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Sep 18, 2006

Fashion Of The Times

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American paranoia has become so pervasive, while the capacity to step back  has grown so remote, political life now seems inspired by Alice In Wonderland.  Thank god, then, that here and there, one can still get a glimpse of the looking glass.

Through this livejournal community, we gain a look at the fashion spread in September's Vogue Italia.  (Because the color shots are more plainly satirical, I'm going to primarily touch on those.)  One person who wrote me described these images as evoking rape fantasies and the expression of female power.  That interpretation, while going for the sexual politics, seems to overlook the main point, which is more purely the terror politics.

Here is a luscious lampoon of the America terror state -- a situation that has gone so far, it can only be treated as burlesque.

If you see any duress (in the color photos), let me know.  In shot after shot, the models (in color, more animated, and more 3-D) are mostly bemused by the procedural antics of the overweight and over-trained cops, security personnel and undercover agents.  In the image above, the viewer gets to share in the model's "alien-nation" while these TSA robots (manuals at the ready, two men doing the job of one) demonstrate the expert ability to monopolize her time.

In another shot, a model is practicing her marksmenship, suggesting --  just like the military with their rah-rah commercials, and slickly produced and freely distributed kill the rag head video games -- that terrorism makes for great sport.

Even more dead pan is the shot with the ferocious dog.  Because the model could hardly be bothered with the animal, the image throws Abu Ghraib back in America's face as terror for its own sake.

Of course, the scenes featuring the bumbling side of the "surveillance industrial complex" are easier to look at.  In those (color) images where the treatment is harsher, the imperviousness of the models suggest that rougher treatment yields what much of world now feels toward Bush's GWOT, which is blatant disgust.  I think that's where the black-and-white photos are going.  The fashionistas are identifying America's perverse instinct for dominance as the political equivalent of sexual harassment.

Looking at this layout and then looking at the news, it seems the world has become lost in fable.  As a result, it seems to take a fashion magazine to throw light on that payola sinkhole otherwise known as the Homeland Security Department, and to emphasize that terrorism, in America, is all that's in vogue.

(hat tip: DW, KB)

(images: Iselin Steiro and Hilary Rhoda/Vogue Italia.  September 2006.  Via


Creepy stuff. I was at first tempted to treat this series as I treat all the glossy fashion magazines: with disgust. I dislike what they do, what they represent, and how they do it. But something about this particular spread reminds me of the work photographer Oliviero Toscani did for Benetton. The techniques and the tactics may be at opposite ends of the spectrum, but the cognitive dissonance they instigate are similar.

When a thing is current, it creates currency.” the fashion what the women are wearing, or the men?

that's a man, baby.

all three shots are great. i've had ideas for performance art pieces that do something similar with the immigration issue. we need to showcase all of this insanity, and i think this is a great way. they ought to run these ads in all kinds of mags. show what a trend our terror has taken, show how torture and fear has hijacked our public identity.

The treacherous quality of these photos has to do with the fact that one one hand, as BAG points out, there's a male rape fantasy--but there's also certain self-congratulatory smugness on the part of the magazine for the supposedly political theme of the photo essay. Italian Vogue gets to have it both ways; they can stylishly "protest" the brutality of the Bush administration and humiliate women at the same time.

The cadaverous-looking models give this photo spread another dimension. Think of how some women torture themselves to stay fashionably thin. What if these photos are showing us a women's inner life? And the battle she's having with her body-image? The way women's bodies are sexualized and fetishized is also a form of "terror politics."

It reminds me of a stand-up routine that Bill Hicks used to do about marketing. He'd start off the bit by suggesting that everyone in the field of marketing was a filthy, scumbag leech and that they would do society a great service by killing themselves. He'd then go on to explain how all the marketing people in the audience were currently thinking to themselves how smart Bill was to go after the "angry, anti-marketing" dollar because that's a very lucrative market.

The eye makup is pretty significant. True, it lends to the "cadaverous" look; and it's also (literally) two 'black eyes' (i.e. a strong hint of physical abuse).

But in the lowbrow theater of yore, black eye makeup was the easy way for the audience to recognize the villain, who was otherwise dressed normally. (often, the black-eyed villain would look directly at the audience, and wink or chortle--letting the audience in on his evil scheme--while the other actors went about their business normally, which heightened the audience's sense of their cluelessness--and hence, escalated the drama.)

In a way, then, the eye-makeup (and the models' nonchalance) shows that they are the villain... and implicates us (the audience) in their nefariousness...
...but then also depicts them as "fashionable" objects of desire (and ourselves as desiring to BE purchasing the clothes, etc. etc.)

Diabolical! (I'm not sure if this is nefarious-chic, or persecution-chic? maybe both at the same time, which undermines those easy categories of persecuted innocent/scheming terrorist?)

"...identifying America's perverse instinct for dominance ..."

One of the mottos I took to heart when I was young was this: "Gentleness is strong and true strength is gentle." I haven't noticed any gentleness from the current administration and their weakness (and inability to control the situation)--despite all their bluster--is out for all the world to see.

You would do well to look at all of the photos on the first link, before commenting. The tone is far more misogynistic rape porn than the "main point" discussed here. The fact that such overwhelmingly anti-woman images, by purporting to be about terror politics, can allow the bag to overlook the sexual politics is alarming. The main point is beside the point.

I think this is beautiful stuff. The Europeans are always so much better at political theatre than we are. I suppose that is because they have been doing it for centuries. Our Homeland Security is a joke. And everybody knows it. Actually it is not a joke for the money and time it is costing us. We have became like the communist country of the USSR in the 60's and 70's. It is just a matter of time before the "detention centers" are complete and they begin to take residents. I have been waiting for the music world, art world and film world to start the protest and finally they have. I am only wondering what took so long and I really never expected to see the fashion world make their political statement. But what the heck, everybody in the pool.

Satire may be an element of this suite of photos but there must some significant submliminal sales / marketing component. A few years back Benetton released a controversial campaign built around art photos of death row inmates. (link contains descriptions of the subjects, no pics)

Death row chic, heroin addict chic, GWOT chic. From a linear thinking perspective there's a substantial disconnect between the subject matter and any affirmative message. (Remember these are product marketing professionals. Don't try this type of persuasion at home.)

I would add that fashion just wants to be free.

The poster above is right, the main issue for me is the rape/abuse fantasy viewpoint. Its disgusting and its REALLY disturbing how many people on the thread in the original link thought it was just the sexiest, arousing thing ever. Those who demurred were instantly flamed. Now that's pretty twisted. So what if its supposed to be a reactionary, provoking photo shoot?

Plus, you can't even see the clothes. So what's the real point? There is no "hidden" agenda...or is there?


WARNING: Incredibly jaded, unpopular comment to follow.

I'm sorry, I just can't give Steven Meisel serious intellectual consideration, especially after the Madonna Sex book. Yes, beautiful photos, beautiful women, beautiful clothes, edgy but empty, seductively porn-inspired, condescending wealthy-meets-working-class content. Yes, something in that concoction causes a reaction in all of us. That's what Meisel does. We should all be offended by his complete lack of subtlety and creativity. This shoot should have been done three years ago. Anyway, it's not about anything other than getting us to look at Chanel, Alberta Ferretti, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Yves Saint Laurent, Calvin Klein, and Burberry, for god's sake (Burberry? Come on!). This is mainstream, brand-name haute couture posing as art. Believe me, if we were given a Vogue Italia budget to work with, we all could make artful porn too. End of rant.

Wow, that guy could school Khalid Sheikh Muhammad on back waxing!

i agree with readytoblowagasket...and others about the rape-porn. i wasn't trying to give it an unequivocal thumbs up, but in the face of all the dissent, i feel i must clarify.

i dont think these necessarily do what could be done with this subject matter. it is true, as is, it is sadistic male fantasy, and especially you make all the terror suspects female. i dont think they should be all women, clearly.

...or maybe it should.

what is the GWOT about? is it about keeping us safe? is it about long airport security lines?

or is it about sadistic joy of rolling in terror that you case? is it a kind of rape of people's hearts and feelings of safety? isnt it about dominance?

ive flown four or five times since 9/11. i've seen some of those wand-waving sessions, seen some of that dominance playing out. what is the GWOT about? Security? Or control? Exploition? Might?

these arent done the right way, and they come too late as-is. okay.

but they could be tweaked. i mean to say i think we need to disturb the masses of Americans, bring this GWOT home another way to those who arent disturbed enough with our nation turning upside down. they are not feeling that. let's bring the dialogue home in another direction. let's have commercials or ads that horrify us in some way. not by distracting the viewer who says "oh thats a sick male fantasy," i dont mean that. i'd rather have dark males being the terror suspect, but we'd still have to push it. i dont know, i havent thought it out, but i think this is a seed for a good idea. maybe the women are a good angle, flip everyone out, get them talking. get them talking about sick power parades, and who is really represented by that character. or maybe keep it genderless, even better. black bag over the head.

They're provocative photos, sure...but a bit empty. So much more could be done. If he really wanted to make a political statement, he could have done it with children or fragile-looking elderly people of both genders as the designated victims/terrorists. But he has to make his buck by selling us rape as an aperitif for the expensive clothes. Feh.

i move through the intertube quickly and often wish i had typed slower. i think with my clarifications at the BAG this is becoming clear! maybe that's because i'm supposed to be working on an edit to my book, and i'm sneaking over to news sites. but i would add a more thoughtful note to my last comment, and maybe it's just a calmer, less-typoed restatement:

it's clear that women have to be excluded from an art scenario so fraught with symbolism of physical control and rape metaphor unless you want that to be the main focus. because it will become the main focus.

but we ought not to lose sight, while viewing this obvious/commercial and crass series of what could be a good idea with some adjustment, that the elements that make rape-porn appealing to deviant souls are the very same elements that have Cheney and Rummy dreaming of endless killing fields, and that get the extreme right shouting and cheering torture and excessive force and worldwide conquest and invasion; calling us weaklings if we don't want to humiliate and torture those in custody, or shred our ideals to make it easier to dominate everyone we imagine is lurking in our phone lines and in our ports and in our closets and lookin' too tan.

it's about projecting fear and insecurity-become-powerlust and trying to wound/maim/kill/end what scares you with that. and that's why i think these have the seed of a very good idea. this core element of the GWOT is something that really needs to be exposed, rather than framing it always in a "protect the homeland" theme and other such patriotic tripe. It's powerlust, it's fear, it's a violation of all we once held dear.

of course, it wouldn't do to lose the point by having the discussion waylaid into gender discussions, as the makers of the ads above have. using helpless, mussed, overlypainted, splayed women changes the message into something where the watcher is directed to revel in the guards use of force, and that is why people are reacting, recoiling. why do we want to identify with the guards who are brutalizing and terrifying people? we don't. we shouldn't. but like readytoblowagasket states, this is a clumsy and not brave series. but i think i've come up with an idea or two on my own that would not have the same errors. so thanks, BAG.

there. i think with three comments now, i've said what i have to say. forgive my need to take time to slow down, and not doing so at the start. gotta work on that.

the second and third images in this slideshow are pretty grim on the coercive front!!

Having looked the slideshow over, especially the intense hatred played in the faces of cops, I was reminded, that the rest of the "actors" were victims... they reminded me of the real victims who found themselves somewhere, in the vicinity, around the real cops.
It is not an abstract feeling to feel like a victim... That is how many people feel everyday with the repressing organ of the state.
How about the bikers in San Francisco or New York, who face the cops' tough stand (or is it city's top politicians) against riding bikes? The police who are after them, when they ride en masse in the streets, endangering them by the proximity of their scooters or vans, and other high tech equipment just to stop them riding a bike. The results are not pretty injuries that happen on bikes and these would not be exhibited by the models! Broken color bone by the cop opening the door just the right timing to hit a biker in the colar bone ... crack and pain is not there in the photos...all is artificial.
The protests often end up with some people hurt and that is not immaginary and those results would not be pasted in Vogue...not very pretty, right?

I find these photos extremely disturbing. It is hard to see beyond the female rape scenario. These pictures - and the fact that they and many like them are continuing to be published - is simply unbelievable. Have we become so used to women being the objects in ads that we can simply acknowledge (ignore) the sexual politics and move right along to the dominant discourse of our times? Its almost as if the feminist revolushion never happened...

When we cease to be alarmed by such shocking brutality against one sex being "artisized," it is time to sit up and take notice. Yes, these pics might use the current currency (of terrorism) to diffuse the pornography implicit within them, but that does not mean that all we cognize when we see them is a critique or questioning of the current paranoia. When we can off-handedly remark upon them as if they are nothing new, we inadvertently maintain the status quo.

In relation to the "war on terror," these pics say little, if anything, that is really meaningful. Or is the idea that if gorgeus, coutoure wearing blondes and brunettes are treated the same way as foreign, (usually) bearded men - then we will finally be able to see this for what it is and not be sidetracked by the frightening pictures of angry otherish men that are being used to mask its reality? By setting up an enormous visual distance between the actual victims of these terrorist measures, and the prada-ized women which in these pictures stand in for them, the images implicitly deflate any meaningful connection between reality and image.

And finally, Stephen Meisel making art? I guess postmodernism has finally succeeded in allowing the surface to stand for the internal. Or we are just so desperate to see art commenting on this subject that we are willing to call anything art? (as if we haven't already been doing so for a while now...)

if, say ~ instead of the woman wearing something colourful, the "focal object" in these images was a man, would The Message = "male dominance/rape fantasy" be any different; ie., still offend your sex-sensibility?

what... if "the fashion object" was a brown-skinned man (or woman) ?

i still think you (the American consumers) will continue to purchase more "uniforms" and faux-camouflage fashions, than haute-couture ;-)

“The price of eternal vigilance, is indifference.”

imho, many Americans find these images "disturbing" because, as the BagMan alludes: this is you.

this is a EuroMirror, being held up to YOU. Take (one obvious inspiration) Abu Ghraib... your Republicans say, "it's only a few bad apple-peoples, at the bottom of the socio-economic barrel [their conceit implicit]." Your Democrats say, "it's only a few bad apple-leaders at the top of the Military-Industrial barrel."

how convenient, your illusions; i mean...

...what about all them other apples (ie., YOU) in the middle of the American apple barrel? Are you... helpless? HEY! sexual perversion in your prisons is an OPEN JOKE, even in your "polite society," and among your late-night talk-show jesters. and YOU are "shocked" that when your occupation army sets up a prison, there is pervasive sexual perversion? Say WHAT??

“You mean, my whole fallacy’s wrong? ”

HEY! violence = The GodFather Saga is THE freakin' American Story, Mr. Joe and Miss Jane Doe. Doh!

The Russians all thought "capitalism" was like, re-runs of The Untouchables, man ~ no, i am not shitting you; their business-men are all carryin' around 9's just like the Americans in proper pin-stripes they saw on their TeeVees :-/

THIS is YOU all, America: deal with IT = YOU... WE have to!


I'll never forget when the Patriot Act was first passed. I was listening to NPR and an "average citizen" was being interviewed. I distinctly remember him saying, "I don't care if the government wants to know what color my underwear is" if that's what it takes to stop terrorism.

I agree with Monsieur Gonzo that these images are meant to reflect an American mentality towards GWOT in an exaggerated light. It's taking the Patriot Act to an extreme.

The fact that the victims here are women does not exclude the sexual politics of the images. In fact, it enhances the gruesomeness of our own political situation. If heterosexual rape is deemed the epitome of power-gender relations, then the women are supposed to be "everyman" (no pun intended, really). That is to say what MG said, it is US. We are being raped by our government, by our own tacit willingness to allow things like the Patriot Act and GWB to even exist.

That's not to say that these women are inviting the offences shown, but instead that we have become victims of a hateful power relationship.

As far as the marketing angle goes, I suppose you could read into them that you might as well buy high fashion today because that could be your last freedom.

I agree w/ Lytom,

I found it extremely disturbing.

Look at the whole disgusting thing:

My take: violent misogynistic images that masquerade as art via high production values and a so-called "political" content.

A man's boot on a woman's neck that moves w/ flash macromedia? Not art, and don't tell me that because it's meant "politically" or "ironically" that it's OK.

Italian Vogue is using violent sexist images to try and sell clothes and impart the idea that assualt is chic chic.

I subscribed to VOGUE for years and years. In the last couple of years, I quit. I got tired of all the advertising mostly, and the over the top stuff just did not seem important to see any more.

Fashion is just not to die for any more, or maybe I am just getting old.

One thing I imagine is that the models, who are constantly going back and forth over the oceans in planes, probably have more occasions than most of us to go through this screening, and Maisel and all of them must talk about it. I would not be surprised if this is a direct result of the sorts of things they have all experienced (don't expect that beauty is any less an invitation to be singled out any more than age. . .by Thousands Standing Around. Maybe, as the shots (ha ha) indicate, even more an invitation to be searched, etc.)

I don't like the sub-text of violence and violation in the photos, but I bet it is part and parcel of the total lifestyle. For real.

*No,* these images are not US.

Americans have WILLINGLY given up our liberties and voice for the Global War of Terror. No one "forced" US to do it, we happily did whatever was asked, and when we learned *even more* liberties were violated, negated, or chucked out the window, we said, "That's okay. Whatever it takes." Americans are not victims, Americans have not been raped. We have a consensual relationship with our government. Unlike the scenes depicted in the photos (which is *why* they are disturbing to some: they are not *right* in more than one sense).

If anything, Americans are *the rapists.* However, that's not what's being depicted in the photos. Cops are the rapists (which, I'm sorry to say, has existed since before 9/11). Airport security guards are passive, robotic. If Americans are the rapists, who are the models representing? Iraqis? The Constitution? Ourselves? Again, a failed (and mixed) message in the photos.

My guess is that these images came from the editorial idea of *Anna Wintour* getting strip searched by airport security.

We will buy the products because we want to support the economy and we will not let terrorists infringe upon our right to spend our hard-earned money on high-end fashion.

Yes, we gave up civil liberties willingly, but in the naive understanding that we--as citizens--would not be violated. However, most people don't realize that anyone--ANYONE--can be given the loosely defined "enemy combatant" label and the gov't can hold them indefinately. That, IMO, is rape.

Daniel, what you describe sounds more like date-rape: trusting the person you're with not to drug you and rape you. Or possibly marrying someone who one day rapes you.

I'm uncomfortable with the implied rape theme in these images, not just because it's repellent and gratuitous, but because it's muddled and eroticized. I am, however, more uncomfortable with dismissing it. I think that particular content is unignorable and shouldn't be identified as "sexual politics" distinct from "terror politics." Rape *is* terror politics — that's why throughout history soldiers rape all the women and girls in captured "enemy" villages. Such acts are meant to terrorize and humiliate both the women and the men of the village.

But because the rape theme in the images is so strictly gender-specific — male aggressors/female victims — I don't know how to interpret it. (Yes, there are photos with female aggressors-in-training, but they are shooting at inanimate objects.) America is so blatantly the testosterone-charged aggressor worldwide, physically and verbally. Okay, that kind of works in the photos. But I find the gender, class, race, and attractiveness of the supermodels to ultimately distract from and ruin the intended symbolism of the rape victim. I just don't think Americans are both aggressor and victim in these photos, and I don't think Europeans view us that way. So who is the beautiful victim? If it's not clear who or what she is, then what are we left with? *Not* successful social commentary.

" the idea that if gorgeus, coutoure wearing blondes and brunettes are treated the same way as foreign, (usually) bearded men..."

That's it exactly! Forget all the political overtones, the misogynistic rape fantasy themes- it's really all about the model as victim- because the victim gets all the attention!

This entire anti-terror enterprise has been set up to single out "suspects". Why waste all that effort on undeserving, unpretty, poorly dressed terrorists?

Bring on the dogs- I'm ready for my close-up!

Heh Heh Heh. So, here's another grenade: As you have entirely infantalized the (Iraqis & Afghanis & Palestinians) peoples you are occupying; ie., they can't fend for themselves (as well as, i daresay ~ your "we're all just innocent middle-of-the-apple-barrel" apple selves :)

...i would have preferred ~ rather than women ~ if Vogue chose to advertise in this fashion the latest line of CHILDREN'S CLOTHING, with child models; preferably, brown-skinned ones ;-)

“All advertising advertises advertising.”

but i still say the majority of Americans will continue to buy third-world (women & child-labour) sweatshop cotton "jeans & gym-clothes," and faux-fighter camos & fatigues, than any other fashion. The sweatshirts with progressive political slogans inked on them, are a riot.

fwiw, in Europe, you / your tourists are recognized by this de facto "uniform" that almost all Americans (and impoverished Third-Worlders everywhere) wear. Perhaps an equally violent Vogue-like fashion statement, is the dirt-poor African wearing a sweatshirt that says: "Duke University." dommage, our kids, too, do emulate your duds: deal with IT = YOU; WE DO.

regardez! As the BagMan is now beginning to look at YOU = US from EU over here, i suspect this is not the last uncomfortable EuroMirror apple-pie he is likely to >FLASH< in our faces.

(Yes, there are photos with female aggressors-in-training, but they are shooting at inanimate objects.)

In one photo I noticed that the targets being fired upon by the female trainee were the torsos of fashion illustrations of women models. Lovely.

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