Why did an assembly of distinguished guests idly sit by and watch models faint and struggle on the catwalk while simultaneously tweeting their outrage and sympathy for the models?

Kanye Omari West. The Artist. The Mogul. The Fashion Designer.

His list of credentials can go on and as an out and proud Kanye fan I can wax lyrical about his creative genius all day long. However, with his latest offering – Yeezy season 4, the fashion industry has looked at that list and replaced the last period with a question mark.  

Things We’ve Already Seen Kim Wear a Million Times –  Alyssa Vingan Klein (Fashionista)

Dumb and Basic – Tim Gunn (People)

Just Leotards in Neutral Shades – Ellen Scott (Metro)

It’s arguable that Mr West’s latest offering of oversized shearling coats, knit dresses, thigh high boots and 90’s style leotards could have passed as, I don’t know, a Post-Modern take on Normcore. I’d buy that. The fashion editors may have even bought that too. But there was one hurdle that Ye’ just couldn’t overcome – the show itself and this is where we see the dark side of Psychology unfold.

For his Yeezy season 4 show, Kanye enlisted the help of long-time collaborator Vanessa Beecroft. Against the idyllic backdrop of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, the Italian performance artist used her tried and tested method of framing the catwalk with a cohort of Black and ethnic minority models standing in formation.  Sleek? Yes. Powerful? Perhaps. Innovative? No.

In his last show – Yeezy season 3, this method of staging felt less redundant and more momentous. In the world famous Madison Square Garden, music from The Life of Pablo album played out to an audience of approximately 20,000 attendees who watched on as hundreds of models stood-to-attention in a packed out stage. A visual display inspired by a 1995 photo depicting the deplorable conditions of men, women and children inhabiting a Rwandan refugee camp. A show that mixed both fashion, music and social commentary, Yeezy season 3 will go down as ‘a moment’ in fashion history, the same of which cannot be said for his most recent presentation.

The work of a model is often deemed to be uncomplicated to say the least but attempting to look both beautiful and blasé in 90-degree heat is no easy feat. Throughout the purposely delayed Yeezy Season 4 show models gradually looked less dynamic and more dehydrated. Reports suggest that at least three models fainted with no assistance whatsoever from the production staff. 

“Why isn’t someone from Adidas, which sponsors this extravaganza, helping them? Where is artist Vanessa Beecroft, who choreographed this show? Why isn’t West aiding these women? Why am I not trying to assist them? Are we all complicit in this?” – Robin Givhan (Washington Post)


Image source Footwear News REX Shutterstock.
Image Source Footwear News REX Shutterstock

US Magazine reports that Bruce Pask, the men’s fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, eventually came to the rescue of one struggling model but what can be said for the inaction of the remaining attendees? Why did an assembly of distinguished guests idly sit by and watch these events unfold while simultaneously tweeting their outrage and sympathy for the models? 
It’s called The Bystander Effect, the psychological phenomenon behind their passivity. 

Psychologists Lantané and Darley began their research into the Bystander Effect in 1968 after news surfaced of the murder or New York resident Kitty Genovese. The New York Times published the story which detailed the gruesome murder and sexual assault of Geneovese which took place as a staggering 38 witness watched on and did nothing. 

“For more than half an hour thirty-eight respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens. Twice, the sound of their voices and the sudden glow of their bedroom lights interrupted him and frightened him off. Each time he returned, sought her out and stabbed her again.  Not one  person  telephoned  the  police during the assault; one witness called after the woman was dead.(Gansberg, 1964, p. 1)”.  Whilst recent studies have gone on to question to accuracy of the reported events (e.g. Manning, Levine & Collins, 2007), the sequence is all too familiar. 

​Writing for Psychology Today, Bakari Akil details a recent incident which occurred in the city of Philadelphia “in which a man was recorded beating and punching a woman, mercilessly, for over 20 minutes. The incident was recorded by a man who wanted to remain anonymous, but talked with Fox News about the crime. In his recording you can see a few people filming the assault with their cell phones and people wandering in and out of frame as the man straddles over the woman, raining down blows, as if in a Mixed Martial Arts match.” 

We’ve seen this scene played out far too often. The internet is full of videos of people being injured whilst a crowd of bystanders simply watch on in horror and sometimes amusement. Within fashion specifically countless compilations exists of models falling on runways crippling under the unbearable pain of too-high shoes and too-tight garments all in the name of fashion. And what do we do? We share, we like and we post. 

Image Source Business Insider AU

Now I’m sure many of you are reading this whilst exclaiming “not me, I’d never!” Well, research has suggested otherwise. In one study participants sat in a room while another person (an actor) faked a seizure. Results found that if the participant was alone whilst this incident occurred, 85 percent of the time they left the room and notified someone. However, if there were more participants in the room the probability of someone leaving and notifying staff dropped down to 31 % (Lantané & Darley, 1968). 

Why does being in a crowd impact our need to help? Research points to a diffusion of responsibility, the idea that somebody else will sort it out. And this phenomenon is not only observed when witnessing misfortune. Even when amongst a group experiencing a positive turn of events individuals have displayed a do-nothing attitude. For example, ‘when a class-action lawsuit brought by models against their agencies was settled at $22 million in 2005, the court couldn’t find enough models to claim the damages’ (New York Times, 2011). It appears that the phrase ‘United We Stand Divided We Fall’ needs some reworking. 

When shit hits the fan, in our heads, we are all Bruce Pask’s but in reality we’re simply spectators. So where do we go from here? Maybe next time we witness something disastrous unfolding before our eyes, instead of using our fingers to grab our phone to tweet and record, how about we lend a helping hand. After all, what’s the worst that can happen?