Meryl Streep's Speech From "The Devil Wears Prada" is a Load of Rubbish

My wife and I recently watched The Devil Wears Prada (2006) for the first time. It is a pretty good movie—about as good as formulaic "romantic-comedies" get really. Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, and Stanley Tucci are all wonderful, the dialogue passes the Bechdel test, it is plenty funny, and the plot is plenty interesting. It is also plenty cheesy at points, but oh well. As a light-hearted movie about relatively serious things, it is a good way to spend an evening.

But something has not sat well with me in the weeks since watching it. About a third of the way through the film Meryl Streep's "Miranda Priestly" (channeling Vogue's iconic Anna Wintour) drops an epic speech onto Anne Hathaway's fashion neophyte "Andy", a speech that changes the course for Hathaway's character. Andy had just snickered at the Runway magazine team's seemingly superfluous back and forth indecisiveness as to which belt should go with an outfit in question. Miranda turns to Andy and mercilessly dismantles Andy's dismissive smirk with an scathing monologue. It is a speech that advocates for the legitimacy and importance of fashion to all our lives, how every single article of clothing we wear is the result of years of risk and work and money. It is an inspiring speech that should forever shift how we understand fashion, especially if we think it is a helplessly vain and decadent industry. The speech could do that, but it shouldn't, because it is an absolute load of rubbish.

I will explain below, but first let's watch and/or read the scene:

Miranda Priestly (i.e., Anna Wintour): [Miranda and some assistants are deciding between two similar belts for an outfit. Andy sniggers because she thinks they look exactly the same] Something funny?

Andy Sachs: No. No, no. Nothing's... You know, it's just that both those belts look exactly the same to me. You know, I'm still learning about all this stuff and, uh...

Miranda Priestly: 'This... stuff'? Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select... I don't know... that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise. It's not lapis. It's actually cerulean. And you're also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent... wasn't it who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.

Well wasn't that just the epitome of an over-assured self-righteous narcissistic rant?

Like I said, Miranda's speechifying speech could potentially inspire us but it really should not, and here is why:
People in the fashion industry need to care about their jobs more than anyone else in the world. They need to pour themselves into making the best designs and the highest quality of product. They will have the most expertise, knowledge, and skill when it comes to the aesthetic and qualitative aspects to making and distributing clothes.

And how exactly is this any different than any other important profession or area of specialization?

Quite frankly, it is not different at all.

At any given moment we are all "smirking" at, taking for granted, or being annoyed by any of a number products, technologies, or works of art that have taken years of hard work to find its way into our presence. And when, might I ask, will all the inventors, developers, workers, and artists get to parade us in front of them so they can unleash their own self-righteous, demeaning, speechifying speeches upon us?

They won't. Because really, who would ever be such a boorish prick to normal people in their everyday lives? Granted, in The Devil Wears Prada new hire Andy was in her workplace and not a hapless customer or ignorant passerby. By default she should know something about the field of fashion, and yet her inexperience was the exact reason Miranda hired her, her lack of knowledge being an asset to the job. So, instead of berating her, why not educate her appropriately?

Any professional could release a similar diatribe on an unsuspecting person for any amount of complaining/taking for granted the greatness of their profession and the skills required to be good at it. Let's look at a few examples.

My wife is a physical therapist assistant (PTA). She has gone through extensive training in her field, which is the pelvic floor area. She specifically helps women with issues "down there" and was the first PTA in the country to get a particular certification in this specialization (called a Pelvic Rehabilitation Practitioner). Needless to say, she is one of the experts in her profession, especially in Central Illinois where we are from. But guess what, she still gets patients who don't do their exercises and patients who grumble and complain about the pain of therapy or the difficulty of the exercises. If someone laments: "But this is too hard. Is this really going to work?" She does not stop the therapy completely, put on a scowl and lambast them saying "Too hard?! Will it work!? Let me ask you something. How many continuing education courses have you taken? How many clinical hours have you logged putting your hands on and inside of people's genitals? Besides, do you even know the extensive trial and error Herman & Wallace had to go through in putting these techniques into practice just so you could say "This is too hard!"? I can't believe you're even asking me "will this work?" when you're laying down on your comfortable therapy chair surrounded by offices that are living proof that yes, This Works."

Uh no. My wife doesn't talk to people like that. She might get frustrated and she often has to get stern with people, but she doesn't belittle them for their lack of knowledge or for their lives being difficult, which is the reason they are in therapy in the first place. My wife has to be a practitioner and an encourager. She has to help people through some really difficult circumstances. She has to use her knowledge to serve others and not to let others know how much better she is because she has the knowledge and they do not.

As another example, one of my fields is teaching Bible and theology. There are a lot of difficult principles in understanding the Bible and matters pertaining to God. Again, I do not have the convenience of being able to demoralize somewhat for their lack of knowledge in my job. Indeed, it would be antithetical to the vocation. So, if I happened to be teaching on the Christian understanding of the Trinity (which I have done before) and someone spoke up and said: "This is all just silly. Not only is the concept of the Trinity not in the Bible but it is not even remotely logical." What good would it do to for me to launch into this kind of verbal assault: "Oh really!? You mean you're telling me one of the greatest divine mysteries isn't logical? One of the most beautifully paradoxical truths in the history of humanity doesn't stand up to reason? Do you know how many martyrs' heads had to roll for this silly belief? And which ecumenical council was it exactly that you attended? Tell me please, what was your response to Athanasius' address at Nicaea? I'm sure you really dismantled his argument, thus proving how unBiblical this "concept" is. Please, before you aimlessly tell me something isn't "logical", read something other than a Facebook thread—like Augustine or the Cappadocians or dare I say the Scriptures themselves—to show you are even remotely aware of the conversation."

That was fun to write, but that is not how you teach a church Bible class.

But really, think of the absurd hubris of Miranda Priestly's (Anna Wintour's) invective towards Andy's boring blue sweater. Everyday we take so much for granted. So many things that are utterly glorious and useful. The toilets we defecate into and the thin ply paper we wipe our behinds with. The needles that cause us the pain we complain about that draw our blood and inject us with vaccines in order to detect and protect us from disease. The buildings we walk into, every one of which is a tangible representation of millennia of architectural design and structural engineering. The overwhelming amount of ingenuity and creativity that has gone into the TVs and computers we stream our favorite shows on and the mass team of artists and technicians it took to put together those shows just so you can sit there and go "I really think Lost should have ended differently."

In no way am I attempting to diminish fashion and design, or if I am diminishing it, it is only to level the playing field where everything is both equally ignored and lauded.  The reason Miranda's speech is such utter rubbish is that everything is amazing. Everything took So Much Time and Money to get here. Trash bags, air bags, furnaces, kids toys, musical instruments, fast food, and yes, all our clothing. So why berate people for how special your profession is when everything around us is worthy of awe, when basically everyone who has ever innovated and changed our world deserves tons of praise but mostly goes ignored and eventually forgotten. Yes, we should be more grateful for the process of how our clothes our made, but we should be more grateful towards everything in general and quite frankly that sounds exhausting. I do not need any more guilt in my life. 

Besides, some of our professions have developed often justifiably bad reputations. If we are in one of those professions we should be especially patient with people, because not only will they not be experts in our field but they might also have a pre-conditioned negative disposition towards the profession. We should approach these people with a willingness to help them see things differently, which often takes a lot of time. So, if you are like me, you come pre-conditioned to judge anyone in the fashion industry because my stereotype of the industry is that it contains nothing but vain and vainglorious people concerned only with their image and willing to do anything to make it to the top of the fashion heap. Similarly (and to put it more personally), I fully understand how poor people's perceptions of my own profession of being a pastor is. From sexual and spiritual abuse, to bigotry, to the general hypocrisy of not doing with our actions what we say with our words, I will be attempting to overcome peoples' perceptions of Christianity and pastors for the rest of my life. And there is no time for lobbing diatribes against these people—doing so would only prove their already awful outlook toward the Church, etc. In other words, it is time for me to invest in a lifelong stock of patience and understanding. My suggestion is for everyone else to do the same, no matter what your profession is.

The "Cerulean Sweater" speech was clever and powerful—in a shame-inducing kind of way—and I still like The Devil Wears Prada (and will forever think Streep and Hathaway are ace actors), but this speech will forever remain laughably ridiculous to me until everyone in every profession gets their own hyper-real "My Contribution Is Worthy of the Utmost Respect" Hollywood treatment. While I wait patiently for that to happen I'll get back to my everyday business of attempting to joyfully and humbly serve those around me with the knowledge and skills I have worked so hard to obtain.

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Naomi said...

I agree with your comments. I'm a person of faith and I love fashion. I often marvel how it takes everyone doing their jobs in order to execute a product or service.
Also, I'm troubled by the amount of pollution the fashion industry creates.

Anonymous said...

Also I think that it was rubbish as expertise, even ignoring the tone. She SOUNDS like she knows what she's talking about but none of that happened and even if it did happen it's only her authority saying that the one thing led to the other. She's baffling with bull$&)( not dispensing wisdom. I think.

Anonymous said...

Wow y'all (especially the author) have no idea what you're talking about. I see what you're trying to say, but it's very obvious you also don't see the difference between the colors