Monday, August 9, 2010

Proenza Schouler & Girls of Color: Go Together Like Black People and Stray Shopping Carts, Apparently.

Still from Harmony Korine’s collaboration with Proenza Schouler
via Nowness and Tavi

I’m not sure what’s bad and what’s the worst. I hate being put in a position where when I see any people of color in a fashion campaign, I assume funny business is involved. I assume Proenza is propifying. I’m confused as to why there is no six-foot-tall white girl standing in the foreground of that 8mm still in front of a row of functionally identical girls of color. These girls of color are shorter, not thin, therefore not the fashion object.

But that white girl isn’t there.

The film hasn’t premiered yet, but it seems like there are, so far, at least a few things going for it: It seems that the girls of color are at least the subject, not object. It seems like they might receive the same degree of characterization that any girl does in a fashion campaign (that is: not a whole lot, but some). It seems like they’re privileged to the fashion itself: usually the Girls of Color are not seen as the ones that actually are wearing/would ever be wearing the fashion we’re trying to promote. In that sense: Proenza isn’t doin’ it rong, right?

But still (and, having not seen the film): why do they have to be in the projects? OH YEAH, I GUESS IF YOU’RE GONNA GIVE A BLACK GIRL THE SPOTLIGHT THEN IT CAN ONLY BE IN THE CONTEXT OF ‘URBAN WASTELAND’ WITH DERELICT COUCHES AND HOMELESS SHOPPING CARTS. I get it. I get the aged (read: not soft-focus, but read as dated) filmography, linking people of color with another time, never current in themselves. People of color, in fashion, can never be themselves current and relevant, but designers and models and white editors and people in power can mine their unaware culture for things and make them relevant. I get it, Proenza boys. I see what you did there.

I get it, you got Harmony Korine. It isn’t racist to slumify essentially the only people of color you’ve ever used in your work if you get the writer of Kids to do your filming. And sure, from what I remember, Kids wasn’t too racially unsettling (was it?). But really, you couldn’t just put a black girl in a regular campaign, could you? You have to get a renowned slummy director to legitimize your use of people of color, because that’s the only context we’re ever allowed to show people of color in.

Here’s how it went:
Proenza boy 1: Let’s use black girls in our new short film.
Proenza boy 2: What?!
Proenza boy 1: No, no, listen. It’s cool. They won’t be tall or skinny or fashion insiders. That would be silly. No. We’ll get some white artists and filmmakers to help us out. Stay with me here. White filmmakers and artists famous for making urban tough-life--frequently involving black or brown people--appealing to relevant fashion insiders and art-types. Like the guy from Kids. Not Clark but the other one. And one of those white 80s street artists, or something.
Proenza boy 2: I think I follow…
Proenza boy 1: And then we’ll find some short and notskinny black girls, and we’ll put them in our clothes, and we’ll make a film that makes it look like we discovered some somehow-fabulous people of color in their natural habitat and traditional dress.
Proenza boy 2: And then we can tell people that we’re telling a story about girls who are “part of the system, yet still outsiders.” Because black people are never true originals like our inspired white NYC it-girls and fashion bloggers.
Proenza boy 1: Exactly. In the press release we will tell people how we were inspired by girls who “skulk around schoolyards, spray graffiti, drink, smoke, pose and embrace, evoking the loneliness, confusion and overwhelming wonder of growing up” and “girls who sleep in abandoned cars and set things on fire. It’s about the great things in life. The stars in the sky and lots of malt liquor.” Malt liquor, get it? ‘Cause they’re black.
Proenza boy 2: Chloe Sevigny is gonna love it.

Proenza Schouler Fall 2010: inspired by the slums. Which is why black people are allowed to wear it! Proenza Schouler Spring 2010 was all about the beach. And everyone knows black people hate the beach! That’s why there were no black girls in PS SS2010’s runway show. (But then, it’s not like we saw black girls on Proenza’s runway in Fashion week FS10*. Because no matter how many girls of color are in your campaign, your sewing room, your ethnographic “inspiration” photos, the names of your collection, your iPod, your Facebook friends, your fans on Facebook, the shops that sell your clothes, or your graduating class at design school—it’s never appropriate to include girls of color on your runway. It cheapens your aesthetic, right?)

*Upon inspection, PS FS10 included three models of color (from what I can tell), though no black girls. They were Lais Ribeiro (Brazilian, likely of some African origin but still somewhat comfortably within the boundaries of what Fashion Week would call the Not Too Black space), and Liu Wen and Shu Pei Qin. I don't pretend to know a lot about these models, or the models in the film, or anyone's casting process. But I'm pretty sure that the "inspiration" behind each collection was the major factor in that tiny tiny increase in models of color between Spring and Fall 2010. That is, like I said, "beachy"= always, always white, whereas "inspired by uniforms and street culture" allows more room, in High Fashion, for people of color. And don't think this escaped me:
Proenza boy 1 or 2, whichever: Our collection is inspired by school girls. Let's cast two Asian models!!!

(I originally posted this on Tumblr on August 9th, 2010)

Here's an addition, about Fabian and "the persistent and systematic tendency to place nonwhites and nonwesterners in a Time other than Vogue or Galliano or anybody else in Fashion’s present."
And some application of these process in Native Appropriate & Hipsters

A Scale to Help You Determine What Type of Sexist the Hip-Culture Canon Work You’re Looking at is

There is a scale of 1-10. At the left, at 1, is the honest-asshole-misogynist writer/artist/collector. He is Henry Miller, arguably Charles Bukowski. At the right is the I-pretend-I’m-sincere-but-I’m-an-asshole-misogynist-too. He is Rivers Cuomo. Every book, writer, album, movie, songwriter that hip boys have told us to like since the beginning of time has had a narrator or a protagonist who falls somewhere on this scale—though sometimes at even more extreme ends. Every Pinkerton, Catcher, Tropic of Cancer, Women, Garden State, Psychotic Reactions, (fuck, even Rushmore or Almost Famous) can basically be classified in this way.

These are, I admit, some of my favorite books and albums and movies. (Though some of them are also my least favorite books and albums and movies—I’m lookin’ at you, Braffy.) But they are all defined by 1) Their being positioned in some way as The Best 2) Their having a male male protagonist/creative director 3) Their lack of any women that really have any control over their own portrayal. The nature of these works’ relationship with women and cultural control places them somewhere on this scale.

Consider the foundation for this theory Sady Doyl’s piece in The Awl: “Rivers Cuomo Messes You Up Forever.” Everyone on Earth has read it, I know. But let me use it to define what I consider the extreme right end of this cultural spectrum:
1. Boys consider Pinkerton to be Weezer’s Best Album
2. It is Better Than The Blue Album because it is about a more Sincere experience: that is, the Experience of Males Specifically
3. Pinkerton is creepy
4. Pinkerton is about how Rivers Cuomo can’t get the ladies, because they don’t understand him, and because he is very Self Destructive and Sensitive. Pinkerton is about how Rivers Cuomo can’t control himself sometimes, because he is flawed. However, he expects you to love/be impressed with this flaw because ultimately, his lack of self-control is a loss of self-control. When Rivers Cuomo loses control of his ability to cheat on you, he does it because he is so flawed. He is also very conscious of the times when he has control and when he does not have control. This is in contrast to every woman Rivers Cuomo is in love with. Women Rivers Cuomo loves are only in control of the following things: being a Bitch, breaking his heart, and occasionally (I guess, ideally) being impressed by Rivers Cuomo. Take “Pink Triangle.” “Pink Triangle” is about how Rivers Cuomo is in a relationship with a woman who turns out to be a Lesbian. He was basically convinced that they were going to get married because he never asked her. And then he’s fucking crushed that she’s a Lesbian. We’re supposed to feel bad that his whole romantic future is over, and feel a little pissed at that bitchdyke for leading him on. We leftist Alt kids know that gayness is not a choice, so of course the Lesbian didn’t choose to not love Rivers Cuomo. This is, again, something this woman did not control. However, she totes could control breaking Rivers’ heart, rite? She broke his heart. Nevermind the fact that he never asked her if she wanted the relationship to begin with, because basically he assumed that it wasn’t her choice. Relationships, to Rivers, are not a mutual decision as much as they are defined by how girls react to his being in love with them, and usually he is not in love with them because they are People, but because they are some sort of quasi-spiritual-sexual-psychic-spaces-that-he-wants-to-live-in. (For more on quasi-spiritual-sexual-psychic-spaces that interesting boys want to live in, read: Natalie Portman’s stupid character in Garden State.) And when Rivers wants to live in your space psychically, the only thing you can do about it is Be a Bitch and Ruin Everything. That is: In Rivers Cuomo’s world, women only exist as vapours, and the only control they could ever have would be destructive. It’s also important to note that never once does Rivers say, “I know I’m just projecting my shit on you, ladies. That’s fucked up.” Instead, he says, “I’m so fucked up, I’ll never understand ladies because I don’t regard them as real people that I can actually speak to like humans. Obviously this is because I am so Sensitive and have a Social Anxiety or something. Mostly I just interact with girls by reading their diaries behind their back. For some reason this sneaking around doesn’t ignite my anxiety.”
5. The vast, vast majority of males who worship Pinkerton (especially before Sady’s piece) have no awareness of any of these dynamics and would be really really pissed at me, and Sady, for saying these things, and would probably think in their head that we don’t understand it because we are girls, we are annoying feminist bitches, and that our girlness/lack of peopleness would never allow us to understand these Sincere Deep experiences.

This is the first part of the way that we, as women who are kind of Alt and listen to the things our Alt guy friends have told us to listen to since forever, are portrayed in almost every established production of our culture. (Disclaimer: I really do love Pinkerton.)

The next defining feature of the Rivers Cuomo 10, though, is more important to what I’m trying to say. Like I said, these girls have no control over anything. What that means, though, is that they also have no control over Alt culture, and generally wouldn’t understand it. Case in point: “El Scorcho.” Basically, it’s a song about Rivers Cuomo’s crush on a half-Japanese girl that doesn’t know who he is, another classic in Weezer-Style-Gross-Orientalism. In it, he asked his Asian woman to go to a Green Day concert. She said she’d never heard of them. In 1996. And you know what? Rivers Cuomo thinks, “How cool is that?!” Girls, in his world, are totally Naive. They listen to Puccini and play the Cello because they’re girls. They wouldn’t ever know something as hip as Green Day. And he loves this. He wants to continue living in a world where girls are totally Naive about things like music and other areas of his interest. Because God forbid she be as good at his culture as he is.

So that’s it: the closer you move toward a ten on this scale, the less girls are expected to know about or participate in a goddamn thing related to Alt or Hip or Knowing or Respectable culture.

Before I explain the other end, let me share the criteria that I’ve developed to grade works. It’s based on Sady’s piece, and the Bechdel Test, and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl concept. They are all ideas that you will think about every time you watch a Wes Anderson movie or read/listen to anything on Pitchfork for the rest of your life. Contrary to the general conceptions about feminists, we still like things that kind of suck, even when we write long essays about how they are sexist. Because, you know, we’re people. (In fact, generally speaking, my favorite movies involve brutal mutilation/murder of, mostly, females. Especially the murder of sluts. But I’m still a feminist!)

Here are the criteria.
When I say “Criteria,” I’m not arguing that there is a good or bad in this spectrum. Like I said, I love Pinkerton. It’s just that, in order to love something, you have to be able to determine how much bullshit is involved in it, how much of that bullshit is sexist bullshit, and what type of sexist bullshit you’re looking at, exactly.

Ask yourself these questions of the book or movie or album or body of acceptable music:
1. Are women seen as people, and not just projections of our hip-sensitive male’s own insecurities/spiritual quests?
2. If women are, in fact, only used as literary devices or as blank space for projection, is it clear that the male is aware of this and acknowledges its flaws? (I would say even Lolita probably falls into this category)
3. Are women given voices and a certain degree of control over their own depiction and/or fate? If not, is it clear that this is the author’s intention—a la Catcher in the Rye?
4. Are women seen as valuable producers in the male’s universe—beyond filling his psychological void and/or making sammiches? Otherwise, again, is this an acknowledged flaw itself?
5. This, in many ways, is the most important: Are women seen as people that are able to fully contribute and participate in the man’s ideal culture (ie, Alt culture, hip culture, good literature, punk, record collecting, not being phony, etc.)?

The more confidently you can answer “yes” to these questions, the closer to 1 the work lies. If you know there’s a lotta “nos” up there, you got yourself a Rivers Cuomo on your hands.

I’ll talk a little more about what I consider to be a “1” after the jump.

Blogs? Blogs.

There's something a little scary about Blogger. I think I'm afraid of commitment. It's not that I'm not writing, I am. I'm writing a lot of a research project. I'm writing a lot about Degrassi (it's therapeutic not in its mindlessness, as you'd think, but in its comfort: Degrassi knows me better than my best friend, and I know Degrassi better than I know the research I've been working on for six months. The fact that I feel legitimately good and talented at Degrassi snark and legitimately welcomed and respected in the Degrassi snark community is a boost to my ivory-tower-embattled self-esteem. Frealz.) It's almost embarrassing to Tumbl, but it also allowed me more an impermanent feeling. Less pressure. Less commitment. Less on-topic. I write, comment, and link to a lot of things I like briefly. No worries.

But you know, occasionally, I'm pretty good at writing those fleeting moments. (A lot of what I Tumbl is about fashion.) In order to rescue them from Ephemera and start this thing back up (like, eight days before this project is done and I have time to post book photos !), I'm gonna transfer the things that are good writing here. Sometimes I write really good things and I fantasize about being famous for them. But, like, if they're just on Tumblr, how will anyone ever know? Tumblr isn't real.

Also, I watched Bravo's Work of Art the whole way through, and after the premier this week I will maybe post a few notes on the gender-in-art-representation as it manifested in reality TV. And maybe that one challenge they had about book covers. Hell yeah!