I've developed a problem with rubber. I've just purchased a pair of skin-tight rubber stockings, designed to be held up with a garder and worn cute under a skirt (or naughty under fetish gear) just like the standard pair of silk stockings would allow. Here's the problem. I live in a small mountain town in the American Southwest. A town of no more than 60,000 people where those standard silk stockings aren't even worn.
But the trouble doesn't stop there. I wore out last night, for the first time, my new Margielas. Those luscious black thigh high, open-toe high-heel leather boots from Margiela's Spring/Summer '08 line. Not having had ample time to work the boots into a steady relationship with the other items in my closet (I like to imagine my various fashion pieces falling in love, developing relationships, and even occasionally falling into unfortunately co-dependent habits in which they simply *need* each other to work.), I darned a quick pairing of the Margielas to my Fall '08 Pleasure Principle poncho. The coupling worked, even if simply, and off we went to first scrabble at the local live-bluegrass-playing brewery, and then billards at the just-around-the-corner-from-there billiards bar. You see the conflict? I'll likely end up wearing the above rubber leggings in a similar context--out for a wild night on the town at the local cowboy bar, or dancing it up to the country-bluegrass band that drove up mountain for the weekend.
I spent time this winter thinking about how we understand the meaning of any particular situation or action. We tend to talk as though if we just garner what a person intends to do, then we'll know what they meant to do, and so then we'll know how to interpret a situation. This kind of thinking plays out in various scenarios in another way too. Like, how when some celebrity or public figure is "caught" doing something we want to get them in trouble for, and they respond by saying that what ever we're accusing them of isn't what they meant, as if that should be enough to get them off the hook. A wealth of examples, unfortunately, can be found with someone like Miley Cyrus (I can't believe I'm going to spend time here talking about her) who in her youthful folly just wants to have fun (like when shooting goofy photos of herself with friends). But, it turns out Miley Cyrus' life plays out on a huge multi-national stage. So, what she *meant* to do with her friends as goofy fun, now has a really different meaning in a close-to global context. What was just fun *for her* is now offensive for people that weren't there when the just-goofing-around actually happened.
Miley Cyrus, unfortunately, brings up an interesting example of how we determine what an action or incident *means.* It's reasonable to think that what a person intends is part of it. Our own American legal system certainly agrees. A chunk of the difference between murder and manslaughter is what the person meant to do--was it pre-planned, or was it an accident? I certainly hope, however, that goofy photos, or rubber leggings aren't quite as dramatic as that. But the analogy can still be made to the trouble I've started this post with. Intention isn't enough. The context an event occurs within, and then the contexts it may further get seen through also impact how we understand what "really" happened.
In the privacy of her own home Miley can intend to just take goofy pictures for the purposes of her own entertainment. In that limited context her intent might have a heavier bearing on how we interpret what she is doing--she's just having goofy fun. But when those goofy photos get released onto a global stage, the limited context of her living room (or whereever) becomes less relevant, it would seem, and now the complexity of the larger world context becomes more weighty on the interpretation. Miley got hugely chastised by a plethora of Asian American groups for her not taking heavy enough consideration of her own position as a role model for young people in choosing how she behaves. The concern was that what Miley claims were just goofy photos, appear from the outside to be making fun of Asians by making a stereotypical slant-eyed image of her own face. Miley and her friends took pictures of themselves pulling their eyelids sideways, and then those pictures got published on the internet. Initially, after getting "caught" in the act, Miley barely apologized, instead telling people via her blog, that they should just lighten up, cause all she meant to do was be silly. Again, she was chastized for not taking the problem seriously enough--the problem being that because she is a role model, her slanty-eyed behavior can be seen as making fun of Asian people, thus influencing millions of kids to go ahead and also make fun of Asian people. Eventually Miley did respond by saying she started to come to a better understanding of her own mistake. She said she realized that her actions could be "unintentionally hurtful." That is, her consciously understood intention wasn't enough to determine what her actions were going to mean for everyone. We could say, her mistake was not realizing her life is not confined to her own living room; what she does is going to be interpreted in a context larger than just her interactions with her goofy friends.
When it comes to clothes, it at first might seem like a less political consideration. But, how we dress influences how other people (not to mention ourselves) feel when they're around us, and so how they perceive and interact with us. So, what we're wearing turns out to already be political too. From my perspective, I just need a way to get through this absurd existence with the ability to revel a bit in that absurdity. But, how I dress gives people a way to intrepet who I am and what I intend. The challenge comes in that most of the time I get dressed for my own sake. How am I going to feel because of what I'm wearing? Some days, you just gotta wear and have possession of an item of clothing you find fascinating. That way you've got something wonderful to think about that's different from the stress of work, or family, or your finances. How could we not want to throw sparkle on our day with such a shiny surprise as those stockings? Or, those boots. Look at how different the day seems when your legs look like you've been given a quick latex dip, just like a pair of walking pliers. In relation to the poncho, the question with those boots becomes, do they go all the way up? Are they pants over sandals? No. They're fabulous. But it turns out not everyone thinks this way, of course. And so how such excellence is interpreted depends not only on my own interest in jazzing up my life by jazzing up the surface quality of my legs, but also on how they couple with where I wear them. I'll still focus on how what I'm wearing is going to match up with the way I want to feel that day. And, I've got to accept that fashion worn in a small American Southwestern mountain town means taking the risk of a life askew of context. But sometimes intentionally rubbing your clothes the wrong way against the clothing norms of a town built out of ranching, logging, and mountain biking is the best simple way to give your day a life full of meaning. What could be hotter, or more ironic, than the absurdity of rubber stockings and a Resistol cowboy hat?