The bizarre, rather non sequitur spotlight on bedbugs in Paris seems to come at a very “convenient” time for a number of reasons. For one thing, everybody wants to see Paris “flop” in a manner that coincides with the Olympics, when all eyes will be on it more than ever, and, for another, people only care about icky and unpleasant “goings-on” when it affects either the rich or the beautiful (often one and the same—usually because of that adage, “You’re not ugly, just poor”). And since the bedbug headlines were permitted to balloon and explode as a result of occurring during Paris Fashion Week, suddenly everyone gave a shit. At least, more than they usually would have if Fashion Week hadn’t been involved. For, as The Devil Wears Prada taught the hoi polloi, this seasonal event is the Super Bowl of the fashion world. Particularly the one that takes place in Paris.
And so, the bedbug headlines started to commingle with the Fashion Week narrative. Not just because of a certain Oh no! The models! The couture! Not the models and the couture! mentality, but because the city of New York sought to insert itself in the chat by making it about them. Endlessly concerned that all the “glamorous people” who had gone to Paris Fashion Week had “contracted” bedbugs (a worse fate, to some, than Covid), especially thanks to the pest’s love of “nesting” (insert shudder here) in fabrics and upholstery. And would therefore inevitably bring an infestation back to NYC—already teeming with bedbugs anyway, in case you forgot. In fact, before Paris was making a splash in this regard, New York was usually the city one automatically thought of. In truth, if The Metamorphosis had taken place in NY instead of Germany, Gregor Samsa would have surely woken up as a giant bedbug rather than a dung beetle. Or whatever the fuck cockroach-like insect he ended up as. The point being, the SAT multiple choice answer has always been, “Croissants are to Paris as bedbugs are to New York.”
Not anymore though. Oh no, there’s been a “rebrand.” Or at least an attempt at one. And now, after weeks of nonstop coverage about the “Parisian bedbug problem” (and, by the way, being a Parisian bedbug already sounds so much classier than being a New York one), the headlines have expanded not only back to London (where talk of a bedbug resurgence first began in August), but now, to include “the entire globe.” That’s right, news outlets are confirming that it’s not “just” Paris anymore. Though, frankly it never was—every large city suffers from this problem. So what do they really want us to conclude from this follow-up news item to the one that previously stated only Paris is experiencing an outbreak? Well, that the models at Paris Fashion Week were deliberately behind the “spread,” bien sûr.
After all, Bret Easton Ellis’ underrated 1998 novel pretty much offered this exact premise: models were secretly responsible for the spike in terrorism (with explosive instances, of course, transpiring in Paris). Except, in this Fashion Week-centered plot, they’re responsible for the terrorism of disseminating bedbugs, “secretly” at the helm of bringing back the destructive little pests to their respective cities in couture-filled garment bags. As for Glamorama, it wasn’t just a “satire” of celebrity culture, but also a sendup of the then especially popular conspiracy thriller genre (with stylistic inspiration culled from Robert Ludlum’s novels). Of the sort that always, in the end, revealed that some sinister and unexpected force was behind the series of nefarious, ostensibly unconnected events all along. And yes, in Glamorama, those accountable for the slew of seemingly unrelated acts of terrorism throughout Europe are actually models. A cabal of them whose real raison d’être is le terrorisme.
The model caught in the eye of the storm, Victor Ward, in typical Easton Ellis main character fashion, has absolutely no idea what’s going on. Or that he’s nothing more than a pawn for a terrorist ring run by a model named Bobby Hughes. Victor ends up in his orbit through Jamie Fields, a former college girlfriend (from Camden, needless to say) that a mysterious man named F. Fred Palakon enlists Victor to track down. For the “generous” fee of $300,000.
Being the 90s and being that Victor is in need of more cash for his dreams of opening the club to be at in New York, he agrees enthusiastically to take the job, never, for a moment, dissuaded by Palakon’s hokey tone or generally sus behavior as he briefs Victor on details like, “Jamie Fields disappeared three weeks ago from the set of an independently financed movie that was being shot in London… There are certain individuals who would be pleased if she was found…” He tells Victor he’s the only man for the job because Jamie was in love with him (before he left her for Lauren Hynde, another recurring Easton Ellis character from The Rules of Attraction) in college. Narcissist that Victor is, he’s willing to buy that such a fact still applies now, and is somehow relevant to him discovering her whereabouts.
Besides, Palakon’s cryptic, ominous tone is lost on Victor (adding to Ellis’ knack for parodying the spy thriller genre) as he replies vacantly, “Like her agent and stuff?” One gets the distinct image of Kevin Thompson from Daria speaking here, all frustrating stupidity and vain self-obsession. And, like Daria, Palakon seems to realize that another person’s daftness can be just as useful as it is annoying, assuring Victor, “Yes. Her agent. Yes.” So begins Victor’s foray into the world of an underground network of model terrorists, meeting the elusive Bobby Hughes after encountering Jamie in London. Initially starstruck by Bobby (like Kevin Thompson with Lawndale High’s ex-quarterback, Tommy Sherman), a more famous model than him, Victor slowly, very slowly, starts to catch on that something isn’t quite right. This much comes into focus when he stumbles upon some “literature” of Bobby’s, with Victor describing, “I’m reading ‘Semtex is made in Czechoslovakia.’ I’m reading ‘Semtex is a colorless, odorless plastic explosive.’ I’m reading ‘Libya has tons of Semtex.’ I’m reading ‘It takes 6 oz. of Semtex to blow up an airliner.’ I’m reading a profile on a newly manufactured plastic explosive called Remform, which is made and distributed only ‘underground’ in the U.S. and is still unavailable in Europe. I’m reading a list of Remform’s ‘pros and cons.’ I’m reading the words Bobby has scrawled on the side of a page: More useful than Semtex?”
But, in the present, what’s more useful than Semtex in wreaking the desired havoc on the world is something far older: bedbugs. And what seems to be scariest of all about them to the “beautiful people” is that they have no respect for “who they are” (as in: “Don’t you know who I am?”). Which is what prompted one New York interviewer, in an article called “How Not to Get Bedbugs From Everyone Returning From Paris Fashion Week,” to remark to an exterminator, “They don’t care who you are. Anna Wintour could get bedbugs.” The exterminator confirms, “Yes, exactly.” Because, somehow, it took bedbugs infiltrating the glitzy world of Paris Fashion Week for people to realize that. So while, in 2020, rich people were touting the “profundity” that Covid is the “great equalizer” (spoken from their rose petal-filled bathtub in a remote multimillion dollar abode), in 2023, it’s bedbugs. Carried by models, designers, fashion editors and every hanger-on in between from Paris and back into major metropolitan cities that—gasp!—already had plenty of them to begin with. But whereas those who live in lower-income housing never get the luxury of regular extermination and fumigation treatments, those of the modeling jet-set class can afford to implement them in their own pristine, expensive abodes, whether a standalone home or a large apartment in a posh building. So what are they really complaining about? A relatively minor inconvenience they can soon make disappear with money like everything else? Because it’s not like they’re going to intermingle with the poors of NYC long enough to get it again from the subway or some “dodgy project.” Ultimately, isn’t it a small toll to pay for the “trip of a lifetime”—that models and designers and photographers alike get to experience many times in their life?
With the plot of Glamorama in mind, that saying, “Some people just want to watch the world burn” now applies to the models and co. who had the audacity to bring back bedbugs to “precious,” apparently previously uninfected New York with them. Where articles and “think pieces” on the matter incorporated the expert opinions of exterminators and people who were there, man. And who know it’s real. As if, like everything else the affluent/privileged “catches on to,” it wasn’t always a problem before. Now, though, it just so happens to be a problem because it’s actually affecting them. This, in large part, is what’s helping to inflate and skew the perception about bedbugs in Paris (e.g., playing up that “eleven percent of Parisian households have bedbugs” statistic without mentioning that, more accurately, eleven percent [a.k.a. about one out of ten] of households throughout France had a bedbug infestation between 2017 and 2022).
And while French agencies and the media want to “console” people with the idea that “all socioeconomic backgrounds are affected” by the potential threat of bedbugs, they rarely emphasize that it is the expensive cost of eliminating them that does not “equalize.” Thus, we have yet another reminder that the eugenics of the poor is a terrorism as old as capitalism. Though not quite as old as bedbugs.