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Thread: Op-Ed | The Age of Political Correctness Will Kill Great Fashion

  1. #1

    Default Op-Ed | The Age of Political Correctness Will Kill Great Fashion

    by Eugene Rabkin

    "Recently, fashion has been rocked by scandals involving racism, sexism, and cultural appropriation — real, alleged, and perceived. Some of these allegations have been serious and valid, others more tenuous and contentious. Among the latter include accusations of racism based on an image or product.

    Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, and Gucci have all been called out, D&G for a debacle of an advertising campaign targeting Chinese customers, and Prada and Gucci for products that mimic blackface. Fashion brands have been accused of racial insensitivity before, but with the rise of social media and self-appointed Instagram watchdogs such as Diet Prada, the line is now blurring between a valid civic concern and smug moral superiority.

    Fashion critic Angelo Flaccavento recently wrote in Vogue Italia, “We live in violently moralistic times, destroying freedom of expression and invention in the name of a distorted idea of freedom of expression. Censors are trying to turn fashion into something terribly intelligent and necessarily political, denying its frivolous, silly and distracted nature. Let’s be clear: the socio-political values of fashion are deep, but they are on the surface, they are aesthetic. Indeed, the more superficial fashion is, the more it triggers progress. To deny it by imposing ex-cathedra lessons, choked with narrow certainties, is to destroy the fertile fields of free thought with Philistine arrogance.”

    The bizarre thing about the rhetoric coming from the millennial left is how it resembles that of the right. This well-meaning authoritarianism results in products being pulled off shelves, apologies issued, lip service in the form of “diversity councils,” and a lot of money spent on PR. It resembles the culture wars of years past.

    In his 1993 book Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America, art critic Robert Hughes described the scandal surrounding the exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography depicting gay S&M practices. In 1989, Mapplethorpe’s work was pulled from Washington DC’s Corcoran Gallery of Art under pressure from the evangelical Christian right, resulting in an effort by Republican Senator Jesse Helms to amend a law in a way that would deny National Endowment of the Arts funding for any artist whose planned works might be deemed “obscene.”

    Among language denying funds to sexually explicit artworks and material that offends religion, the amendment wanted to prevent funding going to “material which denigrates, debases, or reviles a person, group, or class of citizens on the basis of race, creed, sex, handicap, age, or national origin,” wording that could come straight out of any liberal arts college campus.

    Not much has changed today. In 2017, feminist activists demanded a 1938 Balthus painting of a young girl in a suggestive pose be removed from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’m not sure whether their sensibilities are morally superior to those of evangelicals, but both groups use similar rhetoric to the same effect — stifling creativity and freedom of expression by whipping up moral hysteria.

    Helms’ language wasn’t in the final wording but the so-called “decency” amendment passed and was upheld by the US Supreme Court in 1998. According to Hughes, the scandal surrounding Mapplethorpe’s exhibit “produced an atmosphere of doubt, self-censorship, and disoriented caution among curators and museum directors when facing the political demands of pressure groups.” Sound familiar?"

    Full article on Highsnobiety

  2. #2

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    Thanks Faust, IMO the worst part is that 'creatives' are the worst offenders.
    It's great to see that you can get your ideas out into the homogenous public forum, said to see that you are getting murdered in the comments section...
    Last edited by supercilious; 04-30-2019 at 12:38 PM.

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    A very interesting read. As a former lawyer who studied some moral philosophy, I immediately find myself wanting to elevate the discussion to a macro-level. Political sentiments often begin with genuine motifs. However when the compliance to these motifs become part of a social status hierarchy, it will become possible for one individual or one group to force compliance of another as means to establish social status for themselves. Vocal criticism or other social punishment might then not longer be truly genuine in it's goal to create a better society or help a marginalized group or person, but to give the person or group that's verbalizing it a kind of social power by allying with the marginalized cause or group. My belief is that human nature is very good at using these kinds of manipulative methods to establish social status, and social status is much more complex than the relationship between two groups in terms of capitalistic power or other obvious power-dynamics like that. It's very contextual and we are all playing with tools of empathy here.

    Another problem is the punishments that is possible to generate through mass-criticism on social media today. To discuss the very institution of punishment (which public critique is, with or without effective provocation or shame) it's necessary to mention fundamental principles behind due process, as the principle of proportionality and the philosophical fundaments behind guilt. The principle of proportionality means that the punishment should fit the crime. It's obvious that we can't treat minor speeding the same way we treat mass-murders. We can't treat a fashion designer that uses other's cultural symbols with bad taste in his designs the same way as a much more severe crime, if a crime at all. But even though, this doesn't seem to apply to the modus norm of social justice today. When assessing somebody's guilt we also take into account if there was intent (dolus) behind the wrongdoing or carelessness (culpa). An injury that was caused by someone's carelessness is generally considered a lesser crime than one that is inflicted with intent. And all of this is pretty intricate stuff to navigate through, viewed through legal scope or just in terms of social justice. So people don't just tend to use social punishments in insincere ways, but without coherency and due process. This is problematic in many ways, and to make a long story short I believe it brings us to a net loss in terms of social development rather than progress.

    The philosopher Slavoj Zizek gives some really interesting remarks here:

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by marux View Post
    Vocal criticism or other social punishment might then not longer be truly genuine in it's goal to create a better society or help a marginalized group or person, but to give the person or group that's verbalizing it a kind of social power by allying with the marginalized cause or group. My belief is that human nature is very good at using these kinds of manipulative methods to establish social status, and social status is much more complex than the relationship between two groups in terms of capitalistic power or other obvious power-dynamics like that. It's very contextual and we are all playing with tools of empathy here.
    This rings very true for the positioning of certain fashion publications today that go on to create an echo chamber without offering criticism with a journalistic approach. Dazed is the biggest culprit here, followed by i-D, the repositioning of Teen Vogue to combat the failure of their now shuddered print publication, and the newly re-launched The Face.
    Dazed is especially contentious in that they are quick to callout in moral posturing whilst simultaneously providing misleading headlines, false and inaccurate information, article theft, and a level of hypocrisy in their content that I chalk up to a lack of knowledge on generally everything...leaving them a propagator of misinformation. Teen Vogue also falls into this camp. Just yesterday, in their cognitive dissonance, they posted an article about environmental education immediately followed by promoting a Zara drop.
    i-D on the other hand, and seemingly The Face so far, have taken "positive vibes only" and "genres are dead" stances, respectively, in some languid approach to appeal to everyone by offending no one and just offering a disproportionate amount of redundant content to all of the aforementioned.

    The overarching issue with the position they all take is that it is, in itself, an oxymoron. “Genres are dead” supposes monoculture in a climate of multiculturalism. Their hardline takes on what constitutes cultural appropriation accentuates a preservation of distinct differences, yielding self-actuated cultural isolationism and ethnocentrism. Cultural exchange is fairly common when you have many ethnicities/religions living amongst each other - including interracial/interethnic relationships. This also tends to lead to ethnic cleansing, either imposed by forced displacement or natural progression. When intermixing occurs, a new ethnicity is created, having cultural values from both parents and also their immediate environment along with new discrimination that can come with it. It goes even further with each new generation, which can lead to an identity crisis for a multi-ethnic person living in a very homogenous society. So I present the dilemma in their position of cultural/ethnic preservation and protection by way of identity politics, is that it encourages a certain level of segregation and discourages inter-racial/inter-ethnic marriage as they form their defense of culture on the basis of race as opposed to geographic location and upbringing.


    Re: Zizek
    The move to be completely introspective and aware of every action you take in how it may be perceived as prejudiced has the unfortunate side effect of subconscious self-imposed racism in trying so hard not to be racist, along with the erasure of history. Take for instance, in a WWII movie, the producers want to check some boxes to be X or not be Y for inclusivity for audience relatability, but it needs to be understood that the US had segregated units of white and black soldiers until Vietnam. Take this with including a Japanese soldier, without noting that their family are in an internment camp back in the US, and it goes to rewrite American history in a much more positive light, which is just nationalistic propaganda any way you cut it.
    Last edited by Ahimsa; 05-01-2019 at 12:42 PM.

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    Great article, Faust. I am glad that you have the courage to put out these articles. Looking through the Instagram comments on the SZ post, it's sad to see so many people terribly misinterpret the article as defending racism/sexism/etc., and worst of all ignoring your arguments, preferring to go for the low-hanging fruit of "You are a white male!".

    On the topic of cultural appropriation, its accusations are something I genuinely despise. It's strange how we live in a multicultural day and age, yet some are so eager to keep things barricaded into their respective ethnic and historical contexts. This was articulated 100x better by Ahimsa in all honesty.

    However, I want to note this section of Ahimsa's comment that highlights my precise issue with the accusation of cultural appropriation:

    So I present the dilemma in their position of cultural/ethnic preservation and protection by way of identity politics, is that it encourages a certain level of segregation and discourages inter-racial/inter-ethnic marriage as they form their defense of culture on the basis of race as opposed to geographic location and upbringing.
    As someone who grew up in a city with no defined ethnic culture, surrounded by classmates from all around the world, and raised by parents from completely different birthplaces, this is what frustrates me the most about the accusations along the lines of "Of course a white male wouldn't understand." There is far more beyond someone's skin tone, and it worries me that I felt the need to write this.

    This desire to keep cultural appreciation exclusively to those of the same ethnic or historical context should be looked down upon, precisely because it halts creativity. The line between true cultural appropriation, as in theft, and inspiration from another ethnic or historical context, is so poorly defined to me that it almost always feels like a weak attack on creativity when there is this type of accusation of cultural appropriation, especially by opportunists like Diet Prada.

    I wish I had the time to write a more nuanced answer. Maybe after exams.

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    kitsch killer Faust's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by supercilious View Post
    Thanks Faust, IMO the worst part is that 'creatives' are the worst offenders.
    It's great to see that you can get your ideas out into the homogenous public forum, said to see that you are getting murdered in the comments section...
    Actually, I am surprised at how much positive reaction the article has gotten, so I'm quite happy. Also, as you know, a lot of people suck at reading comprehension. Then there are those that just want to toot their preconceived notions and don't care for nuance. Those people will always exist. I am more excited about Business of Fashion, Fashionista, and Susie Bubble picking up the article, because they think it's worth for their audiences to read it.
    Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months - Oscar Wilde

    StyleZeitgeist Magazine

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    kitsch killer Faust's Avatar
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    Marux - some interesting points. I agree that things often start with good intentions and end up making things worse. After all - every -ism is an automatic division.

    And, I absolutely agree with Zizek's assessment that the constant guilt is detrimental and that it is an a priori feeling.

    Also, great points from Ahimsa. I do believe that intermingling is the best way forward. I see it at my local playground and at my daughter's school daily. That's why cities like New York are important, and which is what Danny Dagger is saying.
    Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months - Oscar Wilde

    StyleZeitgeist Magazine

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