HSN’s tacky branding of “The Help”

The network hawks floral dresses and deep fryers -- and misses the movie's message

Topics: The Help, Movies,

HSN's tacky branding of "The Help"

Not since a Nashville trio decided to call itself Lady Antebellum has Southern pride seemed so cluelessly tone-deaf. Earier this month, Home Shopping Network launched a “one-of-a-kind collection of beauty, home decor, designer fashions and jewelry created in the spirit of the must-see movie” of the summer, “The Help.” That’s right, you too can dress up like a segregationist bitch!

It’s true that much of the set design and costumes of “The Help” are gorgeous. They represent, after all, a well-to-do class of women who threw bridge parties in stunning old houses. They’re belles of refined taste and impeccable hospitality. Yet the fact that the HSN collection features ladylike fashions from Lela Rose, created “with a clear vision to create classic style with a whimsical twist … filled with elegant silhouettes and beautifully embellished fabrics,” seems to wildly misunderstand the true nature of these characters. I like a floral brocade dress as much as the next gal, but I wouldn’t want to order one because it’s something Hilly Holbrook would wear.

Unsurprisingly, the HSN collection, with its “Lovely Lady” pearls and “Lawn Party” crystals, doesn’t spotlight the rather more down-market wardrobes of its African-American characters. What? No maid’s uniforms? It does, however, offer items like Emeril’s Stainless Steel Fryer, the better for whipping fried chicken just like that sassy Minny. There’s also an individual pie maker, a bold choice given the memorable contents of a pie presented to a pivotal character, in a scene of mortifying horror.

Most of the items in the HSN “collection” are simply brands the network already shills, repurposed to fit the theme of lazy afternoons drinking iced tea and oppressing your domestic staff. But others, like Low Country Luxe, have a more deliberate tie-in. In a recent story for the Savannah Morning News, entrepreneur Natalie Evans tells how she was approached by HSN to create a line of home fragrances inspired by the film. She came up with Livin’ in High Cotton and also “Mississippi Magnolia, a floral scent that was inspired by the movie’s character, Aibileen.” Because when you think about a poor black maid toiling away in the Jim Crow era, you think “luxe” diffuser sets. This is livin’!

I get the “Eat, Pray, Love” home shopping experience. And if I believed that a set of lip glosses could make me feel even a little of what it might be like to have sex with Javier Bardem in Bali, I’d be eating it by the tubeful. I can understand the implied glamour of “Sex and the City”-themed soap. I can even grasp that a gal like Paula Deen would use the film as a springboard for an episode “celebrating the South,” because food is such an integral part of the story and its setting. (When she had cast members on her show this month, however, Deen wisely avoided baking a pie.)

But whatever your feelings on “The Help,” its author’s right to tell a first-person story from the point of view of African-American women, or the fundamental question of whether the movie is dramatically satisfying, only a full-on moron would view it as remotely aspirational. It’s a story of pain and struggle and terrible cruelty, not candlesticks and sheet sets. Who’d want to wield a $149 handbag that reminds her of a character who wouldn’t let another woman use her toilet? Who’d want a cake stand like the one belonging to a lady too emotionally incompetent to care for her own child? Though you can purchase a faux fur capelet in three easy installments, apparently you still can’t put a price tag on enlightenment.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>