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What Olivia Munn and Lizzo Get Wrong About Art Criticism

The reality is that celebrity careers rely on the expertise of critics.

On Thursday, Olivia Munn tweeted two pages of a response she had in reaction to the fashion site, Go Fug Yourself, run by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. Much like its title, the site employs a dash of humor when describing celebrity attire and is popular because it stays away from the usual forms of body shaming, misogyny and racism which are insidiously (and overtly) woven through the fabric of the fashion industry. Their headlines range from the positive “Gemma Chan Is A Deeply Elegant Person” to the flabbergasted, “WHAT is Abbie Cornish Wearing?” More simply put, this isn’t a trashy, toxic blog like Perez Hilton.

In Munn’s address to Cocks and Morgan (in which she attached photos of them, as if to want to incite some kind of commentary about their physical appearance), she dismisses the site as being neither fans nor legitimate critics and states that fashion policing participates in the “minimization of women and propagates the idea that our worth is predominantly (or singularly) tied to our looks.”

Now there is certainly something to be said about how society dictates what women can and cannot wear, especially women who deviate from the constraints of what is declared as desirable and attractive according to white supremacist, fatphobic and ableist standards. And there are also the manifestations of policing people’s appearance born from rape culture and slut shaming.

But Munn mischaracterized the site she leveled her accusations at and declared that their description was tantamount to the emotional and physical abuse endured by women and girls.

A simple read of the 90-word blurb shows something entirely different from what Munn describes as the “suppression of women”

From the site:

“Okay, I might have exaggerated with that headline a little bit, except that I DO say “oh my God, Olivia Munn” ALL THE TIME and I DID say it when I say this photo, even if this look is objectively not as terrifying as the last time I said it, which was extremely recently. That post is literally titled, “Oh My God, Olivia Munn.”  This is just kinda like she got roped into making a sequel to American Hustle that ended up going straight to on-demand.  Things could be worse.”

It is disingenuous and petty of Munn to weaponize feminist discourse in this manner simply because fashion critics stated that they didn’t like her outfit. She decided to use her considerable social capital and platform to target women with less influence, and it is that short paragraph which motivated Munn to compare her issue and stance to that of the plight of young high school girls whose physical appearance was being graded by their male peers and who bravely took a stand against them. It was that critique which she falsely accused as being a form of objectification—despite there being no mention of her body, her face or any form of internalized misogyny masquerading as fashion criticism.

Munn could have made some valid points if this wasn’t about personal pride, and she could have written a manifesto calling out Anna Wintour and other fashion gatekeepers who reinforce fatphobia and white supremacy throughout the industry. She could have called for the dismantling of actual oppression in entertainment and fashion, but that isn’t what is actually bothering her.

This is isn’t the first time this week that a celebrity has used their platform to lash out at a critic. On Monday, artist Lizzo seemingly responded to a Pitchfork review of her new album, “Cuz I Love You” by writer and editor rawiya kameir, stating that there was no place for music critics who don’t make music themselves and that they should be unemployed:

https://twitter.com/lizzo/status/1120196214136328192

Never mind that writers don’t make that much money to begin with, but to use her considerable influence to state that music critics—and in this case, a person of color—who aren’t also musicians deserve to be unemployed, is a callous use of Lizzo’s own popularity and voice.

In a thread published on Twitter, I described how art relies on the work of critics and entertainment reporters:

I am not alone in detailing how essential the media is to the celebrity ecosystem, particularly for artists whose careers are still developing. Like other forms of good journalism, the art of criticism is difficult and relies on the writer’s education on and experience with the subject at hand. Without media exposure, Lizzo’s album wouldn’t have been on our radar, without fashion criticism and entertainment media, the event attended by Munn wouldn’t have made it to anyone’s site. And celebrities are intimately aware of this. The reality is that celebrity careers rely on the expertise of critics.

Fashion and fashion criticism coexist because they rely on each other, punching downwards at Go Fug Yourself and its founders shows a lack of self-awareness on Munn’s part. It also brings up other questions that she didn’t consider or address: why ever appear in any fashion magazine if clothing doesn’t play an important part in the celebrity ecosystem? Why ever employ a stylist if clothing isn’t integral to a celebrity’s brand and image? Why ever dress up for an event in free clothing from both budding and established designers, or attend fashion shows, or movie premieres in couture, if fashion isn’t essential to the promotion of different kinds of art?

Much like film, literature, and music, fashion is a form of art and like art, it is subject to analysis and criticism. It is that very relationship that enables people to learn about the pieces themselves and to grow from the criticism that it may engender.

Both Munn and Lizzo misused their platforms to punch down this week, let’s hope the considerable response to their missteps will lead to their personal growth. If there’s one thing that women in media don’t need this decade, it’s even more harassment on social media.

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Lara Witt is an award-winning feminist writer who primarily writes about feminism, racism, pop-culture, mental health, and politics. Witt received her BA in Journalism from Temple University and interned for Philadelphia CityPaper’s arts and entertainment section and the Philadelphia Daily News covering local news, court stories, and crime. Following her graduation, she became increasingly committed to writing about gender, race, and queer identity by using Black and brown feminist theory to analyze current news and politics. Witt freelanced for national and local publications, which led to her working with Wear Your Voice Magazine eventually becoming their EIC and rebranding the site to focus primarily on using the analytical framework of Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality. Witt’s goal is to provide platforms for marginalized voices with a focus on having other Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) writers tell their own stories and explore their own narratives. Witt has spoken at local Philadelphia events, such as the March to End Rape Culture (2017) and curated a yearly series of events called The Electric Lady Series. These events highlight women of color in Philadelphia by exploring gender, rape culture, entrepreneurship, art, self-care, sex, and culture.

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