Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Devil Wears Prada - Lauren Weisberger

I know this post is about 16 years too late, but sometimes it's fun to go back and re-read something that you've already read, just to get a fresh perspective.  So what was my first thought upon my re-reading (well, re-listening) to this book?  TEXTING.  That's right, this book, which is so centered on a woman who is basically glued to her cell phone, was written in the days before texting was widely popular and available.  So many of her interpersonal problems could have been resolved if she'd possessed a smartphone.  I think I'm getting ahead of myself here.

The Devil Wears Prada is rumored to be loosely about Anna Wintour and the demands she placed on her assistants at Vogue.  I'm not sure if this is true or not, and it doesn't matter, since the personalities involved would have had to be embellished enough that no one ended up being sued for defamation. Or maybe not - I know I've worked for some wackadoos, and I certainly recognize a lot of the behavior demonstrated by antagonist Miranda Priestly.  Sometimes people get so used to having their asses kissed that they forget it's because the people doing the kissing WANT something from them.  I want to shake those people and shout "you're not special, you just have firing authority!"  Which of course I won't do, because I do not have firing authority.

I don't think this is a hot take, and it's certainly not a snappy one because I've consumed two of Costo's finest house brand night time sinus pills and I feel like I'm typing through a soft layer of cotton balls.  I'm on the fence about whether this medication actually relieves sinus pressure, or whether it just makes me kind of soft and foggy and occasionally weepy with just the tiniest sharp edge of paranoia so that I don't notice it anymore.  This may be a just me thing, but last time I took these pills I ended up noticing that one of my dogs had more grey on his muzzle than I'm used to seeing.  This alarmed me enoumously, and I sobbed about the relentless and merciless freight train of time for about two hours.  I group texted my girlfriends and called my boyfriend and was an emotional disaster until I ended up crawling into bed and snuggling my grey boi, who was decidedly not pleased with my sweaty cuddling since I'm what is known politely as a "hot sleeper."  You'd think I'd have thrown the medication away, but I don't like wasting money and I still have most of a bulk case left so here we are!  Hot mess express!

Anyway, not a fresh or particularly sharp take on this book, but here are my thoughts:
1.  Everything seems dramatic at 23.  Andy, our heroine, agrees to take on an insanely demanding job for a woman who is, to use today's favorite unprofessional pop sych terminology, a narcississtic sociopath.  I realize that was the longest sentence in the world.  I'm also not going to go back and spell check that, because in my head I started to type Mississippi and I just went with it because it felt fun!  THANKS, KIRKLAND COLD & FLU.  She's lead to believe that if she can stick out this absolutely horrific job for a year,  she'll get a reference to work anywhere she wants.  She has dreams of going to The New Yorker, and this will save her years of work and is an almost guaranteed job.  I think this is a pretty mature decision for 23, and she went into it with a great attitude.  Unfortunately, because she's 23, she's not yet emotionally equipped to handle confrontation.  Instead of rolling her eyes and knowing that it's temporary, as people keep telling her to do, Andy lets it eat away at her and feels herself morally superior.  Listen, Andy.  You're the one using someone you hate to get a job you want.  It's a business decision.  Treat it as such. 

2.  Andy's friends are dicks.  She tells them repeatedly, and specifically, that she is on-call 24/7.  Her boss is insane, she's not allowed to have a personal life, she's going to have to cancel plans, she's going to be too exhausted to do things.  Her friends, boyfriend, and family all refuse to believe her.  They assume she's exaggerating because she works in fashion, which they consider frivolous.  This leads to Andy, who isn't good at confrontation or boundaries (see #1), to go on guilt trips that make her even more passive aggressive and bitter at work.  Listen.  If someone in your life expresses the reasons why their life is hard?  BELIEVE THEM.  It doesn't matter if you think you have it worse.  It doesn't matter if you think the reasons their life is hard are stupid.  This isn't the struggle Olympics.  Her boyfriend gets a special place in boyfriend jail for being annoyed that she can't have phone conversations in the middle of the day, and for not caring about her boundaries because he feels his job teaching is more important than her job assisting someone who's running a large sector of the local economy.  He's pretentious and self important, Andy.  Dump. His. Ass.

3.  Andy's internatlized guilt makes her blame herself when her best friend Lillie, who is struggling with depression, downward spirals.  She blames herself for not being there for her friend and she feels like she could somehow have prevented the incident that follows.  In re-reading this book, I call shenanigans.  Despite being busy, Andy still regularly sees her friends and boyfriend.  She shares an apartment Lillie in the second half.  No, they're not spending all weekend together, but she's there.  She even brings up Lillie's self destructive behavior and asks if she needs help. Lillie brushes all of this off, and blames Andy for not being "supportive," while at the same time criticizing how seriously Andy takes her job - the temporary job that Andy has made clear is going to land her a fantastic career for the rest of her life.  Yeah, Andy, I don't think you're the problem.  Also, serious note, if someone you love is struggling with depression, you can be supportive and listen and try to help all you want, but it won't cure the condition.  You can't good-listener someone out of depression, and you can't force them into therapy.  Sometimes the closer you are to them, the harder they push you away.  It's not the popular thing people want to hear, but it's true.  Andy is 100% not at fault for Lillie's issues, and Lillie isn't either.  It was a crappy situation for everyone.

4.  Just like you can't cure a friend with depression, you're not going to passive-aggressive your boss out of being demon spawn.  Sure, you may present your boss with a clock or calendar and try to explain the concept of linear time to them, or you may try to explaint that you're not a mind reader.  They really don't care.  They just don't.  You can have one or two conversations about managing expectations right off the bat, but if it doesn't take at the start it's never going to happen.  You're either going to have to live with it or move on.  In Andy's case, she didn't quite make it the full term but it didn't really hurt her in the end.  There's a very fictional quitting moment that reads as pure fantasy, as though all of us collectively walked out of all our worst jobs.  She lands on her feet - not really a spoiler, since she's from a well off family in Connecticut.  The Andys of the world always land on their feet. 

If this book had been written today, Andy would have had a calendar and her email right at her fingertips.   Instead of her needy boyfriend dumping her because she couldn't make personal calls in the afternoon with her boss in the next room, Andy could have just texted or sent him a quick emoji here and there.  She could have vented her rage on Twitter instead of internalizing it and suffering all kinds of mental anguish.  She could have handled many of the communications issues much more quickly and efficiently.  Of course, I can also argue that if her needy boyfriend didn't respect the difficulties of her job in the first place, she should have just dumped the boyfriend in chapter four. 

I'm also much less interested in fashion than I was when this first came out.  I've been listening this book and its descriptions of late 90s/early 2000s clothing in the background while I do domestic chores in a pair of men's sweapants that I've custom cut up to fit just the way I like. The secret is to remove the elastic at the ankles so that the pants can lay flat over the top of  your slippers.

This was a fun, light re-read now that I'm older and have more experience with with workplace.  I don't know that I would have had the guts to stick it out as long as Andy did, because at 36 I have something that Andy did not have at 23:  cynicism.  Andy took it for granted that she'd get her dream job in the end.  I wouldn't have trusted a boss that awful to do anything as beneficial as writing a reference. 

Until next time, readers, I leave you with these words of wisdom:  every boss will be terrible at some point in your career.  And if she's really terrible, you can write a tell all book and sell the movie rights. 

1 comment:

  1. You show much wisdom and insight here. I particularly enjoyed the third paragraph: Comedy gold.

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