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.