Judges, Part II: the Social Median and the Spanxer

And now on to Marcus Butler, a YouTube vlogger and social median* who has captured the hearts of 13-year-old girls the world over with his blond beauty and comforting absence of pronounced masculine markers like a heavy brow ridge or jutting jaw.

*Social median (noun)

  1. An expert in using social media to promote one’s expertise in social media. (See: Marcus Butler).
  2. The demarcation point between civilized discourse and a bird call. (See: Marcus Butler).Marcusb&w

Butler’s YouTube channel, titled, not unexpectedly, Marcus Butler, has over 4.5 million subscribers in love with his casually affectionate manner and such comments as “Spending most of my time snapchatting your ugly face.” It appears that Butler was propelled to stardom by his flatulent contribution to shattering the world record for the most farts achieved by a team of three in 30 seconds. After conquering that peak, he naturally released a song, “I’m Famous,” that hit the UK singles chart at number 85.

Having experienced it all, Butler wrote a book, Hello Life! The tome is deeply impressive to some. To wit: “We delved into the book and actually found some pretty deep and meaningful things. Which got us thinking: Is Marcus Butler the modern-day Socrates?”

The book’s reviews on Amazon are delightful.

  • “Was clearly signed, and a good read.”
  • “My 13-year old daughter loves it.” (uncountable variations on this theme)
  • “I should also mention that I have not read a book (nor do I like reading) since grade 10, and that was six years ago!”
  • “This is an amazing book. Everything written is so ‘Marcus’!”
  • “This book shows how Marcus is an all-around fabulous and admirable person.”
  • “I was so excited to have the signed copy—if you think Marcus has touched it! I found that I couldn’t get my eyes to leave the sight of the book.”
  • “Well, I haven’t ever had a boyfriend or girlfriend, so the “Dating Game” part wasn’t of much use to me, but I can tell you I will reread it—there was some useful information that I will hopefully use sometime in my life.”
  • “I recommend this book to anyone beginning life or who doesn’t like the life they already have. It literally covers everything you need to know about starting your life. There really isn’t a book like it that I’ve come across. They’re either about one subject or another, and I read a lot.” (We also read a lot, and we’ve also found that most books are about either one subject or another. Nice to have that observation validated.)

Despite the farting, the I’m famous-ing, and the snapchatting of our ugly faces, Butler struck us at the finals as a thoughtful and savvy young man, albeit reminiscent of a Buff-Orpington in the coiffure department. His response to Efoldi during the finals captured the fundamental concerns of his fans in a nutshell. We’ll respond in an upcoming post, but for now, on to Sara Blakely.

Blakely’s name may be unfamiliar, but her product isn’t: She invented Spanx, a line of stockings on steroids (Bod-a-Bing! Hide & Sleek) that compress purchasers into a shapely form. Her deluxe collection, Haute Contour (and we thought we made bad puns), includes what she describes as a pink lace thong powerful enough to control a wayward midsection.

How a thong—an unconfining garment, to our recollection, that falls far short of the target area—could manage such a task mystified us, so we found a picture of the Spanx interpretation.

thongb&wThe thong of our memory, it seems, has grown up—into a girdle, actually

In 2012, still the sole owner of Spanx and only 41 years old, Blakely became the youngest female self-made billionaire ever. Her path to billionairehood, however, was not without vicissitudes. She failed at standup comedy (vestiges of the ambition, however, remain in her product names). She failed the LSAT twice. She auditioned to be Disney World’s Goofy but was humiliatingly relegated to chipmunk. She spent seven years selling fax machines door-to-door in the humid South: People ripped up her business card in front of her. Even worse, her pantyhose were uncomfortable.

At age 27, unable to find pantyhose that didn’t roll up her legs after she amputated their unattractive seamed feet (to be clear: the feet of the pantyhose, not the feet of her legs. We have no idea if her feet are seamed and unattractive—ours are, but that’s beside the point), Blakely moved to Atlanta, invested her life-savings ($5,000), and tried out the resulting hosiery on her mother and her friends. It was an innovative concept, this product-testing thing: At the time, the industry did not test products with people (one wonders what it did test them with). So smug, in fact, was the hosiery realm that it didn’t even bother providing a variety of waistband sizes for its variety of customer midsections. To tighten up the capacious one-size waistband sufficiently for the svelte, it inserted a vicious rubber cord capable of sawing through one’s torso. Blakely, clearly a visionary, realized that a fitted waistband—standard on every other variety of lower-body clothing for at least a century—would be a good idea for pantyhose as well.

Blakely took her samples to North Carolina, the heart of hosiery mill country, but was turned away at every turn (the hosiery industry, as you may have guessed from its cavalier attitude toward waistbands, was run by men who—most likely—didn’t wear pantyhose). Two weeks after her demoralizing trip, a mill operator with actual females in his family—a pair of daughters delighted by the potential demise of the ligature waistband—called Blakely to say that he was in.

Blakely was a font of new ideas for the hosiery industry, which apparently hadn’t had one since the Roaring ’20s. She galvanized her packaging with splashes of red (radical to the beige thinkers of the time) and photographs of a diversity of women who looked alive and kicking—a shocking departure from the pale, half-dead female uniformly plastered on other brands (no wonder the poor woman looked uncomfortable, what with her waist nearly severed).

To come up with her company name, Blakely called upon her standup comedian days (may have been weeks—we’re not sure), when she’d learned that the K sound tends to provoke laughter from an audience: thus, Spanks. Her stroke of genius was in replacing the ks with an x: The idea of spanking, the x in sex—the name brilliantly brings to mind a firm and shiny Banksian behind, a far cry from the cubicle vibe of pantyhose previous.

Blakely’s rise to the one percent was abetted by a healthy supply of panache, chutzpah, and sheer gall (known these days, apparently, as “grit”). In 2000, she sent a basket of her products to Oprah Winfrey, who actually looked at them (how Blakely managed that is beyond us). When Winfrey’s team visited Blakely’s apartment in Atlanta for the filming, Blakely, still an employeeless fax machine salesperson, passed off her friends as her staff. Once she’d managed to get Spanx into department stores, she ensured their popularity by asking her Rolodex coterie to buy a pair on her dime (she sent every buyer a refund check out of her own pocket). The clueless department stores, delighted by the remarkable popularity of Spanx, reordered copiously.

As Blakely’s customer base grew, so did her celebrity—particularly after her 2004 appearance on Sir Richard’s television show The Rebel Billionaire. She joined him in climbing up the side of a hot-air balloon (which we assume was airborne at the time) to gain exposure. The publicity has borne fruit—she’s never needed to advertise Spanx in the traditional sense. In 2015 she achieved the ultimate marker of wealthy personhood when she bought part-ownership of the Atlanta Hawks.

Spanxerb&wThe Sir and the Spanxer

In 2006, Blakely created an eponymous foundation that supports causes important to women; in 2013, she signed the Giving Pledge along with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, promising to donate at least half her wealth to charity. “I feel like money makes you more of who you already are,” she told Forbes in 2012. “If you’re an asshole, you become a bigger asshole. If you’re nice, you become nicer. Money is fun to make, fun to spend, and fun to give away.” We must agree: Just think how nice we’d be if we had more money.

With that lovely thought, we must rest. Come back in short order to read our impressions of the sole remaining judge: the Sir.


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