The next Met Gala theme has been decided! Hooray! Now we can begin the game of speculation on who will be pulled, and who will not. But wait — what is the theme, you ask? What could top the campy subculture-vulture disaster fest of Punk Gala 2k13? “CHINESE WHISPERS!” declares Jennifer Lawrence, popping out of a gigantic Kate Spade Chinese takeout bag, holding a pair of chopsticks fashioned into pompoms. In the background there are Asian models with fans, smiling in their Cheongsam dresses designed by white European male designers. They say nothing, they only smile, silently, like perfect, pliant dolls. [It’s so easy to be racist, you guys!]
This is my prediction for the opening, or at least, how it will be covered. and while it’s a satire it’s also so ridiculous as to be the truth. I mean, someone clearly thought this idea was cool. Sorry, it’s not. I am an Asian American person in fashion and this horrifies me. It’s not even that I’m not thrilled at Asian culture being celebrated, but the history of fashion “celebrating” any culture in any way other than exploiting it and fashioning it onto appropriate white bodies — it’s not good. Fashion, as I’ve written before, eats everything. It eats subcultures and rids them of their political bark, it makes a farce out of the authentic. Sometimes this can be fun and thrilling, but when it comes to global politics and communities, it’s a deeply troubling aspect of this industry I so love. My confidence that that Chinese design and culture will be treated with a well thought out, contextualized perspective that doesn’t fetishize history is about -5934053480585234%. My dudes, we couldn’t even respect PUNK SUBCULTURE PROPERLY, and that movement was jump started by a bunch of white Londoners as part of a capitalist enterprise for their store. So how can we possibly examine a global history of fashion with any justice? This is going to be a shitshow. But you know what, maybe it’s salvageable. Let’s point out the obvious: a better Gala experience and exhibit wouldn’t be hard to create.
Perhaps it would start with decentralizing our cultural perspective on fashion to begin with. The whole east/west dichotomy prioritized thoughts on design on the West and makes it harder for Chinese designers to succeed o their design merit rather than on their actual skills. The designs being lauded in press releases relating to the event are Western interpretations of Asian culture — not Asian culture on it’s own. It’s Othering, privileging Western interpretation over all else, and when international designers are paid mind to — it’s rife with stereotypes. Just look at the Japanese designers of our time — even the most critically acclaimed ones, like Yamamoto and Kawakubo have been called stereotypes like geishas and samurais in mainstream reviews for decades. By people who ought to know better. I could go on for hours about this but we’ll move on to the next point. It would be beneficial to have actual Chinese people in the fashion industry co-hosting the event, not the pre-eminent White Girl of Hollywood Jennifer Lawrence. And another: acknowledging the fact that the very name of the exhibit is based in anti-Chinese sentiment would be a great start. The origin of the story is based in the British scorning Chinese laborers for messing up at work because they couldn’t understand the instructions on deck –it’s an alternate version of the game of Telephone, but based in the failings of Chinese people. It’s based in pointing and laughing at language barriers from a European standpoint, and combined both scorn for cultural difference and stereotypes about Chinese passivity into one really basic saying. Which happens to the headline for an exhibit on cultural analysis. Wow! You’re off to a great and fortuitous start. I’m not skeptical that you’re going to continue anti-Chinese sentiment at all, no sir.
Now, granted, there are some Chinese people involved, but does that excuse the discomfiting vibes I’m getting from the exhibit? No. Not at all. This is probably a ploy to get on the good side of the growing Asian luxury consumer base, and perhaps as a means to get Galliano back into the center of fashion due to his history of gaining “inspiration” from Asian cultures. It’s not going to end well, though. Just looking back on the history of the Met Gala, combined with the history of Chinese exclusion — all tracks lead to trainwreck. Toot toot.