Friday, May 30, 2008

Here we go again

It's fascinating that after years and years of determinedly ignoring the political connotations of the keffiyeh, certain idiotic sections of the media have decided to have a "kerfuffle" about it, thanks to American TV chef Rachael Ray's wearing a keffiyeh-like scarf in, of all things, a Dunkin Donuts ad.

My own immediate thought was that it is way too late to start getting high and mighty about how ignorant people are of this garment's political connotations. Conservative US commentator Michelle Malkin's characterisation of the mainstreamed keffiyeh as some kind of unAmericanism is tediously disingenuous. It's a total nonsense to argue that chirpy, smug Rachael, who loves to groan with pleasure as she ingests various foodstuffs, endorses terrorism, cares about the Palestinian cause, or indeed was even wearing a keffiyeh. It is even doubtful that she endorses Dunkin Donuts.

But this stoopid manufactured media panic (check out how my blog post on this subject from two years ago briefly flashes up on the screen during this fish-in-a-barrel audio story from the Sydney Morning Herald) is at least informative, because it acts as a foil to the way people actually view these scarves: as floating signifiers of cool. It is deeply comical to see the bewilderment of kids who bought these scarves from mainstream shops without any thought of political connotations – even ironic ones. These doofuses just wanted to be cool, and now they are being punished?

"I thought it was a nice scarf, a cowboy scarf," wails 20-year-old uni student Sandra Tieger of the black-and-white patterned scarf she bought from corporate-hippie chain Tree Of Life and which got her in trouble at her part-time job as a bottle shop attendant.

(As an aside, I find it really interesting that these 'ethnic' shops, like Ishka, seem to have lost any subcultural or political connotations their wares might previously have had. Now, they are just 'exotic'. It seems odd to me that someone who bought a garment from Tree Of Life would be surprised that it might hold meanings other than a generalised hipness; but that must say more about the shop's mainstreaming than anything else. Let's not forget that Starbucks was once a countercultural coffee shop.)

But back to Sandra: "I thought: 'It's black and white, no-one will say anything to me because that's all we can wear [with our work uniform]'." Poor Sandra doesn't understand why customers started complaining, and started crying when her boss told her not to wear the scarf to work any more. Now she won't even wear it out of the house: "It's in my drawer, I feel very uncomfortable wearing it now, I don't wear it on the street anymore [sic]."

1 comment:

threadbared said...

You are a serious genius. I should be writing my book, but instead I am spending all my time reading your blog! I'm an academic who writes and teaches about fashion and beauty (and just started a collaborative blog with my pal on just these topics), but I bow to you -- the next time I teach my fashion course, I'm definitely assigning some of your blog entries!