Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Provocative or tacky?


I was browsing my new favorite website the other day (www.englishrussia.com) and came across these vintage photos in LIFE magazine from around 30 years ago. The fashion label Christian Dior had organized a trip to the Soviet Union and shot some American models parading through the streets of Moscow in the newest RTW collection. In many ways this was genius. The impoverished Russian women appear to feel inadequate and envious of the 'lady in red.' Their simple dresses appear dull and worn, while their faces convey a mixture of longing and sadness. At the height of the Cold War, this seems like the ultimate ideological triumph. For a contemporary left wing observer to immediately declare this as cruel, essentially defeats the creed that is under attack in these images. Truly, to flaunt these fancy dresses in front of women who had to make do with what little they had, was a particularly obnoxious way to expose one of the many faults in the Soviet command economy. This picture seems to imply, 'Look at what capitalism gives us; see what the 'others' have been deprived of'. The fallacy lies in the further implication that in the United States, the land of 'plenty', everyone has the chance to acquire their very own Christian Dior suit worth thousands of dollars. However, as we know, it's not just a matter of choice. Most people won't ever be able to afford something like that. Thus, does not this very same exchange occur almost every day in the West as well? Why waste the money and time to go to Moscow to make your point when you could just go to inner city Detroit or some of the poorest areas of the United States? Places, where you could say, certain aspects of the capitalist system have also failed? Thus, both ideologies and economic systems make promises that they can't deliver.  To be sure, the Soviet system outright failed, and in avoiding that failure stripped human beings of common dignity. But it doesn't imply that there aren't similar developments in capitalist systems. I'm not defending anything here, just pointing out an intuition about this. So while initially this photograph may invite the beholder to criticize the Soviet system, upon further contemplation, it's quite obvious that something else is at work. Because an average single mom working two jobs to make ends meet would likely share the emotions embodied in these women's expressions. 

But is this not a genius piece of Western propaganda at the very least? It's sad that it has to be at the expense of these women, truly. 

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