We Are All Expert Observers: Fashion, Message Board Racism, and Camera Focus

Posted on April 11, 2009 by


I usually get people’s interests and why they become interested in it, but the topics they get interested in themselves, I don’t get.

I don’t get fashion.  To me it all looks like the same fucking thing.

I don’t give a shit about suits or ties.  I don’t care about Versace or Nike, that is unless they supply my flex-on glasses frames.  I don’t and can’t force myself to give a shit about new dunks or kicks unless they’re actually comfortable and my other ones are damn near falling apart — this especially when I know my cousins in the PI are doing quite alright playing basketball on unpaved roads barefoot or in chinelas.

On females, the main actors, perpetrators, and ultimately victims of this crap, I give even less a shit.  A strapless red dress looks just like a red spaghetti strapped red dress unless your shit happens to be made out of rubies, in which case I’d hope you’d have alligator thick skin.  Like most guys, I think primarily with the part of the body that isn’t really known for its decisionmaking abilities, and my only concern with fashion is how it would look like drenched in water and the degree of difficulty involved in removal should a curious situation arise, ya know, just in case.

By the way fashion has generated business, the technical jargon used to describe it, I’m surprised that what comes up as fashionable ends up looking pretty plain and simple, without the plain and simple price tags.

I kinda understand the importance of dressing nice and whatnot, but I keep it basic and I’m OK with that.  I don’t need the newest, the most brand-namest, I just need something that works for whatever social situation I’m planning to throw myself into.

* * * * *

This morning, I thought about a lot of my friends who give a shit about this shit we call fashion, or at least parts of fashion.  I decided to type “fashion” in google and landed upon a site about some fashion firm.

One of the founders was a dude with a button-up shirt, and immediately I wondered how much he paid for a shirt that I could probably find a match for at the local thrift store.

I wasn’t really swayed into the fashion world, but then…a few parallels crossed my mind.  Parallels from the distant world of fashion to the world of mine of basketball mesage boarding and racism-noting.

From the semiotics of Barthes to the linguistic anthropological analysis of the testimony of the cops in the Rodney King trial, I’ve developed some feel for the way words in the Standard American English language are used and manipulated by powerful people.   I’ve developed a feel for detecting prejudice and bias, encrypted in procedural and official-sounding language and discourse.  I’ve learned a lot of technical terms to describe that prejudice and bias.

That feel of mine tends to apply to every context I find myself in, including online sports message boards, a place where all kinds of statements are made to gauge the effectiveness of professional or college sports players.

For example, when discussing basketball players, generic observational-sounding statements like ” he has a high basketball IQ” or “he’s a natural leader” always fail the BS test because for no one can really measure either one and the basis upon which those statements are made are highly arbitrary and exclusively subjective.  More often those words are just code word for “male white Standard American or British English-speaking basketball player.”  Those descriptions tend to have ties to commentators and announcers, who tend to be middle-aged white guys, who in their lifetimes have been primed to actually believe at one time or another in softer, subtler versions of racial superiority.    Conversely comments like “lots of raw potential”, or “raw athleticism” or “low basketball IQ”, well, you can guess which ethnic or racial demographic that often applies to.  Emphasis on “raw” as if the poor dumb black guy is too wild and stupid to know how to play “the right way.”

That’s the kind of everyday stuff I notice and point out each and every time.

Fashionistas probably notice the same patterns each and every time as well except what they notice is applied to clothes.  What strikes me is that they’ve developed their own technical terms to better describe their designs and infuse it with even more meaning.  They’ve developed their own expertise, which acquires its own intelligence.

And me fuckin’ too.  I notice the same patterns.  I’ve developed or derived my own technical terms from experience to describe the phenomena of prejudiced and biased judgment.

My interests and the interests of fashionistas is just a difference of where we choose to devote our attention — where we choose to zoom the camera in so to speak.  They might focus on the tits, I’m focusing on the ass.  When deciding that they’re zooming in, they see small details in dresses and shoes that irk them, I see details, that is prejudices and biases, on message boards that irk me.

Except fashion is a really really big industry and perhaps you can make money talking about how much things are ugly, and you don’t really earn any money pointing out structural injustices embedded in everyday “informal” contexts.