Sunday, December 13, 2009

whitecaps of Martha madness

I used to be obsessed, as a person with an ongoing Martha Stewart habit--like any drug habit, silly and stupid, and I am full of cynicism as I light the crack pipe--with the absurd unrealism of Martha's nightstands. Their pristine, embarrassment- and product-free environments in which only reading glasses, books, fresh flowers and water are allowed to live.

I think I am more obsessed these days, though, with the unrealistic nature of all the home offices featured in her magazine. I'm getting downright pissed, which is silly, since I'm not paying for grotty realism here, but I'm starting to think these feelings might permanently unbalance the pain/pleasure Martha ratio.

The editing that goes on in the home office tableaux is too much to take! What is allowed to exist in them are:
  • pretty pens, uniform clumps of sharpened pencils
  • letterpress or engraved invitations
  • vintage stamps
  • photos, preferably old
  • paraphernalia related to old-fashioned activities such as writing airmail letters
  • well-designed office supplies, chosen in careful amounts
  • tickets, etc.
What is excluded is the actual--unfortunate, but real, actual--raw matter of office existence, which is PAPER. The deluge of PAPER we all live with, rich or poor. Paper paper paper. Bills, legal documents, applications, forms, statements, letters, printouts...not to mention the catalogs you can't keep out of your life, prospectuses, brochures... Nothing. Every once in a while a tri-folded piece of paper will appear in one of the Martha offices, but that's it. Nothing on 8-1/2 x 11" ever appears in these photos. Nothing computer-generated, nothing printed, nothing mass-mailed. No taxes, no insurance forms, no school applications, not the slightest hint of junk mail. No shredders. No nothing.

I'm taking this personally. It is a denial of one of the biggest demands of modern living, and the stated goals of her magazine, for what its worth--organization and such--to exclude evidence of the constant flow of paper in and out of our lives from these office scenarios.

These offices that look like the dainty surface of C.Z. Guest's escritoire, c. 1950: what are they telling us? There is an intimation in the set design they offer that anything other than the pretty acoutrement, which often are, frankly, signs of a lifestyle not shared by all, are indelicate. And not to be seen. Best kept out of sight. Managed--they are lurking in all the cloth clovered boxes and files, we feel--but not central. Somebody else is dealing with All That, maybe.

I think my reaction to the phenomenon of the MStew office is partly a matter of sensitivity--I don't care when they do the same thing, basically, in kitchens or closets. I get off on that. But here I find it painful and too full of denial to be comfortable. The flood of paper exists in absolutely everyone's life. You can divert it--maybe--but you can't cut it off. It's flowing through those offices somewhere.


Anonymous said...

Eh? These aren't examples of real writer's desks, but staged examples, like a house prettied up for sale. They're showing you the imaginary, surreal world where bills, junk mail, and unread copies of the New Yorker don't exist. Why would you get excited by reality, when the fantasy of organization is so sexy?

I guess I'm not understanding what you're really complaining about. That Martha doesn't show you real life living? That she wants to show you the organization, not the clutter? Or is it that your desk never looks like hers?

Demandra said...

This is one of the reasons why I like that 'net show "Working Class Foodies" so much. They cook in messy kitchens. There are no makeup folks. I get tired of the constant onslaught of Images of Perfection. How do those images genuinely help us? They're just so damned stale and bland. How about Images of Real Lives? We can have a lovely office space without it being cluttered, fo sho'. Why not show a little of that?

I lost my love affair with Martha (well, not entirely. She is the Diva of all Divas, natch) when I found myself pouring dish washing liquid into a "pretty" bottle. At that point, I knew I was buying into something utterly ridiculous.

Elizabeth M. Tamny said...

David: have you actually read the magazine?

Ali: I have a major beef with her dishwashing liquid thing. Don't see the efficacy of putting it in a glass bottle in a slippery, wet environment, where it can break.