Monday, 23 December 2013

A Curious Fancy: In Conversation with Ragini Nag Rao [Isis Scans plus full unedited interview!]

A very happy Christmas eve, eve to you! I feel beyond blessed to share this wonderful interview I conducted with Ragini for Isis Magazine. Ragini is the author of one of my favourite fashion blogs A Curious Fancy and also contributes to Rookie and xoJane amongst others. 

As her answers were SO good, and the whole experience was such a joy, Ragini has been kind enough to allow me to include our full conversation alongside the scans of the final interview. Best Christmas eve, eve present ever, no?

Full interview:

The act of dressing up allows us to rewrite stories, both in public history and personal memory. What stories do your clothes tell?

You know, what’s the first thing I thought when I read this question? How people tend to entirely discount fashion and the act of dressing, claiming that it’s frivolous and then, of course, linking it to being female. The thing is, as you rightly say, dressing up does tell a story. The first time anyone sees you, they can’t see into your mind - they observe your appearance.

There is such a lot of baggage tied in with how I choose to present myself, being a fat, brown woman. I do feel an obligation to “uphold” my race, as many people of color do when it comes to their appearance. The same goes for being fat. But like with any other obligation in my life, I tend to shake it off a lot of the time as well, because I don’t deal well with obligations. As a result, my natural state is in my pajamas, entirely makeup free. When I do dress up, I do it as a confidence boost. Like I mentioned on my blog once, narcissism is a form of selfcare for me, and dressing up with a full face o’ slap is a huge part of that narcissism. Dressing up is a way of caring for myself and pleasuring myself (and yes, my use of that term is a covert reference to one of the literary critics I hate the most haha.)

My clothes have a story of their own to tell me, but whether that story is apparent to those who see me is something I really don’t know about. Dressing up in little girl clothes feeds my childhood desire for little girl clothes and ties me in with the history of people of color appropriating “western” clothes. Much of the time, those clothes were an imposition, but sartorially speaking, my closest relations would be the Herero women of Namibia in their elaborate Victorian dresses.

The issue of women wearing “western dress” is still a prevalent one in India, where I live, and when I go out dressed the way I do, I’m an anomaly. I love being an anomaly, as much in my hometown of Kolkata, as in York where I lived for a few years. In Kolkata, I’m overly large and strangely dressed, an object of much public amusement. In York I was merely strangely dressed in a sea of people clad in black and beige.

Talking about this reminds me of an incident last winter when my blogger friend Mary and I met up in York and spent the day out in town. We look rather similar, despite our racial difference (she is white) and dress very similarly too. All through that day, strangers and waitstaff kept approaching her and engaging her in conversation with barely a glance in my direction. It was the most stupefying form of invisibility I have ever faced. I guess that as a brown woman in a First World nation, I was invisible, no matter what, unless I was a target of hatred. My clothes didn’t make a difference to my invisibility, a stark contrast to how hyper visible I am in India.

Personal style has its own narrative in its constant evolution punctuated by periods of stasis as in my case. The story my clothes tell anyone who cares to listen closely is one of violence, I guess. It’s the story of a girl whose racial identity was violently erased while being constantly scribbled into with reminders of her otherhood. To this day, I can’t wear Indian clothes without feeling completely out of place - my little Western girl coats and hats are where I feel most at home. Yet it makes me an anomaly, a brokenness I am keenly aware of. For anyone who wants to read between the lines of my wardrobe, this should be apparent.

Can you explain the importance of femme identity as both a fat person and a woman of color?

In being femme, I am constantly straddling the fence between being degendered as a fat woman, while being hypersexualized as a brown one. My size is seen as a neutering factor but at the same time brown women are wanton, hypersexual creatures, unless, of course, they are shy and submissive with a hidden perverted streak that’s just aching to be let out...right? But the great thing about being femme, as opposed to being feminine, is that you get to pick and choose the elements of your identity.

The way I dress is deliberately non-sexual in its infantility yet sexualised because I prefer very high hemlines. In my femmehood, my aim is to confuse, to provoke and break the rules of asexuality/hypersexuality that are imposed on me. I’ll go out in a short dress with a scowl firmly fixed on my face that says fuck you because I don’t care for the feminine accessibility to my person that is imposed on me. I’ll go out in hotpants and glare at the world because I’m fat and I dare you to say something nasty which will give me the golden opportunity to rip your throat out. I love the contrast between my little girl clothes and my inner hostility to the world.

Feminine is subdued, submissive and eternally accessible, femme will dance on your corpse in stack heel boots because femme gives no fucks. I think that is what, for me at least, lies at the heart of being femme - as a fat, brown woman, I live with the burden of expectations on me to constantly be pleasing, to seek approval, which is something I did for a long time before discovering the glorious world of femmeness, but being femme gives me the freedom to live with that “I don’t give a fuck” attitude. That is what makes it so freeing for me.

You have frequently spoken of India’s hatred for fat women. Can you explain this for those unfamiliar with Indian beauty standards?

The first thing to understand about India is that it is a violently misogynist nation. Women in India are prized on two things - looks and submissiveness. Women truly are the second-class citizens of India, along with trans*people. Yes, we can demand education and yes, we have the right to vote but in a country where female infanticide and foeticide are widespread, the question is, will you remain alive long enough to demand/access those things? Indian beauty standards are tailored on the basis of internalised racism and a particular sort of fatphobia that ties in with misogyny and from which men, to a large extent, are exempt. We value compactness in a woman because that makes women easier to assault, and we value “fair” skin because of our internalised racism. Women are wives and mothers and have few other socially sanctioned roles to play. Even in this day and age, a woman who chooses to focus on her career is seen as a corrupted form of womanhood, and not really a woman at all. India’s fatphobia is just another face of its misogyny, a tool to keep women under control.

You identify as a feminist, why?

I identify as a feminist because of the freedom it provides me, because it hands over the reins of control over my own self to me. Without feminism, I would still be labouring under the belief that because of my inability to “bag” a man, because of my singlehood at my age, I am a failure. Feminism helped me harness my brain to think for itself instead of thinking the same old restrictive thoughts I would otherwise have been trapped in. The scenario in India is very different to that in the West - when it comes to acknowledging the humanity of women, we are still a good 100 years behind. Women in India are servants, incubators, bedslaves. Feminism gave me an out from that nightmare I would otherwise have been forced to live, feminism through its facet of fat activism helped me live comfortably in my body. And lastly, the kind of feminism I subscribe to advocates equality for every single person who has ever been a victim of institutionalized oppression. As a fat, queer brown woman with an invisible disability, how could I not get on board with that?

As a blogger you have to cope with being highly visible online. How do you deal with this? Is it limiting to be reduced to a static image?

The problem with visibility arises when Reddit and Men’s Rights Activists find you, really. It becomes a huge problem when you are subject to rampant abuse from anonymous, hate filled quarters. As a blogger, I don’t feel confined to a static image because I have words with which I can shape and reshape my online image. For years, when I chose to just look pretty on my blog to the exclusion of all else, I was seen as mostly harmless. But a woman who finds her voice and speaks out must be subject to the ire of the internet. I used to pride myself on always being accessible to my readers - something which I subsequently had to stop by closing comments and locking my social media profiles as much as I could. It upset me greatly, but it was preferable to being driven into anxiety attacks by hateful trolls.

You criticized Jeffrey Eugenides’ portrait of Kolkata in The Marriage Plot. When our heritage is shorthand for human misery, how can we, as third world women of color, bypass these limited narratives? Or are they unavoidable?

Obviously, we need to create our own narratives. It always irked me that Dublin has Ulysses and Glasgow has Lanark but Kolkata has no such equivalent to my knowledge as a mostly monolingual person. Of course, this is my failing, and the failing of my upbringing which prioritized fluency in English above all other languages, much to the detriment of my cultural education.

I am torn in my thinking about this. If someone writes an Ulysses for Kolkata in Bangla, should it be translated and made accessible to the rest of the world? Or should it remain inaccessible except to a small number of people, a narrative kept within the circles of those who would understand it innately? Do we need the Western gaze to validate us? At the same time, Kolkata (and India) remains maligned in the Western world, the chaos of our multiple voices reduced to just one stricken cry.

 How important is it to change this image? How important is it to let our humanity be accessible and not just as sob stories? To write our stories and keep them to ourselves, to the “insiders” - would that still not result in the narratives being brought to life? I think that at the root of this lies the question of how important Western validation is.

 Is a story told to a limited group of people, people who share in it with their presence in the story, a non existent one? Are obscured narratives through their inaccessibility, invisible? I don’t know if the narratives exist, but if they do, I am torn about the idea of making them accessible because while the distorted and unilinear picture that is presented of us in Western media is disturbing, I see no onus on us to prove our similitude to a hostile gaze.

How did you navigate the paradoxes of studying post colonialism at an English University?

When I went to the UK, I was rather naive. Moreover, the objective of my relocation wasn’t education, not really, I just wanted to get away from India and the multitude of ways in which I was oppressed here. My naiveté prompted me to take up the subject that I was the most curious about, without any regard to its epistemic nature and how paradoxical it was to have the former colonizers of my nation teach me the intricacies of postcolonial studies. I believed in the essentialism of colourblindness back then, and saw academicians as a hallowed group of people who prioritized knowledge above all else. Little did I know about the wilful obscurantism academic knowledge comes with, its gendered nature, its whiteness, its Anglo/Euro-centricism to the exclusion of knowledges of colour. All I had known about postcolonialism came from living it, and all I still know about it comes from living it. The halls of academia taught me nothing from books, but it taught me much and more in the experiences it took me through.

Whatever interest I had in classes rapidly disappeared once I realised that lectures, my favoured form of learning, were eschewed at the postgrad level in favour of seminars where I would be subjected to the opinions of my fellow students for four hours a week. A week into classes, I asked myself if this is really what I had spent a fortune on, but then, my fellow students were mostly white, and white opinions, even when they are those of learners at the same level as me, come with a steep price tag. I had always been hostile to academese, even as an undergrad, and postcolonial studies, unfortunately, is brimming with it.

I wanted clarity, I wanted ideas, concrete thoughts with a concrete aim of empowering disenfranchised POC, but all I got was a babble of jargon from which it was well nigh impossible to isolate a single original idea, and a fistful of fellow students who had no other aim apart from excelling in their future PhDs and joining the ranks of the academic elite. It was isolating, and it was an insurmountable barrier to accessing what I felt was essential to my academic purpose, and it was an incredible learning experience which taught me more about postcolonialism firsthand than any text could have. I didn’t just read Bhabha, Young, Greenblatt, Spivak and the like - I lived them, I lived their words, obscure though they may have been to my hostile mind. Even though I don’t have the academic language deemed necessary for the field, I consider myself a postcolonialist because lived experience can never be overshadowed by scholarly perusal.

So many women of color have been robbed of our childhoods. How can we create a space for us to reclaim our innocence? Somewhere for us to be pretty and silly, cute and playful, and all those other things that seem to be the exclusive territory of white women.

Identity is a performance, lives lived are a performance. Innocence is regarded as the performative domain of white women, and the way for us, women of color, to reclaim our innocence is to perform it as loudly and as publicly as we can. The image of the skinny white girl standing brokenly in a field of bokeh in half light wearing a vintage dress and looking utterly forlorn needs to be replaced. I was very much heartened by the fact that this was one of the prompts for October’s theme at Rookie (which I write for) and it came with a clear instruction for any such submissions to be sent for review first so that they didn’t play into the whole heartbreaking innocence of white girls trope. Innocence is a space which will never be freely granted and we have to fight to reclaim it. We need to put our images out there for the world to see, to peruse, to reject over and over again, but the luxury of giving up the fight is not something which women of color, or any marginalized group has. In performing innocence, we need to paradoxically be unabashed, we need to be brazen. It is only then that I can see us clearing a space to explore our innocence freely, as unselfconsciously as we should have been able to in the first place.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

I like America and America likes me

Jack Box, CEO of Jack in the Box, McDonalds commercial 1963, Grease still, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Old Boy Review

A lil review I wrote for the Oxford Student on Spike Lee's adaptation of Old Boy. 

Side note: Whilst I respect so much of Lee's work (Do the Right Thing, School Daze etc.) I agree with bell hooks in 'Outlaw Culture' that he can be super problematic at times. I find it especially disappointing that whilst he is so quick to call others out he fails to cast a similarly rigorous eye on his own material. Of course Tarantino has created some seriously questionable material but we need to be equally critical when it comes to film makers in our own communities too.

Okies rant over, here is the review:  

Remakes of cult movies, pressed tight to film geeks’ chests for ten long years, make easy targets for critics’ fodder. And no one needs to read heavily embellished think pieces on why Americans are too stupid to read subtitles. But, I dunno, the vibe of Spike Lee’s remake of Park Chan-Wook’s contemporary classic Oldboy (2003) has been kinda off from the get go. Following Lee’s leaked casting list calling for “[ASIAN WOMAN] Female, Early to mid 20s, A mysterious Exotic beauty. MARTIAL ARTS EXPERIENCE A PLUS,” the director tweeted an adamant promise for a “diverse” Oldboy. (Diverse! Such an indulgently meaningless phrase!) Yet, as the movie progresses, we find Chan-Wook’s bodyguard character, Mr Han, replaced with the Orientalist trope of a mute Asian succubus, provocatively dressed for the white male gaze. At this point one can’t help but question the goody-baddy binary between Lee and Tarantino, a boring bedtime story that’s been playing out since the 90’s.

“Trope” feels like a pretty key word to describe Lee’s Oldboy actually, as the whole thing is more lip synch than tongue slice. I think of Josh Brolin (who has taken on Choi Min-Sik’s leading role) alone in his cell, television flickering with interchangeable catastrophes, 9/11, New Orleans (an oddly apolitical tone from Lee I might add). This Oldboy is bright and boring and screen violence equates to glazed eyes and clock watching. Even Samuel L Jackson does a surprisingly dull job at the whole being horrifically executed thing. And then there’s Brolin himself, who evokes the empathy levels of one of those Nice Guys from Ok! Cupid memes, repulsive at best, uninterested shrug for the rest. It’s hard to care for the horrors that await him, and, if empathy is everything, this film is nothing. 

And whilst the sign of a good remake should not be measured by the characteristics of its predecessor it’s hard not to feel disappointed when Oldboy 1.0’s most defining scenes (no octopus scene? Well that sucks) wind up being replaced with an incoherent plot and that boy from the Goonies in a bad wig. But cultural snobbery of “I-saw-the-film-before-the-remake, read-the-graphic-novel-before-the-film” aside the real let down of the movie is that its brittle heart of tragedy, an ugly thread that linked Park Chan-Wook’s original to the giants of Greek tragedy, has been replaced with a hollowness that permeates its 120 minutes.

‘Colonialism and the Desiring Machine’

Another Oxford presentation/talk thing, also on Deleuze. Yeah um I don't know you guys... But yes tada!

tw: racism, colorism, anti-blackness and 'tragic mulatto' sterotype

Robert C. Young's ‘Colonialism and the Desiring Machine’ investigates those that reside within the borders of blackness, working against a simplistic East/West reading of Said’s Orientalism, through considering the fearful nature of crossing ‘racial’ lines in the figures of the 'mulatto' and the 'quadroon'. For the flaw of a binary, first world, third world, model is its division into colonizer and colonized, the mean, nasty white men against a defenceless amorphous blob of sad, brown faces. An argument that can helpfully forget the Ottoman Empire’s own contribution to slavery and the rampant anti-blackness of the Arab world. As if Palestine erases Darfur, or that crimes against humanity can be worn like armour deflecting criticism and eschewing responsibility for the brutalities of their own history. I think of the movie ‘The Last King of Scotland’, which subverts the white saviour narrative by telling the fictional story of a white doctor’s destructive relationship with Idi Amin, the president of Uganda. This quote by Amin to the white doctor, is especially important, contrasting the fantasy of ‘Africa’ with the reality of Ugandan life under Amin. He says:

“Did you think this was all a game? 'I will go to Africa and I will play the white man with the natives.' Is that what you thought? We are not a game, Nicholas. We are real. This room here, it is real. I think your death will be the first real thing that has happened to you.”

This is not a free pass for white supremacy. But rather a reminder that homogenous categories such as the ‘East’, ‘blackness’, ‘people of color’ and ‘the third world’ fail to recognise more intricate power structures at play. We cannot ‘undo’ colonialism and the scars of white oppression run too deep to declare this world as post-racial, post-colonial. However, for white people to even attempt, to see the inhabitants of the so-called ‘third world’ as human they must actively work against what the novelist Chimamanda Adichie describes as “the single story”.

The single story is a pre-set narrative, which forces a shallow tale of imagined suffering onto people of color. The single story can be identified in the trope of 'the tragic mulatto'. Here the mixed race woman is presented as a beautiful freak of nature whose story always ends in disaster, a rightful punishment for upsetting the pre-set borders of whiteness. Often she tries to pass as white only to be discovered, horrific consequences inevitably ensue. This particular film follows a woman named Bernice living a double life as a white woman named Lila. The movie culminates in her going into premature labour, giving birth to a stillborn child, whilst crying out ‘is the baby black?’ to her horrified white husband.

Here I am reminded of James Baldwin argument in ‘On Language, Race and The Black Writer’ that “The American idea of racial progress is measured by how fast I become white.” Whitewashing is certainly an enduring concept. Illustrated by the fact that the Spanish-Brazilian artist, Modesto Brocos, put forward this very same argument in 1895, in his painting The Redemption of Ham. The work shows a family lightening their skin each generation, starting with a dark skinned grandmother, we move to a 'mulatto' daughter who marries a Portuguese man and produces a, seemingly, 'full white' baby. The grandmother lifts her head and opens her hand, thanking God that the ‘black stain’ has been lifted from her family.

Yet the colonised subject can never truly escape the single story through white passing. Young’s extensive research into racial classification, the one-drop rule and the quantification of whiteness illustrates this vividly. Raising the question of how we can escape these rigid binaries and pre-set narratives. 

One model could be through subversive humour, expanding and exaggerating stereotypes of blackness until they collapse in on themselves, revealing the constructs of race and third world identity as nothing more than an elaborate grapevine game. We can find these works outside of the confines of academia and in the world of popular screen culture. The comedy sketches of Dave Chapelle is a great example of this. Not only is his work enormously popular (for instance in 2005 his first season DVD became the best selling TV series of all time). But it is radically critical of the trappings of African-American history. One skit follows the adventures of the time haters, a group of well dressed players that travel through time killing icons of white supremacy from Hitler to a Southern plantation owner. This model reminds us, not just of the inherently ridiculous nature of racist tropes, but that people of colour contain more than tragedy, as the  poet, Jenny Zhang argues, “we contain multitudes”.

Deleuze, Plato and the simulucrum

Hey, hey! It's Christmas holidays so actually have time to update this blog, hooray! I thought I would share a couple of pieces of my work up here.

 This one is a talk/presentation type thing I gave on Deleuze, Plato and the simulucrum at Oxford. Fun fact! I actually hate Deleuze ( and any other model of impenetrable theory that is totally dislocated from reality) and totally did not volunteer to give a 20 minute talk on this dude but hey! I got to talk about Kanye so it's all good. [Also re: Django Unchained, the final paragraph refers solely to Samuel L Jackson's performance rather than Quentin Tarantino's, ahem, 'vision' of black culture as a whole].

But yeah here it is! And I hope you are all well and happy :)

tw: racism, anti-blackness

When reading Plato and the Simulacrum I was struck, as I so often am when studying Deleuze, by the sheer inaccessibility of the text. I could attribute this to the fact that is a translation, a copy of the original, though so often I see that argument as a guilt trip for the less educated among us (i.e. me). I suppose I harbor a grumpy student conspiracy theory that with each step from the original text, a piece of critical theory becomes more dense, like being lost in the black forest in Germany, its neat equations of methodological pseudo-logic ironically quickly become totally illogical and collapse in on themselves. And then soon enough an hour has passed and I have been reading the same sentence over and over and over and over and find myself wanting to use bad old cliché copies like “stuck like a broken record” and making sort of stupid sort of smart, definitely pretentious points about how staring at sentences without reading them is the ultimate simulacrum or whatever. And it also occurs to me as I read this that I don’t know how to pronounce simulacrum. So that’s awkward.

I think of the physicist’s Lev Landau’s ranking scheme, where the further away from zero a person is the further away from original thought they are, here the initial ideas of others become more conflated, more complicated, until once reaching 5 they cease to make sense altogether.

This is the idea of the simulacrum, which Nietzche put forward, where life is traded in for language to create a totally wonky reality. Because, when viewed objectively, the writing on the simulacra is in so many cases a distorted copy of reality itself, so far removed from life, so lost in academic and philosophical jargon, it really does not make for coherent reading material

This brings me to the idea of the Neoplatonic triad that Deleuze speaks of: the unshareable, the shared, the sharer. This is the idea that “to share is, at best, to have secondhand.” Rendering the retelling as a copy of the original because, “the shared is what the unshareable possesses firsthand.”

To hide this inauthenticity the sharer must create a new model of authenticity achieved through justifying their credibility in one form or the other, for instance in education, in background and so on. This is Deleuze’s idea that “the claimants must be judged and their claim measured” in order to prove the authenticity of their idea. Because it's easy to forget when reading someone like Baudrillard, or Plato, that text as much as image is a copy of a lived experience and that writing is as much a flickering shadow on the wall as a painting or sculpture (plato 215). For authors, as much as artists, are parasites feeding off the real world to make their little reproductions.

I believe that in writing, these tensions between fiction and reality, copy and original, culminate in the fabricated misery memoir, and particularly fabricated texts that center themselves around a 'literary minstrel show', by that I mean cases of white people assuming the identities of people of color, and in the gulf between assumed author and actual author creating an incredibly distorted portrait of the community they claim to represent. This is the idea of simulacra as a false messenger that perverts reality, turning its back to the original to create something else entirely. 

Here I think it is appropriate to provide two real life case studies, because so often when critical theory isn’t directly anchored to the so-called 'real world' it can cease to mean anything outside of a hyper academic context.

-Firstly consider Love and Consequences, a lurid memoir about a Native American girl living in foster care. The narrator was originally taken from her birth family at five because she was being sexually abused and is cared for by a Gone with the Wind-esque, The Help-esque, black 'Mammy' character called Big Mom. It goes into explicit detail of the brutalities of gang life under the Bloods in South Central LA, speaking of murder, drug trafficking and even gang rape. Before reaching it’s 'inspiring' conclusion of leaving the so called ghetto to go to college and gain a degree in, and this part I find particularly amusing, ‘Ethnic Studies’.

So this was written by Margaret Seltzer (who wrote under the pseudonym Margaret Jones). It’s worth noting that while promoting the book on radio shows she emulated a stereotypical African American Verancular, referring to her so called gang members as her “homies” and “home girls”.   It received a great review from the New York Times praising it on how “humane” the writing was, comparing its intimate details of urban poverty to that of an anthropologist documenting their environment.

However, shortly after the book reached ‘critically acclaimed status’ the author was tragically revealed to be a white woman who was educated at private school and grew up in Sherman Oaks, an area so perfectly suburban Desperate Housewives chose to film their show there.  Here we are remind of Michael Camille’s point that the simulcra has no contact whatsoever with the original (5) which by extension evokes Plato’s argument in art and illusion that “the imitator has no knowledge worth mentioning of what he imitates” (316)

Love and Consequence’s publishers, Riverhead books, who are a branch of Penguin USA, were so shocked by the revelation that not only did they cancel her book tour, they recalled all of the books and even went as far as offering refunds to anyone who had been ‘tricked’ into purchasing it.  This brings us back to Camille’s point that the Simulacra is an active threat to representation that, as Deleuze says, must be stopped from bobbing up to the surface and freaking everyone out like the shark in jaws (mc-35, d-5)

A similar sense of feeling betrayed by the inauthentic world of the simulacrum can be seen when Amina Araf, creator of A Gay Girl in Damascus, a blog detailing the civil uprising stage of the Syrian civil war, turned out to be this guy:

A white middle aged American history student named Tom McMaster who originally created the character as he felt it would give himself more ‘credibility’ when discussing the politics of the Middle East on online forums. The hoax was only revealed following McMaster claims that Amina had been kidnapped, a claim that triggered a great amount of close media attention to the blog.  Journalists eventually began to suspect if Amina was a hoax, a suspicion eventually confirmed when a Croatian woman came forward saying that the images of Amina were actually of herself. You see McMaster has found her photos online and saw them as the perfect avatar for his Syrian blogger.

There is so much we could talk about in terms of this hoax. However, in relation to the simulacrum, I think two points stand out particularly. The appropriated image of the Croatian woman, and the press attention, and later outrage, in regards to the simulated kidnapping.

The photo example serves as a striking example of Camille’s idea of “an image without a model”, a model built on “false likeness” where resemblance is not an issue (MC 36). This embodies Plato’s idea of a shadow seeming realer than the original, that an American man’s opinions on what a Syrian girl should look like is more important than any actual Syrian girl (p-215).  Here we’re reminded of Camille’s argument that the simulacra is not a copy but an alternative (37). That if people of colour, particularly in the so called ‘third world’ are not ‘doing’ suffering poetically or photogenically enough they will be replaced by a simulacrum. 

Here we can move onto the second example, the faked kidnapping of McMaster’s Amina character. In this blurring of the fantasy event and the 'real world' response we are provided with a powerful example of Baudrillard’s argument in ‘precession of simulacra’ that people would “react more violently to a simulated hold up than a real hold up”. Robbed of their 'third world' fantasy and presented with its real life author we can see why the British and American press reacted so angrily. This passionate response to a completely fictional character illustrates Camille’s point that the simulacrum disturbs a person’s priorities, as we found when the British and American press reacted more enthusiastically to Amina’s voice, Amina’s plight, than to the real activists who are risking their lives in Syria.

Not only does this example serve as a wonderful case study for Peter Steiner’s New Yorker cartoon, ‘on the internet no one knows you’re a dog’ but it raises the question of whether the simulacrum, in its unwavering dedication to the inauthentic provides us, as Camille suggests with an  “encounter with a different order of reality entirely” (44-MC)

This argument can be seen in Monica Hesse, Washington Post article in June 2011, here she argues:
"If [MacMaster] had not been so emotionally resonant, so detailed, so seemingly 'real,' nobody would have cared so much when Amina disappeared, and nobody would have worked so hard to figure out what might have happened to her, and nobody would have learned that she was a pale man from Georgia. Which meant that, at least according to a chilling and narrow definition of what it means to be real on the Internet, Tom MacMaster was very good indeed at being Amina."[39]

Because I would say that in their own specific brand of reality both Amina and the Love and Consequences memoir are authentic-with the ‘idea’ of race and its subsequent product (the memoir, the blog) being perfectly aligned. After all race is a homogenized, flat pack construct, with America’s vague definition of blackness, being, arguably, a product of slavery . After all it was the colonizer not the colonized who created these borders, who created these labels, so it makes perfect sense that the voices and images that come from this idea are from this original group also.

So if our conventional understanding of race is a white construct, which can be identified in generic stereotypical ideas of blackness and Orientalist ideas of the so called ‘Middle East’, then it is the white imitation that is the original and the lived experience of people of color that is the distorted copy. After all to be a person of color is by definition to be a perversion of the original, whether that’s the light skinned high yellow model of blackness identified in the character of Maureen Peal in the Bluest Eye or say Enid Blyton’s Little Black Sambo whose dark skin washes off in the rain, we find that it is whiteness that is always at the core of these images.

To speak honestly or ‘authentically’ in this dimension, without a conscious sense of editing and filtering, is to set yourself up for failure, your words will be rejected and you will be branded as not just inauthentic but a raving lunatic. Kanye West serves as a powerful example of this, in a recent BBC Radio One interview with Zane Lowe he spoke openly about his struggles as a black creative, how difficult it was to be taken seriously as an individual when people couldn’t see beyond the construct of what a black man in America ‘should’ be. In response the American comedian Jimmy Kimmel parodied the interview in a comedy sketch, hiring a child to read out the original interview transcript, thus confirming Kanye West’s initial argument, by reducing the artist to the racist stereotype of the American black man as a screaming, hysterical child with little, to no, self control.

Of course, when the simulacrum is such a powerful one it will consume anything in its path, disregarding context or intention. Look at how this image still from the sitcom ‘Everybody Hates Chris’ is warped by a well meaning user of the image sharing site tumblr:

However, it’s important to remember that Deleuze, unlike Plato or Baudrillard , also spoke of the simulcrum’s positive power, particularly its potential for subversion. So, in finishing up this presentation I think it’s appropriate to end on a positive note, remembering how the simulacrum can be used to break down racist constructs on what an authentic person of color should be. After all, whilst we should be deeply critical of the Amina’s of the world, it is equally reductive to fetishise an unrealistic fantasy of the authentic narrative, which is itself arguably also a simulucrum.

In this sense instead of reacting against this model in an essentialist, binary manner, as seen in Nation of Islam leaders such as Louis Farrakahn. We should, instead, remember the advice of Maya Angelou that “anything that works against you can also work for you once you understand the Principle of Reverse.”

This can be seen in my final example, Samuel L Jackson’s subversive interpretation of the surbordinate house slave trope in Django Unchained. In this second hand simulacrum model all principles are inverted, and Jackson’s exaggerated performance of passivity becomes his power, allowing him to actively manipulate his so called master by applying the Uncle Tom trope to his advantage. This reminds us that in consciously acting the fool you can exploit and expose the ruling systems of oppression, and by extension the realms of the inauthentic, which keeps this belief system in its place.