Fashion blues

While traveling with my Chinese satchel, I learned that Cameron Diaz apparently has the same bag. Which is fine—I was into Communist chic before it was cool. However, then she went and used it to spark an international incident, Peru being understandably touchy about their Maoist guerrillas. So now I find myself having conversations with TSA agents while they search my (other) luggage about how, yes, this is the same bag Cameron Diaz had to apologize to an entire nation for. Luckily they did not infer from this any membership in the Shining Path; otherwise my trip home might have been rather delayed.
I will console myself by imagining that I made the bag trendy by wearing it to Coachella, even if it was probably mistaken for a Rage Against the Machine bag.

14 thoughts on “Fashion blues

  1. Mason

    I have more respect for Cameron Diaz than I did before.
    Maybe I should follow in her footsteps by wearing my pentagram shirt when I fly?

  2. JSpur

    I may need to borrow your bag. Headed back to Shanghai next month, apparently. I doubt that I would need to apologize for it there.

  3. Andy

    Remind me again what is cool about the regime that was responsible for roughly 50 million unnecessary deaths? Promise me to google “Great Leap Forward” and “Cultural Revolution” before you wear it again… and the fact that they are selling it in China is not an excuse…

  4. Arcane Gazebo

    Andy: I’m well aware of the atrocities of Mao’s regime, and I in no way approve of either the ideology or the regime itself. I suspect you know this, and are arguing that the history of the symbols makes it inappropriate to wear the bag. Certainly one can imagine designs for which this would be the case (say, a swastika), but I (obviously) don’t think my bag is in the same category, for reasons I probably should explain.
    (I figured someone might raise this issue, and it applies equally to the image in the sidebar, as the Soviet regime was if anything more appalling than Mao’s.)
    The issue here is, what do the symbols connote? A swastika instantly brings to mind all the evils of Nazism, and so is justifiably taboo. In Peru, the Maoist bag represents the Shining Path, and is likewise offensive. But in America, where Soviet- and Mao- style Communism are very widely discredited, Communist symbols have been used for decades as general symbols of revolutionary spirit, social change, and socialist/egalitarian policies. This is especially true in California, and even more especially true in Berkeley. Lots of people wear Che Guevara shirts, and it’s not generally construed as an endorsement of Castro’s policies (except disingenuously by conservatives).
    So I’m not especially worried that my bag is offensive, and I’ll continue to wear it because I find it aesthetically appealing. But I won’t wear it in Peru.

  5. Josh

    I’m not sure I would wear a Maoist satchel myself, but also for purely aesthetic reasons.
    Now if you show me some Wei Kingdom apparel, I’m all over that…

  6. Josh

    Also, AG, it’s interesting that you use a swastika as an example of a taboo symbol, since it is mostly considered taboo in Western culture. As you know, the swastika (both clockwise and counter-clockwise forms) are used widely in eastern religions including Hinduism and Buddhism, and many far-eastern cultures have not given it up just because a genocidal maniac decided to appropriate it for his own means.
    Finding my way around Tokyo in the summer of 2003, there were many street maps that used swastikas to denote Buddhist temples. I guess that goes to show that symbols themselves can’t be considered a universal good or universal evil. Like language and art, it is our intent that defines the symbol, not the other way around.

  7. Andy

    Well, it remains an image that I wouldn’t want to promote, but I am glad that you have some thought of sort of justification. How about a nice logo from those hapless intellectuals at the Fabian Society?

  8. Arcane Gazebo

    Andy: That might help distance me from the wacky Berkeley socialism connoted by appropriated Communist motifs.
    (And sorry about the flagged comment, my spam filters are very aggressive against short comments with links in them.)

  9. JSpur

    What I find fascinating about China today is how far it has come, and how fast. When I first went there in the early ’80s, it exhibited almost exclusively the characteristics of totalitarian control. And the Tiananmen Square killings were still to come, of course.
    While there continues to this day to be clear evidence of governmental influence of (indeed, control over) the media and intolerance toward dissent, the people seem freer to pursue anything short of organized anti-governmental activity. And what they seem intent on pursuing is a better quality of life for themselves.
    Stated differently, the days of the Cultural Revolution are over, those policies have been rejected both officially and by the people themselves, and what you find in China now at all levels is a desire to integrate those things they can be proud of about their heritage, to minimize those that represent a stain on the national reputation, and improve themselves as a people incrementally. (No one speaks of Mao that much, but last fall was the 70th anniversary of the Long March, and people celebrated it with an understandable pride, for it was a historic moment that symbolizes their national grit.) In this they are not so different from ourselves.
    Carrying a bag such as AG’s can be interpreted as an endorsement of 50 million lives lost to an evil regime, I suppose, just as flying the flag of the Commonwealth of Virginia can be viewed as an endorsement of 250 years of human bondage. But really I think the point is that states and nations learn and reform and have to overcome their history in many cases and perhaps the benefit of the doubt, when it comes to cultural symbols, should be given to their aspirations, not their depradations. No society is without the latter.
    It is when the latter have never been learned from and rejected that a cultural symbol becomes anathema so long as those depradations linger in the mind of man. Hence the rejection in the West of the swastika and everything else associated with Nazism.

  10. JSpur

    Having thought about this a bit more, I should add that in the case of the swastika, it represented a system that had no meaningful aspirations other than evil aspirations. Nazism was not so much an ideology that occasionally produced evil results as it was evil per se, so that its symbols are forever tainted.
    Perhaps a more nuanced example is Wagner. He was openly antisemitic and his music was appropriated by Hitler for his own evil purposes. For these reasons, so far as I know, his operas have never been performed in Israel.
    And yet his works are performed elsewhere quite regularly and without apology and perhaps his most famous piece is a key component of Caltech tradition, as many readers of this blog know much better than I.

  11. Andy

    True, JSpur, and I think that the official line in China now is that Mao was “70% right, 30% wrong.” I think the rightness aspect is overstated by a lot, but it is good that they are coming around to admitting that even their great leader had a few flaws.

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