09 October 2010

206. Project Runway: Bully Central, or WHY I'M NOT WATCHING ANYMORE

Dear friends, readers, and curious passers-by:

If you have not yet seen the most recent episode of Project Runway (Season 8, Episode 11, in which the designers' challenge is to create looks for Heidi's line of activewear for New Balance), please know that this blog post contains spoilers.  Don't read further if you don't want the biggest drama of the episode revealed for you just yet.  But this one is important to me.

I am really bothered by this episode, to my core.  It took me a couple of hours after watching the episode to put my finger on exactly why.  It started with this scene (screen capture from streaming video at mylifetime.com):

And it didn't end well.  It never ends well with Ivy.  Sometimes it literally never ends with Ivy, because she always has to have the last word.  Ivy is a bully, plain and simple.  Bullying doesn't sit well with me.  Through the season and culminating in this latest episode, Lifetime has set up bullying as something we should tolerate, which causes me a great deal of consternation and heartburn.

I'll call it as I see it:  Over the course of several episodes, Ivy alternated between passive-aggressive behavior toward Michael C. and aggressive-aggressive behavior toward Michael C.  Tonight she went all-out, guns-a-blazing, nuclear warfare on Michael C.  Publicly.  And then she tried to light it all on fire by gathering support for her inhumane treatment of her former competitor by insisting she was "taking one for the team" by confronting him.

The worst part was that Tim Gunn didn't call her out on it when he walked into the workroom.  He was diplomatic and firm in a very noncommittal kind of way (like a producer-requested kind of way) that it was over and everyone just needed to move on.  The way he even asked Michael C. if he was OK with moving on felt like Tim was suggesting that the victim of this bullying needed to be involved in stopping the bullying.  Ironically, Tim called Gretchen's actions during a team challenge a few weeks ago bullying and manipulative [sic], though really she was just being a control freak.  Wrong call on that one, Tim.  The bully label belongs completely to Ivy.

You and I aren't there for every minute behind the cameras to see what happens.  In a way, that's irrelevant.  There is no best case scenario to PR's bully situation that reflects well, or even neutrally, on Lifetime.

On one hand, it can be argued that Ivy had a point, that Michael C. did cheat, and that he should have been confronted.  If Lifetime did depict that tension accurately, it's clear that Ivy's style of confrontation was pure bullying.  She didn't confront the producers on camera, which would have been appropriate.  She confronted Michael, in a very personally demeaning and destructive way.  It wasn't drama for good TV, it wasn't the cattiness we adored from Bravo days, it wasn't subtle and witty and tongue-in-cheek.  It was harassment and bullying.  Tim Gunn should have called Ivy out on this, one-on-one, and then she should have apologized to everyone else in the workroom and committed publicly to stopping this awful behavior.  Reprimands and public apologies like this are usually reserved for 3-year-olds, and for grown-ups who act like 3-year-olds.

On the other hand, a case might be made that the entire situation got twisted around by the producers for the sake of drawing more viewers.   Maybe they're creating dramatic tension, or maybe they're creating a hero we're going to root for.  Either way, the message is that bullying (we know this in the professional grown-up world as a "hostile work environment") is OK.  That is incredibly irresponsible.

It's just bullying on a silly reality show, but not really, because bullying is in the news a lot these days.  Have you heard of the many cases of bullying in the U.S. news recently, where our children are taking their own lives rather than face life with a tormentor?  Maybe you've been out of touch with the news lately.  Search "bullying epidemic" on Google and scroll through those results.  I also have a young child, as many of you do, and shudder at the thought he might ever feel the hopelessness and desperation these other children felt because of a bully.

Project Runway has a wide reach to a huge audience.  It can do better than to portray bullying as a necessary rite of passage that a sweet, uncomplaining, "different" martyr-victim must endure and rise above.  Bullying stinks, whether you're a child or a grown-up or anywhere in between, and it's unacceptable.  Lifetime, step up to the plate and take a real stand against this.  Until you do, I'm not watching.


  1. I completely agree with each point you make. I was so uncomfortable/incredulous watching, and upon reflection, I’m furious. Ivy’s behavior was insidious and calculated to a degree that goes beyond mean-girl and into psychiatric territory. I’ve had a tenuous relationship w/ PR all along because I sit thru producer-driven cattiness to see innovative, exciting design. This season offered several introspective participants and more positive relating than ever before. I thought the show had evolved, but I’m aghast at the lack of responsibility the producers have taken with this, actually fueling Ivy’s fire by offering generous camera time. Michael C has been victimized. Standing idly by while someone is bullied, or otherwise abused, is a form of corroboration. It is unconscionable.
    Thank you, clevergirl, for saying so!

  2. I haven't seen the episode yet, but my normal way of watching is to fast-forward through most of that crap. I watch the beginning (challenge rules), a teeny bit of the middle (Tim's comments), and the end (runway walk and judge's reaction). PR and other competition reality shows just have too much complaining and cattiness. Now there's bullying? I guess PR is catching up to Top Chef, where one guy physically restrained another guy so the other chefs could shave his head (which they didn't do, but they also didn't stop the first guy -- see http://tinyurl.com/297bcbt). Absolutely offensive all around.

  3. It really bothers me that the producers encourage that behavior, too, with their leading questions just to set up the drama. I liked the week when Mondo worked with Michael C. and realized he wasn't such a bad guy. I fast forward through most of the workroom scenes no matter what season, but especially now that the episodes are an hour and a half long.

  4. I feel like this season the challenges and the last minute twists are extra shitty. Like what could we make them do that will make them loose their minds. And the judges have been out right mean too. I agree that Ivy royally sucks and should have been called out on it. But then there is a girl like Valery, who is maybe not such a good designer, but somehow was always a gregarious and optimistic person even when the judges were crapping all over her look. She gives me a little hope for people (if not for tv).

  5. I haven't seen this episode yet, so I can't comment on this specific behavior. But she totally annoys me, as does Gretchen. I am so tired of people who are so full of themselves.

  6. I haven't seen this episode yet, so I can't comment on this specific behavior. But she totally annoys me, as does Gretchen. I am so tired of people who are so full of themselves.

  7. we're at least a whole season behind here in NZ so have yet to see any of this. But I agree that the producers do seem to encourage bad behaviour - or the appearance of it - just for watchability.
    Me, I wish they would give some challenges where the designers get enough time to complete their garments properly.

  8. i have been really bothered this season by the bullying, as well. in past seasons, there have been single mean people. this season, there has been a contagious hatred and a mob mentality, just like in high school, where people feel justified in being mean because others are doing it as well. things began to change as mondo publicly displayed support for michael and as ivy was voted off. what a nauseating feeling when so many bullies walked back in again! i felt like i was reliving high school, not just because of the immaturity but also because of the unsupervised cruelty.

  9. I don't like Ivy for a lot of reasons, but I have really tried to watch it knowing that so much of reality tv is scripted that there is no way to know what is actually going on. I do NOT like that Heidi made them create three designs for her, I thought that was utterly ridiculous and I thought she has been a fairly disrespectful to almost every designer EXCEPT Michael C this season. Also, on one of the previews for this episode, Tim Gunn said "you will never be back on Project Runway again" and I was waiting for him to say that phrase in this episode and it didn't happen. It makes me wonder what context it was said in.

  10. I agree that we aren't there for every second of what's going on, and I also agree that these shows live for the "drama" and the bullying fills that bill for them. I would like to see PR resist this cheap form drama to fulfill their need for viewership.

    I was most struck by Ivy's casual way she made her accusation: "Oh hi. Good morning. You're a cheater." And I thought Michael's response to call her on it was totally appropriate. It was also a shame the Tim didn't call Ivy on her behavior, but Tim is sort of representative of how the world's response is to this. It's up to Michael to deal with it, and I think he did. He didn't let Ivy just get away with the comment.

    If this is the direction of PR, they've lost me, but worse, this sort of catty bitter infighting will get boring fast and loose viewership.

    Hopefully with all the publicity about bullying lately, this sort of thing will be ID'ed and dealt with immediately. Believe it or not the person who is doing the bullying needs the most help.

  11. Yes Antoinette, my Chanel jacket wears wonderfully - faux as it may be. I certainly owe the success of this piece to you and Cindy. I learned a LOT in the progress, and the real reward is having a final project that fits just like a sweater and wears great. I think I put the fabric that my Mother gave me to good use and she is so very proud of me for it. I just knew that it would earn a first place ribbon, but that's just the way the cookie crumbled. Entering and then going down to see my garments displayed is still a thrill.

  12. Yeah I cringed too when I saw this and was painfully remembered that this is first and furthermost a reality tv-production and not about fashion designers. So the producers clearly struck gold with this scene. They had no reason to interfere, on the contrary they were probably rubbing their hands with joy. I guess I am so jaded because reality tv is huge in Sweden and what the Swedish contestants sometimes do to each other is way worse than PR. But just because I'm jaded doesn't make it right!

  13. I haven't really watched the past couple of seasons, but I've been watching this one. Although my DVR seems to have skipped this episode (it's doing that kind of thing a lot lately). I will catch it on the replay.

    I don't understand the thought processes of the producers on this show. Or maybe I don't understand the mob mentality that the audience apparently has, or that the producers think they have. Watching the physical and creative struggles and the occasional personality clashes ought to be enough drama for this kind of show. I don't see why they think bullying should be a part of this. This season as a whole has been dark and angsty. I've seen very little joy and though we sometimes catch glimpses of friendships being made, it's overall rather depressing. If they're going to add hostility to the mix I think I won't watch again either.

  14. Well said my dear. This season has been less than riveting for me. What do they say about a reality show that has jumped its own shark? over.

    I too am appalled. Are the Nazis now fashion inspiration? Henderson says that the Nazis made a “statement.” The Nazis killed my grandmother’s baby, her husband, her parents, her siblings, her aunts and her uncles. Brutally. That Project Runway did not call Mr. Henderson out for his at best unthinking allusion to the Nazis suggests a contemporary historical amnesia that is frightening. That the show allowed Mr. Henderson to win means that a national media outlet legitimized using the Nazis as fashion inspiration. Would we allow a designer inspired by the KKK (showing fashions with white hoods perhaps?) to win Project Runway? I have to believe with all my heart that we would not; if that were possible, our historical amnesia is more frighteningly thorough than I can stomach.
    An apology is necessary to clearly demonstrate that the show and the station will NOT condone using the Nazis as a legitimate source of cultural symbolism. The fashion we wear outwardly represents our inner allegiances and beliefs. To allude to a moment in history is to recall that moment and to revive it within the present. To award a prize to fashion inspired by those who killed my family and millions of other innocents is to suggest in a very clear way that the culture of the Nazis is alive and flourishing in our popular imagination. Project Runway and Lifetime TV need to rectify this legitimization of the Nazis in a public apology.

  16. i haven't been an avid follower of project runway, but knowing that they are broadcasting a clear case of bullying is definitely unsettling.

    i have been hearing of all the suicides linked to cases of bullying lately and it upsets me greatly. while i do not have children, i do have a teenaged brother, a niece and nephews, and i would never want them to have to endure bullying.

    i hope that project runway understands what message they are sending and puts a stop to this. drama for the sake of ratings is understandable, but blatant displays of bullying are not acceptable.

  17. I haven't seen this show, but a lot of the reality shows have degrees of bullying. Is it any wonder there is a problem with kids in school - who watch this stuff?

  18. Yes. And you nailed it--because that really, really got to me too and I couldn't quite get past something wildly inarticulate like "Guy--Ivy really BUGS me." I would have loved to see an apology from her--THAT would have been good television.

  19. Hello,

    I did see that episode and all the others on this round of Project Runway. And as far as I can see you are right about the bullying.

    Although I am bothered by no-one standing up for themselves even more then the bullying. Why be a victim when you can stand up for yourself and not allow the bullying behavior in the first place. If Michael C stood up to Ivy from the very beginning none of the other stuff would have happened. I have rarely seen a man be more of a doormat. Ivy saw a weakness and exploited it for her own ends.

    Like you said "bullying is unacceptable." But the "victims" need to push back if necessary and not expect to be rescued. Rising above such behavior simply allows and encourages it, but doesn't really stop bullying. Turning the other cheek only works in the Bible. Respect can only be given when it is earned.

  20. holy crap this is a big deal. i am sorry this season feels so puny and childish in some ways to me too. i hated that ordeal with ivy acting so high and mighty. they really did need to take it a step further to resolve that mess. they just left it hanging. that is not good tv. that is nonsense drama. but i keep watching cuz i'm addicted to the good parts. i am just looking the other way on the sucky parts. lame? maybe. i like your sense of knowing here. and i LOVE your sensitivity to bullies. we talk about bullies a lot in our house. there's a berenstain bears book on bullies. my kids love that one. check it out!

  21. I totally agree about the bullying. zero tollerance.

    carrauntoohil: not that I am defending Bravo with all their housewife cat-fighting going on, but the Top Chef incident happened at least 3 years ago and the main culprit was kicked off the show immediately.


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