Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Costume & Identity: WASP by Clara Strehle

‘White‘ by Richard Dyer, 1997

Day of the Dead, 1985

In his essay ‘White‘ Richard Dyer argues that is important to ‘try to make some headway with grasping whiteness as a culturally constructed category‘. There are many studies done about all sorts of groups (black, gays, asian, disabled, etc) but whiteness is a kind of invisible ethnic category that contains a certain notion of dominance and power. As a result Dyer considers different aspects of whiteness in his essay: the color, the association, and the representation, in order to get an understanding why whiteness is an invisible racial position. He believes that it is partly due to the color white itself, which stands for everything and nothing, it is the absence of all, and therefore can be all colors. It is associated with safety and light. However, non whiteness is necessary to give whiteness a substance, it is dependent it. White is only attached to good values and to nothingness, because black is considered danger and disorder and is always marked as a color and particularized. Other cultures have a historical and cultural construction evolving out of oppression and other sorts, whereas white is just ‘there‘. In order to illustrate his arguments about the connection between whiteness and good values such as order, rationality, etc. he represents three movies where non white characters play a significant role and bring out these qualities through contrast: Jezebel (1938), Simba (1955), and Night of the Living Dead (1969). Here, Dyer analyses in detail the virtues of whiteness that justifies the good associates and dominance since it is only through other cultures that white gains such importance. White is dependent on black. Simba, he argues after a long analysis, is an endorsement of the moral superiority of white values of reason, order and boundedness, nevertheless the movie suggests a loss of belief in their efficacy. Although the film follows this strong binarism it allows for the chance of a black person becoming ‘white‘ creating anxiety which is the foundation of its narrative. In Jezebel a connection is made between the relationships of whiteness to blackness in terms of materials and emotional stands. Although the black characters do not take on a evil or dramatic role they act as an important part in conflicts between whites and moreover demonstrate that whites live by different rules. Lastly, in Night of the Living Dead blackness is used to demonstrate a separation from the norms, where practical skills learned and no dependency on others saves one‘s life. Whites are the living dead, they cannot be distinguished from the zombies due to their pale skin and are just as bad of behavior as them in terms of attacking and carelessness. After having discussed whiteness in terms of movies Dyer goes on into photography where he argues that through the ‘unreal angel glow‘ white women are made to be the most desirable of all, but never to be touched or reached. Once again, the notion of nothing and all.

‘Born in the USA‘ Paul Rudnick - Vogue, Febuary 1989

Rudnick starts his opinionated VOGUE feature of by explaining what a WASP is and wears: an upper class, preppy dressed subculter. Currently (that time 1990) widely defined and represented by people such as Woody Allen or Ralph Lauren who made use of the WASP in their ads or movies. However, in Rudnicks opinion a true WASPs wears bright colors, patent leather bags, etc. and the men wear corduroys and gray cardigans. They shop religiously at Hallmark and Brooks Brothers. In addition Rudnick finds them ‘hilarious‘ in the way they act or talk. He concludes, however, by stating that America always comes through to everyone, democracy overcomes the WASP style; be it through Madonna‘s corsets or Whoppi Goldberg dread locks.

‘Metropolitan Chronicles Preppy Angst‘ by Alessandra Standley - The New York Times 1990

In this article Stanley gives the reader an overview of the background of the movie Metropolitan and its film director Stillman. Coming from New York‘s upper class, having lived the high life, studied at Harvard, and being a socialist Stillman collected his memories and made his first low budget movie called Metropolitan without any prior experience. Critics loved this charming, romantic comedy, for which Stillman sold his New York apartment, and compare it to old 30s movies starring, for instance, Audery Heburn. In order to describe the habitat and condition of setting and characters in the movie the director invented the term UHB: Urban Haute Bourgeoisie. Stanley goes on into elaborating the movie‘s plot in which Tom Townsend falls into the Sally Fowler Rat Pack when coming home from Princeton to his families Park Avenue apartment in New York. The main theme here and in the movie is the upper middle class failure, which describes anyone coming from a wealthy protected environment entering the world outside is scared of no accomplishment since one has no where to do but down. Stillman feels a strong personal connection to this because he himself says that ‘until we started shooting I felt I was on a long road to nowhere‘. Although not being known in the movies industry Stillman managed to get several investors through little contacts to trust his project blind, one of them tells the journalist that his spirit simply convinced her and that he was ‘uniquely driven‘. None of the actors had prior film experience, however that the actors were supposed to just act as themselves. The text sums up by giving a brief overview of his life from sophomore year till the present day (back then 1990) which demonstrates close relationship to his protagonist Tom.

‘The Official Preppy Reboot‘ Exerpt from True Prep by Lisa Birnbach, August 2010

This text taken out of the book True Prep contextualizes in a funny way the return of the prep in modern days. Birnbach gives following qoute: “we have to think about how life in the 21st century affects our safe and lovely bubble“. Therefore she gives an exact instruction list of what a prep is and how he / she has to behave and dress. This list goes from ‘Luggage tags!‘ to ‘Bags and shoes need not match‘ to ‘Preppies don‘t perm their hair‘, concluding with ‘The best fashion statement is no fashion statement‘. Preppies are not to wear logos apart from Lacoste, Fred Perry, Ralph Lauren, and Vineyard Vine. The biggest fashion faux pas and ‘end of civilization as they know it‘ for the prep is Juicy Couture tracksuits. Birnbach argues that preps have undergone the biggest change in the last 30 years, by giving examples such as children carrying portable phones. Her last two instructions for the modern day prep are to always watch out for great quality, how and where to travel, and which jobs would best work for modern day society.
This outtake by Lisa Birnbach is a long list giving a clear image of how to be a prep nowadays and the rules to it.

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