Artisanal Apocalypses, Curated by Scarlett Johansson and Jeff Bezos

not actually a beauty box by jeff bezos and scarjo, thank you

Today I am convinced that it will be an ordinary day of apocalypse when one of my favorite people will come out with some sort of ‘anti-pollution’ skincare product the same day a new heat record is broken, and I’ll die a little faster than I would have before. I am thinking of interconnection between a ‘good’ and the idea of a demand - and the cost of that product to get to a market, and how easy it seems to delude yourself into thinking you should join the fray because you are monied and beautiful. I am thinking of the fact the logistics of this journey can easily be made invisible and outsourced by the right team and embarked on for the right dollar amount, offered in speculation to pretty much any starlet at any time.

But mostly I am thinking, haunted really, by the realization that electrical wire casing can melt, causing transportation services to be cancelled, and there need not be a fire involved. Not one we started intentionally anyway. No smoke here, just us. Boiling everything around us, including ourselves.

This train of thought (sorry) was initiated by Scarlett Johansson. Scarlett Johansson is not one of my favorite people, though she has taken it upon herself to my favorite characters in popular culture when the roles could have gone to Asian actresses. Still, I am sure she has a big following micromanaged by all the conglomerates she is contractually obligated to until she turns 500 years old. So in some ways it does not surprise me she is planning a beauty line, that people will want to buy it because they want to look like her, and I would certainly not expect any less than it to be, as she hopes, a “clean, accessible approach to beauty,” as she has described it to WWD. I am sure she was part of a portfolio of A-List actresses that The Najafi Companies, her investors, has targeted to collaborate with on lines over the next coming years. They were actually wise to do one with Tracee Ellis Ross - hers is addressing an underserved market and has already won awards - but I admit I am not sure what gap Johansson’s will purportedly fill. We already have more “clean beauty” brands for “my skin but better” products than we would ever need. The oceans are full of their abandoned bottles.

I wonder what ScarJo’s mission statement will be. Is she aiming to serve the under-represented population of white folks who believe they are, it seems, of “Near-Asian” identity? Some seem to be participating in an ahistorically named to be launched media platform called Yolk (RIP the 90’s Asian magazine of the same title), so maybe they’ll come up with a great brand deal to platform the “Near-Asian” gaze that white partners offer to the table. Because that, surely, is what Asian-centered media needs first and foremost right now. The centrifugal force of white desire!

Perhaps it is not clear why I am both spiraling about Scarlett Johansson’s future goop-ire and also electrical wiring melting and the erasure of people of color in stories we make for the world. But to me, the story of product has a lot more to do with the ingredients and the sourcing and the labor required to get to consumers than it does the brand founder or ambassador’s perspective on the industry. Honestly, far too much time is spent on the founder’s story than on literally anybody else involved in bolstering their mythos. A person’s celebrity can move mountains and require tasks of a legion of people beyond them, and most of the time they’ll never know their names. Statistically the people harmed fastest and hardest by these forces are poor and working class people of color. The people who fulfill Lady Gaga’s beauty brand orders at an Amazon Warehouse? Today, plenty of them are likely working their shift without air conditioning, and it is more than 90 degrees in the shade.

Amazon’s data centers and tech infrastructure is climate-controlled, but their warehouses are not. A great deal of the internet’s infrastructure is based on Amazon servers, regardless if it is meant for a product purchasable on Amazon. Can’t avoid that conversation, even if I’m not going to go into it all that much right now - I am, despite what it may look like, trying to center this spiral.

Mostly I’m bothered by the idea we need more products from a beautiful blonde celebutante, that this is reason to shell out millions of dollars and inevitably many tons of packaging to create something that arguably already exists, has a confirmed market category decades in the making that continuously grows, and that we’re just supposed to nod and vibe and cover it and try it out like it’s not actively a waste of time and a carbon footprint. “Clean beauty” is supposed to help us feel better when in fact it is a not insignificant factor in why the planet is warming up. We keep getting lost in the weeds about specific dramas in it, but lately I’ve just been staring at the thermometer, you know? Grateful to have central air and also mourning it’s eventual loss, because this won’t last forever, and it’s already cost enough.

I’m not saying there aren’t beauty products I do want to try. But they’re corrective operatives in the industry; they are pretty meticulous about why they should exist in the first place and the way they do so is waste-focused. They center the environment as a character just as important to what beauty is as the consumer. In a way that isn’t horseshit either: they are specific, transparent, offer action items, own up to their failures, showcase their progress, and keep trying to improve on what they know doesn’t work. They are working hard, in other words, to not be a waste of resources. Our life span is infinitesimal. Most everything we use will outlast our bones by eons. What makes us the important ones?

No one needs anymore products that make them seem effortlessly beautiful. It is a delusion that is burning up with everything else in the world, along with labor rights and data privacy. It would be nice if clean beauty and celebrity beauty brands could own up to the fact they are empty promises. There is no “clean beauty” legally or otherwise in a world where the vast majority of their packaging will go to a landfill after being shuffled around by underpaid and overheated workers after having crossed the ocean five times in various forms. Very few people are “effortless” about anything, especially their beauty, and especially celebrities. It would be nice to just… stop pretending. We are all killing something to stay alive. If not ourselves, then certainly each other. Why pretend otherwise? Wouldn’t it be better to own up to it and adjust course?

Sorry, just had to get that out of my brain-dungeon. To keep sane, I am focusing today on a few action items:

My questions for you this week (I have genuinely loved and appreciated every emailed response, I read all of them - they let me know I’m not writing into the void):

  • Do you have a favorite sci-fi book? Right now I’m on a sci-fi revisit of my library, reading all my William Gibson novels and bringing him up in every human interaction I have, which is probably annoying by now. I am not sorry.

  • Do you have any recurring dreams or nightmares? I am so glad I don’t remember my dreams or nightmares anymore, but I’m always curious about other people’s. I miss the dream-sensation of flying, though.

  • What are you doing to keep cool and ideally full of hope? Drop your tips in the comments, if you wanna share them with others, too. I’m sure we’d all appreciate it.

Take care and keep cool,

Arabelle