Saturday, June 23, 2007

Fashion victims

How many people do you have to murder to finally go out of style? If you're Mao Tse-Tung and only killed 40 million people or so, you can still inspire a Hollywood airhead to tote around a bag emblazoned with your wisdom.

Some Peruvians are upset that actress Cameron Diaz, who is visiting Machu Picchu, has chosen to bring along an olive- green bag sporting a red star and the slogan "Serve the People" written in Chinese. The article helpfully explains to its readers that Peru suffered for decades from the ravages of a Maoist insurgency which claimed 70,000 lives, but it makes no mention of the casualties that Mao himself was responsible for in China, which were about a thousand times greater. Since no Chinese person was reported to have been offended by Diaz's bag, a reference to the greatest mass murder in human history wasn't included even as background to the story: like, whatever.

It's shocking to realize the extent to which the political allegiances of most people are not held deeply and sincerely but are instead worn as accessories, whether literally or figuratively. To take the most well-known current example, it's obvious that nobody who travels constantly by air or lives in an enormous house can be honestly be said to be committed to the environment: what motivates celebrities to claim that they are ecologically sensitive, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, is the desire to wear an elegant opinion. Green politics can be as flattering to the appearance as an expensive outfit, and no actual change in one's lifestyle is required.

Communism is another flattering accessory. Some dim idea that the communists were tough guys has filtered down to the consumer of the Che Guevara poster or Little Red Book or Mao bag; consequently a whiff of danger accompanies these items and supposedly rubs off on the person who buys them. As a bonus, they also carry an implied disdain of Western capitalism, which as all progressive people know is the real evil. (The latest variation on chic power- worship is the expression of sympathy with radical Islamists, which can go so far as the wearing of kaffiyehs or marching in support of terrorist groups.)

The greatest thing about using politics as a fashion statement is that you don't have to think deeply about what you believe; you simply go along with the other members of your peer group. Dubious opinions and erroneous assumptions always go unchallenged when everyone else around you believes in them (or claims to). And if that means lending your tacit support even to ideas which are directly responsible for the deaths of thousands or millions of people -- well, you know what your priorities are. History is in the past, but fashion is forever.

1 comment:

Rajeev said...

Incidently, I was really impressed by the number of Che Guevra posters in Italy. I am wondering why some murdering psychopaths become "sexy" while others don't. It isn't quite as chic to walk around with a Hitler, Stalin or Mussolini handbag but Mao, Arafat and Castro are ok. And speaking of murdering psychopaths, who can forget the slogans seen at a London demonstration against Israel "we are all Hezbollah now"? I'm just waiting for the first fashion designer to come out with Khmer Rouge slogans (such as "the sublime blood of workers and peasants" or "pulling out the weed at the root").

In Germany, nostalgia for all things East German is the craze with Trabants being seen in the streets and East German wallpaper becoming chic, and posters of Erich Honecker etc.

About Trabants, in Germany, every car needs to go through an annual check called TüV, which is similar to the MOT check in the UK, which leads me to wonder how the Trabant every got through?