Before I continue with this post, I’d like my readers to understand that this is a personal and sensitive topic for me. As a Chinese-American who is extremely connected to my ethnic background, I really struggled trying to know 100% how I felt about the MET Gala Theme this year — China: Through the Looking Glass. Please keep any comments respectful and constructive.
I have ways in which I’m going to talk about this Gala theme. One is on the basis of cultural appropriation, and the other on the basis of human rights in China.
On the first issue at hand, there had been outcries that many guests at the Gala would dress in ways that superficially appropriates Chinese culture. Feminist blog Jezebel accuses in its fiery post title: 2015 Met Gala Will Probably Be an Asian-Themed Shitshow. Many Asian celebrities tweeted about how disturbed they were about the Chinese style designer dresses many guests sported during the Gala. Surprising even myself, because I would usually leap up and denounce cultural appropriation right away, I actually think that I support the theme of this event. I was initially disturbed as well, and there were definitely some dresses that made me shake my head and apologize internally to the country of China. Case in point: Jessica Parker becomes Beijing Olympics mascot Huan Huan:
However, I tried to imagine a society where cultural appropriation was so publicly shunned that even at international galas, people who weren’t Asian weren’t allowed to wear style derived from Asian cultures or even directly by Asian designers. People would just be confined to there little cultural spheres, afraid of being inspired by the beauty of other cultures. And I’m not saying cultural appropriation is a non-issue. When an individual or group of people wear something that originated from a specific culture without respecting or caring about the cultural background – I call that true cultural appropriation. However, the mission of the Gala is not to re-invent Chinese culture or make Asian fashion exotic (although the issue of exoticism was not avoided completely).
Indeed, the mission of this year’s theme was to encourage guests to think about how Chinese influences on the Western designer fashion world – what about China’s culture inspired the West, directly or indirectly. There is active, conscious reflection going on here.
People called guests out for being anachronistic and imbuing their dresses with too much fantasy. To be honest, I’d rather have a smidgen of fantastical notions on Chinese culture than a shunning on white people looking into, wearing, and appreciating Chinese traditional fashion. I do not condone cultural appropriation, but I also don’t condone the confinement of a culture’s influence on only that culture in this 21st century world. And just because Chinese women don’t wear silk qipaos anymore doesn’t mean it is culturally insensitive to bring into the spotlight the beauty of that past mode of fashion.
I want to bring in the spotlight two guests who support my point about cultural appropriation:
Rihanna wore a (stunningly beautiful) yellow, Chinese-embroidery-inspired gown to the Gala. Netizens immediately started calling her out for cultural appropriation. I mean, come on! If people just did a bit more research, that designer dress was made by Guo Pei, a fashion designer from Beijing, China. If Rihanna was too scared to sport this look because of the hate she would get, guess who wouldn’t be in the international spotlight. Guo Pei. The Western world would think China only is trying to emulate Western fashion standards, while Guo Pei would be working hard on integrating Chinese traditional fashion into the industry, for who to see? No one beyond China. She would be making an internationally significant statement, for nothing.
Fan BingBing shined in a stunning, Chinese inspired gown as well. No, she is not making herself exotic for the Western world to gape at, believe it or not. She is proving that yes, Chinese people think their own traditional fashion is beautiful as well. Being anachronistic can be a form of patriotism, in case you’ve forgotten. It’s called loving your own history.
Human Rights and the Gala
Alrighto. The second part of my shpeel is geared towards a particular article I found that genuinely infuriated me to the core. The article is: The Met Gala gave western celebrities yet another chance to ignore China’s human rights record. Y’all know this blog is all about turning beauty into a social tool, but I mean, really? Any kind of celebration of Chinese culture, Chinese history, China’s international influence — and it all has to go back to China’s horrible violation of human rights. Of course, because Americans got the human rights thing all figured out, with Iraq and Guantanamo and Baltimore and Filipino sweatshop workers and all that. It’s a role model country! So, logically, American fashion can be spread worldwide, but one damn celebration of China? Sinful! It should be banned! “Even Amal Ramzi Clooney, a human rights lawyer who sometimes represents jailed journalists in repressive regimes, attended the gala in red dress.” Right, because this darker facet of a country (which, believe me, I am too aware of and to not support at all) has to overshadow all its other facets. This way, we can make China look like a brute with no sense of civility and no historical background, just a superficial piece of shit that must be stamped on every time it appears in our eyes. Good job, Quartz. Good job.
I apologize if this opinion post was so charged, although I do not apologize for my opinions. It is a personal topic for me.
I’d love to open it up to discussion — leave your thoughts on the comments below!