It's sweeps month again, time to put up your feet, lower your standards, and scrape the bottom of your barrel of shame. Last night, CBS continued its merry reign in the ratings with this year's edition of the oxymoronic Victoria's Secret Fashion Show—oxymoronic, of course, because "fashion" normally implies the presence of some sort of garment or other, and Victoria's Secret has not made its name by displaying how good women look in clothes. Last year's show can be remembered for its heavy-handed "angel" theme, which has persisted this year in a few gimmicks—the Cirque-du-Soleil-style winged acrobat who descends on wires to open and close the show, disappearing into an unintentionally disturbing column of fire; and the wings, sometimes resembling bird or insect appendages, that show up randomly on runway models throughout the course of the show.
This time, the Zen spectacle of Gisele Bündchen in a chartreuse thong provided the crux of the hourlong non-event, but there were occasional diversions. Sting and Mary J. Blige appeared together to hold hands and affirm in song that "Whenever this world has got so strange/ Something's got to change." Amen on that. My favorite moment had to be when six billboard-sized panels with close-ups of wedged-together cleavage descended behind the proscenium, as if to provide a cheat-sheet answer to the query that has been VS's advertising slogan for the past year: "What is sexy?" Gee, that's a tough one, but you're always safe if you go with thigh-high pink patent leather boots, rhinestone bandoliers, and an $11 million bra.
This last is sported by our hostess Heidi Klum, the German supermodel who broke through as the Sports Illustrated swimsuit girl of 1998. In the five years since, Klum has done us the delightful favor of becoming Zsa Zsa Gabor, a blowsy, self-mocking hausfrau with historically important hooters. You know things have gotten pretty extreme on the body-image front when Heidi Klum looks blowsy, but there was something cheery about the sight of an actual stomach, that horizontal curve of flesh like a smile below her navel. Most of these girls have, in place of abdomens, sheer expanses of frontage, like extruded polystyrene surfboards. But if you can put aside the radical theory that they are actual members of your species (let alone gender), they are wonderful creatures to behold, alien marvels whose legs alone are taller than my entire boyfriend. Even the cheaply constructed, unimaginative underwear that will no doubt be flying out of stores this holiday season can do them no harm. And ultimately, this show is like a pair of VS undies: tawdry, disposable, and unimaginative, sort of embarrassing to be caught looking at, but secretly shiny and fun.
The National Organization of Women protested last year's Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, calling it a "soft-core porn infomercial." This year's presentation responds to that slur with all the sassy self-confidence (and intellectual wherewithal) of a supermodel, essentially sticking out its tongue and saying, "I know you are, but what am I?"