Notice, There Are No Aprons

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Is THE HELP the EAT PRAY LOVE of 2011? If you remember, the 2010 Julia Roberts vehicle adapted from Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling book spawned a $350 million franchise from hundreds of affiliated products. Now THE HELP, another adaptation from a best-selling novel, is on the same track, partnering to produce an affiliated product line with HSN in the same way that its chick flick foremother did. Furthermore, both films also connect through the exploitation of marginalized cultures in the self-realization of privileged white protagonists. Although EAT PRAY LOVE’s exploitation occurs through global travel, THE HELP’s occurs through the black underclass of the American South, specifically the domestic female worker of the 1960s, and although the protagonist of THE HELP is designed as a kind of savior to her informants (as indeed, these domestic workers are for her), it’s important to note that author Kathryn Stockett has been sued by a family maid for using her story in the book. The exploitation occurs thus not just narratively but also economically as these stories are spun into commodities, as books, as films, and as product lines. However, a notable difference between the two is that THE HELP’s marginalized cultures are not as easy to sell as those of EAT PRAY LOVE. Make no mistake, both versions of exploitation are problematic, but there’s something especially unpalatable to me about donning the apparel of the apparent antagonists, and using the kitchen equipment of the oppressed servants. My particular distaste may be an issue of cultural versus historical distance, or an issue of personal spiritual versus cultural political awakening in the products of EAT PRAY LOVE versus THE HELP, but no matter the reason, I’ll be curious to see how consumers embrace this particular extension.

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