Episode 5: You Lie!
I have been amused by the flurry of news stories surrounding Joe Wilson's outburst in Congress in the past week, and I was reminded of them when I saw this week's episode of "Project Runway." Contrary to popular belief, the hardest part of participating on a reality television show is not the loss of privacy, but rather the adherence to the truth that is demanded of you when all of your behavior is documented on video. It's Truth 2.0, essentially.
This week on episode five of "Project Runway," we saw poor Johnny Sakalis go down, and although his design skills paved the way for his descent (watch the "Project Runway" video extras — he has a crippling faith in the power of trims), it was his practice of manipulating reality that is no match for the challenges of the show.
When I was on Season 2 of "Project Runway," I quickly learned that "keeping something between you, me and the fencepost" doesn't actually work if there is a camera mounted on the fencepost at all times. So if you have something you want to say behind someone's back, you should just say it to their face, because they will find out about it eventually, since the whole thing is being filmed. It also means that if you've got something to say, it better be consistent or you'll get caught.
Evidently this is something that Johnny has learned, because he stays emphatically "on message" this week, trotting out his steam-iron stump speech and honing it until he gives the best version of it for the judges on the runway. And yet, even if his story is an honest representation of something that might have occurred in the workroom, it isn't exactly true.
Under the policies of Truth 2.0, honesty is no longer the best policy. You must also tell the truth. Using steam to shape a dress made out of paper is not a crazy idea; paper is a cellulosic fiber, so it should be respond to steaming, but also be vulnerable to it. However, regardless of the level of honesty Johnny's steaming story possesses, it is not the truth about why he discarded his first dress and rushed to design another in the last minute instead. (See photo.)
"Honestly," even if he suffered some horrible mishap in the workroom, the "Truth" is that Johnny's convictions for his designs crumble under the pressure of critique, and his subsequent design statements serve to accommodate what his sewing lacks in virtuosity. (Again, check out the "Project Runway" videos of his workroom conversations with Tim Gunn) With all of Johnny's outfits, except the one that he does with Irina, if you compare what he initially shows Tim with what he eventually sends down the runway, there is generally a stark difference between "before" and "after."
Instead of exploring how his initial design conviction might be augmented to address a question that Tim raises, Johnny always opts to abandon that element entirely. In the pregnancy challenge (episode two), his dress has a small bolero (see image below) that he promptly discards after speaking with Tim. In the model challenge, he is excited about a trim that he also ends up abandoning when it fails to elicit affirmation from Tim. Finally, after Tim is underwhelmed with his newspaper dress, Johnny crumples up the whole thing and throws it in the trash.
And yet none of this is that terrible. People have doubts. They try one thing, and have to switch horses in midstream to avoid catastrophe. What is fascinating about "Project Runway" — and by extension, the digital age itself — is that duplicity is completely untolerated, and with cameras everywhere, and so many ways to check in, chat and update your status, it's now easier to spot the truth counterfeiters than it has ever been. When Tim comes backstage to send Johnny back to the workroom, there are no "goodbye hugs." There is no "we'll miss you"; it is stern negation and expulsion. As soon as Johnny leaves the room, Tim assures the group that, indeed, they were on to him all along, and that such falsehoods are "ridiculous."