Opinion

In Cindy Sherman’s Street Style Satire, the Joke’s on Her

One of Cindy Sherman's photos for the March issue of 'Harper's Bazaar' (screenshot via Facebook)
One of Cindy Sherman’s photos for the March issue of ‘Harper’s Bazaar’ (screenshot via Facebook) (click to enlarge)

Chameleonic photographer Cindy Sherman is featured in March’s Harper’s Bazaar in a send-up of street style Instagrammers that makes both the artist and the magazine look out of date and tone deaf. Cue Sherman twirling (a verb she finds particularly disparaging) amid the blurred backgrounds of a fast-paced city on the go, decked out in leg of mutton sleeves (which are making a triumphant comeback) and ratty wigs probably meant to send up the status quo.

The entire spread is some kind of commentary on the current production and consumption of fashion content, focused through the lens of those “self-involved” street style bloggers. But Sherman and Harper’s Bazaar‘s efforts beg the question: are they being critical of fashionable women posing in the middle of Sixth Avenue for a good shot, or are they feeling threatened by a new generation of creators who will usurp their influence?

I have friends whose descriptions of Sherman run the gamut from “brilliant” to “no better than a hipster with Instagram.” The latter may be harsh, but this new series, if we’re to call it that, speaks a bit to that criticism. Though ostensibly satire, the whole endeavor is rather flaccid, leaving the viewer uncertain whether this is a cynical swipe at Bazaar readers or a clueless attempt at highlighting Sherman’s waning wit, all the while still fulfilling the duties of the modern fashion magazine — to sell designer clothes. The profile reads as if the author, Laura Brown, had written it about some ingenue she desperately wants people to find interesting, what with references to visits to her Long Island house “to collect her chickens’ eggs,” or her jaunts to a “deprivational German health spa.” Such details could be intended as jokes, but then most magazine profiles read like this.    

There’s little cleverness in these shots, more stone-cold cynicism, which leaves you with a twisted irony: fashion poking fun at itself is all the rage, as evidenced by Anna Wintour’s decision to put Derek Zoolander on the February cover of Vogue, but in an industry that insists on taking itself so seriously, the jokes often fall flat. And the sheer cluelessness of skewering street style bloggers, whom the industry has by and large embraced and exploited, shows a naïveté from both the artist and the publication.

In the end, it’s hard to tell whether we’re laughing at Sherman and Bazaar, or with them. We’re left with little more than a meekly satirical spread in a magazine advertising the (very expensive) spring collections. There’s a joke here, but do Sherman and Bazaar even get it?

comments (0)