Review & Discussion | IT by Alexa Chung

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Alexa Chung published her first book, It,  in 2013 to wide and disparaging criticism from almost every angle. A collection of photos and thoughts from Chung's life, many readers deemed the content fluffy, worthless, and self-indulgent from a woman 'famous for being famous'. I picked up the book a few weeks ago and thought I'd throw my own two cents into the mix.
It appears to be a continually growing trend recently to publish memoirs and biographies from famous women: Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham, and Amy Poehler. For the first time in a long time, successful women have been given platforms to discuss and share their experiences with their fans and wider audiences. I'm sure there's more to be said about the fact that many of these women are largely known as comedians, a traditionally masculine field, but I'll narrow the scope of my discussion here. Alexa Chung, on the other hand, grew her celebrity as a model and fashion icon across the internet. It doesn't seem surprising then that It focuses so heavily on photography, fashion, and pop culture when that's what Chung is most known for.

Reading the book, I was struck by its tone: it's almost like reading a very well designed personal scrapbook. Many of the photos are of unfamiliar people or Chung herself taken with an arty, vintage camera aesthetic. If those aren't the type of images you find interesting, you simply won't enjoy this. I bought it for the same reason I would buy a coffee-table book. I wanted a collection of images that I could browse, enjoy, and find inspiration from. In many ways, the images remind me of my tumblr dashboard, and that's why I like it.

What I wasn't really expecting was the text. Much of it are brief, spurts of ideas or comments about shopping, fashion, people, or anything else that appears to have crossed Chung's mind during writing. Many, many readers have found the most negative criticism in these passages, describing them as useless and self-indulgent thoughts that they can't believe people are expected to pay for. It's as though Chung is placing far too much value on her passing commentary, apparently undeservedly. I think these readers, though, are forgetting a key step to the production of a book: the publication process. Alexa Chung did not self-publish this book and in that way, isn't at sole fault for displeasing these critics with her text.

This is how I take it: while I 100% recognise that the text and images in It lack critical analysis or engagement, they focus very closely on Alexa Chung and her life and experiences, I really enjoyed reading it because I found it reassuring and affirming. There's a problematic dichotomy in relation to the media and pop culture in our society whereby we're expected to be completely aware of things like relationships between celebrities and their apparent weight loss or gain on a constant basis but we're not allowed to be interested in it for fear of being voyeuristic or foolishly gossipy. The fact is, all of us have useless silly thoughts about just about everything everyday. That's why Twitter has experienced such ridiculous success since its launch. What It did for me was affirm that having these thoughts is normal and even acceptable. If someone is allowed to publish these thoughts in a physical book, then surely I can think them and maybe even share them with the people around me.

Instead of approaching the text as a cynical representation of the degradation of literature in the modern age, it seems a more harmless mutation of what we're now allowing ourselves to enjoy.

What do you think? Do you feel positively, negatively, or neutral about this type of publication?

xx Julia

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