Monday, February 28, 2011

"Genius"

John Galliano's apparently something of an anti-Semite. However, because he was only anti-Semitic when drunk (that we know of), and because he designs pretty dresses (of which a bunch are on display at the Bon Marché, exhibit complete with security guard), we really shouldn't call him an anti-Semite, because that would be unfair. (Example # who even knows of it being socially unacceptable to call anyone currently living an anti-Semite. Although in this case, the truly reticent seem to be fashion's great victims...) Following the lead of His Sartorialistness, the commenter-worshippers over there now accept that someone who professes an admiration for Hitler after a kir too many is maybe not the best fit at Dior, but seem to agree with their thought-director that the video "shows a sad man willing to say anything to hurt others as a desperate cry for help. I hope he is relieved of his duties and that he seeks out the professional help he obviously needs." The commenters, who have correctly read between the lines of the post, and who understand why "Sart" is being so lenient, see Galliano as a tortured genius, one even referring to "a fine line between genius and insanity."

A few things. One, Galliano is not a "genius." I often argue from a pro-fashion perspective, but seriously. I would think, for someone in fashion to count as such, they would at the very least need to have created some kind of major innovation in how people dress (Chanel? Dior himself?), or clothes of a beauty or brilliance universally recognized as highly unusual even among high-fashion designers. No doubt he can design clothes better than the average person with access to a sewing machine. But "genius" is a kind of silly term to use for any eccentric who's made his name in the fashion industry. Of course, if "Absolutely Fabulous" is anything to go by, the term is used loosely in such circles. Even if he were a genius in some stricter definition of the term, it wouldn't be so easy to sympathize with him. But his contribution to mankind is really not something even fashion-lovers should honor in this way.

Next, there are racists, there are alcoholics, and there those who say dumb things after one too many. Not to rehash the Affaire Gibson, but the people who start holding forth about 'those people' once they've had a few might be alcoholics, or might not, but are definitely racists. Drinking to the point of disinhibition, but remaining plenty coherent, is not grounds for rehab, for concern from strangers, for any kind of sympathy. It's grounds for having the courage to hit on a friend one has been crushing on, perhaps to mingle with ease in a informal-networking-type setting. Going on the anecdotal evidence of someone who attended college in the United States and who is currently in a French department, the amount of alcohol it takes to speak more freely is not what is scientifically referred to as sloppy-drunk, but is in fact a normal and mostly positive aspect of life for many adults in many countries. It is a level of tipsiness that does not indicate that one has a problem with alcohol. Now, if you know yourself and know that your otherwise hidden views about 'those people' have a tendency to seem appropriate to you once you've had a beer, it is a problem for you to have alcohol even in amounts that would not damage your liver; having the beer anyway indicates poor judgment, not (necessarily) addiction. In vino veritas is not typically anything along the lines of a "cry for help."

11 comments:

Withywindle said...

I know Fashion Week bores you, but I feel like a hypocrite talking to you and your racist friend.

Britta said...

ooh! a They Might Be Giants reference

But...WTF is up with the Brits? From personal experience they always seemed to be less closet anti-Semitic than continental Europeans, but between Prince Harry, Pete Doherty, and this guy, they are doing rather poorly. (Yes, I know 3 people don't necessarily say much about an entire nation, but...it's at least a disturbing (if small) trend.)

J. Otto Pohl said...

I lived in the UK for a couple of years and their attitude is actually a lot healthier generally than either the continent or the Americans. The British unlike the Americans and some others do not feel any guilt or special obligation to Jews in general because of the Holocaust. This is because they were fighting against the Nazis from 1939 on. The British have impeccable anti-Nazi credentials having been at war with Germany two years before the US.

Many British, however, do feel badly about abandoning the Palestinian Arabs to ethnic cleansing in 1947 despite their legal duties under the League of Nations Mandate system. The British in Palestine experienced a systematic wave of Zionist terrorism by the Irgun and Lehi aimed at British officials and Arab civilians. Hence despite being the staunchest anti-Nazis around the British were still murdered by Zionist terrorists who viewed the UK not Nazi Germany as their primary enemy.

Such an historical experience would tend to taint ones attitudes towards those claiming to represent all of the Jewish people. Hence most British are opposed to Zionism because as a country they have been exposed to its ugliest manifestations. Sometimes this can spill over into anti-semitism, but genuine anti-semitism in the UK is far rarer than in the US or former Soviet bloc.

Generally the British are anti-Zionists because they are against the racism, terrorism, and human rights violations the movement has committed. Unlike Americans they are not blinded by an extreme philo-Semitism in which misplaced Holocaust guilt is used to support every action by the State of Israel.

Phoebe said...

J. Otto Pohl,

"Healthy" seems a rather bizarre adjective to use. Whether one's views are "tainted" by Holocaust memory or memory of violence done in the name of Zionism (as if those could be equated, but anyway), one is not objective. Are you defining "healthier" to mean "less sympathetic to Jews"?

J. Otto Pohl said...

I am defining healthy as not being automatically racially prejudiced against Arabs in favor of the Israelis because of the Holocaust. That is generally the US opinion. The British feel no such guilt over something done by a regime they fought against.

BTW I did not equate the Holocaust with Zionist terrorism. But, the British are correct that the first does not in any way justify the second. Neither British officials in Palestine or Arab civilians committed the Holocaust. Why Palestinan Arabs must be made to pay forever for the crimes of long dead Germans is a mystery to me. It is also something most British people reject as wrong.

Phoebe said...

OK, what I'm still missing is how, if the British are biased against Zionists (and therefore, sometimes, Jews), while Americans are biased against anti-Zionists (and therefore, sometimes, Arabs), both for particular, irrational, historical-memory reasons, you could possibly describe either approach as "healthy."

(There's a whole lot more I disagree with in what you've written here, but this is the point I find most perplexing.)

Britta said...

Otto: uh...no. 1. Fighting against Nazis != helping Jews. 2. Brits fighting since 1939?? Tell that to the Czechs, Poles, Dutch, Danes, and Norwegians. 3. Feeling bad when hearing about the holocaust = human decency, not necessarily a sense of personal responsibility. 4. Neville Chamberlain, the Mittford sisters, and King Edward VIII. 5. If anyone should feel guilty about the IP conflict, it should be the British, because they are the people who promised the same piece of land to two different groups, indicating basically a sense of total disregard for the welfare of either.

Your comments seem to indicate more your biases against Jewish people, in that your first thought when hearing about the holocaust & Nazi sympathizers in France is immediately to talk about Zionist terrorism (whatever you feel the relationship between the two to be). I could conduct some armchair psychoanalysis based on your name (real or not) and the vehemence of your views, but I'll refrain since that would be fairly obnoxious.

Phoebe said...

Britta, you've saved me the trouble. Basically, yes, looking at things in isolation, it is a problem that the Palestinians have suffered consequences indirectly from European anti-Semitism. Of course, if modern-day Germans or other Europeans were forced to bear the responsibility for the sins of their fathers, that too would be problematic. (Much as I would appreciate being able to walk into one of those sprawling 7th Arrondissement apartments and claim it, this would not be just.)

Jewish statehood, however, is just, and is not a notion born out of Holocaust memory. For a very long time, Jews and non-Jews alike believed that of course Jews came from and might well return to Palestine; after emancipation, when Western Jews were by and large adamant about not considering countries other than the ones in which they lived to be their "nations," non-Jews would request (not out of good will, exactly) that Jews "return home" to Palestine. The responsibility for a deeply-held belief that Jews "belong" in Palestine falls largely, historically, on non-Jews, as that was the set who, in the period when Jews had ostensibly lost interest in this, kept the idea alive.

Anyway, that, and I'm not sure where these ideas about what "most" Americans or Brits think are coming from. I really don't think most Americans are these major philo-Semites. Some may be anti-Arab post-9/11 and sympathetic to Israel in an enemy-of-my-enemy way, but it's increasingly popular in the US to be suspicious of US aid to Israel, of an alliance that many interpret as making the Arab or Muslim world hate America. That, and I'm doubtful that the average Brit has thoughts either way about how things went down during Israeli independence. Galliano, for one, seems to have no particular thoughts either way on that issue - his beef against the Jews seems to be an assumption of poor taste in accessories.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Britta:

My response was to the insinuation that the British were all closet anti-Semites. I think this perception is largely due to the British role and attitudes towards Palestine and the Holocaust. They do not feel guilt over the second and hence do not support the continued persecution of the Palestinans as a displaced revenge against the Nazis. In contrast Americans seem to think we have a greater resposibility for the Holocaust than we do for genocide against the Native Americans or slavery against Blacks.

The British did declare war on Germany in September 1939. I do not know why you dispute this fact. In September 1939, the Soviet Union much beloved by Ben Gurion still had a non-Aggression Pact with Nazi Germany. A treaty that lasted until 22 June 1941, when Germany not the USSR broke it. So yes of all the major powers (US, UK, USSR) the Brits were the first to fight against the Nazis. At the same time a number of Zionists were actively killing the British in Palestine.

As for my name it is indeed real. My ancestors left what is now S.W. Germany for Congress Poland and then Volhynia before there was a unified German state. Various ancestors of mine have been subjects or citizens of the Russian Empire, Canada, and the US, but never Germany. As far as feeling bad about things how come nobody feels bad about the Nakba? Or for that matter any other crime other than the Holocaust? Why is it human decency to feel bad about the Holocaust, but not any other crime against humanity? This appears to be a purely political matter. The Holocaust Museum was built many years before the American Indian Museum and there still is no museum to slavery on the mall in Washington DC.

My views are hardly vehment. By international standards they are quite moderate. But, since your whole argument is based on ad hominen insinuations I will end my part here. I think the Brits tend to be less than favorable to the Zionist mindset for some of the same reason they do not like the Provisional IRA. The difference being that the Brits actually did oppress the Irish while Irgun and Lehi could point to no historically comparable mistreatment of the Jewish nation by the UK.

PG said...

So fighting Nazis, not at the point that Nazis are first systemically oppressing Jews, but only at the point that German tanks have rolled into Poland and even Chamberlain has to concede that this Hitler fellow clearly plans to take over all of Europe (including the UK), means you've somehow done your bit for The Jews?

If I'd known that all I had to do to earn the eternal gratitude of another person was to do something out of my own self-interest that incidentally benefited that person, I'd forgo all this intentionally charitable bullshit, and just wait for happy happenstance.

Britta said...

J. Otto Pohl:
I don't dispute the fact that Britain formally declared war in Sept. 1939. I *do* dispute the fact that their declaration of war meant anything. There's a reason the period from Sept. 1939-June 1940 is called "the Phony War." There's a reason that British "help" of the Poles is referred to as "the Western betrayal," or that the British spent months and months debating whether Hitler would be too angry if the Brits sent troops to help Finland, and by the time they agreed to do anything--oops, the war was over. Or the rather lackluster campaigns in Norway & France, where the only battle plan seemed to have been "retreat," and in the case of Norway, the British troops evacuated the country, literally, mid-battle (the only one in which they were actually winning).

But anyways, my ability to care about humanity is not zero sum. I can think that bad things happened during the nakba AND think that the holocaust was bad, just like I can have negative opinions on slavery, the depopulation of the Americas, the Killing Fields in Cambodia, etc. Having feelings about one atrocity doesn't mean that I immediately dismiss all others. Likewise, I can disagree with policies of the Israeli government, even very strongly, without thinking that Israel is illegitimate. I can also even think that the Palestinians also have the right to a state, without negating my belief in Israel.

My surprise at the poor behavior of certain British celebrities is because it is contrary to research which shows that Brits actually are significantly less anti-Semitic than continental Europeans (which has been my experience as well, though I haven't spent time in the UK, so it doesn't really mean much).

But importantly, I can think that a British fashion designer in France telling people they deserved to be gassed and professing his love for Hitler has *nothing* to do with the IP conflict. Just like a Tea Partier saying that women in veils should be stoned has *nothing* to do with al-qaeda. Shocking bigotry shouldn't be explained away or excused by justifications based on international affairs of dubious relevance.