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Today at our store:
McSweeney's issues 1-3 for $10.00!

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M R .   B L A C K W E L L ,
A   L I T E R A R Y   A N A L Y S I S .


BY GUSTAVO P. SECCHI

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Mr. Blackwell's annual list of fashion frumps includes Cher, Celine Dion, Queen Elizabeth and Martha Stewart, who he dressed down as "dull, dowdy and devastatingly dreary."

Here we see a clear example of assonant, first-letter alliteration, one of Blackwell's preferred stylistic devices. The quadruple use of the device is somehow excessive, but so are the subjects of the line. Overall, it's a good thing.

Blackwell, a former fashion designer who writes a column for a supermarket tabloid and entertains on ocean cruises, did have something nice to say. He declared that Gwyneth Paltrow, Sophia Loren, Oprah Winfrey, Camryn Manhein, Barbra Streisand, Halle Berry, Helen Mirren, Nicole Kidman, Sharon Stone and Princess Caroline of Monaco were "fabulous fashion independents."

Again the alliteration, this time consonant and restrained, also in consonance with the fabulous style of the women in question. This man is a genius. A genius who entertains on ocean cruises.

Mr. Blackwell's 40th annual worst-dressed women list and his comments:

1. Cher: "A million beads/ And one overexposed derriere."

Free verse. The clashing use of the French prevents the accidental alliteration that could have been easily attained (compare with "buttocks" or "bum") and brings out the francophone roots of "million" for a double punch of excessive gaudiness.

2. Celine Dion: "In her backward tuxedo/ There's no way of knowing/ Whether Diva Dion is coming or going./ A profusion of confusion."

Consonant alliteration AND double consonant rhyme (end-rhyme AND internal). A masterpiece of confused style, repeating the motif of the final line.

3. Queen Elizabeth: "Was she the palace Christmas tree/ Or just a royal clown? "

Almost a haiku, unbalanced by that least royal of stylistic devices, the pun. Also subversively violates Oscar Wilde's assertion that "the Queen is not a subject."

4. Martha Stewart: "Dresses like the centerfold for the Farmer's Almanac."

Simple. Subdued. Deceptively so. Just like Martha.

5. Fiona Apple: "A kinked and curled Kewpie Doll/ wrapped in a collection/ Of yesterday's fatal fashion frights."

The messy, bratty alliteration of the first line ebbs down to the plainness of the middle verse only to lead to the triple punch of the finale. Blackwell's uneven movements mimic those star-stop rhythms favored by the anorexic singer.

6. Britney Spears: "This belly-baring songbird/ is better heard than seen."

Alliteration across the lines, leading to a pun that both emphasizes the child-porn quality of Spears' oeuvre AND her alleged relationship with Prince Andrew (see above comment of pun as anti-royal subversion). Notice the use of British slang "bird" ("young woman") giving away the royal connection confirmed by Blackwell's use of the pun.

7. Sarah Jessica Parker: "From 'Sex and the City'/ Sarah's fashions are a mix-and-match pity."

A simple, homely consonant rhyme with just a tinge of alliteration. Mixing and matching devices, like Sarah's clothing. All descending from "sex" to "pity."

8. Jennifer Aniston: "She's a fashion bore and a snore."

One line (with internal consonant rhyme) is all it takes for Blackwell to dethrone yesteryear's "it girl." If Blackwell is bored, so are we.

9. Cameron Diaz: "On 'Any Given Sunday'/ Cameron falls prey to a freaky fashion curse/ And as the week continues,/ she just slips from bad to worse."

The rhyme pattern ABCB with longer rhymed verses is a characteristic balladic form, one that Blackwell rarely employs unless he means to comment ironically on the perception of fashion as a magical concept. So we get "curse" rhymed with "worse," all ruled by the "slippage" of Cameron's taste throughout the stanza. Perhaps also one could find an allusion to her fall (i.e., "slip") from style since the days of "The Mask, " where she wore a notorious "slip" dress.

10. The Dixie Chicks: "They look like a trio of truckstop fashion tragedies/ trapped in a typhoon."

The list's finale is a bravura tour de force, with Blackwell not pulling any stops in his characterization of the country trio. There's quadruple two-letter alliteration, offset by a final one-letter alliteration that illustrate the maelstrom produced by bad fashion sense on the aesthete's mind. A typhoon indeed.

 

 

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