whatever you can come up with


Freddie deBoer used to blog at lhote.blogspot.com, and may again someday. Now he blogs here.

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32 Responses

  1. matoko_chan says:

    Well frankly I find James’ sophisto snarkery about people dying for their rights just as unappealling as Reihan’s tortured (heh) attempt at milking laffs out of anarchy evangelist and insane clown Glenn Beck’s inspirational relationship with rightwing extremists.Report

  2. mike farmer says:

    I knew that you would post something sooner or later with which I agree. Fashion? That’s sort of stretching the contrarian position to an absurd length. I’m not sure why the motives of the supporters have to be questioned with such vigor by so many bloggers. I think the point has been made we should remain silent and make no judgments — let’s move on.Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    If you see the point as being a vector rather than a particular destination, one’s perspective changes from this being a case of supporting pro-life folks who oppose gay marriage to this being a case of supporting pro-life folks who oppose gay marriage that are far preferable to the previous pro-lifers who opposed gay marriage.Report

  4. matoko_chan says:

    But what is your duty to these people?
    I say…..let them burn.Report

  5. Sam M says:

    “I don’t give a shit about fashion.”

    Well, you should. It’s not like people around the world wake up every morning and a Fashion Czar randomly assigns everyont something to wear. The fact that Iranians “have more genuine respect for democracy and the liberal tradition than the alternative” is reflected in the things that they wear. The music they listen to. And a whole host of other outward signals.

    You don’t give a shit about fashion? Of course you do. When a dear friend dies, would you wear a “Big Pecker’s” t-shirt to the funeral? Do you wear cut-off shorts to a wedding? I doubt it.

    This cuts to a lot of issues, even political ones. Let’s say you go to St. Thomas More, the Catholic Church at Yale University. What do you think people will be wearing? Now let’s say you go to some Opus Dei congregation. What do you suspect people will be wearing? Sure there is a question of age and other factors. But is it at least possible that differences in dress (and iconography and lighting and hymn choices) might reflect something deeper?

    A thought experiment: Let’s say I blindfold you and take you to mystery city. I take the blindfold off and you realize that you are in the middle of really wild protest rally. The first thing you notice is that you don’t understand the language. Then you notice that everyone is wearing a burkha.

    How comfortable do you feel?

    Sure, Iranians get dressed like everyone else. But it’s not completely insane to take thier outward appearance into account when judging their general acceptance of western-style liberalism. In fact, I thinks it’s a pretty decent proxy.Report

  6. E.D. Kain says:

    I think James has a point, honestly. This goes back to the question of affinity. It’s why, when Americans see pictures of Israelis, they form some sort of bond at a gut level – at least the non-Orthodox look just like us! Tel Aviv looks like a modern American city in many ways.

    Same goes for Tehran. The young protesters look a great deal like Americans in their t-shirts and styled hair and blue jeans. These are not the white-robed Saudis or the peasants of Afghanistan. Whether or not it should matter, it does.Report

    • Freddie in reply to E.D. Kain says:

      I think that James denies exactly that, though, in his rebuttal post.Report

      • Chris Dierkes in reply to Freddie says:

        He makes a distinction between inspired and justified. I didn’t read into that inspiration is really all that matters and the rest is a cover (‘justification’ in a negative sense). He said he intended more to break from judgment and aphoristically describe. In that sense I think he’s probably right–at least on a larger cultural scale in the US (ED’s point).Report

    • Jaybird in reply to E.D. Kain says:

      It’s also a question of quasi-religious belief.

      Making an appeal to, say Liberty (or Free Speech, or Democracy, or even Freedom of Religion) is to appeal to, on some level, The American Religion.

      It’s not just that they dress like we do (though they do) but they are using significantly similar “religious” language.Report

      • Chris Dierkes in reply to Jaybird says:


        that’s a good point. sullivan has been making analogies to the civil rights movement. and also explicitly called it more American revolution (conservative) than French (radical).Report

  7. Sam M says:


    But why shouldn’t it? Why be so concerned about it? I guess I can sort of see why. Nobody wants to come across as someone who doesn’t care about Brown People, or something vicious like that. But seriously. The fact that England and the US have a language in common matters, right? And that’s not because it’s cosmically important on some level that the sound we make to signify an orange vegetable is “carrot,” while other cultures shape their word for that same vegetable differently. It’s that language serves as a stand-in for a lot of different things, including a shared history (even if it’s not always an admirable or friendly history) and a host of other things.

    I think it is entirely legitimate to look at something like, say, food, to see the way different cultures interact, cooperate and collide. Same with literature and music. You can do that without saying, “Families that eat egg rolls are different and should be exterminated,” or, “they eat sauerkraut, therefor I support their political agenda without further consideration.”

    Why should “fashion” be any different? There are entire museums–serious museums–dedicated to the role that clothing has played throughout history. Do you think that fashions from the Victorian or the Georgian eras in England happened completely independent of larger political and/or cultural considerations? Of course not.

    Similarly, it is in no way ridiculous to use sartorial choices as a real and serious factor in assessing current cultures. Nor is there any reason to apologize for it. That is… people should give a shit about fashion.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Sam M says:

      Well, I’m not saying one way or another that it should matter or not. The fact is, it does matter. But fashion is deceptive. We impute too many commonalities with a people who, in fact, share very little with us culturally, politically, and so forth. That doesn’t mean that perhaps they aren’t closer to us than their white-robed Saudi neighbors in many respects, but we should not assume Western sensibilities when we see Iranians in Western garb.

      And I’m not sure Iranians qualify as “brown people” either. Look at Mr. Moussavi for instance. He’s pretty white-looking to me. Not that any of that’s relevant, but then again – maybe it is. That Iranians are “whiter” than some of their Arab neighbors also lends itself to feelings of affinity. (As it surely does with Israel). Again, this is not to place value or judgment on such a thing, but it is worthy of noting.Report

    • Freddie in reply to Sam M says:

      But, of course, if we take “fashion” in the larger sense, as you most certainly are, then brown skin is indeed an element of fashion that can be judged like any other.

      When you say fashion, you are including many aspects of culture, and while it is certainly true that we can and must judge culture– the fact that female genital mutilation is a part of many sub-Saharan African cultures in no way excuses it– the parts of culture that really are purely aesthetic, subjective and logically unconnected to moral or political preference are exactly what we should avoid judging unless we have a compelling reason to do so. What term would you use to encompass those kinds of real but morally ambiguous or empty parts of culture? I would probably use “fashion.”Report

      • E.D. Kain in reply to Freddie says:

        I’m speaking more to the culture of image consumption and instant gratification in America. We see images on television of people protesting that look a lot like us. The bad guys – especially the Supreme Leader – look a lot like the images of scary Muslims we’ve been fed for years and years. In other words, one side we’d feel fine riding on an airplane with, the other would make us think of bombs and burning fuselages. And that’s about as deep an analysis as most Americans need. So I suppose I’m speaking of a very superficial fashion and the sort of instant reaction we get from it – and I suppose it could possibly hint at actual affinity with some Iranians, but I think more likely it is very deceptive and dangerous.Report

        • Bob in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          Huntington, Clash of Civilizations, cautions that just because someone wears bluejeans it is not possible to draw accurate conclusions about deep cultural values.Report

  8. Bob says:

    This is a semi-serious question/comment. I have wondered for days why none, I have not seen any of the male protesters in shorts. I assume it is very hot in Iran and shorts would seem a logical choice. So much of the male attire seems western influenced, so are shorts for males a cultural no-no there?Report

    • Chris Dierkes in reply to Bob says:

      In my travels in South/Central America and Europe, I never saw men wear shorts. So Western dress (Euros are Western) does not equal shorts for men.Report

    • Jon H in reply to Bob says:

      “. I assume it is very hot in Iran ”

      Not necessarily. Also, Tehran’s elevation is 3900 feet.Report

      • Bob in reply to Jon H says:

        NYTimes weather report gives Sunday temp. in Tehran as 90. Forecast for today as 90. Forecast for Tuesday as 91. Shorts weather if I say so. But Chris indicates that shorts are not a la mode in much of the world.Report

  9. Sam M says:

    “the parts of culture that really are purely aesthetic, subjective and logically unconnected to moral or political preference are exactly what we should avoid judging”

    Which parts of culture are those?

    I am not saying that the fact that some of these people wear jeans is a good reason to assume they are just like modern Westerners. Or even that they like modern Westerners.

    But I do think that it’s an important element of their culture, and surely sets them apart in important ways from what we see in Afghanistan.

    You bring up female genital mutilation. Which is important in and of itself, of course. But it’s also important for other things that it hints about the culture of the places where it is practiced and where it is not practiced.

    And fashion is the same. No, it is not the end of the analysis. But it’s a reasonable place to begin a discussion. Patricularly for Americans who ASSUME that everybody in the Middle East wears a turban. Well, no they don’t. Which is interesting. Why do some cultures stick with traditional dress and others do not? That’s as legitimate as a discussion of why some cultures embrace movies, novels, democracy, etc. In fact, it’s the same discussion.

    That is, I question the idea that any of these elements are “purely aesthetic.” Which assumes that in places where all the women wear burkhas, it’s “simply” because people don’t like blue jeans. Or that American women tend not to wear burkhas because they make them look fat or something.Report

    • Chris Dierkes in reply to Sam M says:


      turban wearing in the middle east has to do with it being smart dress for living in a desert. And the heavy influence–particularly in the Arabian peninsula–of Bedouin culture. Iran is mountainous (though of course there are deserts) but much earlier on than in Arabia formed “high” civilization–empires, cities, and the like.

      Iranians are by and large Aryan (Indo-European not Semitic). This includes Mousavi who is Azeri, but also Persians. There’s debate about the exact heritage of Balochis.

      In short, they don’t have Arab customs because they aren’t Arabs.

      Iran along with Turkey during the early modern period spent more time attempting to reform based on Western models. Hence the influence of what we are calling “Western” dress.

      (Saudi) Arabia was the lone country that resisted takeover by colonials, so my guess is the holdover of tribal dress is a factor of 1. anti-colonial resistance and 2. the fact that Saudi Arabia and related Gulf States have only modernized very recently (as opposed to both Turkey/Iran). Also that modernization has been very much built on a rainy-day slush fund oil capitalism.

      Another guess–and this is just a wild shot in the dark–is that Shia Islam makes a distinction between clergy and lay that Sunni Islam does not. Hence in Iran the clergy where special dress–like Roman Catholic priests–leaving the lay to dress “regular”.

      Since people brought up Afghanistan, Afghanistan is a rural country. It’s still almost totally agrarian in nature. Western dress is urban dress.Report

      • Chris Dierkes in reply to Chris Dierkes says:

        Given the white-ness of Iranians, I guess it’s possible to further James’ aphorism. Namely it’s not just fashion that is the inspiration for solidarity but racial connection.Report

  10. Sam M says:

    “In short, they don’t have Arab customs because they aren’t Arabs. ”

    Great. Awesome. A great point of discussion. And an important discussion. One people ought to have.

    How to get them to have it? One way might be to encourage people to enroll in history classes at their local community college. Or buy books about the Middle East and read them.

    Or, what we could do is broadcast pictures of people wearing jeans. Upon seeing which, scads of people will say, “Holy crap. These Iranians aren’t like Afghans!”

    Of course, they won’t have a good grasp of all the historical nuance. But… how many people ever do?

    Meaning, you can work really hard and get a strong academic understanding of these things. Or you can work off less reliable but more easily attained information gathered from various cultural signals. The vast majority of people are going to do the latter. And it is not completely insane or ridiculous for them to do so.

    Iranians don’t “just” wear jeans. They wear jeans because many of the many ideas you discuss. And it is proper to identify certain cultural elements like clothjing styles and reverse engineer some hypothesis about why they are different. It’s dangerous to do that, sure. But everyone does it. People where I am from didn;t start wondering about macroeconomic machinations until the local factories started shutting down.

    Maybe in a perfect world, everyone would have a really sophisticated understanding of all the political and historical background of all the world’s hoptspots.

    Until that day arrives, people will make decisions based on other signals.Report

    • Chris Dierkes in reply to Sam M says:


      i basically agree with that. i didn’t take James’ original point on fashion inspiring solidarity to be snarky. i appreciate your nuance of bringing out how fashion can point to other factors/ideas. i think the fashion is indicative of trends–not a guarantee of them.Report

  11. Sam M says:

    I concede that one danger in this approach is that people will see “jeans” and assume, “Hey, these people are JUST LIKE US, and their interests are our interests and now nothing can go wrong, because Iran is a lot like suburban America.” And perhaps a few people take it to that extreme.

    But I think a far more likely response to seeing “jeans” is, “Hey. Some of the people in the Middle East really seem to hate us, and appear to be opposed to us in every way. Now, these protestors… They kind of seem a little more Western in a lot of ways. They at least talk about democracy. They seem less violent than the police, who are shooting people. And, well, their general demeanor, including their clothing choices and their general demeanor, seems at least open to Western influences. I am sure they are not JUST like us, but they are maybe a little less unlike us. So maybe they would be less opposed to our interests and ideals than those other people who don’t wear jeans.”

    You can take that too far, which is a real danger. But as a general analysis, what it lacks in nuance it makes up for by being, for the most part, correct. The jeans-wearing protestors really do, on further analysis, seem less radical and less opposed to western interests and ideals.Report

  12. Consumatopia says:

    I dunno. If the protesters were all dressed in robes and turbans and America still sympathized with them, you all would be saying “see! We sympathize with them because they’re dressed like poor victims, not like those rabble-rousing trouble makers at WTO protests and anti-war demos.”Report