09 June 2015

RE: Met Gala 2015 aka excuse to be racist

About a month or so ago, there was a red carpet event that was meant to be celebrating the opening for an exhibit dedicated to the historical art and culture of China - which is fine. However, there were so many celebrities that did me (and so many other people) so wrong when they turned up to the even wearing 'interpreted' attire for the theme of the Gala - the theme of China. (Rather, many guests took it upon themselves to just generalise it as an Asian theme event and wore, well you know, anything remotely Asian lol.)
Here is  an image of Fan Bingbing in her role as part of her drama series, 武媚娘传奇. For good reason too.
Online, I had my fair share of opinions via my askfm (some replies here and here) and even if I had a lot to say about it, I had to let it just simmer down because there was a lot of controversy about it and it stressed me out because I did have lots to say, but as a Vietnamese (note: Asian yes, but not Chinese), I didn't feel like I had the right to say things because I don't know enough about the culture and I didn't want to upset anyone and also because there were (and still going to be) people in the world who refuse(d) to listen to varied opinions and defend the event as being 'interpreted for the sake of art and fashion.'
Why am I suddenly bringing this up again? Because one, I had wanted to initially write something about this ages ago but I was caught up with my studies and being overseas, two because the meme of SJP with that awful headdress still appears on my Facebook feed and three, because I started watching Fan Bingbing's drama '武媚娘传奇', which I highly recommend if you're interested in history in terms of the lifestyle, attire, culture (sans textbook learning.) Also, I suppose, because if you want to properly interpret any kind of culture for anything, you have to really study and take time to learn about the culture and history behind food, attire, make-up, everything. And trust that it doesn't take a night to do it. The Met Gala was meant to be influenced by the culture because the core idea for everyone apparently, was how, and this is literally quoted from the MET Museum website,  'the impact of Chinese aesthetics on Western fashion.' < br /> There is something so troubling about that because the way that those who are not of Chinese descent, or the Western world in general, take that 'influence' or impact is often insensitive and culturally, downright racist. It's awful to see that the people who even planned this 'themed' event would try to sweep cultural appropriation under the disguise of 'celebrating' Chinese (or in this case, many celebrities got it wrong and thought Oh, Chinese? Asian, for sure. Same, same.) For me, even as someone who is relatively devoted to the fashion industry, knows that the industry is infamous for its track record of racism from the cultural appropriation of what should and can be on the runway to the unfair casting of models. (I wrote about that ages ago here.)

Being one of the biggest fashion/red carpet events of the year and in the world, it's disappointing to know that the dress code was simply 'Chinese white tie' and left up to the imagination of stylists and celebrities - receiving much backlash from social media and those within and outside of the industry for lack of consideration and for stereotyping Chinese culture. (Also note to some celebrities and to people in general who like to treat all of Asia as a one homogenous culture.) While the Met Gala claimed to want to try celebrating the Chinese culture, it was very clear that there was not one good reflection of the event trying to learn, understand and appreciate the culture or the artistic skills, rather it was just an event for a bunch of rich white people to have ~harmless~ fun, as well as for the rest of the world to take in the amusement of the trivialisation of one of the oldest and most richest traditional cultures.

Even beginning to use China as an inspiration, no, to use any culture as an inspiration for any event or anything will always spark pre-event critique and oppositions to speak up about how wrong and uncomfortable it would be to even try to 'glam up' while trying to pay homage to a century old custom.

How do you even begin to try condensing an entire nation's culture and history into one piece of evening wear?

Might I add, that to even try begin to be cultural sensitive, one would have to take out a lot of time to seriously educate themselves on understanding not only the culture and customs tied to it, but the value and meaning of each thing - from symbol to colour - it's all important. And it was clear that no Western attendee even attempted to do that. Which is odd because I'm pretty sure invitations for such a big event go out months ahead of the event, so, not really an excuse to not have bothered to research a thing or two.

And it's plausible to say that celebrities have all the free time in the world. While no one was directly racist or offensive at the event per say, which was a relief, you know, still having chopsticks in their hair or going around bowing with hands clasped together, still stems through something - the stereotyping and materialisation was there where it wasn't homage to the culture, it was being purely superficial by using the basic signifiers that were associated with Chinese culture - the colour red, dragons, silk, the 'china doll' look. The lack of effort to try properly researching about such a history shows and being, well you know remotely stereotyping is rather disappointing. I mean attendees looked good at first glance but when you really take into consideration what they tried to do as part of the theme for the event, it was like.. 'oh'. I remember reading an article where SJP attempted to show that she did research, by 'looking at old images (probably of royalty in their attire or brides and just going, oh this should do!!) and thought quite seriously about designers.' She looked more like a joke than anything of respect for the culture.

Mistakes were everywhere, from attendees mixing up (or doing it on purpose because you know, ALL Asian cultures are the same?) cultural attire and symbolism, from the use of cherry blossoms and walking around with a fan or having chopsticks put in hair buns. Also, the sexualisation of what a kimino or qipao was interpreted to be. The idea that qipaos, or any traditional attire, should be sexualised perceives the stereotype that Chinese - or Asian women are considered 'exotic'. No.

You think it was just what was on the red carpet that was a mess? No, it goes beyond attire to traditional cuisine - or the interpretation of what it should have been. I had read that notable (but won't be named) people were going around on the red carpet asking attendees what their favourite Chinese dish was. I'm certain that had nothing to do with even beginning to pay respect to the culture. It's a factor of being ignorant. The guests were also called to dine with the use of Chinese gongs, was it necessary for one, to have it as part of the set up for the event.

I think the biggest flaw I picked out of even bothering to look through the event itself was the fact that the event was dedicated to the historical culture and tradition of Chinese history, and while there was a guest list for Western celebrities who attended, there was almost an important group of other attendees who were actual Chinese descendants - the most disappointing thing was how much coverage they got for attending an event that associated with their own heritage and culture because the world is too concerned with every little nit-pick issue that arises with Western celebrities. From model Liu Wen to Gao Yuanyuan, many Chinese attendees missed out on getting lots of attention because it was an event that, while was meant to help 'celebrate', seemed to just be another event for celebrities to play dress up and try to get away with everything wrong. The event was meant to be for celebrating the culture, and well, the idea of inviting Chinese guests is to be able to give them the limelight to be appreciated, honoured, loved. You think with an event as big as this, there would actually be a massive influx and coverage given to many influential Chinese guests in the industry, both internationally and close to home. Out of all the guests, there were about nine female Chinese guests who were even able to steal a little bit of the spotlight - though I believe they deserved more. But of course, they were humble about it. When you look as good as Fan Bingbing, you don't need all the cameras to tell you that you look good - because you know it already.

Chinese attendees, not a flaw in sight.

As someone, who as I've repeatedly said a few times in my career, is really devoted to the industry, I can understand when fashion is fun and harmless at times. But when something as culture is on the line, it is not something to be played around with for the sake of art. Ignorance is no longer an excuse in this day and age of social media and rapid globalisation where it is literally, impossible not to be able to learn about a different perspective of something. To have an entire culture and history simplified into a vague, not even Chinese, but Asian-inspired event where historically important headdresses are modified and the colour red is used without really understanding the significance is considered the green pass to pay respects to a culture is mockery and so wrong.

Not everyone though, dressed up to the theme, so honourable mentions to those like Beyonce, Cher, Carey Mulligan etc, who probably went, "well yes there's a theme for this event but I don't care." For an event to be named 'Through the looking glass', the glass wasn't clear enough. And I just hope that the committee have a very long and hard think about what they're going to do next year because I don't want to see another historical culture be torn apart or boiled down to general stereotypes for the sake of celebrities simply having a night out to be passively racist.