Monday, February 12, 2007

Enough with the keffiyehs

In an ideal world, we could all accessorize as we see fit, no meanings attached. We do not live in this world. Keffiyehs, when worn by people not remotely Arab themselves, manage to combine the attitudes of, "ooh, aren't foreign, Arab things weird and cool," with a self-righteous, one-sided take on a conflict involving the brutal murder of civilians on both sides.

In a NYT piece on the assholish trend, anthropologist Ted Swedenberg seems to have it all figured out:

"Dr. Swedenburg said he thinks that the exotic element of the scarf becomes more important, and the political aspect less so, as it becomes mainstream. 'It’s chic because it’s different,' he said. 'It’s Eastern.'" Orientalism, much?

Later in the piece, Swedenberg is quoted as saying, "'I think to associate it directly with terrorism is to tar all Palestinians with the brush of terrorism,' he said. 'That’s a mischaracterization.'"

Uh, but this is the intention of those who wear the thing in the West, aside from those too ignorant to know that the "Middle East" doesn't refer to Murray Hill. From elsewhere in the Times article: "The scarves became a fashion statement in the United States at the start of the first intifada in 1987." From basic, common sense: There's a conflict in Israel between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Whether you believe such a thing as "Israeli" or "Palestinian" really exists, you'd have to admit that people on both sides have had it rough. The keffiyeh is cool because Jews have never been cool, but are seen as those annoying know-it-alls, nouveaux riche, and so on, whether actual Jews correspond to this description or not. And, in both America and Europe, "solidarity with the Palestinians" means caring about at least some of the world's suffering, sure, but it also means not having to feel quite so bad about exterminating the Jews (in Europe's case) or refusing entry to those attempting to escape extermination (America's), although it's doubtful that every last American hipster has that much of a clue.


Miss Self-Important said...

I knew you would blog this article. My question is, how can the same article simultaneously assert that the keffiyeh is a protest trend and then only quote keffiyeh-wearers who appear to have no idea that there is a war to protest?

Anonymous said...

phoebe wrote:
solidarity with the Palestinians means ... not having to feel quite so bad about exterminating the Jews ... or refusing entry to those attempting to escape extermination


I like Keffiyehs. I like Palestine. I think I like Maltz -- but this doesn't make it easy.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Rita: Because the article is also about the idiocy of the hipster.

(former?) maltzlover: L'amour, c'est la deception.

Anonymous said...

Jews have never been cool?! You should ask Paula Zahn and/or Mary
Tyler Moore if they feel Jews are cool.

Anonymous said...

Do you even know what your talking about? All you've done in this one Blog is generalize that all Hipsters are clueless and that "jews arent cool." Besides the fact that you think that accesories are billboards for ones Ideals. You said that the world isnt 'ideal' because people can't wear accesories without stating something about themselves. An Ideal world would be one where people could wear whatever they want, a simple arab garment for example, and not be criticized for being pro-war or anti-jew. In that case we should all be nudists so as to not risk criticism for wearing the wrong belt or hat.