When I read that the Olsen twins had written a book, I couldn't help but be a bit curious. These were, after all, young women that we had literally watched grow up. Over the years, the Olsens have made an impressive leap from being recognizable child starlets to establishing themselves as a brand all of their own. Evidently, the next step in their careers is in the literary world. Their coffee table book, Influence, is a series of interviews that the twins conducted with designers, actresses, photographers and many other professionals who have positively impacted their lives. I read that the Olsens would be doing a book signing at the Barnes and Noble in Union Square on Tuesday, the day the book was to be released. My curiosity led me there.
When I arrived, I encountered a group of young PETA protesters outside the store. There were about 20 of them in total, holding signs that called the twins names such as "Trollsens" and "Trashley." I learned that the Olsens had been seen on occasion wearing fur and had refused to stop using it in their fashion line. On their faces, the protesters wore masked depicting the twins as monsters. PETA was trying to turn this book event into a spectacle.
I slid past the protesters and into the store where I perused a copy of Influence. It's a beautiful book full of interviews and images that demonstrate the twins' appreciation for those who have helped them along their way. Although I did not purchase a copy, many people were on checkout lines with books in hand. It seemed that the protest outside hadn't influenced the shoppers and fans. For those who wished to get their copy signed by the twins, there was a strict code of conduct that included rules against talking to the Olsens. This didn't leave fans disheartened, especially one girl with disabilities who was visibly excited just at the prospect of meeting the twins. I wondered how the twins, despite such a stern warning against interaction with them, would receive this girl at the signing.
Were they really the monsters that that group outside was proclaiming them to be?
I was relieved and delighted in the hours after to come across a different set of photos emerging from the book event. By the looks of it - I couldn't make my way past security to see for myself - the Olsens had performed their role with compassion and sensitivity.
Once outside again, I stuck around to watch how the public addressed these protesters. Many passers by laughed, others took out camera phones to snap photos. And a select few engaged in verbal disputes with PETA people, especially their intentions to shame and disgrace celebrities. As he briskly walked by, one man shouted "This country is fucked up beyond recognition and you're protesting a bunch of actresses? They're actresses. There are more important things to care about right now."
I began to think about whether someone's conviction, if it's not a crucial issue, should be set aside during times of turmoil and uncertainty. Maybe now is not the time for PETA to be making public displays like this one, expressing outrage about the use of fur in fashion collections. I found myself wanting to learn more about the Olsens before deciding if this was important enough a cause. I came across a video of Ashley Olsen on Good Morning America from earlier on Tuesday. In the interview with Diane Sawyer, the actress is soft-spoken, shy and humble. She even refers to herself as socially awkward. She comes across as extremely likable. Her message is to tell others to "feel good about yourself." Her hope is to inspire others the way she has been inspired.
It's hard for any of us to judge who the heroes and the villains are in our culture. But it seems to me that, at a time like this, people who write a book of appreciation and inspiration are on the right track. Moreover, people who go out of their way to treat everyone with dignity and respect at public events are likewise okay in my book. I would urge PETA to reconsider making a spectacle targeting ambitious young women who have proven to be more human than monsters. The Olsens are, by my judgment, part of the solution, not the problem. And PETA can't fool us into thinking otherwise. We shouldn't let them pull the fur over our eyes.