Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Mercantile Dystopia: Material Girls by Elaine Dimopoulos

My apologies bubbled forth. "Oh, my gosh, Julia. I'm so sorry. My Unum died and my alarm didn't go off. It won't happen again. Ever," I said in a gush.

Julia glanced at her watch. She didn't smile. "Come." She cocked her head toward the hall. "Let's walk and talk."

I swallowed and stepped out of the elevator. After working for Julia for two years, I knew that to "walk and talk" was not a good sign.

I prayed that my stovepipes looked okay with my tunic.

"What's happening with you?" Julia asked. "Garment lengths, sweater cuts, accessories... these days the court goes one way and you go the other.

You should know, Marla, there are those in management who think you've peaked. After all, you're almost seventeen. There's talk of moving you down to the basement."

In a mega-merchandising society, Marla Klein has been at the top, a judge on the Superior Court of Torro LeBlanc, one of the big five fashion houses, the group which ostensibly passes judgment on new designs from the "drafters" in the basement. It's a teenage dream, to set the styles everyone else wears if they can afford the price, to always appear in the latest of fashion, assisted by trendchecking scanners whose red flash means a garment is "out" and unwearable.

But when Marla makes one too many divergent decisions in the Court, she finds herself a has-been, summarily demoted, shunned by her former friends, and sent to the basement where a roomful of drafters labor away on commission, turning out drawings one after the other in hopes of having one chosen for consideration by the Court. Marla struggles to revive her skills at drawing fashions. Even her mother is angry at her for the loss of income and prestige.

But as the first days pass, Marla begins to feel the satisfaction of being able to put forth her own ideas and to recognize that the drafters, along with the pattern makers and other "creatives" at Torro LeBlanc, seem to be strangely happier than the the backbiting members of the Court. Suddenly Marla understands that the teen rulers of fashion are not really in charge, that they are merely used to manipulate trends to raise profits for the "Silents," the oligarchy who control the "creatives" and the drone-like "adequate" workers alike.

Under the leadership of drafters Felix and Vivienne, the drafters begin to organize a group willing to mount a company-wide strike for fair wages and work conditions for everyone, even garment factory laborers. Marla enlists the support of top pop singer Ivy Wilde, who revolts against the current Torture Trend and agrees to wear Marla's "Eco-Chic" creations. With Ivy's clout with style setting teens, the movement for an industry "makeover" is an initial success, until the Silents order the workers to work or be replaced by eleven and twelve-year-olds. Most of the workers fold and return, and Marla and her confederates are rounded up by the paramilitary CSS troops, implanted with listening devices, their Unums and Tabulas confiscated, put on house arrest for a month, and declared legally unemployable by any corporation. Felix and Marla are released, but Vivienne, consider too old to be rehabilitated, is sent away to a mental institution.

In a setting in which some sort of financial apocalypse has apparently occurred, the rulers exploit teenagers for their labor through a tapping ceremony at age thirteen, which divides them into three classes, and capitalizes upon their slavish devotion to being in the in-group by controlling their buying in clothes and music. With the rip-roaring success of hyper-violent dystopic teen novels such as Suzanne Collin's novels-to-movies The Hunger Games and Joelle Charbonneau's The Testingseries, Elaine Dimopoulos' fashion warfare novel, Material Girls (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), may seem like mild fare, but in truth, her premise of a merchandising/media conspiracy of "silents" controlling public taste for their personal gain is eerily too close to the truth of consumer society for comfort. Dimopoulos' cogent premise may give young adult readers something to think about as they head out to the mall for their latest trend fix. "Sly, subversive fun!" says Kirkus Reviews.

To add to her bona fides, author Dimopoulos appends a listing, "Web Resources," devoted to sustainable consumption.

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