Saturday, May 24, 2008

so wonderfully exotic

One thing that I’ve always loved about fashion photography has been the rich colors, unexpected shapes and oftentimes bold composition of each shoot.  Since I was 10 years old I remember soaking in the pages of Vogue, Harper’s and Elle, not for the (generally uninspiring) editorials or tips on what was new or in, but in sheer appreciation of the art that I’ve come to love.  Of course, I’ve always accepted my love of fashion with a grain of salt- after all, as I’ve stated before, it’s an industry rife with elitism, sexism, racism and exploitation, the proverbial playground of the privileged that, on its upper levels, is all but closed to us plebeians.

So over the years I’ve been an active consumer and a casual fan, never overestimating my love, knowing that while she can be beautiful, creative and provocative, she’s also often petty and manipulative.  Which, sadly, I was reminded of while flipping through this month’s Vogue.  The June 2008 issue of the fashion industry’s bible was dedicated to SJP and the upcoming SATC movie, but deep in the recesses of its layout is the article “from here to timbuktu... and beyond.  Sally Singer travels to the end of the earth for a little night music.”  I’m sure you’ve already caught on to what annoyed me about this article.  Bright pictures of model Liya Kebede mingling with the Malian locals, sporting “ethnically inspired” fashions in the most ethnic of all places (oh, Africa.  Sigh.)  If the imagery itself weren’t enough to warrant my defenses popping up, this quote definitely helped spark a bit of anger:

“Which brings me to the true glory of Mali: the wanderers themselves... You see women driving pink 125 cc. bikes in kitten heels, stretch pin-striped pencil skirts, and blonde bobbed wigs.  You see schoolgirls in Heidi pinafores and young boys in hip hop gear, pastoral floral dresses.  Above all, you see the world as if exfoliated of the dead layers of Western trends, norms, preconceptions.  It’s a visual and auditory jolt that makes this sandbox at the end of the earth feel like the most privileged of all playgrounds.”

Yes, you read correctly.  Now, stripping away some of the most immediately annoying parts of this article (“this sandbox at the end of the earth,” right.. how exactly is Mali at the end of the earth?  If I’m not mistaken California could easily be qualified as the “end of the earth” to this white woman fashion news editor, but come ON how completely cliche and colonial) the most frustrating part was how this woman continued the theme of “oh how quaint, look at how luxuriously I can live in this dust bucket of a country!  This is so deliciously different from my every day life!”

Oh, and the comment about Mali being stripped “of Western trends, norms [and] preconceptions?”  PLEASE.  Oh goodness, that right there almost made me want to vomit.  I’m no expert on Mali or Timbuktu, but I seriously doubt that the eclectic hodgepodge of outfits seen on the streets of this city has much to do with a collective fashion statement by the people as much as it has to do with a myriad of economic issues and access to certain resources.

And okay, I get it, if you’re an American who has never been to Mali (which I never have) I’m sure that the change from Western culture and amenities would be really jarring, and would inspire you to have a different appreciation both for your home and your new surroundings.  But, in this day and age of hyper-sensitivity to global issues you think that she’d at least once bring up something about the environment and its condition that had at least a tiny ounce of social relevancy (aside from immediately mentioning and dismissing her non-status as an anthropologist, economist or tourist) but, no, of course she did not.

So we get to the point- when the hell IS it someone’s job to have cultural sensitivity?  Surely this can’t only be reserved for us anthropology students and those in academia- I mean, this woman is a lead editor at one of the most highly circulated publications in the business, and she’s continued to support the ignorant stance of appreciating a place only for its superficial merits.

Blah.  I just got all aggravated.  I’m going to go get a pepsi.  To calm me nerves.

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