Johanna Blakley

Media | Entertainment | Fashion

Archive for October, 2011

Haute Couture & Haute Cuisine

I’m certainly not the first to point out the similarities between haute couture – rarefied apparel that no normal person would have an occasion to wear – and haute cuisine – exquisitely prepared food that costs a fortune and simply disappears by evening’s end. This last July, the French Ministry of Culture sponsored a posh event at the Palais Royale that celebrated two of France’s most respected exports: in justifying the dual focus, organizers argued that

Though the raw materials may be different, artisans in both trades must master techniques, a “savoir-faire
and possess a vision to reach the height of their craft . . .

But most foodies and fashionistas don’t realize that there’s an even more elemental connection between cuisine and fashion: neither have a great deal of copyright protection.

In my research on the role that copyright plays in the fashion industry, I came across a few articles mentioning the similarity between recipes – which cannot be copyrighted – and fashion designs, which don’t qualify either. I thought it was fascinating that such creative industries managed to innovate and stay fresh even though fashion designers and chefs have no control over the appropriation of their work by others. The same cannot be said of painters, sculptors, photographers, graphic designers, musicians or writers.

So, as a foodie and a fashion lover, I was delighted to be invited to a unique conference in Barcelona, co-sponsored by Telefónica, Spain’s most prominent telecommunications company, and the El Bulli Foundation, Ferran Adrià’s effort to perform cutting edge research about food and innovation. Gastronomy & Technology Days (check out the Twitter hashtag #gastrotechdays) brought together an incredibly diverse international group of writers, researchers, software engineers and hard-core food bloggers to discuss the intersection of food and technology.

The talks were occasionally mind-bending (e.g., “Hacking the Food Genome”) and participant Rachael McCormack tweeted that the conference was “like TED but with better coffee.” Video will be available soon I’m told, but until then, I thought I’d lay out some of the key points from my keynote speech about the similarities between fashion and food. Read the rest of this entry »


How Storytelling Civilizes Us

I knew I had to write something in response to A. O. Scott’s Sunday New York Times piece about all the movies out right now which give an insider’s perspective on industries that we find fascinating. Moneyball and Margin Call were two of the films that inspired him to write about our perennial interest in lifting the veil and seeing what’s really going on inside baseball and Wall Street.

I don’t think the irony was lost on Scott that we like to turn to pieces of fiction in order to get the real story. And some poststructuralist scholars might tell you it’s as good a place as any to look for the truth. But I don’t think that Scott went as far as he could in establishing the tremendous power that commercial storytelling has in influencing individual attitudes and, if it’s enough of a cultural juggernaut, public opinion. We may not care to admit the degree to which our knowledge of the Holocaust, for instance, is dependent on Hollywood’s depiction of it, but often these well-produced, tightly scripted fictional narratives can do more than entertain us for a couple hours, they can fill in the blanks in our knowledge. Just think about how much you learned about global pandemics in Contagion, cancer in 50/50, the founding of Facebook in Social Network and Jim Crow in The HelpRead the rest of this entry »

Keeping the War on Terror Terrifying

After the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I wondered whether people would remain interested in the War on Terror, or whether we’d see some flagging interest register in the polls that, just last year, placed terrorism in the number three slot of national priorities, right after the economy and jobs.

A shift in public sentiment remains to be seen, but Hollywood seems to have decided to keep mining storylines from the War on Terror. I recently co-authored a report (with Sheena Nahm) on how primetime TV dramas depict the War on Terror. We were surprised to discover that primetime generally avoided the racial and religious stereotypes that we associate with terrorism — and when we took a look at the War on Drugs, we also discovered depictions that adhered more closely to reality than to preconceptions (for example, most drug abusers in this country are white).

Among the top-rated shows in 2010 we found nine that dealt frequently and substantially with the War on Terror, including the NCIS, Law & Order and CSI franchises. After 24 went off the air in spring of 2010, no other major network show replaced it, and so the sheer volume of hours devoted to the War on Terror in primetime sunk considerably. However, Fox has a new show starting this Fall called Exit Strategy, with Ethan Hawke, about CIA operations gone bad, and Homeland, which is from the producers of 24, just started on Showtime last night. Read the rest of this entry »