Monday, June 18, 2007

Fur fashion and the theory of the leisure class

Vanity of vanities.

Take a look at the picture to the left. Cruelty is a fetish that perhaps is the most difficult to dissuade people from. Violence is an anti-thesis to reason. And there can be no dissuasion where there is no reason. Especially when vanity is involved, cruelty is an irrational activity. Of course, there is always some morsel of reasoning going on behind the cruelness, some will to power. It does not suffice to say it is a rational activity in the classical sense.

The vanity of wearing fur is to display a peculiar indifference to suffering. Native Americans used to wear furs to survive, and some believed their souls would encompass the soul of the animal. And with almost all "higher" forms of culture comes from this kind of spiritualization of cruelty, an encodification of violence into culture. Without an element of violence at the heart of this spectacle, this theater of cruel animalistic tastes would not be possible. This is sadistic clothing, literally. It is a symbol of zoosadism. Holding the soul of a tortured animal on your body gives off a kind of spiritual fetishism with the symbols of the "leisure class".

One doesn't need to know exactly what happens at these fur plantations to know that it is a symbol of senseless violence and vanity. A mink must be romped on the ground, its head stomped, strangled while its fur is spread from its live body, and had its face crushed with a sledgehammer all for the sake of a Calvin Klein model pacing up and down a runway in 30 seconds or less. Beaten lamb from Karakul and skins of purposely aborted calves and lambs are considered to be especially luxurious in the fashion industry. Why not take PETA's advice and use their guide to shopping for compassionate clothing which outlines "cruelty-free" clothing like "sexy pleather" and synthetic polyesters. Fashion designers like Stella McCartney, Ralph Lauren, and Marc Bouwer have refused to work with real fur and leathers. But fur really does have a hold on gluttonous bourgeois dandies, and this is why the silly fashion-designers are still using rotting animal products to plush up their models. Perhaps the designers don't actually know that China, the great human rights violater, is also the largest exporter of the finished fur garments imported for sale in the US. China's fur farms have denied even the simplest acts of kindness to animals, not even the most minimalistic recognitions of animal rights, sort of like how the Chinese government treats the Chinese people.

There are some non-fashion arguments which are helpful here. Contrary to fur-industry propaganda, fur production does destroy the environment faster than alternative fur products. The amount of energy needed to produce a real fur coat from ranch-raised animal skins is approximately 20 times than needed to produce a fake fur garment. A fur coat isn't biodegradable either, since chemical treatments are applied to stop the fur from rotting in your closet. This Janus-faced industry is even so bold as to provide us with a list of "reasons to wear fur", and they make little sense when all of them rest on fur being simply "fashionable" and only two address real concerns like the environment and commodified cruelty, (which is pathetically legalistic). It is still legal, they say. Notice the circularity and contingency of this notion. And I find "warmth" itself to be a poor argument also, since so many other fabrics provide that too at less expensive rates and more manageable tastes. also provides the browser with a history section, and neglects to mention how trading fur is remarkably unsustainable. Early American fashion sensibilities for beaver hats drastically plummeted the beaver population. And of course the buffalo population, a keystone species in the North American Great Plains, was hunted to near extinction. Today only two continuously wild buffalo populations exist in North America--in Alberta and Yellowstone. The picture on the right is a disgusting mound of buffalo skulls, much to the pride of the hunters, whose names we have all forgotten by now. In the end, we must look at their silly 1x1 pixelated grins and wonder what sense was there in killing all those precious buffalo and leaving their carcases to rot on the open plain? (The answer, of course, is to make 1x1 pixelated buffalo skulls!!)

There is an anthropological reason as to why fashionists think fur is a symbol of higher status. Beginning with primitive tribes, the division of labor also divided class systems. The top-down political systems made it so groups with a higher status became the group responsible for war and hunting, usually men, while the farming and cooking was left to the inferior classes. The working classes did the bulk of the work, especially in peace-time, while the bourgeois classes remained warlike and aristocratic. The warlike classes have never been as productive or reliable. Their integrity relied upon their honorable "status" as protectors against foreign tribes, even as they banned the peasants from using weapons that could potentially make them stronger than the warrior classes. For example, knights forbade peasants from using crossbows which were more affective than a knight's sword. This was a pathetic legal exercise, and stood in the way of technological advancement to say the least.

The fashion industry similarly grew out of this type of "warrior-class" status, which became accustomed to doing nothing, since the warrior activities and responsibilities had also been shifted to the inferior classes. Yet the leisure class still displayed the warrior-like prowess and the tribalisms of the traditional warrior class. Only now the sole activity of this leisure class is to be leisurely and impress other leisure class-members, an endlessly self-reflective activity. These new "priests" of fashion are useful to no one, yet dictate the desires of the working classes through telecommunications and other means. As a symbol of their leisurely existence, they drape themselves in lavish, inefficient clothing. A symbol of their inefficient and sloth-like status in society.

The priestly status of fashionists neglects to mention the mounds of mink skull the entire project rests upon. The consumers care little about that, however, because this part of the equation is extracted from the codified simplicity of consumerism. Our culture also has ironically pointed out that the killing of other species leads to the killing of our own species. As many serial killers have testified, they enjoyed murdering small animals in their youth. A perusal of FBI records easily displays a link between a history of cruelty to animals in one's childhood as one of the traits that regularly appears in its computer records of rapists and murderers. It is worse when this atrocity is cemented into "culture". It then lies like a shroud over our perceptions.

Fur fetishism will perhaps be diagnosed as a personality disorder by psychiatrists of the future. Yet for now it is but a symptom of a deep societal disturbance. The French used to round cats up into a large net and lower them into a bonfire. Steven Pinker recounts that the French spectators "shrieked with laughter as the cats, howling in pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized." How classy. How bourgeois. It is this kind of humorous sensibility that pushes me to question more contemporary forms of humor and entertainment. Consider the circus. Isn't it strange that watching wild animals perform unnatural tricks outside their natural habitats is oddly entertaining? Or that it might teach children something about the animals, or their endangerment? By displaying bears as tricycle-riding buffoons and by dressing elephants in tutus, circuses present animals as creatures whose purpose is to amuse us. The codified message is: animals are dispensable creatures, and one can freely laugh at their suffering and captivity. Parents at the circus are just as unreliable as the circus itself, and the child learns nothing.

The greatest folly in recent years has been the connection of our animal rights policy with our foreign policy. American soldiers in Iraq were known to have tortured, humiliated, and beaten Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, like Poland and Romania. This is not a recent phenomenon, but one that has surfaced recently due to technology. When I watched this video on YouTube depicting US soldiers in Iraq torturing a small dog, I couldn't help but feel disgusted by my society and its complete lack of respect toward animals. Even greater, the integrity of our foreign policy is at risk. The soldiers laughed hysterically, as if under a spell, at the dog's humiliated squeals and pained kicking. Kind of like how the 16th Century French aristocrats laughed at cats burning alive. And kind of like how the Americans at Abu Ghraib smile for the camera as Iraqis lie helplessly in heaps, naked, beaten, and exhausted.

1 comment:

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