By Anne Kingston - Wednesday, May 15, 2013 - 0 Comments
A Vancouver graphic designer wants you to judge the bottle by its label
Maclean’s tells the story of Canadian wine from coast to coast in words and pictures in Wine in Canada: A Tour of Wine Country. Look for it on newsstands now. Or download the app now. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek:
For more than a decade, Bernie Hadley-Beauregard has been rattling the fossilized cage of the Canadian wine establishment while cementing his name as the go-to guy for provocative and distinctive wine labels. His Vancouver-based consultancy, Brandever Strategy Inc., exploded on the scene, so to speak, in 2002, when Evelyn and Chris Campbell hired him to rebrand Prpich Hills, the difficult-to-pronounce Okanagan Valley winery they’d just purchased. Hadley-Beauregard had his “Eureka!” moment researching in a local museum when he came across a reference to the town’s “dynamite church,” so-called because explosives were used to loosen its nails before it was moved from another location in 1929.
Thus the Blasted Church brand was born, though not before labyrinthine regulatory hurdles gave the competition a peek at the whimsical, ecclesiastically themed labels—and a chance to tsk-tsk. “The powers-that-be forecast it was never going to happen,” Hadley-Beauregard says. “They didn’t like the name, or the aesthetics.”
By Anne Kingston - Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
Thousands of Finns and Angelina Jolie can’t be wrong about what Latin can do for you
Earlier last month the New York Times ran a feature on Finnish state radio’s weekly Nuntii Latini, or “Latin News,” an international news summary broadcast in the ancient, classical language. Tens of thousands were tuning in, many on iPads, the paper reported. As it turns out, Nuntii Latini has been on air for 24 years; its existence is not exactly breaking news. Still, the story couldn’t be more timely. Everywhere, Latin is rising from the grave: the Circulus Latinus Lutetiensis, or “Paris Latin Circle,” is one of a growing number of groups—real and online—gathering to chat in Latin at cafés and bars; Twitterati joust over usage on @latinlanguage; Ovid has his own Facebook page; and the recent season finale of HBO phenom Girls had a character announcing his plan to complete his Ph.D. in Latin studies to impress his girlfriend and show her he has a “bright future.”
It took Latin’s virtual disappearance for us to realize its relevance. Canadian high schools stopped making Latin study mandatory in the ’60s; classical education was deemed irrelevant and, worse, “Eurocentric.” Even the Catholic Church dropped Latin from official mass. Time only seemed to reinforce its irrelevance: who needs grammar, verb declension or vocabulary skills to text “r u ok?” Even august Harvard professor and psycholinguist Stephen Pinker trashed Latin in his 2007 book The Language Instinct: “Latin declensional paradigms are not the best way to convey the inherent beauty of grammar,” he wrote. He prefers computer programming and universal grammar on the grounds they are “about living minds and not dead tongues.”
But Latin’s unfamiliarity also made it exotically erudite, as displayed on celebrity tattoos: Angelina Jolie’s Quod me nutrit me distrust (“What nourishes me also destroys me”) on her stomach, Ut amem et foveam (“So that I love and cherish”) on David Beckham’s arm. Knowing Latin even conferred celebrity status: Italian reporter Giovanna Chirri became an instant star with her scoop that Pope Benedict XVI planned to retire.
By Anne Kingston - Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 1:36 PM - 0 Comments
Anne Kingston on the latest headlines around CCSVI studies
In his latest column, my colleague Colby Cosh put on his coroner’s cap, declared CCSVI “dead,” and did exactly what columnists do: stir up controversy. As evidence, he cited two recent negative CCSVI studies—here and here–and noted a study funded by the government of Newfoundland and Labrador that concluded MS patients who received venoplasty to treat chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency, a vascular condition identified in 2006 by Paolo Zamboni, experienced “no measurable benefits” and in some cases saw a worsening of symptoms.
This research is damning, no doubt. But a mortal blow it’s not. It also demands greater context within the polarized—and politicized—sea of CCSVI research. PubMed lists 136 CCSVI-related studies: the positive ones, which outnumber the negative, tend to be reported by vascular specialists in vascular journals; negative reports tend to be found in neurology journals.
Colby’s column arrives amid a rising crescendo of negative CCSVI buzz. As an indicator of how over-heated and irrational the subject has become, last week the supermarket trash tabloid Globe magazine blamed Annette Funicello’s recent death on CCSVI treatment she had two years ago, though they failed to summon any evidence. Recently, the University of Buffalo researchers who staged the first randomized, controlled clinical treatment trial (on nine patients) took the usual step of reporting its negative results on YouTube before they’d been accepted for publication. Even so, they didn’t see their results driving a stake in CCSVI’s heart: “This is not the last word on this endovascular treatment for MS,” Dr. Adnan Siddiqui said: “This is the first word.” Their work also showed benefit of venoplasty in improving cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flow in MS patients.
The 2013 study Colby referenced from the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism was produced by the same team that delivered one of the first negative CCSVI studies in the Annals of Neurology. That 2010 study elicited this letter to the editor from Zamboni who claimed the findings supported his theory that MS patients have venous flow irregularities. This new study also identifies venous flow abnormalities in people with MS: “findings on cerebral veins are also reflected by low magnetic resonance perfusion measures (cerebral venous blood flow and cerebral venous blood volume) and other measures suggesting an underutilization of oxygen in MS brain tissue.”
Detroit-based physicist Mark Haacke, an internationally respected MRI imaging pioneer who invented the imaging techniques referred to by the researchers in this new paper, waves off doomsday talk: “CCSVI is far from dead,” he says. Haacke, also affiliated with Hamilton’s McMaster University, has screened more than 2,000 MS patients with MRI (he says the operator-dependent ultrasound used in many CCSVI studies is inconsistent). “We see significant abnormalities in the 650 cases we have processed so far,” he says.
Other much-needed research is ongoing. Canadian clinical trials, announced in 2011, are finally screening potential candidates, says neurologist Anthony Traboulsee, the lead researcher. After months of bureaucratic delay, MS patients from Saskatchewan are again being sent to Albany, NY, to participate in a trial. Zamboni’s own delayed clinical trial is underway in Italy, after the sort of intrigues usually reserved for opera.
Zamboni appears unperturbed to hear his hypothesis has been declared “dead.” He’s used to media seizing on negative studies. “Every scientific paper with negative CCSVI results is invariably written by authors weighed down by conflicts of interest,” he said in an email. He noted that the Berlin editorial office of Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism is in the same department the study’s authors work. (I also noticed that in disclosures in the 2010 study, one of the authors revealed a conflict–”K.S. has received speaking honoraria from Sanofi-Aventis, Novartis, and Merck-Serono”; this time, there are no conflicts declared.) But CCSVI pathology is an accepted medical entity, he says, with the “vast majority” of PubMed research “confirmatory.”
Colby writes that CCSVI is some kind of made-in-Canada mania unleashed by CTV and Globe and Mail coverage in 2009. In fact, Zamboni presented two papers on the topic to the Royal Society of Medicine in London, the first in 2006; researchers, including those at the University of Buffalo and Stanford, saw enough merit in his theory to commence their own research; a clinic in Poland began offering CCSVI treatment. He also took Zamboni to task for being out of sync with medical orthodoxy concerning MS: “His theory of CCSVI seemed to contradict much that is known about MS, and failed to account for obvious features like the midlife age of typical onset,” he writes. But what is actually “known” about MS, an incurable, degenerative condition of uncertain cause, is inconclusive–though we do know that typical MS onset is not “midlife”: it’s typically diagnosed between ages 15 and 40.
We also know the condition is wildly heterogeneous in terms of symptoms and progression; it is also often misdiagnosed, confused with conditions with known vascular, infectious or auto-immune etiologies—lupus, Lyme disease, myasthenia gravis, central nervous system angitis, the list goes on, which could help explain why some people diagnosed with MS benefit from CCSVI treatment and others don’t.
In fact, vascular links to MS predate the French neurologist’s Jean-Martin Charcot’s naming of it in 1868; the notion that they could be a co-morbidity factor exists in medical research, unproven, throughout the 20th century, as compiled here. Yet the still unproven auto-immune theory has prevailed, fuelling neurologist-lead MS research and education since the 1930s; it’s based on an EAE mouse model that some neurologists say offers a “misleading” proxy for the condition. Even so, it’s become the foundation of a billion-dollar MS infrastructure buttressed by symptom-modifying drugs that can run upward of $50,000 per patient a year and are subsidized by governments: it’s a market forecast to reach $20 billion in 2017—up from $8.2 billion in 2009.
The economics—and politics–of MS treatment is a subject ripe for investigation, especially given concerns about drug safety and efficacy. Colby reserves his concern for the wallets of CCSVI patients: “But after years of empirical setbacks for the whole notion of CCSVI, it is all looking like money down the drain,” he writes. To put this in context, we’re talking three years–and upwards of an estimated 20,000 treatments. But he’s right that CCSVI treatment outside of a clinical setting can be an opportunistic Wild West; standards and quality vary. Zamboni himself has cautioned people to await clinical trial results. It’s also true that some people have spent tens of thousands of dollars on treatment that didn’t help and contains risks. There have been three known deaths. Post-procedure complications can occur, with Canadians facing the additional worry of being denied after-care for CCSVI treatment at home, which—shamefully–is happening.
But CCSVI treatment has also benefited many, according to anecdotal accounts and research. Some improvements have been dramatic, as seen with Barrie, Ont. resident Steve Garvie who was treated in a limited trial in Canada in 2010. For more it has provided vital symptom modifying relief, as seen with Funicello, who was diagnosed with MS in 1989 and was extremely disabled when she underwent venoplasty in 2011. According to this CTV documentary, her husband reported small improvements that contributed to her quality of life.
CCSVI remains a puzzle. But increasingly it’s clear it’s a puzzle piece–and building block in terms of sparking investigation into the woefully understudied and little-understood venous system. We’re now seeing research into venous abnormalities in other neurodegenerative disease, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, as outlined here. Haacke is now scanning Parkinson’s patients. Zamboni’s theory has also mobilized the formation of the interdisciplinary International Society of Neurovascular Disease which has planned its fourth annual meeting next year. Venoplasty studies have begun to identify grey matter (rather than white matter lesions) as an important marker of brain health in MS patients. So, as Zamboni jokingly puts it: “Who is really dead?” The question is rhetorical.
By Bookmarked and Anne Kingston - Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 9:10 AM - 0 Comments
Lonely, single female teachers who yearn for emotional connection are fixtures in fiction—from Muriel Sparks’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to Zoë Heller’s Notes on a Scandal. To that list we can now add Nora Eldridge, the 42-year-old narrator and protagonist of Claire Messud’s compelling new cerebral melodrama.
Nora, who is 37 when the story begins, teaches third grade in Cambridge, Mass. She’s a self-described “good girl,” a reliable, invisible “woman upstairs” who lives alone and takes pride in never inconveniencing anyone. With middle-age encroaching, however, Nora is a cauldron of rage and self-loathing for always sublimating her needs and artistic aspirations to those of others—foremost, her sick mother whose death meant no one in the world “loved her the most.” Her greatest sense of betrayal, however, stems from her doomed relationship with the cosmopolitan Shahid family newly arrived from Paris: her student, Reza; his mother, the Italian-born installation artist Sirena; and his father, Skandar, a prominent academic now visiting Harvard.
Besotted by the bunch of them, the childless Nora ingratiates herself into the household—babysitting Reza, sharing a studio with Sirena and striking up a friendship with Skandar. Mistaking kindness for intimacy, she constructs a rich, line-crossing fantasy life in which they offer her escape: “I wanted a full and independent engagement with each of them, unrelated to the others,” she recounts. “I needed their family-ness.” It’s not a spoiler to say Nora’s needs aren’t met.
Messud is a sharp, nuanced storyteller, able to compel the reader even when the narrative bogs down. Comparisons to Ibsen’s A Doll House are also heavy-handed—from Nora’s name to her doll-house-size dioramas depicting rooms of famous women artists. Still, Messud’s Nora is an original—a caustic vessel for exploring obsession, dependence, loneliness and creative expression. And while the novel’s resolution is a long time coming, it packs a quiet, shocking, but satisfying wallop.
By Bookmarked and Anne Kingston - Monday, April 29, 2013 at 9:40 AM - 0 Comments
Paula Daly gets the action moving on the first page with a creepy man watching young girls on their way home from school. You just know nothing good will come of this. This taut page-turner of a novel, set in England’s fabled Lake District, home to twee villages, Beatrix Potter bunnies, and dreamy Wordsworth poetry, torques every parent’s nightmare.Everyone’s attention is suddenly diverted from their Kendal Mint Cakes when Lisa, harried working mother of three, messes up big time: her chaotic life screeches to a heart-thumping halt when a child—not hers, but her best friend’s—disappears on her watch. Oh, and there’s a serial rapist on the loose.
Lisa makes a bit of a hash trying to set things right, enduring public humiliations and private recriminations. None of us want to be in her Wellies, and while we can’t resist the itch on the brain that asks, “What sort of a bonehead loses someone else’s child?”— deep inside we know perfectly well that we could all be that sort of bonehead.
Daly has a gift for realistic, snappy dialogue, She shifts the action between a series of well-drawn female protagonists and moves the narrative from first-person to third-person to keep the reader slightly off balance. Gradually, the veneer of perfection and capability that underlines this tale gets destroyed by an infestation of lies.
This story is as much about cornering a criminal as it is about aiming a light on the human knack for acquiring martyr complexes, an affliction that sticks to all the characters in varying degrees. During the course of her bumbling attempts at finding missing Lucinda, Lisa uncovers something far more pernicious, something you don’t see coming. As one character admits, “We all want everyone to think our family’s perfect, that we got it right.” To what length would any of us go to to prove that?
Visit the Maclean’s Bookmarked blog for news and reviews on all things literary
By Anne Kingston - Sunday, April 21, 2013 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
How the Buddhist tradition has been marshalled to grow profits and productivity
When Janice Marturano conducted the “mindful leadership experience” workshop last January at the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland, she was hoping for an audience of 20—at most. “I was prepared for one or two,” the founder and executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Mindful Leadership admits. She needn’t have worried. There was a lineup; people were even turned away. More than 70 of the world’s most influential people crammed into the room, many standing for 90 minutes to learn “techniques for developing focus, clarity and compassion.” The next morning, Marturano led a meditation—a Davos first—that drew 40 people, two-thirds of whom had never meditated before.
The spectre of masters of the universe chanting Om at Davos serves as only one measure of how “mindfulness” has become the new Western mantra. The technique, linked to Buddhist practice, teaches being present in the moment, always attentive to, and accepting one’s thoughts and responses, without judgment. In a 1977 study, mindfulness pioneer Jack Kornfeld presented the approach as a remedy to Western excesses, or “the egoistic, hedonic treadmill of continually avoiding discomfort and seeking pleasure from outside sources that are ultimately unsatisfying and short-lived.”
Mindfulness entered the medical mainstream in the 1980s as a clinically proven method for alleviating chronic pain and stress. Since then, it has metastasized into an omnibus panacea—to help children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder concentrate, soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder recover and, now, Fortune 500 executives compete. In Paul Harrison’s upcoming documentary, The Mindfulness Movie, psychologist Guy Claxton frames the benefits in mercantile terms: “At the most basic level, mindfulness enables you to get value for money out of life,” he says.
By Anne Kingston - Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
Class-action suit puts a spotlight on the rising use of SSRIs among expectant mothers
Last December, the Supreme Court of British Columbia set a bold precedent: it green-lit the first class action suit in Canada alleging that an antidepressant taken by a woman during pregnancy caused a birth defect in her child. Faith Gibson of Surrey, B.C., named “representative plaintiff,” had been prescribed Paxil, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), in December 2002. Her daughter, Meah Bartram, was born in September 2005 with a hole in her heart. The defect was repaired months later, but Meah remains a “sickly” child, prone to infection. Two weeks after her birth, Health Canada and Paxil’s manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline Inc. (GSK), issued an advisory stating that paroxetine (Paxil’s generic name) taken in the first trimester may pose “an increased risk” of cardiovascular defects.
Gibson’s lawyers allege GSK knew or should have known about the risks and that it failed to apprise Gibson or her physicians. Gibson had asked her doctor if she should go off the drug during pregnancy; she was told it was “100 per cent safe.” More than two dozen women have applied to be screened for class membership since December, says Vancouver lawyer David Rosenberg, who is representing Gibson.
GSK has appealed the decision to register the case as a class action; it contends it acted appropriately in its clinical trials, as well as in the safety monitoring and marketing of Paxil, updating pregnancy information as data became available, spokeswoman Michelle Smolenaars Hunter told Maclean’s.
By Bookmarked and Anne Kingston - Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Admitting that you’re a new mother who spent the first year of your son’s life getting so plastered you routinely blacked out, tended to him while fairly out of it, and wheeled him through a snowstorm while lost is both brave and reckless in a culture that chastizes pregnant women for even glancing at a glass of wine. True, maternal tippling is a trendy topic on “mom” blogs like Mommy Needs A Cocktail and Vodka Mom. But these chirpy, jokey accounts don’t touch the dark spiral of addiction Toronto writer Jowita Bydlowska relives in this riveting account of her relapse into alcoholism after her son’s birth.
Bydlowska is an evocative, talented and gutsy writer who appears willing to confess all—googling how long it takes cocaine to pass through breast milk, putting her fist in her mouth to mask the sound of vomit, waking in a hotel room alone, not remembering how she got undressed. The former fashionable party girl details the grip of her addiction—“the wanting that was bigger than me”—while tempering out-of-control behaviour with paeans to motherhood: the cosmic joy of her son’s first smile, her agony of knowing, in her lucid moments, that she’s failing him.
Addictions, and the damage they cause, are messy, resistant to pat narratives. So it is here. Details of Bydlowska’s relationship with her partner are blurry, and a chapter blaming family “dysfunction” feels tacked on. She writes from newly won sobriety, rehabs and relapses behind her, one hopes, though drinking is clearly part of her self-definition. “Alcoholism isn’t something you can slow down or ever unlearn,” she writes.
Bydlowska is also careful to sidestep some of the inevitable censure she’ll receive: she drank only twice during pregnancy, she writes. Still, this memoir is destined to garner debate. Bydlowska writes of watching other upscale stroller-pushing moms and wondering: do they hide mickeys in their diaper bags too? With this bracing book, others will now be asking that question as well.
By Anne Kingston - Monday, April 15, 2013 at 10:40 AM - 0 Comments
The prospect of a for-profit plasma enterprise tests the Canadian system
On March 11, federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq took to Twitter to issue her first public response to media reports that a private company, Canadian Plasma Resources, had applied to Health Canada for a licence to collect plasma on a pay-for-donation basis. The company appeared confident it would be granted. It had two street-front locations set to open in Toronto, one beside a homeless shelter, and another under construction in Hamilton. Its website, giveplasma.ca, boasted of being “the premier plasma donation location in Toronto.”
Aglukkaq’s first tweet paid homage to the status quo: “Canada has one of the safest blood systems in the world, and I want to help keep it that way.” Her second suggested change was afoot: “I’ve instructed Health Canada to seek the views of people who are interested in the issue of companies purchasing blood plasma.” It also extended an olive branch to Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews, who only hours earlier had sent her federal counterpart an open letter expressing concern over “the issue of paid donors” and its effect on Canada’s voluntary blood-donation system. She asked the federal government, which regulates blood products collected in Canada, to “refrain from granting approval of any new paid-donor or plasma clinics until there has been an opening consultation with provincial health regulators, care providers, Canadian Blood Services and Canadians.” Matthews indicated that the province, which licenses and regulates medical labs and specimen-collection centres, wasn’t about to green-light the clinics without more consultation.
Days later, in another conciliatory bid, Health Canada convened a closed-door meeting for early April in Toronto, bringing together “stakeholders” in the matter: provincial and territorial governments, Canadian Blood Services, patient groups and the Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association, representing the plasma industry. A press conference originally scheduled to follow the meeting was cancelled; no information on what was discussed, or agreed upon, has been released. The topic, payment for plasma, is divisive: Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne has said his province doesn’t support paying for blood; it’s a non-issue in Quebec, where blood donors cannot be compensated by law.
By Anne Kingston - Monday, April 8, 2013 at 6:32 PM - 0 Comments
Margaret Thatcher had no time for Betty Friedan or Gloria Steinem, but she offered a version of what female power might look like
Baroness Margaret Thatcher didn’t mince words when expressing her opinion of modern feminism: “I hate feminism. It is a poison,” she once said, according to her adviser Paul Johnson. Many avowed feminists felt the same way about Britain’s first female prime minister, reflected here and here. So there’s no small irony that the hot topic the day of Thatcher’s death is whether or not she should be remembered as a “feminist icon.” It’s like wondering if the outspoken atheist Ricky Gervais should one day be remembered as a “theology icon.”
Thatcher routinely denigrated a movement that no doubt contributed to her moving to 10 Downing Street in 1979. “I owe nothing to Women’s Lib,” the lawyer first elected as an MP in 1959 once said. As she saw it, the fight for equality was over: “The battle for women’s rights has been largely won,” she proclaimed. And from her privileged perch, as the first leader of a major Western democracy, she likely believed it true. But there’s also little doubt her rebuttal of ”feminism” wasn’t of its underlying tenet of male-female equality but rather to the baggage it had acquired–of being anti-men, of exhibiting dogmatic gender bias–within her own political circles.
By Anne Kingston - Friday, March 22, 2013 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
Lessons from Bed, Bath & Beyond’s ‘towel-gate’
Recently, Neatorama, a popular blog, caused a big stir when it published a photograph taken at housewares emporium Bed Bath & Beyond. The snapshot was hardly scandalous: it revealed that the rows and rows of colourful towels stacked to the ceiling that greet shoppers in the chain’s stores are in fact a mirage—they’re actually a handful of towels draped over undulating foam-rubber backing to appear like stacks of towels.
On one level, it was all a big joke—“Towel-gate,” as Daily Beast dubbed it. Yet the faux outrage was clearly animated by something else—surprise, even betrayal. It was as if the picture offered evidence that maybe the retail abundance North American consumers take as a birthright—overwhelming displays and continually replenished inventories—may itself be backed with foam.
The consumer of the early 21st century can be forgiven for believing that retail resources are infinite. Just look around: T-shirts piled high at Old Navy, walls of toothpaste at Shoppers Drug Mart, ever-fresh shipments at H&M, tables laden with polyester tools of seduction at Victoria’s Secret. Shoppers expect plentiful, ever-changing display, says Joe Mimran, the founder and creative director of Canada’s top budget brand, Joe Fresh (and, before that, Club Monaco): “Basic Retail 101 is all about density,” he says. “Our visual team is constantly reworking the displays to showcase the new product that arrives each week.”
Retail anthropologist Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, is bemused by the reaction to Bed Bath & Beyond’s ability to make four towels look like 24. “Retailers have been doing this for years,” he says. “I think it is curious that the shopper hasn’t realized the degree to which it is all theatrical.”
A sense of plenty triggers optimism and positive emotion in shoppers, which makes them buy, says psychologist Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory at Pennsylvania’s Swarthmore College. The perception of scarcity, on the other hand—stores where the shelves look as if they’ve been decimated by zombies—engenders a defensive, preservation mode that encourages hunkering down, not heading to Zara. “It feels better to go into a store that has 12 rows of Coke rather than one with four rows and eight empty rows on the shelf,” Schwartz says. But it’s not just the benefit of fullness versus emptiness; it’s many versus few: if you see 12 rows of Coke rather than a modest display of one row, you’re simply more likely to buy a Coke.
Plentiful display telegraphs tacit permission, says Steve Hall, a Dallas retail display consultant who started his career at Gap Inc. “When there’s a lot of something, it’s easier to take one,” he says. Underhill agrees: “It suggests you’re free to take as many as you want—or more than you need,” he says. It also benefits retailers who have less back-room storage space than they used to: “In a typical Sears Canada of 1960, maybe 30 per cent of space was storage; today it’s 10 per cent,” says Underhill.
Abundant merchandising is about selling the forest, not the tree: it’s not just the 50 turtlenecks, but a sweeping variety of colours that also distracts shoppers from the quality of one product. Colour and lighting are crucial, Mimran says: “We look for colours to pop in an impactful way.” There’s a reason the Bed Bath & Beyond model is the norm, Mimram points out: “You can take a very basic item and when you see it repeated through the kaleidoscope of colour, you get transfixed; it’s elevated.” Colour also prevents “repetition blindness,” says A.K. Pradeep, author of The Buying Brain: Secrets for Selling to the Subconscious Mind, to describe what happens to shoppers’ brains when they’re faced with too much of the same thing. “Too many of the same thing isn’t seen as abundance, it’s a Xerox,” Pradeep says. And that’s a turn-off for shoppers.
It’s no accident that the rise of department stores in the 19th century, which banished the shopkeeper as sentry for goods hidden behind the counter or in the back, came at a time when shortage and scarcity were threats to large portions of the population. France’s Le Bon Marché and America’s Macy’s transfixed shoppers with excessive displays intended to convey a sense of luxury. With seemingly endless supplies of goods, the first department stores served as cultural pacifiers, creating a symbolic meaning of surplus and comfort. Today mass chains, along with online shopping, provide the same effect. The true “palace of LIES!” sham isn’t that retail resources are more finite than they seem: it’s that consumer resources are, too—with the schism between rich and poor widening, and the “99 per cent” seeking relief at Costco. The result? Average consumer debt in Canada now stands at a record high of $27,485 (not including mortgage debt) per adult, according to credit-monitoring firm TransUnion.
As in the 19th century, goods displayed in volume encourage shoppers not only to spend more, but to want more, and they do so by creating imbalance, says Hall. “Nature abhors a vacuum, so the shopper becomes the vacuum. You almost feel obliged to take one.” Crowded floors trigger another reaction: the expectation of aggressive discounting—and getting a bargain, says Underhill. It’s a format that appeals particularly to women, he says, citing research that shows women view shopping as “treasure hunting.” “When there are more things on the floor, there are more things to sort through.”
A perfect exemplar of abundance merchandising is retail’s current darling, Uniqlo, the $12-billion, Japan-based, 846-store chain named 2010 International Retailer of the Year by the U.S. National Retail Federation. Walking into their vast stores (which have yet to come to Canada, though rumours are flying) is like entering an ecosystem calculated to elicit consumer vertigo—and fuel the adrenalin of want: interiors are wallpapered with thousands of items stacked floor to ceiling and arranged in a stunning array of hues. (As at Bed Bath & Beyond, sleight of hand is involved: when Uniqlo managers noticed that the towers of jeans sagged at the top, cardboard-backed “dummy jeans” were inserted on the highest rows.) The vast range of colour masks the fact that the actual selection is limited: one polo shirt, for instance, comes in 80 colours.
Abundance shouldn’t be confused with actual choice, says Schwartz, whose 2005 book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, argues that the greater number of decisions foisted on consumers doesn’t mean more options and can even lead to unhappiness. “Abundance means you walk into a store and the shelves are piled high; they don’t have to be piled high with different things,” he says. Ultimately, most choices on the consumer level are trivial—picking mint versus cinnamon toothpaste. Yet the time spent deciding imbues them with import, he says: “What ought to be a five-second process becomes a five-minute process.”
The dynamic is intensified by the abundance-scarcity paradox most evident in “fast-fashion” chains, says Underhill: inventories are replenished once, sometimes twice a week. Consumers follow that lead: the average Zara customer, a survey found, doesn’t expect to wear what she buys more than about 10 times. And though stock may be plentiful, the quick inventory turnover can prompt an “if I don’t buy it now, it will be gone” anxiety, which propels purchasing.
Scarcity fear offers a perfect foil to the ethos of abundance, which is why retailers stoke it with flash sales, pop-up stores and limited-edition designer collections, such as Crate & Barrel’s recent designer teapot promotion or H&M partnering with the high-end Italian brand Marni. It’s the ideal marriage of the abundance of mass retail with the ethos cultivated by Hermès and other high-end shrines, which showcase select products with museum-like reverence in a setting designed to draw attention to craftsmanship, status and exclusivity.
Online shopping extends the abundance-scarcity paradox ad infinitum with sites such as the OutNet and One Kings Lane, filled with high-end goods selling at deep discount (think Winners on the Internet). Yet consumers are oblivious to many of these manipulations, says Underhill, as reflected in the flap over simulated towel displays: “I think, if there’s one thing that characterizes 21st-century shoppers, it’s how naive they really are.”
By Anne Kingston - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 8:30 AM - 0 Comments
A look at the new psychiatric guidelines that are pitting doctors against doctors
Every parent of a preteen has been there: on the receiving end of sullen responses, bursts of frustration or anger, even public tantrums that summon the fear that Children’s Aid is on its way. Come late May, with the publication of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), however, such sustained cranky behaviour could put your child at risk of a diagnosis of “disruptive mood dysregulation disorder.” This newly minted condition will afflict children between 6 and 12 who exhibit persistent irritability and “frequent” outbursts, defined as three or more times a week for more than a year. Its original name, “temper dysregulation disorder with dysphoria,” was nixed after it garnered criticism it pathologized “temper tantrums,” a normal childhood occurrence. Others argue that even with the name change the new definition and diagnosis could do just that.
“Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder” isn’t the only new condition under scrutiny in the reference manual owned and produced by the American Psychiatric Association (APA)—and lauded as psychiatry’s bible. Even though the final version of DSM-5 remains under embargo, its message is being decried in some quarters as blasphemous. Its various public drafts, the third published last year, have stoked international outrage—and a flurry of op-ed columns, studies, blogs and petitions. In October 2011, for instance, the Society for Humanistic Psychology drafted an open letter to the DSM task force that morphed into an online petition signed by more than 14,000 mental health professionals and 50 organizations, including the American Counseling Association and the British Psychology Society.
Of fundamental concern is a loosening and broadening of categories to the point that everyone potentially stands on the brink of some mental-disorder diagnosis, or sits on some spectrum—a phenomenon the American psychologist Frank Farley has called “the sickening of society.” One change summoning criticism is DSM-5’s reframing of grief, that inescapable fact of life, by removing the “bereavement exclusion” for people who’ve experienced loss. Previously, anyone despairing the death of a loved one wasn’t considered a candidate for “major depression” unless their despondency persisted for more than two months or was accompanied by severe functional impairment, thoughts of suicide or psychotic symptoms. No longer.
By Anne Kingston - Friday, March 8, 2013 at 8:27 PM - 0 Comments
Anne Kingston considers how the kangaroo court of social media has diminished the seriousness of the allegations
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been publicly accused of many of the Seven Deadly Sins, but until last night Lust never figured among them. That’s when Sarah Thompson, publisher of Women’s Post and former mayoral candidate in the 2010 election, took to social media to accuse Ford of unwelcome come-ons and then sexually assaulting her at a public event. In a Facebook post, Thomson intimated Ford grabbed her behind while a photo was being taken, one that shows her smiling broadly and the mayor looking totally out of it. (Making the media rounds today here, here, and here, Thomson was more explicit, saying the mayor “grabbed my ass.”) In a statement, Ford blasted the allegations as “completely false.” He called Thomson a liar who put a damper on International Women’s Day: “What is more surprising is that a woman who has aspired to be a civic leader would cry wolf on a day where we should be celebrating women across the globe.”
Now we’re mired in the he said-she dynamic said that often underlines accusations of sexual assault, a fluid term under the Criminal Code that includes everything from unwanted touching to rape. The sort of “touchy-feely” assault Thomson accused Ford of is a fact of life for many women (and men), so routine it’s brushed off, not regarded as the criminal offence it is. (Tellingly, by noon, the controversy was jokingly dismissed as “Assgrabgate.”) Thomson says she has no plans to press charges; she just wants an apology from Ford and to “move on.” She believes using the kangaroo court of social media to air her allegations is adequate remedy: ”If I sweep under the carpet, I’m not doing what I should as a woman leader in Toronto,” she said.
Thomson’s utterances over the day revealed the spectrum of contradictory attitudes about sexual assault. On one hand, she seems sympathetic to Ford, noting he already “had enough lawsuits” (maybe she was worried hers would get lost in the pile). She explained she also didn’t want to lay charges because, as the chair of the Transit Alliance, she has “to work with him” (her venting on Facebook and today’s media whirlwind might also put a crimp in that). She acknowledged the behaviour was out of character, noting Ford was always “a professional” and “very courteous.” She even attempted to diagnose the problem, suggesting “he may have substance abuse issues,” a comment she rescinded. Her first instinct was to counter his alleged assault with one of her own, she wrote on Facebook: “I wanted to punch him in the face.” She even downplayed the import of the grab: “I know I shouldn’t be pissed but after spending 10 months on the campaign trail together you expect a little bit of respect at the very least for my husband.”
But if Thomson’s allegation is true, she should be “pissed”–for herself and the community. Sexual assault is serious. Accusing someone of sexual assault is serious. It’s also a continuum, a point made clear during the global “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more” backlash against sexual assault seen on International Women’s Day. Today we paid homage to Jyoti Sigghn Pandey, the woman whose brutal rape and murder in India exposed systemic acceptance of heinous attacks on women. On CBC’s The Current this week, journalist Sally Armstrong, who covered female subjugation the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa long before it was on mainstream media radar, discussed the rise-up movements women are staging in Afghanistan and Egypt, drawing attention to sexual assault in the streets. And we also saw media coverage of Ellie Cosgrove, a British woman who staged a protest in the London Underground to draw attention to the creep who ejaculated on her leg when she was riding the subway.
Comparatively, laying charges against someone groping a female behind may seem inconsequential, making a mountain out of a molehill and a waste of dwindling public resources. But that’s the wrong way of looking at it, says Toronto criminal lawyer Susan Chapman. Sexual assault is not a private matter, she says: “It’s a crime against the community. It’s demeaning to a woman, undermining her autonomy and the respect she should be held in. We don’t pay enough attention to that. Women don’t need to put up with that crap in 2013.” Changes were made to the criminal code in 1993, Chapman points out, to take out the notion that “penetration” is the only way to interfere with someone’s sexual integrity.
Chapman would like to see Thomson take her complaint to police. “This is not some crazy on the subway who grabbed your ass,” she says of the allegation. But laying charges can be a no-win for women, she admits: “They get a rough ride. If you lay charges, you’re a bitch and you have to do testify at trial and you get ripped apart. Or you go light on the guy and give him a warning and then people say you should commit to it.” But charges don’t have to be laid for police to investigate, Chapman says. Whether police should proceed to criminal charges is another matter: “They have to take into serious account the view of the plaintiff. She does pay an awful price to go through the process. But that’s not a reason not to investigate.” The fact a crime is common is a reason for the police to prosecute, Chapman says, as seen with crackdowns on impaired driving or cabbie robberies.
Thomson wants to believe “publicly talking about it will change the way people behave.” Chapman thinks that’s optimistic, and the partisan mob mobilizing seen today suggests she’s right: ”To do it on social media diminishes the significance,” she says. ”It’s going to get people talking. But is it going to persuade them of the impropriety of the conduct? Not necessarily.”
By Anne Kingston - Saturday, February 23, 2013 at 11:22 PM - 0 Comments
Anne Kingston on the disconnect between hero and headlines
Celebrity logic—that distorted rationale that applies to the rich and famous— was on full display Friday when South African magistrate Desmond Nair ruled Oscar Pistorius, charged with premeditated murder, had not been proven to be a flight risk or to have a “propensity for violence” as he released the star athlete on bail of one-million rand ($110,079). Apparently the fact Pistorius fired four bullets into a bathroom door without warning and with intent to kill—be it an intruder (his version) or the model Reeva Steenkamp (the prosecution’s version)—doesn’t count as a “propensity for violence” or any sort of public threat.
Such is Pistorius’s blinding celebrity wattage that his history of alleged threatening, reckless behaviour rhymed off at the hearing didn’t sway the judge either. But, then again, why would it? None ever amounted to more than allegations. In September 2009, Pistorius spent a night in custody being charged with assaulting 19-year-old Cassidy Taylor-Memory during a party at his house; he was accused of slamming a door on her, charges dropped due to lack of evidence. Last November he was accused of threatening to assault a man in an altercation about a woman at a racetrack, and told another man that he would “break his legs.” Pistorius has a record of public gunplay as well: In January, he accidentally discharged a gun in a Johannesburg restaurant, then asked its owner, a friend, to take responsibility for the incident. More recently, he applied to increase his own gun arsenal by six, presumably to protect himself against the country’s infamous gun culture. A glowing 2012 New York Times profile, that referred to Pistorius as “risk-taking” and “a little bit crazy,” quotes him saying he goes to the gun range when he can’t sleep.
Reports from the night of Steenkamp’s Valentine’s murder also have violent undertones, though again nothing has been proven. Neighbours allege they saw lights and heard fighting in the house, accounts disputed by the defence. The morning after the shooting, police spokeswoman Denise Beukes revealed there had “previously been incidents at the home of Mr. Pistorius—allegations of a domestic nature.” “Domestic” problems, clearly, aren’t a “public” threat. Beukes added the national hero would get “no special treatment whatever,” notwithstanding presumably the international press conference she was currently holding.
But claims that Pistorius’s vaunted status conferred special treatment are long-standing. In 2009, after he crashed his speedboat on the Vaal River, sustaining serious head injuries, the police investigated possible reckless and negligent behaviour on his part but decided not to prosecute. The Afrikaans-language newspaper Beeld reported police found empty bottles of alcohol on the boat, but didn’t test Pistorius for alcohol use. Shortly after, Pistorius stopped press photographers from taking pictures of a car accident in which a friend knocked over a pedestrian who died on the scene. Asked why they couldn’t, the athlete answered, “Because I am Oscar Pistorius,” according to Beeld. Now questions have been raised about how Pistorius obtained a 2010 licence for the very handgun that killed Steenkamp, given his history with the law.
The answer is simple: He is Oscar Pistorius, an athlete who occupies a different plane in the public imagination than other revered sports icons—more than Lance Armstrong, more than Tiger Woods, more than OJ. He’s the Blade Runner, an supra-human character who awed and inspired—and replaced the pejorative “disabled” with “differently abled” when he participated in the Olympics medal in 2011. Thus the cognitive dissonance now, seen in this recent headlines this one, which refers to Pistorius as a former “seemingly perfect hero,” despite years of contradictory evidence.
That includes Pistorius’s famously bad behaviour after placing second to Brazilian Alan Fonteles Cardoso Oliveira in the T44 200m final at the 2012 London Paralympics, where he also won gold. He lashed out publicly, claiming Oliverira’s blades were too long and he’d cheated. At first, the IPC threatened to punish Pistorius. Then, after he apologized, they rewarded him by putting him on the shortlist for the Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award as a competitor ”who is fair, honest and is uncompromising in his or her values and prioritizes the promotion of the Paralympic Movement above personal recognition.” When a journalist questioned the IPC communications director about Pistorius’s being included, he was told: “Oscar had done so much for the Paralympic Movement in the build-up to these Games that he deserved to be there.” In other words, nobody wants actual behaviour to interfere with the legend.
Now that’s going to be tricky. Even judge Nair acknowledged major inconsistencies in the defence’s statement, a document Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson rightly refers to as having “more holes than a colander.” (The big questions: Why did Steenkamp lock the bathroom door in middle of the night? Why didn’t Pistorius account or listen for her?) Pearson points out Pistorius’s first call was not to get help for a woman he claimed to “deeply love,” but to his spin doctor, Stuart Higgins, a well-known “crisis communications” expert. His influence is evident on Pistorius’s revamped website, which presents the athlete and his family suffering foremost from Steenkamp’s death.
All will be on full display at the June ”Oscar Pistorius murder trial,” a media descriptor that suggests he, and not Reeva Steenkamp, is the victim. Likewise “The Blade” and “The Blonde” narrative embraced by the press reframes the tragedy as a grotesque Disney cartoon: it dehumanizes Steenkamp while burnishing Pistorius’s legend. It’s language you’d expect from the New York Post with its “Blade Slays Blonde” headline and cover photo of Steenkamp in a bikini. But, as Leigh Ann Renzulli observes, even respected news sources like Washington Post referred to Steenkamp as “a leggy blonde” after her death. More troubling is its descriptor of the murdered woman: “While known for her bikini-clad, vamping photo spreads, she tweeted messages urging women to stand up against rape.” The sentence speaks volumes about entrenched attitudes: it’s noteworthy that a woman who dresses provocatively would object to sexual assault. The Reeva Steenkamp murder case may have put the lens on South Africa as misogyny ground zero, but its coverage indicates no one is exempt. Whether that includes the beloved celebrity who killed her remains to be seen.
By Anne Kingston - Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 7:00 PM - 0 Comments
A vital player in the new Hollywood hype machine, Lui is building an empire out of ‘smut’
On Feb. 24, the day the entertainment complex gathers for the lucrative popularity contest known as the Academy Awards, Elaine Lui will wake in her Los Angeles hotel room before 6 a.m. For Lui, who produces Canada’s pre-eminent celebrity gossip website, laineygossip.com, this is a big game day or, as she puts it, “the Super Bowl of gossip.” As an on-air correspondent for CTV’s eTalk, Lui is also part of the spectacle, providing red carpet play-by-play. She’ll then hoof it backstage to the press room to blog to her fellow “smuthounds” and tweet to her 66,615 followers. One year, she shared a tale of how Sean Penn blew cigarette smoke in her face.
Once the broadcast wraps, Lui’s real work begins: she returns to her hotel, where she and TV writer Duana Taha, a laineygossip.com contributor, will spend the next 12 hours posting—“best” and “worst” fashion, big moments, bad behaviour—with the mix of opinionated snark and fan-girl gush for which the site is known. Lui produces between 2,000 and 4,500 words a day, five days a week, on everything from Tilda Swinton’s bad-ass style to Lindsay Lohan’s bad behaviour. On Oscar night, they churn out more than 10,000 words. “We want posts ready for readers in the U.K. when they wake,” says Lui, sitting in a Toronto hotel bar in February. “Readers expect it.”
Such devotion and hard work explains, in part, how the 39-year-old Vancouver resident has carved out a niche in the crowded celebrity-gossip sphere—a gridlock that spans Yahoo’s OMG! with 28.5 million visitors a month to conglomerates such as Disney, which use subsidiaries such as ABC to plug its movies. (Similar synergies have helped Lui: when she broke the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes split last year, the Globe and Mail, which shares a corporate parent with eTalk, covered the breakup and interviewed her about the scoop.) Over the last three months, laineygossip.com had five million visits and more than 20 million page views, but her influence is even more significant. Google “celebrity gossip” and 64 million results pop up: laineygossip.com is No. 5.
By Anne Kingston - Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 7:00 PM - 0 Comments
The Japanese dish’s alchemy of humble ingredients is only beginning its culinary ascent
In December, the first issue of Lucky Peach, a quarterly food journal produced by Momofuku mogul and chef-of-the-moment David Chang, sold on eBay for $162.50 to $152.50 more than its newsstand price in June 2011. Crazy? Not to anyone up on food trends: the issue is devoted to ramen, the Japanese broth-noodle combo once best known as a mainstay for starving students. But that was before forces—cultural, economic, primal—transformed it into the new cosmic chicken soup for the soul, metaphorically and culinarily speaking.
We’re currently in the grip of ramen mania, as illustrated by thousands of Instagrams of wheat noodles in glistening hot broth topped with sliced pork, mushrooms, egg, corn, seaweed, green onion, pickled bamboo shoots—you name it. The dish’s Vancouver toehold has increased and migrated east, with shops opening up in Toronto and beyond, seemingly with the frequency of Starbucks. Chatter on Chowhound message boards has turned to critiques of tare, the seasoned sauce that defines ramen type: miso, fermented bean paste; shoyu, soy-sauce based; shio, salty seafood and seaweed essence; and tonkotsu, creamy pork-bone broth. Studying ramen-making in Japan has become a chef’s bragging right, the way training at former molecular cuisine mecca El Bulli used to be.
Ivan Orkin, a New York chef turned ramen celebrity in Japan, sees the trend only beginning in North America. The self-described “Japanophile” moved to Tokyo in 2003 amid a ramen renaissance. His two Ivan Ramen shops, which offer a “Mexican” and a “BLT” ramen, were big hits; he also gained fame selling high-end instant ramen. Orkin is about to open his first U.S. outpost in Manhattan’s Lower East Side this spring. He’s publishing a book in the fall.
By Anne Kingston - Friday, February 15, 2013 at 12:40 PM - 0 Comments
Older moms get the blame for genetic defects in offspring. Turns out aging dads may be an even bigger problem.
Recent news that artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel was having a baby with his fiancée, 30-year-old assistant gallery director and Victoria’s Secret model May Anderson, was met with the rolled-eyed indulgence that typically greets April-November procreation among the rich and famous—an orbit in which men siring children in their 50s, 60s and even 70s is a badge of virility, even a bragging point. Schnabel joins a long list that includes Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump, Woody Allen, Charlie Chaplin, Tony Randall and, of course, Pierre Trudeau, who fathered a daughter when he was 72.
The high-proﬁle parade perpetuates entrenched thinking about the male-female reproduction divide: that women’s shelf life expires with menopause in her mid-40s, give or take a few years, while men’s constantly replenishing sperm allows them to procreate with impunity until the day they die (albeit with a boost from Viagra). It’s a biological double standard that has underlined cultural definitions of sexual—and social—viability for centuries.
But it’s also part fiction, according to a mounting body of scientific research that suggests sperm too has a best-before date. Increasingly we’re learning that the older the father, the higher the rate of infertility. And his children seem to have lower birth weights, some cancers, autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, Down syndrome and bipolar disease. Maternal age, a topic of ceaseless debate and directives hurled at women, is, it turns out, only one part of the story.
By Anne Kingston - Friday, February 15, 2013 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
A riveting portrait of an artist as a young — and old — woman
Maclean’s presents part three in a series with the five Charles Taylor Prize nominees. The prize for literary non-fiction, which recognizes excellence in Canadian non-fiction writing, will award $25,000 to the winning author on March 4.
- Join Maclean’s and the five finalists Feb. 27 for a panel discussion at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto.
When the respected scholar, author and critic Sandra Djwa embarked on Journey With No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page more than a decade ago, she had no inkling of how challenging or far-flung the expedition would be. It’s the first biography of the charismatic, convention-defying female poet and painter who inspired a generation of writers, including Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje and Alice Munro. The St. John’s, Nfld. native, whose prior studies of CanLit include acclaimed biographies of Roy Daniells and F.R. Scott, calls it “the most difficult book I’ve ever written.”
By Bookmarked and Anne Kingston - Friday, February 1, 2013 at 11:30 AM - 0 Comments
This is all you need to know: two Dutch couples—two brothers and their wives—go out for dinner at a swank Amsterdam restaurant that serves dishes like crayﬁsh with “chanterelles from the Vosges” while staff scrape and bow in the direction of one of the brothers, Serge, a prominent politician. Table talk begins with civil banalities about work and movies before moving, with the stealth of a SS-N-25 Onyx missile, to the real reason for the gathering: how the in-laws are going to deal with an incident implicating their two 15-year-old sons.
To reveal more of Herman Koch’s riveting, unforeseeable plot would rob readers of the chilling pleasure of watching the lives of his privileged, flawed characters unfurl and then detonate. What can safely be said, however, is that the novel’s narrator—the complex, resentful brother Paul—introduces a new spin on the unreliable narrator trope: Paul, a teacher on “non-active” leave, is pure, unmedicated id as he exposes brutal truths about family, social failure, casual violence, mental illness and the primal lengths to which parents will go to protect their children. What begins as acerbic, if occasionally twee, social satire turns into a dark lesson on humanity before slowly imploding into an oleander origami that never can be put together again. Continue…
By Anne Kingston - Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 8:34 PM - 0 Comments
Forget “no-holds-barred,” this will be a staged cage-match
Lance Armstrong’s face-off with Oprah Winfrey this week (airing Thursday and Friday) promises to be the most calculated comeback since Cheap Trick dusted off the Lycra. And not only for the disgraced cyclist, who’s obviously using the manufactured platform to try to beat the odds facing him, just as doping once did. The sit-down between the two formerly invincible halo brands is clearly synergistic: Winfrey needs the ratings boost, and to reclaim her spot as America’s go-to confessor for lapsed celebrities; Armstrong, shunned by former sponsors including Nike, and by his “Say it ain’t so, Lance” apologists, desperately needs to tap into what’s left of the “Oprah effect.”
There’s an innate conundrum here, of course. Halo brands are conferred on institutions and people (Mayo Clinic; Mother Theresa) with a unique ability to inspire and perceive unimpeachable credibility. Armstrong, for a time, held the world in thrall with his seven Tour de France wins (all now stripped), beating cancer and, in 1997, founding “Livestrong,” his once-venerated, now disgraced charity. Winfrey, meanwhile, inspired the masses “to live your best life” wearing a Livestrong bracelet. That shared ability to uplift transformed both into commercial juggernauts; people bought whatever they were selling.
But now those halos are tarnished, Armstrong’s far more than Oprah’s—a calculus that means he has far more to win, she more to lose. Despite his repeated claims of innocence, he was outed as a liar, manipulator and user by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency last year in a damning, 1,000-page report that accused him of masterminding a long-running, labyrinthine doping scheme. Winfrey’s sway, specifically her hold over the cultural zeitgeist, has also sagged since she stepped down from her daily pulpit in 2011 to run the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). Ratings have been poor; the enterprise has been plagued by bad press; the “Oprah effect” never kicked in. There have been no defining moments for which she is famed—Tom Cruise couch-jumping, visiting Michael Jackson in Neverland, Jennifer Hudson forgiving the man who killed members of her family. Now the few people who subscribe to OWN are stuck with interviews like a recent emotional chit-chat with Rihanna who described her former, physically abusive boyfriend Chris Brown as the “love of her life.” (Winfrey didn’t even bother to talk some sense into her.) To top it off, there’s the growing blowback (complete with evidence) that the anointed “experts“ Winfrey unleashed on the world, among them Drs. Phil and Oz, are quacks.
In wrangling Armstrong, Winfrey might have met her nemesis—if only because their fame is derived from the same inspirational, “live-every-day-strong” wellspring. It’s unlikely we’ll see a repeat of Winfrey’s 2006 smack down of James Frey for fabricating parts of his memoir. At the time, her lacerating fury was widely celebrated as triggering some sort of national catharsis, a necessarily proactive “truthiness” blood-letting.
This highly anticipated sit-down, however, looks more like a WorldWideWrestling staged cage-match. Billed by OWN as Armstrong’s “first no-holds-barred” interview, it now looks like Winfrey’s been co-opted as the final stop of his week-long Apol-alooza. It was originally scheduled for one night; now allegedly there’s so much material, it has morphed into two 90-minute segments aired over two nights to milk primo ad revenue. Whether they’ll get what they paid for is doubtful. When Winfrey was promoting the show on CBS earlier this week, she coyly hinted that she hadn’t gotten the full goods: “I would say he did not come clean in the manner I had expected,” she said. “It was surprising to me.” Considering that Armstrong was surrounded by lackeys and lawyers choreographing his every move, it would seem entirely predictable.
What Armstrong wants is simple, if not easily obtained. He wants back on his bike to regain his money-making mojo. There’s also a lot to pedal from. He’s facing a mountain of litigation—from his former cycling team, from people who lost libel judgments after daring to suggest he used performance-enhancing drugs. Then there are regulators who want him under oath on the stand. For some reason, they don’t see a chat with the once-Mighty O as the equivalent of a real-world admission. It’ll be fascinating to see how many others agree—and just how transcendent a halo brand can be.
By Anne Kingston - Monday, January 14, 2013 at 9:33 AM - 0 Comments
The casual clothing brand is extending into the upscale market
Fashion’s mania for mixing “high” and “low”—evident in Sharon Stone’s pairing of a white Gap button-down shirt with a Vera Wang skirt at the 1998 Oscars—has become business reality with the Gap Inc.’s $130-million purchase of upscale women’s retailer Intermix Holdco Inc. The partnership furrowed a few Botoxed brows, but generally was viewed as win-win—an extension of the Gap’s move into the multi-brand, premium arena initiated with its 2010 purchase of Piperlime.com. It gives the Gap a needed toehold in the luxury market for overseas expansion, as well as access to the fashion-forward savvy necessary to compete against Zara and H&M. The plan is to expand Intermix, which will be run by existing management, well beyond its 28 North American stores. We won’t ever see an Intermix next to every Gap, but bank on seeing its high-end patina deployed for the masses who shop at the mothership.
By Bookmarked and Anne Kingston - Friday, January 11, 2013 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
The fact that style arbiter Diana Vreeland had a famously uneven relationship with what less imaginative people call the truth makes her a challenging, if delicious, subject for biography. But British writer Stuart is clearly equal to the task in this entertaining, authoritative study that reads like a novel begging to be made into a movie.
Vreeland is best known for her 18-year tenure as Vogue’s influential, imperious editor-in-chief in the ’60s and ’70s. But her quest for the escape fashion offers dates to her privileged upbringing in New York. The ugly-duckling daughter of a glamorous, distant mother, young Diana laboured to cultivate a distinctive style that won her friends, celebrity and a too-handsome husband. The couple made a splash in Europe among the likes of Coco Chanel and Cecil Beaton before returning to America, where Diana became notorious for her Harper’s Bazaar “Why Don’t You?” column. (Typical advice: “Why don’t you rinse your blond child’s hair in dead champagne to keep its gold, the way they do in France?”)
Hired at Vogue in 1963, at age 61, Vreeland shocked with her bold choices. Her own eccentricities—fondness for lacquered red walls, a Kabuki-like appearance, and sphinx-like pronouncements (“Pink is the navy blue of India”)—sealed her legend. But fashion is fickle; she was turfed in 1981 but would resurface for one last act: staging blockbuster exhibits for the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Stuart’s deft portrayal is full of context and detail, such as Vreeland’s reaction at hearing president Kennedy had been shot: “My God, Lady Bird [Johnson] in the White House. We can’t use her in the magazine!” Such utterances make her easy to mock, though Stuart never does. Rather, she presents Vreeland as a complex trailblazer—a self-invented woman who put her stamp on modern fashion and thrived professionally into her 70s. And she never stopped, even when she could no longer see the lovely surfaces that had given her life its meaning.
By Anne Kingston - Monday, January 7, 2013 at 2:44 PM - 0 Comments
Control of an uninhabited island in the Bay of Fundy is up for dispute
Could a tiny, rocky, uninhabited island in the Bay of Fundy ignite the Canadian-American War of 2013? That’s the ominous prospect raised recently by Stephen Kelly, a professor at the Center for Canadian Studies at Duke University in North Carolina. Writing in the New York Times, the retired American diplomat, who twice served in Canada, called for the two countries to settle sovereignty of Machias Seal Island, which lies nearly equidistant between Maine and New Brunswick. Kelly’s concern is the 720 sq. km of water around the island, a magnet for American and Canadian lobster fishermen.
Kelly wants it sorted out now, while stakes are low: with no oil in the area and the current lobster glut, this is “an ideal time to colour in the grey zone,” he writes.
Canada’s official position is that there’s nothing to colour in. John Williamson, MP for New Brunswick Southwest, notes the island is in his riding. A statement from the federal government claims sovereignty is “strongly founded in international law.” Ralph Eldridge, the island’s lightkeeper for the past 16 years, told Canadian Press he “never needed his passport to go there.” Certainly the 81,000-sq.-m site, home to a seabird sanctuary, appears Canuck: the Maple Leaf waves freely and the Canadian Coast Guard tends it. Continue…
By Anne Kingston - Tuesday, December 25, 2012 at 12:10 PM - 0 Comments
The break-ups of 2012
Katie Holmes’s divorce from Scientologist Tom Cruise after five years of public captivity was as sudden as the couple’s whirlwind nuptials. The 33-year-old actress’s Houdini-like manoeuvres, more jailbreak than marital meltdown, left her with custody of five-year-old Suri. Soon after, a Vanity Fair story ran about how the Church of Scientology recruited her to screen test as a prospective wife for the actor. Now the former Dawson Creek star is on Broadway. Meanwhile, her 50-year-old, couch-jumping ex has been seen squiring other women about; we can only assume he’s auditioning wife No. 4.
Big O axes little O
Oprah Winfrey lured the former “Queen of Nice,” Rosie O’Donnell, to her ailing TV network, OWN, with high hopes the former talk-show host would draw viewers and buzz. Six months later, after format changes, humiliating ratings and carping from staff, Winfrey yanked the show—to O’Donnell’s chagrin. Now the two former daytime doyennes aren’t talking at all—at least to each other.
Fourteen months after a showy Indian wedding complete with elephants, celebrity exhibitionists Russell Brand, 37, and Katy Perry, 28, announced their joint act was over. The British comedian, once fired from MTV for dressing as Osama bin Laden, filed for divorce from the American singer known for shooting whipped cream from her bra. Future mates have hard acts to follow.
Canada: just not that into Iran
When Canada breaks up with a country, it doesn’t fool around. Last September, the government unilaterally cut diplomatic relations with Iran, shuttering the Tehran embassy and booting Iran’s diplomatic staff from Ottawa. Dangers were too high, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said of the criticized move that showed the ayatollahs who was boss. Continue…
By Anne Kingston - Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Royal mums-to-be once hid in blowsy dresses and coats—or vanished from view. Kate will change all that
The first clue as to how Catherine, duchess of Cambridge, intends to approach her pregnancy, stylistically speaking, was evident days before its sudden, clearly unplanned announcement. Visiting her girlhood alma mater, St. Andrew’s School, the princess showed off her field hockey skills with students while wearing a tartan Alexander McQueen coat and high-heeled boots. In retrospect, it indicated that the wife of the future British king plans to accommodate her pregnancy as if she’s any other healthy woman expecting a baby with a job to do.
Only, of course, she isn’t. The princess faces unique challenges navigating her post-conception world under unprecedented scrutiny. On one hand, she has to appear a relatable, modern mom-to-be; on the other, she’s fulfilling an archaic role as the vessel perpetuating the house of Windsor’s genetic code. Just as her 2011 wedding to Prince William recalibrated the optics of a British monarchy trying to adapt to the 21st century—the bride riding in a sleek Rolls-Royce, not a fairy-tale coach; charitable donations requested in lieu of gifts—so, too, does her pregnancy.
The fact that the royal household was forced to release news of the pregnancy before the princess had safely passed the first trimester reflects awareness of a new reality: that this is the first A-list heir to the British throne born into a post-TMZ world. It was only a matter of time before media jackals, present company included, discovered that the princess had been hospitalized, and so the palace issued a pre-emptive strike. It even named the hospital she was in, knowing that was destined to create a paparazzi encampment outside. Continue…