Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fashion: Boutique Multiculturalism

The other day I looked at my outfit and realized it was not particularly PC: I was wearing my vintage cowboy boots, a Navajo print shirt and a necklace I bought off a Bedouin on Mt. Sinai. As people would comment on my outfit, I would respond by explaining my weariness of being a walking contradiction. By walking contradiction, I was referring to the fact that I was wearing a symbol of American westward expansion - boots - and a pattern from a people exploited by Manifest Destiny - shirt. But then I realized something even worse, people could interpret my "eclectic" outfit as me being a Boutique Multiculturalist.

Oh dear, I can see it now: people on my college campus spotting my outfit and smugly thinking to themselves, "what a boutique multiculturalist."

It is one of my goals in life to avoid being associated with Stanley Fish. Fish's argument boldly asserts that multiculturalism is an impossibility; a statement that just pisses liberals off. Oh Stanley, you just love pushing those liberal's buttons, don't you? In his words, this term refers to the "multiculturalism of ethnic restaurants, weekend festivals, and high profile flirtations with the other" (1). The superficiality of this brand of multiculturalism becomes apparent as "the boutique multiculturalist will accord a superficial respect to cultures other than his own, a respect he will withdraw when he finds the practices of a culture irrational or inhumane" (3).

Does my outfit - fashion - apply to this culturally flirtatious group?

At a certain level it appears to be incompatible, because it seems that the importance of aesthetics in fashion attempts to divorce any deep cultural meaning behind a particular look. For example, for many the Boho-chic refers to a look that has little to do with the pretentious pretending of tolerance for bohemian and hippie lifestyles. So those who wears these styles do not profess to advocate different cultures. Then again, wearing the outfit inherently suggests that you are well traveled, and in tune with other cultures. So maybe fashionistas are the lowest of the low in the boutique mutliculturalist group.

For many fashion is blindly following a trend. It is those 13 year old girls who wear a Kufiya and have no idea what region of the world it originates from. However, I feel that within the fashion industry are people who understand the aesthetic beauty of different cultures and incorporate it into their creations. Perhaps it is a bond with a culture at a very basic level, appreciating craftsmanship, innovation and beauty.

I could be being an idealistic liberal - I'm sure Fish would see it that way. Even if i am being idealistic, it is a healthy beginning to be aware that the incorporation of different cultures into fashion is problematic. I like to think that my outfit is a symbolic healing of an old wound. Okay, that is perhaps taking it a little too far. Honestly, this blog post is just a way for me to feel better about a culturally insensitive outfit, because I like that outfit and I want to wear it again guilt free. I also wrote this to justify the fact that for over two years I've wanted
a handbag made out of a Native American blanket.

I'm such a boutique multiculturalist.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Accordion Love

It's one of my life goals to date/marry someone who plays the accordion. It's super nerdy and random. I blame it on:

Enjoying French films

That it's an instrument firmly rooted in folk music

Being in love with Beirut for five years

The fact that it has bellows, and I like saying that word.

The memory of an old, Florentine restaurant owner who came and played his accordion while we ate dinner

And that accordionists are just plain sexy

I also have a thing for guys who play the banjo.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick's Day

Last year, I took a class that made me question traditions: can traditions be positive or negative? This questioning began right around the time of St. Patrick's Day, which led me to question my tradition of wearing green and eating lucky charms on St. Patrick's Day. These are fun traditions, but I came to the conclusion that these acts have been stripped of any substantive meaning for most Americans.

It's a hollow tradition.

I didn't want to blindly take part in this tradition any longer, so I went to the library and checked out a book about the celebration of St. Patrick's Day in America. St. Patrick's Day became a holiday in the early 20th century because of the conscious effort of Irish Americans to show their support for the Ireland's movement for independence.

If you don't think I'm nerdy yet, it gets worse. I'm sure my roommates hated me for doing this, but at our St. Patrick's Day feast of dyed green eggs, bacon and pancakes, I brought down a stack of books containing my favorite Irish writers. Then I made them listen to me as I read passages from James Joyce and Yeats.

So here are a few passages to celebrate St. Patrick's Day:

"The Dead"
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to
the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the c o rooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

A few months ago I watched this film on Instant Netflix. It is about the hunger strike led by IRA leader Bobby Sands. I was blown away. It is directed by Steve McQueen, written by Edna Walsh (a brilliant playwright whom I love), and acted by the talented, beautiful Michael Fassbender.
"Hunger" Sands & Priest Dialogue: witness some incredible dialogue.

"Lakes Isles of Innisfree"
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the mourning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Very Hipster Weekend

If you want to be a hipster, this is how you should pass your Friday nights:

1. Find a friend that is at the same level or higher on the hipster hierarchy to be your comrade in arms for this weekend outing. I chose my good friend Amy, who is fantastically stylish, a brilliant creative writer and a film aficionado. She is also Asian, and as my friend Becky says"It's so hip to be Asian right now."

2. Replenish your hipster wardrobe by shopping at off the beaten path stores to set the latest unique fashionable trend (i.e. a vintage store, salvation army, D.I, or Urban Outfitters for a synthetic hipster look).
Plunder: Structured, faux snake skin purse and a velvet hat bedecked with feather

We went to Decades: one of the best affordable vintage shops. I desperately wanted this simple yet chic cream 1960's dress. Alas, it was too small. Luckily it fit Amy's tiny Asian body perfectly. Ah, to be a hip, tiny Asian.

3. Go to a hole in the wall restaurant that serves organic food and saves the world. For us, One World Everybody Eats fit the bill. When you go to this restaurant avoid showing elements of your character that contradict the easy going and cool nature of the hipster persona. For example, do not ask if there is liquor in the split pea chicken soup because it tastes suspicious. I know it is hard, you may have had past experiences in which servers accidentally give you alcohol, but overcome this paranoia that is not hipsterish and just eat the damn soup.

4. Go to an event that is obscurely highbrow (a good test of this is to ask yourself: would Matthew Arnold approve of this?) and has quirky elements that give it a slightly kitschy flavor - this is your cool factor. We decided to go to a silent Buster Keaton film with live organ music. *Notice the Buster Keaton film is the obscure highbrow and the organ music is the quirk*

5. Intelligently discuss the event. If you feel like the event was ridiculous, do not say so. Admitting this will destroy all your credibility as a hipster. If you cannot come up with an intelligent observation, do not panic; hipsters are by definition posers. In fact I'm sure your friends are struggling with the same conundrum. To keep up appearances, simply feign appreciation and speak about how the masses fail to be cultured hipsters like yourselves.

For example, "I thought the part with the umbrella was clever. The slow motion, which I did not realized was used as a film technique during the silent film era, exaggerated the physics going on to a Mary Poppins level. It also highlighted Buster Keaton's genius as a comedic contortionist. People really miss out on the peak of slapstick humor by refusing to see silent films."

If you do the following, congratulations you are on your way to being a hipster. Now don't tell all your friends of your success - admiting you are a hipster or calling yourself a hipster destroys the most important element of being a hippster: pretending to not be self conscious about being cool. Now you may wonder about my credibility to instruct you how to be a hipster when I've proclaimed myself a hipster and thus broken the cardinal rule of hipsterdim.

My reply? Exactly, Becky Hayes.