apples & (righteous?) rage

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Yesterday I was informed by someone on tumblr that creative anachronism (encompassing vintage fashion, historical reenactment, Gatsby parties, etc.) is “intrinsically bigoted, mainly racist. This seems pretty obvious to me. Like white people romanticizing the Jim Crow era? It’s disgusting.”

First of all, I know, I know: I brought it on myself by frequenting tumblr. (Shut up, there’s good fanfic there.) But seriously, I could not let this go un-debunked.

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I, as a lover of ‘20s and ‘50s aesthetics, am not romanticizing the Jim Crow era. I’m culling specific aspects of those decades to take pleasure in, and that is a very salient difference. I’m baffled by the argument that merely existing adjacent to oppression is enough to damn a particular art form. “These clothes/this food/this style of entertainment was popular in a time when people believed messed-up things about race and gender; therefore, appreciating them is tantamount to expressing those beliefs yourself.”

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No. It doesn’t work like that. First of all, that’s called the fallacy of association, and we all know how I feel about logical fallacies. But more importantly – by that logic, I can’t very well enjoy anything at all, can I? Every era, including this one, has had its despots, its bigotries, its injustices of every size. Everything is tainted by some hand or another. But every era, including this one, also has real beauty and wonder and pockets of progress.

Just as I refuse to take the bad with the good, I also refuse to throw away the good along with the bad. Think about how culturally barren we’d be if we tossed everything of less-than-pure origin. Henry Ford was a Nazi apologist, but I’m still gonna keep riding in cars.

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And if I’m being even more cynical, it just feels like another way of telling people, especially women, that our physical appearance is all you need to know about us. That you can effectively gauge my worldview, my values, my desires, my aptitude for social progress based on what I’m wearing. A miniskirt doesn’t mean I’m asking to be assaulted; a medieval dress and liripipe don’t mean I want to own serfs; a garish Victorian hat doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be allowed to vote. You’d know that if you bothered to listen to my words rather than letting fabric speak for me.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Anna says:

    Yep. I can’t argue with you, there. Even I experience some twinges of worry about whether I’ve “set myself back,” by dressing in a way that harkens back to an era that was not so kind to people like me. It’s one thing to say that by celebrating the fashion of a certain time period, one is also celebrating the iniquities of that time period. Clearly, that’s a broad presupposition. It’s another thing, though, to simply be cognizant of the trials and tribulations of a certain time period.

    It’s natural to see someone dressed like a girl from the 50’s and also start to wonder about what her life would have been like in that time period. These thoughts can bring both joy and profound sadness. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this awareness. I also don’t think that there’s anything wrong with celebrating vintage fashion, regardless of what might have been taking place in a given time period. Even in the darkest of times, there is beauty. Beautiful clothing, beautiful people, etc. It’s OK to celebrate these things, while also being aware of the dark times in which they existed. For this issue, there is a fine distinction between awareness and personal culpability that the anonymous commentator undoubtedly conflated.

    – Anna

    http://www.melodicthriftychic.com

  2. Helga says:

    I envy your eloquence! People are such dicks, and so ready to jump to dumbass ignorant conclusions.
    I would say that the majority of us drawn to other eras are well informed about these eras, and in no way romanticise the times. We’re just fucking drawn to them, OK?! I find myself less and less interested in explaining myself to anybody these days. I just give less of a fuck than I ever did!
    Sweet frock, incidentally, and I love the yellow cardigan!
    XXXXXXX

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