More on this story. Wall Street Journal assistant editors Bari Weiss and David Feith have managed to push through an op-ed in the Journal On Vogue Magazine‘s…faux-pas (I couldn’t think of another way to describe it in one phrase).
They go through a lot of the same points that I did, using a few good facts and stories to illustrate how absurdly innacurate Buck’s profile actually was. The whole article is structured with passages from the Vogue article juxtaposed with the unfortunate reality of life in Syria.
But none of those countries has Asma. “The 35-year-old first lady’s central mission,” we’re told, “is to change the mind-set of six million Syrians under eighteen, encourage them to engage in what she calls ‘active citizenship.’”
That’s just what 18-year-old high-school student Tal al-Mallouhi did with her blog, but it didn’t stop the Assad regime from arresting her in late 2009. Or from sentencing her, in a closed security court last month, to five years in prison for “espionage.”
Pretty biting, hey?
The best part, for me, was the point made at the end.
In the past weeks, as people power has highlighted the illegitimacy and ruthlessness of the Middle East’s strongmen, various Western institutions have been shamed for their associations with them. There’s the London School of Economics, which accepted over $2 million from Libya’s ruling family, and experts like political theorist Benjamin Barber, who wrote that Gadhafi “is a complex and adaptive thinker as well as an efficient, if laid-back, autocrat.”
When Syria’s dictator eventually falls—for the moment, protests against him have been successfully squelched by police—there will be a similar reckoning. Vogue has earned its place in that unfortunate roll call.
Weiss and Firth are completely right, this article should condemn Vogue to the same level of scrutiny as LSE, the UN Human Rights Council, Keysar Trad and others who openly support evil dictators. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a huge clamour in the fashion world going on about this – beside the online piece from The Atlantic (which loves taking shots at Vogue as the owners of Vogue publish Vanity Fair, one of The Atlantic’s main rivals), it took two assistant editors of a newspaper focussed mostly on finance to bring this story into the mainstream media, about 2 weeks after it first broke.
This is not an isolated incident. It took Natalie Portman, the (Jewish Israeli) face of Dior, to get apparent Nazi-sympathising designer John Galliano fired after a rant about how he loved Hitler, including the friendly observation, to his fellow patrons of the restaurant in which he was dining, that, “your mothers, your forefathers, would be fucking gassed and fucking dead.” As Barbara Ellen wrote in The Observer on Sunday:
It’s interesting that John Galliano could just have got away with his antisemitic ravings, some caught on video in a Paris bar, had it not been for Jewish actress Natalie Portman.
Nicole Kidman and Sharon Stone still wore Dior to the Oscars. It was Portman, the “face” of Dior perfumes, who wore Rodarte. It was Portman who immediately stated she was “shocked and disgusted” and “would not be associated with Mr Galliano”. She added: “I hope these terrible comments remind us to reflect and act upon combating these still-existing prejudices that are the opposite of all that is beautiful.”
Ellen made the point that anti-Semitism seems to be (forgive the pun) en vogue at the moment in the entertainment industry.
Casual antisemitism appears to be having a “moment” right now. Casual antisemitism is “hot” and seemingly nowhere “hotter” than in the US entertainment industry. This is the very industry everyone is always moaning about being “controlled by Jews”, making the whole thing even more bizarre or, arguably, more understandable, if you stir envy and resentment into the mix.
There’s Charlie Sheen with his comment about Two and a Half Men creator Chuck Lorre’s “real name” being “Chaim Levine”; Sheen’s other alleged comments about his manager, Mark Burg, being a “stooped Jew pig”; Mel Gibson’s “Jews responsible for all the wars in the world” outburst; Oliver Stone’s “Jewish domination of the media”.
It’s lucky that Portman was in a position to lead the charge against Galliano. Who is around to have Vogue disgraced and Buck fired, as she should be? Not a lot of people, in all likelihood. Writing in the New Statesman, Laurie Penny has analysed the not-so-veiled culture of racism in fashion that make these kinds of things possible:
Diversity in fashion is going backwards. The recent fashion week in New York, one of the most multicultural places on the planet, featured 85 per cent white models, a proportion that has hardly changed in a decade. Recent high-profile campaigns have showcased white models in blackface, and when real black models do make it on to the pages of magazines, the airbrushing invariably lightens their colouring and straightens their hair into more marketable, Caucasian styles. Then we wonder why anxious teenagers across the world are using dangerous toxins to bleach the blackness out of their skin.
What should shock is not just the substance of Galliano’s comments, but the fact that it took a man being caught on camera explicitly saying that he loves Hitler for the fashion industry to acknowledge a teeny problem with racism. The rabid misogyny of Galliano’s outburst has hardly been commented on because, while most people now acknowledge that anti-Semitism isn’t very nice, the jury is still out on institutional sexism.
In a world where everything is perfect and beautiful, supported by an industry that taylors, lights and airbrushes over imperfections as a matter of course, is there really any impetus to criticise someone for airbrushing over brutality, slaughter and terror as if it were any other blemish? There’s obviously a huge disconnect between the fashion world and the one the rest of us live in, it will take the rest of the world to push for the cultural shift that we need.