Welcome to Today’s Most Viral Story: Observer.com’s “ELLE on Earth”
While you were working…
Observer.com published an essay titled “ELLE on Earth” that ripped respected industry members and publications to shreds. It was written by Jacques Hyzagi, whose Observer bio states that he also writes for The Guardian and ELLE.
Hyzagi’s story is exactly that: a story. It’s an entertaining read in that it is unbelievable and terrifying — a teardown of notable and respected industry veterans that works itself into such a foam the moment the gates fly open that the reader must grab mane in order not to slip off.
The short version is that Jacques Hyzagi obtained a “very hard to get interview” with Rei Kawakubo, the legendary designer of Comme des Garçons. Hyzagi shopped the story around, Elle bit first. He believed his Elle editor to be difficult (that’s my word; his account was less euphemistic) and when the story ran, the result was, essentially, not what he’d written. Instead, he described it as, “bland, milquetoast, uninformative…boring. An infomercial.”
I contacted Hearst’s PR department for a quote on the Observer article. An ELLE Spokeswoman wrote back, “We always edit for clarity and concision.” (This is the same quote she provided to Racked.com, who titled their take on Hyzagi’s essay, “This Feverish Elle Takedown Piece Must Be an April Fool’s Joke.”
I am not in the position to make fun of another’s writing or editing, nor am I remotely qualified to question another human’s mental state. Snark, no matter how tempting, is unhelpful. But I will say this — a vague, politically correct understatement for the sake of my take on professionalism: There are many things odd and off about Hyzagi’s piece that have me questioning its validity on multiple levels.
Note: I reached out to Observer.com for a quote but have yet to receive one.
Okay. So if I’m not going take down the teardown, or pull it apart sentence by sentence as though it were string cheese that might taste better with funny annotations, what’s my point?
My point is more of a question: why did this story explode?
Is it because the author spews forth so much anger and hurt that one can’t help but assume that this is honesty? Do we want this much honesty? Do we want this kind of honesty?
Some might. “He’s finally saying what we’re all thinking” is a common argument among those in favor of Donald Trump.
When I first began reading the article, the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes crossed my mind. (If you never read it as a child: the Emperor is naked, no one wants to tell him he’s naked so everyone is like, “I love your cool pants!” Finally, one brave kid raises his hand and says, “Hey sorry to be ‘that guy,’ but your epidermis is showing.”)
Leandra was that kid to me when she wrote about Vetements. We even asked one another, “Is this — the teardown — the written equivalent of Vetements?”
Here is a man who is telling it like it purportedly is, exposing “the hierarchy,” and caring not at all about burning bridges or the future of his career. He just wants to tell the truth.
But then again, you can’t believe everything you read. I don’t personally know the editor he reams most, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t an accurate picture of reality. Yet it spread.
Leandra and I frequently talk about authenticity and how we believe that’s the primary thing our generation craves. We refuse anything that isn’t a transparent glass on which to write app algorithms with dry erase markers. We demand honesty!
But we don’t care to fact check.
That’s how this story spread. That’s how the rumors about Phoebe Philo leaving Céline spread, how the mass Instagram panic spread. That’s how so much viral content goes, you know, viral. That we all catch it is what’s scary and gross.
Lesson learned? Cover your mouth when you sneeze. And always wash your hands.
Imagery via Observer.com