If you’ve been on Facebook recently, and your friends are anything like mine, chances are you’ve seen links for “Drunk J. Crew” steadily circulating for the past few weeks—and if you’re anything like me, you’ve been consistently cracked up by the imaginary antics of the drunk J. Crew models. In each post, creator Jen Ellison pairs badly spelled pleas and accusations (“it is ON like BONKEY BONG”) with real advertisements from J. Crew catalogues.
But in addition to its spot-on comedy, “Drunk J. Crew” also occupies an important space between subversive humor and serious criticism. After years of seeing earnest campaigns like Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty or Operation Beautiful, it’s been refreshing to see the issue tackled with some snark and humor on The Toast. Drunk J. Crew continued that trend.
Ellison’s observation that women appear drunk in J. Crew advertisements is one part of a larger story. In everything from fashion photography to classical art, women are shown to be childlike (touching their faces or hair), drugged (unfocused eyes, unstable posture), and slouching (on chairs, couches, beds, as they stand). Sometimes, they even look dead. By comparison, men are straight, clear-eyed, and alert.
After viewing those images, compare them to this image:
The difference is startling.
I struck up a conversation with Ellison this week about fashion photography’s portrayal of women, the future of Drunk J. Crew, and Ellison’s most treacherous character, Cheryl.
LD: Is there a call to action inherent in Drunk J. Crew, or is your goal to provide some thought-provoking humor?
JE: I’m not sure there is a “call to action” so much as a “look around you.” Whenever I see any advertising (print, web, broadcast), there’s always a thought in the back of my head: “What is this actually saying?” Advertising, in any form, tells us so much about who we are as a culture—we are attracted and repulsed by it.
What does it say about us that, by and large, the men in J Crew look active and the women look sluggish and confused? There certainly are exceptions to this, but the ratio of alert men to drunk women is difficult to ignore. In advertising, and particularly fashion advertising, women are not afforded the same agency as men.
Also, the Tumblr is dumb and fun. I am attracted to comedy that blends dumb fun and something more. That way it’s open to everyone. If you want it to just be a laugh, you got it. If you want it to be a satire on the advertising and the fashion industry, you got it.
LD: What has the response to your Tumblr been?
JE: Very positive! I really love the people who follow it. Nothing makes me happier than a comment that says “Chips and Dimp!” or “[email protected]#! Cheryl!” (This is a reference to the Drunk J. Crew’s emerging villain—she eats all the snacks and steals ideas.)
A bunch of people went out for Halloween as Drunk J. Crew. They sent me pictures. It was amazing.
LD: What is your inspiration for the drunk quotes? Have you ever had a “Drunk J. Crew” moment?
I have a little voice that I do while I’m putting these together. I try to imagine what they are looking at—what’s the story in the photo. Where are they coming from, where are they going to? Then I think about them trying to say something real. But drunk.
The process takes forever.
A Drunk J. Crew moment? I’m sure I’ve had my share. My husband and I had some margaritas and went shopping at Whole Foods, does that count? (Yes.)
LD: Can you offer us some insight into the story lines behind your characters? Have you given them names and backstories?
JE: I mentioned Cheryl before. She is pretty consistent—but never actually appears. (There is one exception. We saw her from the back in the Halloween post.) I don’t name the models in the pictures, but they are often referring to other women (Denise, Leslie, Shelly). Names make the world more real.
I also imagine that they all live in this giant house together—throwing the best, or worst, parties ever.
LD: Which came first—the observation that J. Crew models looked drunk or a larger observation that high fashion models often look “draped over something, fuzzy headed, confused?”
JE: I think it all happened at once. What do models look like when they are fuzzy headed and confused? Drunk.
LD: Has J. Crew responded to your project?
JE: Not yet. I’m waiting for my “Thank You” card. Heh, heh.
LD: What are your plans for Drunk J. Crew in the future?
It depends. If people are still interested and it’s still funny—I may run it at least through December. There is a lot of drunkening that can happen over the holidays.
I’ve also collaborated with The Second City Network on a couple of videos. They were really fun to do—we may look to do more in the future.
Ellison is no stranger to comedy or the Internet. She is currently working as the resident director for The Second City, a famed Chicago improv group where comedians including Steve Carrell, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler found their start. She also lectures on comedy theory at Columbia College Chicago and on Digital Media Ethics at DePaul University.