Laughing With Them: An Interview with GoFugYourself Creators, Jessica Morgan and Heather Cocks
In the introduction to their new book, GoFugYourself.com co-creators Jessica Morgan and Heather Cocks refer to themselves as "a couple of snarky bitches". Spend some time over at their blog, though, and you'll discover quite the opposite. Morgan and Cocks might sound like catty wenches when they chide Tara Reid for her wonky breast implants or offer advice to flat-chested Kirsten Dunst to wear a push-up bra ("Love your girls," they write, "and they'll love you back").
But indeed these are the kinds of friends any woman could use -- especially those women who spend so much time in the spotlight. If Tara'd had these girls on staff perhaps she wouldn't have ventured out to the 2003 MTV Movie Awards in a dress resembling a "very unreliable-looking drawstring purse".
Cocks and Morgan have built their careers on judging celebrity fashion. From Cate Blanchett to Britney Spears, no celebrity passes beneath their fug-radar, and every day on their blog, a new fashion disaster is posted, full-colour, just begging for the GFY treatment. At the time of writing, new reality TV star Denise Richards is in the hotbox at GFY wearing a light Autumn-y dress, dark-coloured shoes, and a suede sunhat. The Fug Girls comment:
I don't know about you, but every time I see an ad for Denise Richards: It's Complicated, I fly into a foaming rage. It's NOT complicated. You had a brutally wretched and acrimonious divorce during which both you and the MaSheen said incredibly disturbing things about each other, and then you hopped into the sack with your best friend's husband before either of you were even legally single ... Don't pretend your life is gloriously and fascinatingly complex in a way that wasn't totally engineered by your own actions, and I won't pretend I don't hate your hat.
It's that sort of up-to-the-minute pop culture knowledge and Epilady-sharp wit that has raised GFY above other blogs of its kind. Nobody slams a poorly-dressed celeb like the Fug Girls. And they admit, too, it's all in good fun.
The Fug Awards
by Jessica Morgan and Hetaher Cocks
Simon & Schuster
February 2008, 272 pages, $19.95
GFY translates well as a book, especially one this big and glossy. It's the coffee-table book for fashion-fiends and celeb-watchers, easily flip-through-able, and a great conversation piece. Best of all, the snark is fresh. PopMatters spoke to Cocks and Morgan about the book, the snark, and whether or not it's cruel to laugh so heartily at Courtney Peldon.
How did the Fug Awards get from blog to book?
Jessica Morgan: We'd gotten some emails from people suggesting we write a book, but it wasn't until the man who became our agent came to town and took us for cocktails and talked it out with us that we really decided it was something we should try. Like so many babies, it was conceived over cocktails.
Heather Cocks: It hadn't really occurred to us in a serious way until then, but suddenly, we realized it did make sense to try and create something tangible -- something for people who are mystified by celebrity fashion but don't necessarily enjoy reading blogs, for instance, or for people who would like to read Go Fug Yourself (GFY) in the bathroom but don't want to mess with bringing their laptops into the john. You know. And also, frankly, it just sounded incredibly fun.
Were there any doubts the site would translate to book form?
JM: Definitely. Lots of doubts! It was really challenging, because a blog, by nature, and especially our blog, is very much of the moment. It was hard to figure out how to write the book so that it wasn't automatically dated, and we also needed to figure out how to write something that was different enough from the blog itself that people wouldn't feel like we were asking them to buy something they had already read for free. We discarded a ton of random ideas trying to figure it out.
HC: That's how we came up with the faux-awards format -- who doesn't love a cheesy awards spectacular, for one thing, and for another, we'd always been toying with the idea of doing year-end "worst of the worst" posts, and bringing that concept to book form turned that into something bigger and prettier and glossier than anything we could've done on the blog itself.
Have you been happy with the response?
JM: Definitely. We mostly just wanted our regular readers to enjoy it -- we wrote it for them -- and it seems like they have, so we're thrilled.
HC: Everyone's been great. The one thing we've struggled with is getting the message out that it's not reprinted material -- it's all new. None of the text has appeared on the blog before. But we have superb readers. They're so supportive, and have welcomed the book with very open arms. That's really all we could ask for; when we were writing it, that was our chief concern. We didn't want any of our loyal readers to come away feeling like they'd gotten gypped out of their money by buying the book.
You mention in the book's introduction, that it's a snapshot of a time. What is up with now? Are we in some media dark age where celebrity and person to celebrate are getting too confused to ever go back? Or do you think it's always been like this, we just get to see more of it because of the Internet? I don't know if I can think of a Paris-type in the pre-Internet age ...?
JM: It's hard to say. I think there has always been a sector of celebrity that isn't really based on talent. But with the advent of the celebrity blog, obviously, I think we're seeing far more of many
more people than we used to. Part of me thinks that this is only temporary, but then I think about the intense need that everyone has to procrastinate at work and I'm pretty sure that the media attention given to even sort of marginal celebrities is here to stay. People need celebrity gossip to read when they're supposed to be working!
HC: Yeah, and despite what people say, reality TV isn't going away. I mean, the Kardashians have a show, Denise Richards is filming one, the Lohan matriarch is doing one ... there will always be low-level celebrities who are desperate to get noticed, and outlandish and/or barely-there clothes will always be one of the things they turn to in order to get that fame. The Internet certainly helps that along.
"The Fug Queen..."
JM: It changes, you know? Fergie used to be a total mess and now she looks consistently adorable. There's hope for everyone! I think right now, I am really loving Rachel Bilson. She always looks great. As far as actual icons go, I have to admit that I have a great fondness for Sharon Stone -- who looks amazing half the time and REALLY CRAZY the other half. I would never advise that anyone emulate her, but she is a favorite. And personally, I'd love to grow up like Helen Mirren. She always looks sexy AND age-appropriate.
HC: Oh, sweet Peldons. In terms of people they would realistically take tips from, I'd say Lauren Conrad of The Hills, who is about their age -- well, a bit younger, but whatever -- and who generally stays away from grossly overexposing her flesh (if not her image). Of course, I'm not saying Lauren Conrad is a style icon. Just that if the Peldons were to decide to learn from Cate Blanchett, they'd need a REALLY big clothing budget, because she wears off-the-runway stuff like the rest of us wear Banana Republic. I actually think Cate Blanchett is a good icon -- again, a lot of her choices are not things that I would do, but she carries them off with extreme self-assurance and you know her missteps are because she's playful and not because she's desperate or blind.
Does Courtney Peldon know how the world views her? I'm of the opinion, for instance, that Chloe Sevigny dresses ridiculously on purpose. Her own special sense of irony and all that (I hope, at least). But Peldon, and we can throw Brown into this as well -- do they get it? Can they possibly just not see the world laughing at them?
JM: I don't know. I think they sort of get it -- I mean, Courtney once wore a LOIN CLOTH to a premiere. And they've said things in the recent past that acknowledged that they know they used to go out looking totally nuts. I think they were sort of doing it for attention. So I think they get it. I just think they went into the sort of Tacky Mermaid direction, instead of the Ironic Fashionista
HC: I think they get it NOW, but too late. Like, who's going to take them seriously as actresses at this point? Not that we ever did, but seriously, the level of fug they were putting out into the world with regularity between, say, 2003 and 2006, was guffaw-inducing. I can't imagine that helped their career, which might be why they're still best-known to people for a) the fug, or b) acting roles they took when they were tots. If they'd had a bit more savvy and self-awareness early on, I don't think they'd have gone as far in the direction they did. Unless they never planned to stay in showbiz, but somehow I doubt that.
Is it mean to laugh at them? Why do we laugh at them?
JM: I don't think it's too terribly mean. I think we've ALL had those days when we wore something crazy and you HAVE to just laugh about it. So I prefer to think that I am laughing WITH them.
HC: Yeah, I have to believe that Courtney Peldon took one look at herself in that loincloth and laughed as hard as we did and thought to herself, "I was DERANGED." There's fashion mistakes -- the wrong fit, the accidentally see-through top, etc. -- and then there's wearing a bikini and fishnets to a charity event. So there's a part of our blog that deals with groaning and putting our head in our hands over simple things that could've been avoided, where we're not laughing but rather commiserating, and then there's the part that deals with the Peldons and Bai Ling, who are SO off their rockers that you have to laugh because how else can you process it? I mean, their wardrobes are not of this planet.
How did you guys come to be so interested in fashion dos and don'ts? Have you been judging celebrity outfits forever?
JM: I think we were definitely always interested in celebrity outfits. Not in an extreme way, but in the way that a lot of people are -- we sit around and watch the Oscars with our girlfriends, or
flip through US Weekly, and talk about what everyone was wearing. And I think that kind of chatty girlfriend tone has kind of translated to the site -- I hope so, anyway.
HC: It does just come from our relationship as friends, the time we've spent hanging out and gossiping. I've always been into soap operas -- I loved Dynasty and I enjoy all the daytime TV melodrama over here, and I grew up watching EastEnders and Aussie soaps like Neighbours and Home & Away. So in a way, being fascinated by celebs' real-life drama is just an extension of that love of melodrama, and that parlayed itself into a "What would I have done? Well, certainly not THAT" approach to their wacky clothing choices.
"Oh, sweet Jesus..."
JM: I have a weird obsession with Lindsay Lohan. I love her when she looks heinous and I love her when she looks awesome. I am always interested in her, and I don't know why. And I think we both always love Posh. As far as early style disasters, we talked about that as far as the book goes, actually, and it turns out that it's really hard to have the appropriate perspective on that sort of thing. Clearly, in 2008, my plaid stirrup pants with the giant bows on the stirrup would be CRAZY, but in 1985, they were AWESOME.
HC: When Chloe Sevigny came out with that hideous line for Opening Ceremony, I was thrilled. I deeply enjoy how bad her clothes are sometimes. She was one of my original sore spots, if you will, because every magazine was insisting that she was so cerebral about fashion that we couldn't possible hope to understand her genius -- all while she was wearing, like, a satin multi-colored muumuu. It would annoy me that people were implying that my dislike for that getup was because I was too stupid to understand it, and not because it was in fact hideous and unflattering. Chloe does sometimes look like a million bucks -- just like anyone out there, she has good days and bad, and since Big Love on HBO she's looked pretty more often than
not at events. So I always feel a lovely twinge of nostalgia when she turns out something that harkens back to Old Chloe's insanity.
Can you think of a celeb who has never messed up?
JM: You know, there are a lot of people who are reliably pretty chic -- I think Nicole Richie, for instance, usually looks great -- but EVERYONE messes up sometimes. Thank god! It'd be so boring otherwise.
HC: Even Nicole Richie blows it, though. She was a mess when they started promoting that first season of The Simple Life. I'm not a fan of her casual style, but on the red carpet she does know how to turn it out much better than she did back then. I can't think of anyone unimpeachable, either. And as Jess said, that's just human nature. Even Major League Baseball players don't have a .500 batting average. Nobody hits it out of the park every time.
What is it about your kind of criticism that has given the site such a leg up? I find Fug to be the most culturally aware, the most spot-on with its '80s trivia, and, believe it or not, the nicest. Was that always in the plan, to resist rudeness or cattiness?
JM: Thank you! That is really nice to hear. We DO have a handle on our Sweet Valley High trivia, that is true. I don't know if our extensive knowledge of that and Melrose Place is the secret to our success, but I certainly like to think so. In all seriousness, though, I'm not sure what's given us a leg up. I think we were very fortunate to have gotten into the blog thing early in the game, and there aren't a lot of sites out there that SOLELY cover celebrity fashion the way we do, so that has helped us a lot. As far as niceness goes, we never sat down and had a discussion about editorial tone or whathaveyou, but I think we've naturally evolved into ... you know, not being TOTAL raging bitches.
HC: The tone definitely did just grow naturally -- we're not all love and pancakes, or anything, but we just don't want to get into ragging on people's DNA. I'm sure in the early going we weren't as certain of that goal, but once we started doing it enough, we just realized we wanted to keep it about what these people are doing to themselves -- the self-inflicted state of fug. Some of it also comes from the fact that we are giant softies at heart, though. Fergie is a prime example. We never really got her at all, but then she developed some chicness and came off really sweet in interviews, and suddenly an affection for her grew up almost out of nowhere. It's like that with almost all of them now -- we have these soft spots or inexplicable affinities for so many people and we just want them to keep it together.
What are the most interesting things you've learned about people (celebrities or non) since starting Go Fug?
JM: Oh, good question. I have learned that people who write hate mail tend to have considerably worse spelling and grammar than people who write non-hate mail. Also, I've learned that the more I fug someone, the more I start to secretly love them.
HC: Same here. And I have learned that Jessica is one hell of a business partner.
What do you like most about your site?
JM: I love when Heather writes as George Clooney -- aka Intern George. That never fails to make me laugh.
HC: Aw, thanks! I used to love Jess's Britney letters, but alas, we don't do those any more because she's too tragic. Her Lindsay Lohan LeggingsWatch stuff cracked me up. Mostly, though, my favorite thing about the site is how much fun we still have doing it, and getting to work together. We were pals before we were colleagues, so it's been such a pleasure to have grown a career we both love out of a friendship we value.
What's the future look like for Go Fug?
JM: We are not big plan makers -- we tend to take things as they come with the site. So we'll see what happens. We are planning on writing some more books -- maybe fiction! -- and keeping an eye on the scourge of leggings, of course.
HC: I would like to say the future looks like a closet full of Louboutin shoes and designer dresses, but I keep forgetting to buy lottery tickets so I'm guessing that will never come to pass.