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December 19, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada: A Political Parable?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

For a brief 90-minute stint on Saturday, I had this huge smile on my face. Well, yes, I was watching The Devil Wears Prada. Those who know me know I read too much into things and that I tend to “project.” Well, as it turns out, I connected with the movie in a very personal, political way.

Andy (Anne Hathaway) – the main character – does what every overly ambitious recent college grad tries to do in DC/NY: find the killer internship or make that one crucial connection that changes everything. She gets a job as Miranda/Meryll Streep's personal assistant (Miranda is the goddess of New York fashion, modelled after Vogue chief Anna Wintour). Andy comes in with good intentions. Her heart’s in the right place, she’s down to earth and seems to have a grasp of what’s important in life. Ambition and idealism, however, can prove a dangerous mix.

Like Andy, we come in thinking that will be able to resist the temptations of the “system” and that our integrity will come out unscathed. But if you want something badly enough, it becomes very easy to make what, at first, seem small, inconsequential compromises. But even small things develop their own momentum. The problem is that most individuals have a low tolerance for cognitive dissonance. So, once you start doing things you don’t believe in or agree with, you have two choices: you can stop, or you can adapt. Most people choose the latter. This is both a subconscious and conscious process. The subconscious part is the more troubling since we don’t really have control over it. For example, let's say your superior at Defense/NSA/etc. keeps giving you assignments you don’t feel comfortable with. If you work on those assignments long enough, you will, inevitably, begin to rationalize, justify, and explain away what you’re doing.

And that’s why I absolutely loved the scene toward the end where Andy and Miranda have a quick but critical "heart-to-heart." Miranda tells young Andy that she sees so much of herself in her. And that's when it hits Andy: she has, without fully realizing it, become the one thing she had always detested. In this movie, it's not too late for Andy to switch gears and make amends. But in real life - and particularly in the world of politics - it too often is.


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