A Straight Male’s Defense of ‘Project Runway’

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Every year it’s the same thing. The Project Runway season premiere airs, I watch it live and then I suffer an endless barrage of insults from my roommates.

“You know how I know you’re gay? Because you watch Project Runway.”

“On a scale of gay to gay, you are Liberace right now.”

“Do you want me to tell your parents for you?”

Or god forbid it’s a season where I have a girlfriend, who of course will be anxiously watching it with me.

“Kristin, are you aware that your boyfriend likes dudes?”

“Ashley, how exactly does it feel to be a beard?”

“Allison, just so you know, I watch Entourage and 24.”

This usually lasts for about thirty five minutes of the episode, but once the runway walk starts? The comments start to change.

“Yo, that dress is disgusting!”

“Ooooh I actually like the back of that a lot.”

“I could see that at the Oscars.”

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“Naw bro, those pleats are ugly.”

So why? What is it about Project Runway that can turn a straight dude into a fashion fiend for an hour? Is it the hot models? The bevy of gays to ridicule? Heidi Klum? No. In a word, it’s talent.

Yes, the fashion industry is largely dominated by women and gays and no, the average straight male doesn’t give a shit about couture or smocking. But the thing is, there is an innate ability in everyone to judge what’s good and bad, and to appreciate creativity in all its forms.

That’s why Project Runway works, and has continued to work for so many years. The challenges get more and more bizarre: dresses made out of produce, dresses made out of trash, dresses made from car parts, dresses made for drag queens, the list goes on. But every year the contestants rise to the obstacles set before them and produce some truly amazing pieces.

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As you watch them hum along with their sewing machines, trying to stitch together something as a deadline looms mere minutes away, then having the world’s most famous super model call their dress “fabulous,” it’s inspiring.

Conversely, if you watch a loudmouth brag about how awesome their clearly hideous dress is, then watch as it’s torn apart by the judges, there’s something very satisfying about that as well.

It’s a formula that’s often copied, but nearly never duplicated. To date, only one other show besides Project Runway has grasped the appeal of rising unknown tangible talent, and the ability of the audience to judge it, and that would be the decade defining American Idol.

Some shows get close, Dancing with the Stars contestants have some pretty good moves, but one half of the team is a pro, and the other half isn’t an unknown but a celebrity. Top Chef is good enough, but you can’t taste the food, you can only see how it’s made and presented.

So Idol and Runway stand alone for the most part, as two shining beacons in a reality TV cesspool. It’s not about straight, it’s not about gay, it’s just about talent, and that’s something the public will never get tired of watching.

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  • IcemanD

    Well, the response from your room mates is not surprising. Personally, I can’t stand any of those “reality” shows.

    The only one that I concede to my wife and watch on occasion is So You Think You Can Dance. This is under the sole condition that we FWD through anything that Mary chick says.

    So, I have to agree that Project Runway is lame, not because it’s about dresses, but because I hate that show formula.

  • Bobby

    Well, Iceman, thats a lame reason to not watch the show. Reality TV is not even a formula, its a genre. Thats like saying you wont watch any more sitcoms cuz of two men and a half.

  • IcemanD

    @ Bobby: Not only does your analogy fail, you put words in my mouth that I did not say.

    What I said was “Personally, I can’t stand any of those “reality” shows”.
    Meaning, I do not like the judge based “reality” shows. Having three judges sit there and pass judgment on contestants that are on the show is absolutely a formula.

    On to your analogy: I did not say I hate all those types of shows based on a viewing of Project Runway. I have seen all of them individually and, from that, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t like those types of shows.

    For example, I didn’t have to hear Nickleback’s whole collection to know they suck ass. I was able to deduce that from a sampling of a few of there songs.

  • IcemanD

    Oh, I’m aware my Nickleback example doesn’t totally apply. I just enjoy taking stabs at them whenever possible 🙂

  • Madison

    First off, any stab at Nickelback is welcome here. The most vanilla band EVER.

    As far as these shows go, I agree it’s very formulaic. I’m not a fan of any of them, although, like IcemanD, my gf often talks me into watching So You Think You Can Dance. And I, too, insist that we fast forward though mostly everything besides the dancing.

    It’s not that these people aren’t talented…it’s just that for me, personally, when I watch TV, I want a total escape. Reality TV doesn’t give me that, unles it’s a trainwreck a la I Love New York.

  • Bobby

    @Iceman

    You said “these reality shows”. How the fuck was I suposed to get that you were actually talking about the ones with judges but not the genre entirely?

    My comment didnt fail, you failed at properly describing what you meant.

  • Just because something’s a “formula,” it doesn’t mean it’s a bad one. For example, American Idol is the same formula ever year, take a handful of nobodies and make them famous because they’re (mostly) talented. It’s a cool story tens of millions of Americans like watching. No need to change that around.

    Yeah it’s “cool” to make fun of American Idol and Project Runway as lame, but reality shows that actually take talent, to me, are worth watching. The genre is full of garbage, no doubt about it, but not all of its shows are throwaway. If you gave Runway a handful of episodes I bet you’d come around.

  • Madison

    I should be clear that I don’t think these shows are “gay” or “lame,” and I do understand why people like them. I simply would rather do other things with my time, things that I personally find more interesting.

  • Yeah that’s fair, I was more talking to Iceman who said “So, I have to agree that Project Runway is lame, not because it’s about dresses, but because I hate that show formula.”

  • IcemanD

    @ Bobby: We are talking about Project Runway and I said “those” type of shows in reference to Project Runway. Which implies I am talking about shows similar to Project Runway.
    I will be sure to fully explain to you what I mean in future posts. I understand reading and comprehension can be hard. Keep at it though, it just takes a little work.

    @ Paul: I didn’t mean to demean the show or the fact that you like it by calling it lame. I have seen the show and I just don’t care for it or any of those (by those I mean judge based…I’m here for ya Bobby!) type of reality shows. To each his own I suppose.

  • I co-sign. I am a fan of the show. I think naturally it stems from the art of competition. Like every other reality/competition show we get sucked into. I swore I wouldn’t watch American Idol the 1st season, and became hooked mainly because of Simon’s honesty and the then-good talent. Same thing here, but fashion designers. And who said men can’t like fashion. I wanna look fresh too. Kudos to Epperson for representing heteros. (Not to bash anybody, just glad to see it on a show that is labeled “feminine” or “gay” by society.)

  • Sanchez

    This is a terrific article. It is well written and captures the appeal of project runway. Great work!!!

  • Prof. Frink

    The only show of this type worth watching is Americas Best Dance Crew, really how can watching people sew be entertaining. American Idol is slowly deteriorating. ABDC is as close as reality gets to sport…which is awesome.

  • Bobby

    @Iceman

    I guess I took it the wrong way, Im french so shits like this happen.

  • Raiden

    Is it just me, or has there been a lot more hetero-reinforcing articles lately? Not sure if it’s the site or just the author…

  • Frank

    “Yes, the fashion industry is largely dominated by women and gays and no, the average straight male doesn’t give a shit about couture or smocking. But the thing is, there is an innate ability in everyone to judge what’s good and bad, and to appreciate creativity in all its forms.”

    True. But that’s not actually good for the fashion industry, or the TV industry, or many other media and cultural industries. They make much easier money when the mass of people’s tastes are blunted and dulled, and they can be sold any old dumb crap.

    One way to very skillfully dull the public taste is to associate taste and creativity with an out-group – a group people don’t necessarily hate, but don’t necessarily identify with, either. It used to be intellectuals. For some time now, it’s been gays.

    The media have typed gay creative people as tastemakers because doing so serves a larger purpose. They’re very happy to have a secure place in the culture, and mostly don’t know or care that they’re tools.

    The not so dirty truth is that straight guys can enjoy Project Runway (I do myself sometimes). But the pressure is on them not to look at such content, because discernment and taste are more and more typed as a “gay thing.”

    The established gender roles are good business and good politics, so the goal is to emphasize and refine them, even while giving the impression that they’re breaking up.