Monthly Archives: April 2010

Precision Targets and the Militarization of Everyday Life (It’s Relevant, We Promise)

My first and most formative brain-crush, as well as my mentor and model for how to be an ethical scholar and generous colleague, has released an amazing new multimedia digital project with which we both urge you to spend some time. Called Precision Targets, in this piece Caren Kaplan examines the militarization of everyday life via spatializing information technologies:

My study of GPS in this era of seemingly endless war has led me to ask how “duel-use” technologies blur the distinction between military and civilian spheres. What are our expectations and assumptions about information technologies? How can we say “no” to war when we say “yes” to militarization every day? Precision Targets is designed to raise these questions and others as you move through the multimedia piece to engage the animated possibilities of GPS in everyday life.

This is not as far afield as you might think for a blog about the politics of dress and beauty. Both Minh-Ha and I have learned so much from Kaplan’s work over the years (me, since 1994 as an undergraduate women’s studies major) about how to “do” postcolonial studies of space and time, gender and empire. Minh-Ha’s writing on technologies of style and selfhood can trace at least part of its intellectual genealogy to Kaplan’s earlier publications on civilian consumption of military information technologies;  my work on migrant medias and bodies (both corporeal and imaginary) and the politics and conditions of possibility for their movements across borders, owes so much to Kaplan’s generous mentoring over the years.

Minh-Ha and I agree that in this particular moment, during which war is normalized within everyday life under liberal democracy, and increasingly incorporated into the domains of politics and law (as we see with the last few decades’ “wars” on drugs and immigration, recently manifest as Arizona’s passage of SB 1070) as well as economics, art and culture (as we see in the periodic creep of “military chic,” the location of much of the garment manufacturing industries in postcolonial nations and semi-colonial territories, and the coextensive visual imaging of veiled women as criminal and as couture) that a critique of the militarization of everyday life is absolutely vital.

1 Comment

Filed under (AD)DRESSING GENDER & SEXUALITY, FASHIONING THE HUMAN, THEORY TO THINK WITH

Is the Democratization of Fashion Over?

Thanks to a tweet from FashionHistoria (Heather Vaughan of WornThrough), we learned that fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune Suzy Menkes will be talking with Gladys Perint Palmer, executive director of the School of Fashion at Academy of Art University in San Francisco next Thursday (May 6) to explore the question, “If Fashion is for Everyone – is it Fashion?”

It’s clear from the description of the talk that Menkes is going to be hitting all the keynotes of  “democratization”: the accessibility of fashion, the future of newspapers and magazines, blogging, luxury, sustainability, and young designers wanting to set up their own brands. (By the way, our take on each of these issues can be found in numerous posts – search the category, “Democratization of Fashion” for a start.)

I don’t know much about Menkes’ work – but what I do know is that she’s generally supportive of bloggers. (I don’t know why WordPress isn’t accepting Vimeo videos but until I can fix this glitch, here’s the link to the video of Menkes and others talking about fashion blogs.) Anyway, I’m really hoping the title of her talk is nothing more than provocative copy. The recent era of fashion’s democratization has already shifted from the halcyon moments post-9/11 when everyone, and I mean everyone (from Anna Wintour to Rudy Giuliani), was proclaiming fashion as a right to which every free person was entitled in a liberal society. The recent backlash against fashion bloggers, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, indicates that the pendulum may be swinging back towards exclusivity – which has profound implications for how we understand, among other things, economic democracy. Is Menkes’ talk going to issue the death knell of democratization? I don’t know but I’m (sort of) looking forward to finding out.

[Vimeo 8882910]

3 Comments

Filed under DEMOCRATIZATION OF FASHION, IN THE CLASSROOM

Feather in Your “Native” Cap, Redux (in the time of SB1070)

A blog post from the O’odham Newswire, an indigenous youth collective, has been making the rounds on the Internet so you may have already read it. Still, I wanted to re-post it anyway since it speaks directly to a couple of Mimi’s previous posts on hipster appropriations of Native fashion and the institutionalization of racial-sartorial profiling in Arizona.

Reading this post on the indigenous perspective about Arizona’s legislation of state terror reminded me of a couple of points that have been discussed recently on Threadbared. In The Feather in Your “Native” Cap, Mimi referenced Thea Lim’s Racialicious post in which she offers some helpful rebuttal arguments against the appropriation of Native fashions in particular. To the response that it’s time to “get over” racism and colonialism, Lim counters:

The “get over it” defense is not hard to take down as soon as you realise that by “it” the commenter is referring to colonisation and genocide, the legacy of which continues to beset Native communities in the form of poverty, environmental racism, and health disparities (to recap some of the things Jessica mentioned in the original post).

The whole “but that happened 100 years ago!” defense is similarly dense: a brief look at who is poor and who is marginalised in the richest countries in the world should quiet that one down…though it often doesn’t.

The O’odham Solidarity post about the impact of SB1070 on non-immigrant groups – here, specifically indigenous peoples – reiterates and expands Lim’s point in important ways. For me, this post is a compelling reminder that anti-immigrant laws and logics produce effects that go beyond immigrant communities – and we should remember that Mexicans and Chicanos are not the only immigrant groups in Arizona or the Southwest; Central Americans as well as Southeast Asian Americans have substantial communities in these regions as well. Secondly, the post reminds us that state terror targeting indigenous peoples is both deeply historical and on-going. Here’s an excerpt but it’s really worthwhile to read the entire post.

The current push for immigration reform by politicians and by reformist activists includes the push to secure ‘their’ borders which would be the forced removal and relocations of all indigenous tribes that live in the border region (Yaqui, Lipan Apache, Mohawk to name a few). This dismissal not just shows the colonial attitude that both reformist activists and politicians have, but also the settler privilege that they evoke when constructing border policies.

Fun fact on the topic of immigrants and the Southwest: did you know that today is the 35th anniversary of the fall of SaiGon or what Vietnamese immigrants who live all over the U.S. but have large numbers in the Southwest including Mesa, Arizona call “Black April”? It was also 35 years ago today that Mimi and I may have crossed paths for the first time in a San Diego refugee camp called Camp Pendleton!

2 Comments

Filed under FASHIONING THE HUMAN, LINKAGE

I See Pyramids in Your Eyes

I’m slammed this week, and though I do have some real posts around here somewhere, I’m going with this amazing eBay auction for an original copy (smilingly well aware of all the tensions holding those two terms together) of Madonna’s amazing jacket from 1985′s Desperately Seeking Susan, still her best performance on film to date. Liz from No Good For Me had been shaking her digital fist at the fates that robbed her of the opportunity to purchase this replica –the limited-time offer discovered while “flipping” through back issues of Spin, for just $54.95! — when a reader offered to sell it to her for five million, and then put it on eBay instead.

Tragically, it’s a size L, which is too big for me. But this does make think that perhaps if I want it enough, the Internetz will offer up to me another sartorial miracle. In the meanwhile, those of you who’ve been desperately searching for this jacket, the bidding war is on!

Leave a comment

Filed under OUR JUNK DRAWER, SARTORIAL INDULGENCES

Wired For Wednesday: Chuck D Edition

A few days ago I posted about the draconian new anti-immigration law in Arizona that formally (because let’s face it, informally it had already been operational) criminalizes what one legal reporter calls “breathing while undocumented.” (This post was also syndicated to Jezebel, by the way.) In response, everyone’s been circulating Public Enemy’s “By The Time I Get to Arizona,” their 1991 protest against Arizona’s refusal to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But Chuck D’s been busy! Earlier this month he released the single “Tear Down That Wall,” which responds in part to the anti-immigrant fervor and the deaths of migrants crossing the Mexico-United States border, and is as such amazingly timely. (Davey D posts about it here, and the track is available for download here.) Here’s what Chuck D and his wife Dr. Gaye Theresa Johnson have to say:

Jan Brewer’s decision to sign the Arizona immigration bill into law is racist, deceitful, and reflects some of the most mean-spirited politics against immigrants that the country has ever seen. The power that this law gives to police, to detain people that they suspect to be undocumented, brings racial profiling to a new low. Brewer’s actions and those of Joe Arpaio, Russell Pearce, the Arizona State Senate are despicable, inexcusable, and endorse the all-out hate campaign that Joe Arpaio, Russell Pearce, and others have perpetrated upon immigrants for years. The people of Arizona who voted for this bill, as well as those who crafted it, demonstrate no regard for the humanity or contributions of Latino people. And for all of those who have chosen not to speak up, shame on you for silently endorsing this legislated hate.

In 1991 I wrote a song criticizing Arizona officials (including John McCain and Fife Symington) for rejecting the federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The same politics I wrote about in “By the Time I Get to Arizona” are alive and well in Arizona today, but this time the target is Brown people.

These actions must stop. I am issuing a call to action, urging my fellow musicians, artists, athletes, performers, and production companies to refuse to work in Arizona until officials not only overturn this bill, but recognize the human rights of immigrants. This should include the NBA playoffs, revisiting the actions of the NFL in 1993, when they moved the Superbowl to Pasadena in protest against Arizona’s refusal to recognize Dr. King. We all need to speak up in defense of our brothers and sisters being victimized in Arizona, because things are only getting worse. What they’re doing to immigrants is appalling, but it will be even more damning if we remain silent.”

3 Comments

Filed under FASHIONING RACE, FASHIONING THE HUMAN, WIRED FOR THE WEEKEND

Time Travel Through A Magic Box with the Fake Sartorialist

The Fake Sartorialist put Minh-Ha and I into his Magic Box and voila — we are Fake Sartorialized, complete with a small story about our time-traveling research forays! Minh-Ha of course wrote about the dust-up between the Sartorialist and the Fake Sartorialist some weeks ago (as she brilliantly points out, “the ‘fake’ in the Fake Sartorialist stands for ‘the little guy’ against the cultural and social giants that the Sartorialist aligns himself with and represents. Fakeness sets right and secures the democratic socioeconomic relations the Internet is supposed to foment”). Having enjoyed his work, I jumped at the chance to be rendered otherwise when I noticed that he’s inviting submissions. (You can send a photograph to get transformed too!)

I’m sure Minh-Ha will have smart things to say about the “democraticization of fashion” here (gushing on the phone about the story’s setting –hanging out with Alexander Graham Bell– Minh-Ha says, “It’s great that we’re hanging out with someone who invented a communication technology!”), but I’m still at the “Yippeee!” phase (in real life I would totally wear that outfit, with the brocade and the tweed and the mushroom-turned-inside-out hat all at once).  Thank you, Eduardo!

3 Comments

Filed under DEMOCRATIZATION OF FASHION, FASHION 2.0, OUR JUNK DRAWER, SARTORIAL INDULGENCES

Clothes Epidermalized, as Republican Representative Targets “Illegals”

In his 1974-1975 lectures at the College de France collected in the volume Abnormal, Michel Foucault discusses the creation of new technologies in modern “criminal justice” that categorize individuals who “resemble their crime before they commit it.” He’s specifically inquiring into the emergence of criminal psychiatry, but as we know so well, sartorial-racial profiling has become another such “rational” method of categorization (based on interpretations of signs as “symptoms”) and criminalization. (See sagging pants on young black men, turbans on “Muslim-looking” men –even if they are Sikhs– and some forms of hijab on Muslim women in Canada and France, for the most relevant contemporary examples.) Now, in the midst of a hostile anti-immigrant movement, Representative Bill Bilbray (R-Calif) claims that “trained professionals,” presumably experts in scientific methods of observation and evaluation, will be able to identify “illegals” by their clothes. As the Huffington Post reports:

Discussing Arizona’s pending profiling bill on “Hardball,” Chris Matthews challenged Bilbray to cite a “non-ethnic aspect” by which law enforcement agents could identify illegal immigrants. “They will look at the kind of dress you wear, there is different type of attire, there is different type of — right down to the shoes, right down to the clothes,” Bilbray replied.

Arizona’s draconian new immigration law has now legislated what has been an informal policy of racial surveillance, what we might call “being public while brown.” (Or as the New York Times‘ legal reporter Linda Greenhouse puts it, “breathing while undocumented.”)  SB1070 makes it a state misdemeanor to lack immigration documents (and more, to fail to carry such paperwork at all times) and compels police officers to determine immigration status if they form a “reasonable suspicion” that a person is in the U.S. illegally. Those who cannot immediately prove their legal residency may be arrested. (For more analysis of the law and its implications, see the Immigration Law Professors Blog, which dubs the law “The Latino Racial Profiling Act of 2010,” the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and the National Immigration Law Center.) A New York Times editorial observes, “Opponents say it verges on a police state, which sounds overblown until you read it.”

Rep. Bilbray’s disingenuous efforts to deflect from the state’s racisms by locating the “trained” apprehension of “illegality” on clothes, on behaviors –rather than skin– do not constitute any sort of departure from race discourses that target the body as a continuous surface of legible information about pathology, capacity, and so forth. The cognition of race has never been a simple matter of skin or bones. Especially for racialized others, their clothes are often epidermalized — that is, they are understood as contiguous with the body that wears them, a sort of second skin, as we see with hijab or turbans. The normalization and regulation of dress codes as pathways for racialized others to achieve liberal selfhood and signal cultural competency (another example being the sartorial disdain encapsulated in the declaration “You look like a FOB (fresh off the boat)!”)  are absolutely integral to racial taxonomies and their histories.

Watch the video, if you have the stomach for it. Then wash out the bad taste in your mouth with the Colbert Report segment on the new immigration law.

9 Comments

Filed under FASHIONING RACE, FASHIONING THE HUMAN

Wired for the Weekend: MIA “Born Free” / Suicide “Ghost Rider”

MIA has released “Born Free,” the first single from her as-yet untitled third album (due June 29), which samples “Ghost Rider,” by no wave legends Suicide (below the sweat-suited MIA). My mind is blown.

Leave a comment

Filed under WIRED FOR THE WEEKEND

New Technologies of Style and Selfhood

When Mimi suggested I post about Blair Fowler, the 17 year-old haul vlogger from Tennessee (a.k.a “JuicyStar07″) who was the subject of a recent Jezebel post, I resisted. Fowler is certainly worthy of a post or at least our acknowledgment since her significance in the mainstream fashion culture of the 21st century, in particular, and in the new creative economy, in general, is undeniable. Her fans number in the high millions and a single haul video of hers can “amass over 300,000 views in just a couple of days.” Yet I still resisted watching Fowler’s haul videos for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve written about haul vloggers before. My observations about ChanelBlueSatin as well as Tavi Gevinson and the new digital work order in which they and indeed most of us labor might easily be transposed to Fowler. For example:

  • Fowler’s compulsion for digital productivity is a topic I’ve previously discussed in “Why I Feel Guilty When I Don’t Blog”. (Fowler notes in the video below that she feels “bad and guilty about [sleeping in when she should be] . . . getting up and responding to emails and doing videos and stuff like that.” Remember, she’s seventeen years-old.
  • Child entrepreneurs like Fowler (she’s an older teenager but she also has a 7 year-old sister who’s vlogging) is suggestive of the ways in which Web 2.0 technologies are dissolving the boundaries between labor and play, is reliant on child labor, and is capitalizing free and democratic spaces – some of which I discuss in “Digital Work and Child’s Play”. In this GMA segment, we learn that Fowler’s devotion to vlogging led her to quit attending regular classes at her high school (she’s now home-schooled) to focus on shopping which, for haul vloggers of course, is working

But perhaps the primary reason I resisted writing about Fowler is that while haul vlogging is interesting to me as an academic, it holds very little appeal for me personally. I enjoy shopping with friends and sometimes I even enjoy glimpsing their “hauls” but a stranger’s haul? Not so much. It isn’t that I’m offended by haul vloggers’ “bragging,” as Fowler assumes of her detractors; instead, I find haul vlogs boring. In my low blood sugar moments, I find them downright tedious. But I’m in the minority. According to the GMA segment on Fowler and her sisters, their videos have gotten a combined 75 million hits – enough to make YouTube offer them a partnership, guaranteeing them a cut of the ad revenue from their vlogs. And along with the Fowler sisters’ YouTube videos are about 110,000 other haul videos that are viewed thousands of times a day.

In previous posts, we’ve emphasized the ways in which lifestyle experts and technologies instrumentalize neoliberal forms of governmentalization that correct and regulate populations to normative social formations of professionalism, middle-class respectability, femininity, masculinity, motherhood, etc. But such technologies of power do not operate by coercion alone. As Terry Eagleton reminds in The Significance of Theory,

No oppressive power which does not succeed in entwining itself with people’s real needs and desires, engaging with vital motifs of their actual experience, is likely to be very effective. Power succeeds by persuading us to desire and collude with it; and this process is not merely an enormous confidence trick, since we really do have needs and desires which such power, however partially and distortedly, is able to fulfill.

The enormous popularity of Web 2.0 lifestyle technologies such as what-not-to-wear fashion blogs, what-to-buy-now haul vlogs, and the shopping and style guide apps available for our smartphones, demonstrate that millions of people (particularly women and girls, who are still the ideal subjects of the highly dispersed fashion media complex and its makeover logics) want the expertise of life-conduct authorities. But why are these lifestyle technologies so appealing? Why do millions of people search for, share, and subscribe to the RSS web feeds of life-conduct gurus? What is it about this particular moment that makes such expertise a matter of urgency? What conditions, in the words of print and online fashion journalists, the “fashion emergency” that iPhone apps like Ask a Stylist, Elle Shopping Guide, Net-App, and Gilt on the Go are said to rescue us from? (Download Ask a Stylist and you’ll have a small cadre of stylists  available to you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, ready to provide you with personalized responses within 2 minutes of your question.)

The desire for self-improvement is not unique to this historical moment. While new technologies such as blogs, video sharing, smartphones, and GPS deliver the tools of and paths to self-reinvention faster, more often, and to more people than ever before, the desire itself is a foundational element of the American Dream in which the exceptional potential for and possibility of self-improvement is central. Recall Horatio Algers’ 19th century rags-to-riches stories which assured Americans that wealth, success, and happiness were available to anyone through hard work and determination. Today, the ethos of success through hard work persists however the site of this labor – particularly for women – has shifted inward, from the office, factory, and field to the body.

The role of technologies in women’s histories of selfhood and self-reinvention is especially familiar. New kitchen technologies, as we know from Laura Scott Holliday, played a major role in creating and securing ideologies about femininity. In the post-war years, when women were no longer needed or wanted in the work force events like the Kitchens of Tomorrow exhibits enticed women to return to their homes and their roles as (newly liberated) homemakers.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, kitchen and home appliances located proper femininity in the home and particularly in the kitchen while large cars and the new car radio situated ideal masculinity “on the road.” In the neoliberal post-welfare present, digital lifestyle technologies like blogs, vlogs, and iPhone apps privatize (rather than domesticize) femininity. Personal and personalized technologies allow and encourage us to be responsible for our own well-being. For women and girls, the health of our “well-being” is intimately tied to the look and style of our bodies, which includes our sartorial appearances. The unprecedented availability of life-conduct expertise through lifestyle technologies that are always at our fingertips through our laptops and our smartphones facilitates the transfer of the responsibility for our welfare from the government to individual women. Such responsibility is articulated in the neoliberal present as freedom. That is to say, lifestyle technologies give us the freedom to work on our bodies and appearances whenever we want. Such technologies do more than shape our social identities; they deliver directly to us the  immaterial and material tools (i.e., information and consumer goods) for realizing our optimal selves.

Providing up-to-the-minute product and sales information, style rules, and GPS mapping, these lifestyle technologies are timely instruments of rational consumption, self-determination, and social and physical mobility that enable us to be enterprising agents of our own care and happiness. (Lifestyle technologies have also expanded into biomedical spheres, monitoring and regulating our diets, exercise routines, and even menstrual cycles.) Such care and management of the self is the mark of good “post-welfare citizenship.” As Laurie Ouellette and James Hay write in their wonderfully useful essay, “Makeover Television, Governmentality and the Good Citizen”:

Today . . . the state relies primarily on the private sector rather than public bureaucracies to produce ‘good’ citizens. Acting more as a supporter and less as an ‘overseer’, the United States has offloaded much of the responsibility of governing onto public–private partnerships and depends more than ever before on cultural technologies.

As such, blogs, vlogs, and mobile phone apps are at once technologies of power as well as technologies of self-optimization. Thus, the promise of the American Dream and particularly the dream of self-reinvention at the heart of the American Dream is located not merely in the free market but in the fashion media complex specifically. The rapid digitalization of fashion media from the online publications of print magazines to the lifestyle technologies discussed here (many of which are owned, in varying degrees, by media and/or fashion corporations) makes it possible for anyone to create the Perfect Outfit, the Perfect Shopping Experience, or the Perfect Smoky Eye. This is the democratization of fashion and style. Like the Perfect Day in Davin Heckman’s fascinating study of smart homes, the Perfect Outfit is a technologically-enhanced, media-saturated, and future-oriented narrative of “the good life” that is the promise of an “exceptional consumer lifestyle.” Heckman explains:

The Perfect Day is a grand goal, a utopian dream for the subject of neoliberal capitalism that owes its existence to the numerous promises that are conjured up daily in the marketplace . . . It is a technologically facilitated experience of subjectivity as life without deficiency and without doubt.

And as with all consumerist ideals of perfection, the Perfect Outfit that is the utopian promise of the Ask a Stylist app, is always, in Heckman’s words, “just beyond the present and stopping short of perfect satisfaction.” The anticipatory but not yet fulfilled promise signified by the Perfect Outfit is precisely the driving force of consumer capitalism. But in desiring the Perfect Day or the Perfect Outfit or the Perfect Body –  mass-mediated “spectacles,” to borrow Guy Debord’s term —we have to concede that we are deeply un-perfect and thus in need of the lifestyle technologies and life-conduct expertise that will surely improve not only our outfits and bodies but our chances for happiness, future employment (as the Chicago Bar Association, would have it), love, and, in places where racial-sartorial profiling is institutionally sanctioned, the right look can improve our chances for living a life without police harassment.** This is the appeal of lifestyle technologies and life-conduct expertise. A complex of biopolitical affective power, these technologies and agents produce “post-human” neoliberal subjects who are no longer determined by biology but are instead self-determined through their consumer choices.

Personal, convenient, and mobile technologies of (economic, social, physical, and sartorial) health rationalize the care and management of the self. Women who are not (yet) style experts can still be “entrepreneurs of the self” if they take the initiative for searching out, downloading, and conducting their lives and themselves according to this expertise. And since lifestyle technologies and life-conduct gurus are so easily accessible, enabling anyone to have the Perfect Body and the Perfect Outfit, there is no excuse for obesity or sloppiness. A disorderly look, as we are reminded everywhere in our makeover culture, signifies a disorderly worker, low self-esteem, and bad consumer citizenship. It is as such that Nikolas Rose finds in advanced liberal democracies, there is an “ethic in which the maximization of lifestyle, potential, health, and quality of life has become almost obligatory, and where negative judgments are directed towards those who will not adopt, for whatever reason, an active, informed, positive, and prudent relation to the future.”

Although this post has focused on women and girls who, as I’ve mentioned before, continue to be the ideal subjects and target consumers of lifestyle technologies, men are not excluded from makeover culture’s ethical imperative. To quote Tim Gunn before making over some of the husbands and boyfriends of Oprah Winfrey’s viewers on the “Makeover My Man!” episode (November 19, 2009):
“Men have no excuse. It’s so much easier for us.”

Tim Gunn: "It was all about respecting who they are at their core and making them better, enhancing them."Josh: "I feel like a new man."

** A footnote: Xenophobic legislation such as California’s Prop 187, the Homeland Security Act, and Arizona’s just-passed SB 1070 which allow state agents to question or imprison people they suspect are “illegal”or “terrorists” often implicitly sanction racial-sartorial profiling. That said, the histories of Asian Americans, Chicanos, and Latinos are full of instances of creative sartorial subversion! See Debbie Nathan’s Women and Other Aliens: Essays from the US-Mexico Border; Erika Lee’s At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943; and Min Song’s chapter in Q&A: Queer in Asian America.

5 Comments

Filed under FASHION 2.0, STYLE POLICE & STYLE GURUS

LINKAGE: The Feather In Your “Native” Cap

Hipster headress from Urban Outfitters

In the last few weeks, several writers have tackled the concatenation of concerns surrounding “native appropriations” in so-called hipster fashions.  (Feathered headdresses, for example, are among the latest accessories for sale by retailers such as usual suspects Urban Outfitters. For not-equivalent-but-possibly-relevant commentary, see my “History and the Harem Pant,” or Minh-Ha’s “Blackface, and the Violence of Revulsion.”) Neither of us are able to comment at length right now because we’re both on our separate ways out of town (having said that, one of the first things I would do is explore the difference between an analytic of appropriation as a property relation and an analytic of alienation as a social-historical one, in response to the many comments to these posts that protest that indigenous peoples do not have a “monopoly” on feathers), but I thought I would bookmark these writers for our readers’ perusal.

Sociological Images borrows from several posts by Adrienne at Native Appropriations (a truly amazing archive) to compile a partial archive of “native style.” Lisa Wade writes,

“All of these cases romanticize Indianness, blur separate traditions (as well as the real and the fake), and some disregard Indian spirituality.  They all happily forget that, before white America decided that American Indians were cool, some whites did their absolute best to kill and sequester them.  And the U.S. government is still involved in oppressing these groups today.

Julia at a l’allure garconneire penned an epic essay, called “the critical fashion lover’s (basic) guide to cultural appropriation,” in partial response to the Jezebel syndication of the above Sociological Images post. (Many Jezebel commenters expressed hostility and indifference to the post, hurling accusations of “PC policing” or suggesting that “it’s just fashion, who cares?” Julia capably responds to some of the more representative comments.)

“my favourite aspect of cultural appropriation is that it can help us begin to deconstruct our sartorial choices and acknowledges the power of clothing as a means of shaping (racial, national, sexual, gender) identity. the exact same piece of clothing can mean very different things to different people (take any politically charged piece of clothing: the hijab, high-heel shoes, doc martens, the keffiyeh, etc) and acknowledging this fact is a very important first step. the very basis of cultural appropriation gets people thinking about questions like, can one piece of clothing “belong” to one culture? what do certain pieces of clothing signify? it moves us away from basic discussions of colour palettes and cuts and styles and trends and moves us towards a more complex theorizing of fashion.”

Molly Ann Blakowski at the University of Michigan’s Arts, Ink. suggests in “The Hipster Headress: A Fashion Faux Pas” that while the trend in feathered headresses is neither ironic nor chic, it is hardly the worst injury in a long history of violence.

Not to say some people aren’t offended – it’s definitely apparent in the posts’ feedback – but I’ve got a hunch that the hundreds of years of broken promises, stolen homelands, trails of tears, and more or less genocide at assimilative boarding schools are probably a bit more offensive than lame hipsters wearing headdresses. No, it’s cool, it’s not like your ancestors killed them all or anything-” (or your university possesses their grandparents in cardboard boxes). Choosing to wear these items out to a party leaves you looking foolish, no matter your intentions. Regardless of whether or not you’re offending someone of Native origin, you’re offending yourself.

For Bitch Magazine, indigenous feminist activist Jessica Yee tackles hipsters and hippies head on:

“Whether it’s headbands, feathers, bone necklaces, mukluks, or moccasins – at least put some damn thought into WHAT you are wearing and WHERE it’s from. I know our people sell these things en masse in gift shops and trading posts, and it seems like it’s an open invitation to buy it and flaunt it, but you could at least check the label to see A. If it’s made by actual Indigenous people/communities B. What does this really mean if YOU wear it?”

Finally, the heated comments in Yee’s post (both on the Bitch blog and on the Bitch Facebook) inspired someone to post the always-handy internet meme, the “Fill in the Blank” Bingo Card — in this case, the “Cultural Appropriation” Bingo Card (created by Elusis):

"Cultural Appropriation Bingo Card"


EDITED AGAIN TO ADD:
Please do send additional linkages if you find them! Like this one, My Culture Is Not A Trend, which is an entire Tumblr dedicated to the apparently accelerating “feathers and fashion” phenomenon. She writes in a recent post, “When you enter into these arguments, ask yourself ‘Is my right to wear something pretty greater than someone’s right to cultural autonomy and dignity?’”

Or this one, in which K. of Side Ponytail (best blog name by the way) points to another, poignant dimension of unequal access in “on headdresses“:

April: There is a HUGE difference between being gifted authentic regalia and wearing shit because you think it’s cute. Also, a headdress is not something you wear FOR KICKS, you know?
K: I don’t know, don’t you ever have those days where you roll out of bed and say to yourself, “I deserve a headdress today!”
April: “Because in my life, every day is a pow wow! That’s how SPECIAL and UNIQUE I am!” EXTRA TRAGEDY: So many native folks, especially kids! can’t afford to create or have real regalia created. But it’s super cool that [white girls] can have [their] knockoffs.
—-
The other day April and I were talking about the recent glut of Native American “inspired” fashion trends, including (but by no means limited to) headdresses and moccasins. (This conversation was partly inspired by April’s work with an Indian community organization and my tendency to be annoyed by basically everything I see on the internet.) I thought this snippet of the conversation was worth sharing, mainly for April’s point that many native folks (especially kids, that kids part kills me) CAN’T AFFORD to have regalia of their own.

Thea Lim at Racialicious decontructs “some basic racist ideas and some rebuttals” in response to the increasingly heinous comments at Bitch for Jessica Yee’s essay.

Incidentally Bitch is also a pop culture site, so it kinda makes sense that Jessica talk about hipsters there. Bitch readers come to Bitch to talk about feminism and pop culture, but they don’t want to talk about racism and pop culture?

The “get over it” defense is not hard to take down as soon as you realise that by “it” the commenter is referring to colonisation and genocide, the legacy of which continues to beset Native communities in the form of poverty, environmental racism, and health disparities (to recap some of the things Jessica mentioned in the original post).

The whole “but that happened 100 years ago!” defense is similarly dense: a brief look at who is poor and who is marginalised in the richest countries in the world should quiet that one down…though it often doesn’t.  There’s no accounting for pigheadedness.

And beyond this? Racism manifests itself in a million different ways, from massive structural inequalities, to the accessories of that fashionable person on the subway next to you.  And sometimes it is easier for folks to understand and tackle the small things; for me, it was a long journey to the admission that racism exists and impacts my daily life.  Talking about pop culture was a baby step that I could take; it was also something that was familiar and accessible when I didn’t really understand the academic language of postcolonial theory, or couldn’t imagine that words like “double marginalization” “diaspora” or even “immigrant” could apply to me.

EDITED ONCE AGAIN: Confused about the meaningful differences between distinct histories of exchange? They are not all the same. Read also these excerpts from Coco Fusco’s 1995 essay “Who’s Doing the Twist?” Also, new at Native Appropriations are some of the answers to the apparently compelling question, “But why can’t I wear a hipster headress?”

39 Comments

Filed under FASHIONING RACE, FASHIONING THE HUMAN, LINKAGE