Sunday, August 24, 2008

Political Fashion And The Cult Of Vanity

One of the joys of living in a capitalist system is that besides the air that we breathe, nothing exists outside of exchange.  We freely commodify to make a profit  readily obscuring need, or meaning.  This loss of substance is not only anti-intellectual, it often leads to the commodification or 'othering' of another culture. That donning certain clothing might present a message contrary to what the wearer actually believes is irrelevant, because looking good is the objective.  We are not a politicized society, we have become the culture of drive through McDonalds and decaf lattes by the litre.

The degradation of symbols by the bourgeoisie is purposeful.  Symbols can be used to increase solidarity and raise the ire of large masses of people.  To turn substantive items into everyday fashion disconnects the proletariat from their meaning.  Wearing a Che t-shirt in a capitalist society should represent a rejection of the very system under which we live, and instead it has come to have all the value of a happy face, or a crude limerick. This inversion of a revolutionary to an ordinary signification of the "coolness factor," silences his message, which is ultimately the goal of the ruling elite.  People no longer reflect on the larger connections of political messages.  Critical thought involves more than  reading the top stories at Digg, while we wait anxiously for the next meaningless text message.   The amount of communication continues to expand with the proliferation of the internet, however the substance of conversation is often reduced to meaningless banter.  Oh well, at least we "look good" while we are doing it.


AR said...

This is also, coincidently, an example of the inconsistency of American standards of offense. It's perfectly ok to commercialize Che, but try to sell a swastika shirt and see how far you get. The swastika has numerous peaceful uses throughout the world, but a Che shirt can only ever refer to "the butcher of La Cabaña."

tigger313 said...

I feel really uneasy about wearing my keffiyah. I bought it from a small boutique on a bus tour stop because I was freakin freezing. I figured it was okay because I'm all about Palestinian solidarity (and, also, warm shoulders), but now I'm not so sure. I realize that it's a political and cultural symbol, but, as a black american, is it ok for me to wear the keffiyah ? Is it me just showing solidarity or cultural appropriation and insensitivity?

No clue. But I usually err on the side of not being an a-hole, so the scarf shall stay in my closet for now.

Nor said...

This is a rather keen and timely observation.

"The amount of communication continues to expand with the proliferation of the internet, however the substance of conversation is often reduced to meaningless banter. Oh well, at least we "look good" while we are doing it."

In similar mood, I lament also about 'degenerate' culture. Come to think that as communication technology advances and we're offered a plethora of mediums, we in essence communicate meaningfully less. As you have clearly pointed out, the messages become aesthetics. Yeah, we look good, and more often than not, misunderstood.

Mekhismom said...

Just wanted to let you know that my "cakes" are made completely from diapers.

On another note, I am not sure that I agree with you completely. I think that having someone like Jay-Z where this shirt might inspire a young person to learn about Ché. I do remember a time when where this shirt would be seen as contra-American (it was not that long ago) but raising awareness can be a good thing. Perhaps it is just me but personally I have not seen a plethora of Ché shirts but that does not mean they are not out there.

exholt said...

I frequently saw socio-economically privileged mostly White undergrad classmates sport shirts and paraphernalia sporting portraits of Che, Castro, Lenin, and Mao. What's more...they were genuine believers in Marxist-Leninism/Maoism.

Then again, considering how much a branch of my family suffered due to the excesses of Maoism, I am grateful that those classmates and others like them are sporting Mao's portrait and in so doing...seemingly oblivious to the fact that by buying stuff with his mug on it....they are actually making a mockery of his ideology....and for that...I am 100% grateful. :)

Hey....even the Chinese people are getting into the act as this video playing a rock version of a popular Cultural Revolution song shows:

The crossed-out sign of the person being beaten, running away, and being stomped on is labeled "imperialist"....and they are portraying how someone deemed a "counter-revolutionary" was "struggled" by Red Guards.

If you want to know what they are singing about, here's another video with a same version of the song with subtitles done by a Canadian: