Friday, January 14, 2011

Politics and Fashion. . . . .

The older I get the more I think that the swinging of the political pendulum is a little bit like fashion; it doesn't matter how ugly things get as long as they are perceived as fashionable most people just don't notice. That is why we look back on bad fashion much the way we look back on periods of bad politics. We ask ourselves how so many people could have supported fascism just like we ask how could so many people have thought shoulder pads or platform shoes looked good. And the answer is more or less the same, while people are caught up in the bad politics or the bad fashion it is very difficult for them to see their way out of it. People just grow accustomed to seeing things in a certain way and it just sort of looks fine to them regardless of how terrible it is. After a while social or political relations begin to simply look like a "natural" order to people and they can't imagine things being any different. Marx wrote a lot about this problem in German Ideology. And fashion is a kind of microcosm of this fetishism of relations. Just go and tell a young teenager that they will someday laugh at the very things that they now think are 'cool' and you will see fetishism in action. Most of them can't imagine that the things that they think are fashionable are just ephemeral and will soon give way to something else.

And in politics it seems to be much the same. For a while people just grow accustom to certain generalized beliefs no matter how false or fabricated they may be. And masses of people support some leader who is just horrendously awful because the paradigm hasn't shifted. Then once it shifts everyone asks 'how could we have supported that jerk for so long?' This process happens from the very worst dictators like Hitler and Stalin to the rather run of the mill liars and crooks like Nixon or Mulroney. Some times this realization occurs quickly and sometimes it takes years. If the particular leader is associated with a general paradigmatic shift it can take a long time for people to realize he was terrible. But I think the more blatantly terrible a particular politician is, the more quickly history makes its verdict after they are gone. Again, this is much like fashion. If the fashion is subtle like pleats in your pants it take quite a while for people to look upon it as 'unfashionable' and even when they do, they don't feel that strongly about it. However, if the fashion statement is particularly strong like, say, tight-fitting red leather jackets a la Michael Jackson, people react pretty strongly and fairly quickly. Maybe this is because the worse a fashion statement was, the more embarrassed people are that they once thought it was cool, and so the quicker and more vocal they are in their effort to distance themselves from it. This obviously happens in politics. After full disclosure of Nixon's nefarious escapades, no one wanted to associate themselves with this embarrassing chapter in American history and Nixon quickly became the most reviled president in history.

We are in the midst of one of these events today in Canada. Our current Prime Minister will eventually be considered the very worst one this country ever had. People will eventually see him for what he is; a conniving, underhanded, power-hungry, hypocritical, crook. They will see that he ushered in a systematic effort to control every aspect of government with unprecedented secrecy and obfuscation. But at the moment he is much like huge bell-bottoms in 1975, ugly and awful but still more or less fashionable. But the paradigm will shift. . . . just wait for it. And then those who once supported his anti-democratic regime will quietly pretend they were never any part of it.

1 comment:

Diva Discount said...

I never associated designer apparel with politics (except in Michelle Obama's case). You're totally right, though. We're so easily influenced by hideous fashion and think of all of the horrible political mistakes Americans have made as a collective (hello, McCarthyism!). Such a clever analogy!