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Authors: Kelly Cutrone

Normal Gets You Nowhere

BOOK: Normal Gets You Nowhere
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Normal Gets You Nowhere

Kelly Cutrone
with Meredith Bryan

For Ava,

my mother,

and the Universal Mother

Do not simply believe what you hear just because you have heard it for a long time.

Do not follow tradition blindly merely because it has been practiced in that way for many generations.

Do not be quick to listen to rumors.

Do not confirm anything just because it agrees with your scriptures.

Do not foolishly make assumptions.

Do not abruptly draw conclusions by what you see and hear.

Do not be fooled by outward appearances.

Do not hold on tightly to any view or idea just because you are comfortable with it.

Do not accept as fact anything that you yourself find to be logical.

Do not be convinced of anything out of respect or deference to your spiritual teachers.

You should go beyond opinion and belief. You can rightly reject anything which when accepted, practiced, and perfected leads to more aversion, more craving and more delusion. They are not beneficial and to be avoided.

Conversely, you can rightly accept anything which when accepted and practiced leads to unconditional love, contentment and wisdom. These things allow you time and space to develop a happy and peaceful mind.

This should be your criteria on what is and what is not the truth; on what should be and what should not be the spiritual practice.

—From the
Kalama Sutta
, The Buddha

Introduction

I’m not going to change the way I look or the way I feel to conform to anything. I’ve always been a freak. So I’ve been a freak all my life and I have to live with that, you know. I’m one of those people.

—John Lennon

I was always fascinated by people who are considered completely normal, because I find them the weirdest of all.

—Johnny Depp

O
ne day last spring, I got a call from my publishing company. They were ready to talk book number two.
What?
I thought.
Book number one just came out three months ago! Are these people on crack?
It turns out my editor didn’t just want any second book—she wanted me to rewrite the Ten Commandments! By now I was
sure
she hated me. She was probably envisioning me writing things like, “Thou shalt have sex with whomever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want.” (And actually, that is a commandment I’d write.) Even though every fiber in my being—as well as my years of professional experience—screamed, “NO!” I decided to give the Commandments a once-over, just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything.

I mean, have you read them lately? I pulled them up online, and I have to say number nine really got me going:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

Oh, you know,
anything that is your neighbor’s
—his ox, his ass,
or
his wife! As I suspected, I was not down with this. I told my editor I would respectfully pass on rewriting the Ten Commandments, but that I’d love to write a second book, thank you very much.

And this time I started with the assumption that you already know that 90 percent of what we’re seeing around us and being asked to do and agree with is complete and utter bullshit, whether it’s called “commandments” or the Law. I’m writing for all of you who have ever stood up against the falsity that’s been labeled truth and shoved down our throats as well as anyone who still aspires to. But most of all, this book is for people who want to find personal fulfillment and success in their career, but
also
live in a world full of unique, creative, expressive individuals who march to the beat of the Divine’s drummer, agreeing on things like basic human rights and the need to end suffering.

Basically, this book is for freaks. In my opinion, we need to raise an army of supertalented uberfreaks if we’re ever going to really change the world—since it’s only freaks who ever have. Look at Steve Jobs, Helen Keller, Rosa Parks, Vivienne Westwood, The Mother, Nelson Mandela, Indira Gandhi, Benjamin Franklin, Bono, Vincent Van Gogh, Paco Rabanne, Che Guevara, Amelia Earhart, Leonardo Da Vinci, Pope Joan, Leonard Cohen, Beethoven, Albert Einstein, Joan of Arc . . . well, you get the picture. How many of these people followed anyone else’s rules? Could any of them possibly be considered anything
close
to normal?

Let’s pause for a moment to see what Merriam-Webster has to say about “normal”:

nor-mal:
2
a:
according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle;
b:
conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern;
4 a:
of, relating to, or characterized by average intelligence or development.

Duh. I rest my case. Who wants to be that?

By now you probably know that I have little patience for the teachers, parents, bosses, and even friends who tell everyone they need to sit quietly and fit in. History is full of successful, world-changing people who did
not
fit in and were definitely
not
normal. Instead of changing themselves to accommodate the status quo or what others thought they should be, these people put a spotlight on their differences—and changed humanity in the process. Is it possible that the so-called normal people, the ones doing things the way the majority of people are doing them, are the crazy ones? I mean, have you ever visited Wal-Mart at around eleven on a Friday night? It is one of the scariest biospheres of zombie “Thriller” normalcy I’ve ever seen!

I’ve now been working for over twenty-five years—longer, if you count the snow-shoveling business I started at the age of ten up in Syracuse, which employed four other kids (okay, two were my brother and sister)—and I’ve interviewed thousands of people for an array of positions. To be honest, I dread every so-called normal person who walks through the door. The mantra that always plays in my head is,
Same ole, same ole.
It’s time we started seeing words like “kooky,” “abnormal,” “crazy,” “eccentric,” and “freak” as what they are:
character differentiation
. I know you don’t feel normal, so why are you trying to act it and prove to everyone you are?

And once you agree you’re actually as distinctive and individual as your thumbprint— even if you’ve been programmed to behave in “normal” ways—
then
what? How do we use our specific eccentricities to make a difference in ourselves, our immediate community, our chosen field of employment, and ultimately the world? I happen to believe that the days of going to work all day, making a shitpot of money, and blowing it all on sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll—or any of the other things on this planet that exist to make us feel full and complete—are over.

Please don’t misconstrue this. I want you to have a fucking great time. But I think it’s absolutely essential for you to know you are sacred, magical, and special, to nurture that truth
and unleash it into the world
. That’s right. I want you to fuck this earth with your energy. It’s about time we stood for something real. I’m suggesting that what is real is
you
. That means your message and purpose in this world will be different than mine, and that the more you really start to know yourself and gain life experience—when you really start to crack yourself open—you’ll naturally find it.

What do you have to say? What in this world are you called to fight for?

Is it human rights, peace, or polar bears and nature? Is it, as it is for me, young women and gay men? If you aspire to be yourself, and I hope you do, things like education, self-confidence, and learning to communicate and defend yourself are superimportant tools. The truth of the matter is, if you want to find success outside the norm, you really have to fine-tune your skills and become incredibly good at what you do.

If you’re going to get in the ring, babe, you better know how to box.

Take me, for example. I’m really glad I’m allowed to wear all black and no makeup while working in the fashion industry, but I think the only reason I’m allowed to do that is because I tend to get the job done.

And remember, the people who are most cherished and revered on this earth are sometimes the same people who are most ostracized, misunderstood, and hated. From Jesus to Abraham Lincoln to Vincent Van Gogh to Jane Fonda, it’s obvious that people don’t like people who rock the boat or even
row
the boat, let alone park it in their driveway or on the lawn. They like people who sit quietly in the boat—who have paid in advance for their ticket and don’t say fuck. I believe that when we see people acting “bizarrely” in this world, conjuring “odd” ideas, and talking “crazy,” we should stop for a second before being so quick to judge; perhaps we should even move toward them.

And when we have these ideas ourselves, maybe we should examine or draw them out like a beautiful piece of ribbon candy, instead of stifling them because we think others won’t get it. After all, so much of what we say or don’t say, and what we do or don’t do, is dictated by what others have told us or what people may think of us. This is not how we should be living—measuring ourselves against the mundane. As you have your own Divine revelations and nurture your own intuition, I want you to share them with the world. And don’t retreat or feel bad if no one gets it at first. Because, let’s face it, you can only
hope
they don’t get it. This will give you an edge, otherwise known as a patent or a trademark opportunity. In commerce, in literature, and in life,

Normal gets you nowhere.

Chapter One
Comfortably Numb

The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.

—Malcolm X

All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society, we can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it to a higher level.

—Bill Bernbach

T
hese days, American life is pretty much set up to allow us to feel as little as possible. We’ve been desensitized by the thousands of choices capitalism presents us on a daily basis: five hundred TV channels, seventy brands of cereal in the grocery store, sixteen different vitamin drinks, forty-seven brands of jeans. In the words of Pink Floyd, we’ve become “comfortably numb.” While horrible things happen all over the world, we spend a lot of our time deciding,
Hmmm, should I get the Honey Nut Cheerios or the organic almond Kashi granola? Should I buy a boyfriend jean or a skinny jean? Should I watch HBO or TiVo?
Let’s face it, we are in a capitalistically overwhelmed state. And this is no accident. While you’re in the grocery store or the Gap deciding what to eat and what to wear, there are lobbyists and politicians in Washington passing bills that you know nothing about. They might be limiting your rights at the airport, in an abortion clinic, or at the gay pride parade. But you wouldn’t know, because you’re wondering whether your cereal has antioxidant powers or if that new pair of jeans will get you fucked.

Make no mistake. The government, the media, and commerce are actively collaborating to distract us from what’s really important in life. After all, unconsciousness is a very effective commercial, political, and even military strategy. Keeping droves of citizens medicated and overstimulated with bullshit distractions pretty much guarantees that when they go to their polling places to vote, many will have no idea who the candidates on the ballot are, let alone what the propositions they’re voting on say or mean.

Whoever said less is more was right: the less bullshit and frivolity you have in your life, the more attention you have to focus on what is really going on.

I want you to be able to see underneath, around, above, and through things, so that you can form and shape your own opinions, instead of just blindly going along with everyone else’s. A good place to start is by understanding the media. I’m going to let you in on something: every media outlet is a
brand
with its own point of view. Writers who work at major international newspapers are asked to express themselves in a different way than tabloid reporters. Even my book is a brand! If I appeared in a pink tutu on my book cover, you’d probably find some other chick’s book to read. As a publicist, I’ve spent twenty-five years learning the languages of different media brands. After all, if you’re going to pitch a fashion story to an industry publication like
Women’s Wear Daily
or Style.com, you may need a different slant than you would with
Life & Style Weekly
or
USA Today
. We like to say you have to frost the cake differently for different publications.

If you take a minute to actually look at these brands, from the major networks to the national newspapers, you’ll see that many are owned by huge, multibillion-dollar corporations (that’s billion with a
b,
baby!). Whether bringing you gossip or hard-hitting news, every brand is interested first and foremost in gaining more readers, viewers, or advertisers. Last time I checked, none of these major papers or networks had “.org” after their names; they are
for-profit
businesses
. That means they have one responsibility to carry out for their owners and their boards: to engage you, the consumer or viewer, and keep you coming back for more.

How do they do this? At the top rungs of these networks and newspapers, you will find some of America’s most talented college graduates. If you were to sit in on their creative meetings, you’d hear phrases like, “Wouldn’t it be wild if we . . . ?” and “Can we try . . . ?” Many of these brands will try anything that works. I mean, let’s be honest. How many times have you bought a tabloid promising that your favorite movie star couple was getting divorced or that some young starlet had suddenly sprouted cellulite?

Good Evening, Welcome to the News: What You’re About to See Is Highly Disturbing.

One of their favorite tactics is fear. Hundreds of producers employed by news organizations sit around every day scouring the Internet, reading every paper from coast to coast and every news feed from around the world. What are they looking for? Stories that are going to keep you hooked, scared, trusting them, and coming back for more updates, whether they’re about Amish girls being slaughtered in their one-room schoolhouse by a milk truck driver in Pennsylvania, or the unspeakable home invasion tragedy of the Petit family in Connecticut, or the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart. These were horrific acts perpetrated by psychopaths, but playing them over and over during the evening hours when most American families watch TV feels like an additional attack, both on the crimes’ victims and on the rest of us.

I don’t know about you, but this news is really freaking me out. And not just when I’m watching it either—it continues to haunt and stalk me afterwards. It’s almost as if, after seeing the nonstop, sensationalized reporting of the Amish girls’ story in 2006, my mind and heart opened a permanent portal through which I constantly revisit the scene of the crime, and I continue to pray for those girls and their families today. After being similarly besieged by coverage of the unspeakable tragedy of the rape and killing of three members of the Petit family in Connecticut, I could no longer just be at the mercy of these fears; I had to look at how they could be a teacher for me, and where I might actually be vulnerable. So I invested in a heavy-duty security system and started insisting on background checks for every person I hire at People’s Revolution as well as independent contractors for my home. Only then did I start sleeping
even remotely
better.

You have probably already seen the warnings on various TV programs saying, “What you’re about to see tonight is very disturbing.” Well, I think these warnings are messages from the brands too—that you’re about to get a big dose of your favorite drug, FEAR, delivered! Instead, I suggest a simple blue screen, perhaps counting down the numbers 3, 2, 1. And while we’re at it, let’s put blank covers on our newspapers, so that stories about young Disney stars “cutting” themselves and being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder don’t menace our eight-year-olds when they pop into a bodega to get a candy bar on the way home from school. (I mean, can it really be a coincidence that the candy and newspapers are always stacked on top of each other?)

The people who work at media brands are experts at giving us not what we
want
to see, but what they know we won’t be able to turn away from. They make it so that we can’t help but look or click; they ensnare us with a combination of the Divine and the sadistic. In doing so, I believe they not only keep us numb and distract us from what’s important in life—they manipulate us into wreaking more havoc on ourselves. After all, what we think is what we manifest, and I do not need or want people in the media helping me sculpt my thoughts.

Don’t get me wrong, I love many members of the media, and I work with them all the time. (And my own industry has problems too; many designers put girls on the runway who look like carcasses.) But I’m tired of being terrorized by the “news.” Over time, our perception and intention of ourselves and our lives can’t help but become aligned with this fear-based messaging. It can make us paralyzed instead of proactive.

At the end of last year, I was reminded of the way some members of the media like to fuck our brains out with fear when, on the day after Christmas, the entire East Coast was hit with a blizzard. I mean, blizzards happen every year on the East Coast, but for some reason this one made front-page news in all the major papers and merited around-the-clock coverage by TV networks. To watch the news, you’d have thought that it was dangerous to even leave your house if you lived anywhere north of Georgia! I happened to be down at my mom’s in Virginia, and when I walked outside and looked around, I made the decision that—despite several states’ governors having declared states of emergency, which was being eaten up by the media—I was from upstate New York, and I could handle this. I knew the Weather Channel was probably just thrilled about all the attention it was getting and blowing it way out of proportion, anyway.

I grabbed my daughter and got into my black SUV and we had a more than lovely drive, solo on the highway through several states. Sure, I went slow, but I made it to Baltimore in less than a day, driving mostly on black pavement. There, we checked into a four-star hotel and had a fabulous dinner. Meanwhile, Philly, one town over, was on near lockdown, as the Weather Channel continued to inform citizens of the dangers all around them. They bought water, firewood, and extra food. “The Eagles game will be cancelled! New York is totally shutting down!” You could practically see the local weather people wetting their pants with excitement. For them, this wasn’t about protecting the citizens—it was their big moment! Their brand was blowing up!

It all reminded me of living in L.A. in my twenties, when on several occasions I was chilling at my friend’s house on Mulholland, floating around in an inner tube in the pool with Joe Strummer from the Clash, when old acquaintances from New York would call me. “Are you okay?” they’d ask. “Have you seen the news? L.A. is on fire!” I’d say, “Really? Where?” And they would say, “Topanga!” which was eighteen miles away. Of course, the news stations would be carrying on as if the whole city was burning to the ground.

The truth is, it’s a reporter’s job to
report
; they have to report on news—or create it—to keep their jobs. National tragedies are not happening 24/7, but the news cycle is. As a publicist, I can tell you there’s no one more receptive than a newsperson on a slow day. It’s a gold rush: they need content! At the same time, you’d better hope Tom Cruise doesn’t rescue a civilian in distress and that no one jumps off the Empire State Building on a day you’re launching a press campaign or issuing a news statement, because you’ll be fucked. It’s the same reason you can’t launch a new fashion label on Election Day. Sometimes you just can’t compete.

Even the best news stories should just be a starting point, not the final word.

We can use them to pique our interest, but then we need to do our own research and create our own beliefs. There are too many capitalistic interests at work in the media—the media brands themselves plus the publicists and lobbyists whose job it is to influence them—to take any of it at face value. Everyone thinks news organizations exist just to inform us, but really they are distribution networks for branders, advertisers, and publicists, all of whom try to roll their ball down the lane and get a strike—that is, impact consumers. Think of the whole system like a big bowling alley, or better yet, an octopus whose tentacles are all intertwined.

As a publicist, it’s my job to work with the media to get the word out about my clients’ brands. Let me tell you how this works in the fashion world. If, for example, you’re a publicist who has just taken on a new client—a hot young designer you want to blow up—you may start by making sure he or she is sold in the “right” five stores, because you know the fashion magazines will like this, and it will help you get a strike. Then, you’ll want to “gift”—send the clothes completely free to—twenty or so really cool celebrities, editors, and stylists. Once those packages have been signed for, technically you can say that Miss Major Movie Star rocks your product.

Another useful tactic is to simply call the celebrity’s manager or agent and throw down a money offer for the celebrity to wear the brand, whether exclusively through a three-, six-, nine-, or twelve-month contract or for a specific event like the Grammys, the Golden Globes, the MTV Music Video Awards, or the Oscars. This way you don’t have to worry about celebrities dropping your brand at the last minute, because their publicist or friend from high school thought your competitor was cooler. It’s a legal deal, babes. And this kind of thing has now has become its own industry: smart fashion brands look at
last year’s
Oscar winners, who are sure to be this year’s presenters, and make sure to get them on the payroll early! (This year’s nominees aren’t guaranteed to end up on stage, after all.)

Publicists are not the only ones using the media to get the word out about their brands. Government does it too. When the White House “leaks” information to the press, it’s probably less a “leak” than a deliberate PR move. It’s like sex tapes. I mean, do we really think
those
are accidents? Even citizens know how to use the media these days. Look at the “Balloon Boy” dad in Colorado! Every PR company in the country should have had its tail between its legs after that incident, because we’re paid millions of dollars to get our clients on-air for fifteen minutes, and this country bumpkin from Colorado who wanted his own reality TV show managed to command the attention of news crews on both coasts for
forty-eight hours
! It’s really kind of easy. There are many ways to use and manipulate the news media to your or your brand’s advantage, whether your brand is Gucci or the Obama administration.
*

Unlike many of my competitors, I refuse to be a
normal
publicist. By that I mean I don’t represent anyone or anything I don’t believe in and genuinely enjoy being a mouthpiece for. At least, not anymore. When I first started People’s Revolution, I had a business partner, and we never agreed on anything. I’d say Kartell; she’d say IKEA. She’d say the Grateful Dead; I’d say the Dead Kennedys. My partner screened clients by one criterion: If you have money, we’ll take it. She felt that we weren’t curators in a museum (I happened to disagree). My side of the room eventually came to include clients like the haute fashion designers Paco Rabanne and Vivienne Westwood, while she repped Hot Topic and a pornography company called the Adult Entertainment Network, a competitor to the infamous Vivid.

Back then, I was in the process of becoming bicoastal, as I represented an increasing number of New York–based fashion designers. I’d taken a small four-hundred-square-foot apartment on 47th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, which is basically Times Square West. Every night, I’d hear pimps screaming at hookers outside my window. “What’s my fucking name, bitch!” they’d yell. I’d hear lots of sobs as girls were physically and verbally abused. I started calling the police department to complain of the prostitution problem on my block, to no avail.

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