Friday, May 27, 2011

Sometimes Racism Is Like When Your Parents Fight

I get V magazine, which is a gorgeous fashion magazine.  It's big and splashy, and the photographs are routinely glorious.  I kind of zone out on some of the "what's on the scene" stuff because I don't really care, but I thoroughly enjoy working my way through its glossy pages and looking at the creativity of their stylists.  When an issue of V arrives at the Outlaw Household, it's a great day, is my point, and it was a great day when this beautiful issue arrived in the mailbox.  It's two things I love!  Lady Gaga and V!  Together again!  Hooray! 

Except for the problem.  You might have noticed it already.  Hint: look to the lower left, then to the upper center. 

This issue of V is ostensibly about the rise of Asian artists, and there are some stunning photos and profiles inside of Asian (more on "Asian" in a minute) models, photographers, designers and artists, but here we have Miz Gaga on the cover.  This highlights one of the aspects of racism that is tricky to discuss: V magazine did not write "a bunch of chinks, but more importantly, GAGA!" as a headline, but they have effectively silenced and othered the very Asians that they purport to be excited about, not only by putting Gaga, a white woman from New York, on the cover of what they are calling "The Asian Issue," but also by co-opting a phrase of a book about geishas to sell it.  I love Gaga, but if you're going to make an Asian issue, you need a goddamn Asian model on the cover.  This isn't V hating on Asians, but it silences them and reinforces the conception that Asian models and celebrities cannot carry the cover of a Western fashion publication, a myth that they suggest in this magazine's own pages is getting debunked day by day.  Perhaps less concrete but equally damning is the fact that a quarter of the magazine features full-page depictions of why Asian models could rock the face off any cover you want, be it high fashion or more pedestrian; V had access to these models, but bounced them for a white woman on the cover. 

One might argue that Gaga's fame makes her a better candidate for the cover, but I would argue that Gaga's two previous V covers and numerous articles and profiles in the same magazine make it pretty clear that V is pro-Gaga and that the relationship is a good one that will result in more coverage.  That is great!  I like reading Gaga's whacked out treatises on whatever, and I love the fashion risks she takes.  However, if you cannot put an Asian model on the cover of the Asian about not having an Asian issue?  How about running Gaga on the cover and doing a different Asian issue?  It seems to me that V could have managed this issue much better and not reinforced 

There's another problem in this issue, and I went back to double check to make sure I wasn't making unfair accusations.  Asian is being interpreted here as "people from Japan, China or one of the Koreas."  V isn't the only offender in this situation, but we as a society really need to get better about identifying people appropriately if we must talk about their national or geographical origin.  Just for reference, here's who's left out of the fun by limiting "Asian" to those four nations:
  • Russia
  • India
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgryzstan
  • Tajikistan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Uzbekistan
  • Hong Kong
  • Macau
  • Mongolia
  • Brunei
  • Burma
  • Cambodia
  • East Timor
  • Indonesia
  • Laos
  • Malaysia
  • Philippines
  • Singapore
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam
  • Afghanistan
  • Bangladesh
  • Bhutan
  • Maldives
  • Nepal
  • Pakistan
  • Sri Lanka
  • Armenia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Bahrain
  • Cyprus
  • Georgia
  • Iraq
  • Iran
  • Israel and Palestine
  • Jordan
  • Kuwait
  • Lebanon
  • Oman
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Syria
  • Turkey
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Yemen
So...yeah.  Lots of Asians left out.  I haven't gone around and made a thorough survey, but I'm guessing that most of those nations have some spectacular artists and models, too, even if they're not enjoying the same boom as those featured in V's Asian Issue.  Being specific matters.  I don't have a problem with regionalism, because sometimes we talk about a certain section of the world having a boom in _________, so how about "East Asian"?   That is at least better.  The question of where to draw the line is always going to be a complex and touchy one, but we can at least try.

No comments:

Post a Comment