[19 November 2010]
Last week, Dr. Phil welcomed Kelly Cutrone, the habitually black-clad leader of People’s Revolution, the Manhattan-based public relations firm. Cutrone first entered the pop culture universe through appearances on MTV’s The Hills and as a mentor to Whitney Port on The City. Her own show on Bravo, Kell on Earth, featured Cutrone working with her People’s Revolution partners and clients and dealing with favor-seekers and clumsy interns. Through the brutally frank demeanor she displayed on these shows, Cutrone built a fiercely loyal following of young fans hoping to break into the fashion and public relations industries.
On his show, Dr. Phil invited Cutrone to confront two severely mollycoddled young women whose lavish lifestyles were bankrolled by their doting parents. The women’s delusions of impending stardom (one wears a golden tiara as an everyday accessory) were the most extreme examples of young people hoping to be lifted into the next wave of reality TV fame. After the showed aired, Cutrone notified her 92,000 Twitter followers that she had signed on to become a correspondent for Dr. Phil’s show, thereby infusing daytime television with her own brand of “truth-telling”, as an admiring Dr. Phil described her candor.
Cutrone maintains close contact with her Twitter followers, often directly responding to their questions and comments. This past August, Cutrone used her Twitter account to assemble dozens of her fans at Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. Underneath the park’s landmark archway, an eager crowd of smartly dressed young people greeted her arrival with cheers and a reflex-like deployment of cameras and smartphones. Cutrone quickly initiated an easy, chatty rapport with her devotees about what they enjoyed or found lacking in her bestselling book If You Have to Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You (HarperOne, 2010). Some listeners standing near me took notes, while others appeared to record the whole conversation on their Blackberrys.
Cutrone’s book is a quick, smooth read, a mix of straightforward career guidance and the kind of advice usually sought from a close confidant. By offering forceful critiques of the cultural scripts that young women are asked to blindly follow, her ethos emphasizes an attention to self-discovery and a disciplined devotion to the work required to succeed as a fashion publicist. Among the key milestones covered in her book are her initiation into Manhattan’s public relations world, her marriage to Ronnie Cutrone, a Pop artist and Andy Warhol’s former studio assistant, a spiritual “breakthrough” through which she overcame a drug addiction, her creation and management of People’s Revolution, and the birth of her daughter. Both her book and her Bravo show celebrated a certain ruthlessness (her nickname is “Mama Wolf”), but not one without values. As one example, Cutrone describes turning down Donald Trump as a client over his defense of Mike Tyson during his domestic assault scandal.
To my Columbia colleagues who study European history, “people’s revolution” evokes the elusive goal of Marxist movements that sought to create atheistic, classless utopias. By contrast, Cutrone’s message combines the savvy of a successful entrepreneur, a hypermodern “DIY religion” that encourages an ongoing refinement of the self, and a profound love for New York, itself a monument to capitalist resilience. In her book, she writes, “The only dream I ever had was the dream of New York itself, and for me, from the minute I touched down in this city, that was enough.” Her brand of spiritual revolution continues to insist that young people abandon emotional neediness, pursue their career goals with diligence, and cultivate a habit of constant introspection. In the name of dreams, breakthroughs, and New York City, Amen.