I watched two episodes of the Sundance Channel’s new advertisement for Anthropologie, Man Shops Globe, and failed to be caught up in the drama. As host and buyer-at-large for the chain Keith Johnson keeps reminding us, he is spending a lot of Anthropologie’s money to go to South Africa. He is running out of time after he schedules two days in Istanbul for himself and his team. The artificiality of these constraints, the drive-by nature of his global “research,” seem insulting to all involved. This is not an “adventure” as Sundance promises, but a business trip. Besides time and money, the other thing Johnson spends his time talking about is the lack or originality in most of the indigenous crafts he surveys. What he means by that is that they are traditional, untouched by the design hand of American consumerism. But he can help them with that, suggesting ways to cut up their heritage into overpriced throw pillows. He just needs to find someone within THE NEXT THREE HOURS who gets that, and can send them on to New York.
To Johnson everything is fodder for something cuter, and he is the only one with the vision to make it so. Can he tell us about that vision? No, he can only drive his scouts onward, since like many fashion people, his vocabulary is limited to “new” and “next” and “twist” and “different.” There is no room for history and context and information about making. When he actually takes time to do something cultural — visiting an amazing wooden house on the Turkish coast — as opposed to shopping, he clearly feels guilty about it. All unconsumable pleasure is a waste of time, he implies. But then he sees the fuzz-edged throw pillow of his dreams, and the detour is worth it.
Maybe it has to be on public TV (but isn’t Sundance sort of hipper public TV, with all its green and documentaries and cinema?) but Antiques Roadshow does a much better job separating stuff from consumerism and imparting actual information. It may be terrifically square, but everyone and everything on it are treated with respect. The stories of the maker and the owner are drawn out, and the expertise of the appraiser is used. Yes, each segment ends in a dollar value, but rarely do things seem to be for sale. Money is being used as an index of worth, not a mode of tourism. Even modernists can learn a little design history: search the Roadshow archives and you find an Eames bikini chair, a Noguchi Radio Nurse, and many WPA posters. Man Shops Globe never mentions anything but the future.
If PBS tried Modern Roadshow they might be able to attract a younger audience. Or Sundance could put on a travel show in which artisans were featured doing what they do, without dollar signs dancing above their heads. There could be a link to buy later, but you would have to use your own judgment about whether it would work in your house, in the USA. Mr. Man Shops Globe is doing the judging for you, and marking it up accordingly, but he isn’t teaching you anything. Except maybe not to schedule only two days in Istanbul.