LINKAGE: Editorial Racism in Interview‘s “Let’s Get Lost”

Refinery 29 gives this Interview editorial, titled “Let’s Get Lost,” the side-eye of skepticism:

From the differences in their dress (Daria’s in ethereal, angel-like gowns, the others are in knits and leathers) to their body language (A limp yet super-sexual Daria is the main focus, the others feel almost like props), the whole spread has a rather racist vibe that we can’t get down with despite the gorgeous art direction of the spread. Don’t you agree? After all, regardless of what some say, fashion is at its core a political and social product—how power relationships are set up in editorials can speak volumes. So while the super-sexy, ethno-traditional thing is very of the moment, it all seems to be setting up a 21st century colonial construct that makes us very uncomfortable.

Good grief, Interview. It’s as if the entire fashion-industrial complex must be forcibly enrolled in a postcolonial feminist studies course, and made to imbibe bell hooks’ essay “Eating the Other,” among other readings. Tom & Lorenzo (who also cast a critical eye upon Vivienne Westwood’s latest “homeless” collection) also comment (thanks for the heads up, Covet Chicago!):

Aren’t we past this whole colonialist idea of the fetishized black person? It’s fine to cast a bunch of gorgeous black models, but they’re more like props or backdrops for the white girl to play with or lean up against. Plus everyone’s inexplicably sweaty, like sex is gonna break out at any second. This is all deliberate button-pushing and it’s tired. “Let’s be controversial” in a very 1979 kind of way.

You can see the entire set of images at Refinery 29 or Tom & Lorenzo.

As well as “Eating the Other,” fashion editors, photographers, and their supporters would do well to revisit vintage Threadbared and read Mimi’s 3-part post on how fashion and art use people of color as landscape. See Background Color; Background Color, Redux; and Background Color, Redux II. (Minh-Ha)




11 responses to “LINKAGE: Editorial Racism in Interview‘s “Let’s Get Lost”

  1. kips

    I think Interview is just trying to get attention. They know that this will only get people talking about them, and as far as negative blowback they’ll get nothing more than a slap on the wrist. If they respond to it, they’ll probably say they wanted to use more models “of color”. Ha!
    I do think the spread reflects a common fantasy, though.

    • Oh totally! It’s the premise of being “edgy,” “pushing the envelope,” et cetera, not dissimilar to the phenomenon I discussed here, in the sense that such images declaim their race discourse through some language of being provocative (as if this acted as an "excuse"). And it's very much a common fantasy, one that hinges upon an imagination that the viewer will feel uncomfortable/aroused by the dangers posed by potentially dangerous, nearly always unknowable racial Others (I wonder how many of the black persons in this editorial got their names in the credits?) to the isolated figure of white womanhood. That's like several centuries' worth of imperial literature and artwork, right there.

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed the Tom & Lorenzo link! Thanks for linking my site.

    I am a recent threadbared reader…and an addict. You have the smarts.

  3. Oh joy, I’ll be able to play Asshole Artiste drinking game with this. That’s when some chump decides to throw around racist/sexist/homophobic/etc. tropes in the name of being “edgy,” and I look at the responses to it, and take a drink every time someone says something like “it’s just art, don’t be so touchy,” or “racism is in the eye of the beholder, clearly YOU’RE the racist,” or “why do you think this should be censored? Don’t you care about artistic freedom?” or “I’ve got a black friend and they didn’t have a problem with it.”

    “Provocative,” to me, is something that actually makes me think. This is not only offensive, it’s fucking boring. Oh look! A centuries-old cliche! Now that’s innovation! SNORE.

    • LOL! Mimi and I who are lightweight drinkers would probably die of alcohol poisoning in this game. (In the past, we’ve split one drink 3 ways – with her girlfriend – and didn’t finish it.) Talk about the violence of racism!

    • All those comments have already been made at some of the blogs. “It’s art” is one of the more ridiculous ones, as ever. I cannot believe that all these people defending this editorial 1) invoke “art” as if it were a rarefied field of cultural production that would never, ever reflect or participate in “real world” or historical race discourses, which is baldly refuted by even the smallest survey of art history (e.g., any of the avant-garde “primitivist” movements in Europe), or the slightest familiarity with contemporary art criticism of the last half-century, and 2) somehow render fashion to be “purely” art, rather than a deeply commercial enterprise that “provokes” in order to sell.

      Then there is “The fashion industry isn’t racist just because of one editorial!” No, this one editorial doesn’t “make” it racist, but certainly long histories of labor and representation in the fashion -industrial complex from image-making (any black model in the Global North can certainly testify to their limited employment opportunities) down to garment manufacturing (Asian women’s purported “nimble fingers”) might contribute to a decent argument about its racisms.

  4. The other night I was watching to season finale of America’s Next Top Model and was really excited when Krista White won. Part of this was because she seriously owned the last half of the competition and another part was because she mentioned repeatedly how she wanted to be a role model to other dark-skinned black girls and women to show them that they *are* beautiful even though so many people try to tell them that being dark makes that impossible. And then I come to read Threadbared and see this piece about the Interview spread and I feel like I’ve fallen into some sort of Opposite Land time warp where a super-duper mainstream TV show like ANTM is somehow more progressive than a magazine like Interview that likes to present itself as edgy and zeitgeist-y as all hell.

    But I agree that Interview is just trying to get attention and stir up controversy. I just wish they could find a way to do it that doesn’t involve tired racist tropes and the constant insistence on whiteness as the coveted object of beauty.

    • P.S. I also wonder what it must be like to be a black model in a shoot like that and see that, in spite of being in the majority numbers-wise for the photo shoot, the focus is still going to be on the lone white woman in the room. I can’t imagine that can feel any kind of good.

  5. Asael

    Oh No. THEY have her now. She’ll never go back.

  6. ‘Contoversial in a 1979 way..’
    love that quote! I also love how fashion still seems to think there are just two races.

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