work that no one can claim to be responsible. Designers need specific (types of) models because they're fashionable, agents need to provide the models designers want, editors need to reflect the catwalk, sell magazines and put models into magazines that readers want to see or emulate or aspire to be.

When it comes down to bare facts a programme on a modelling agency was going to be controversial for many reasons but surprisingly my usual criticisms, the flaws that I already perceive to be verging on unforgivable, weren't the aspect of the show that grated the most. The worst thing about The Model Agency was how very childish the staff at Premier seemed to be. I suppose it's possible that a trick of editing misrepresented the bookers at the agency. It was clear that the remit of the documentary was sensational rather than mundane but quite why it was necessary for so many of the staff to reflect the behaviour of the 16 year olds that they work with was the main question left in my mind. Why was a grown adult who claimed responsibility for the well being of a teenager crying down the phone when the model had clearly had a difficult time alone abroad? Is it regarded as normal in that sector? That she was left to approach the problem in that way when she was obviously as distraught as the model and that the other staff felt it was appropriate did not reflect well on the agency or fashion in general.