Ours is an era of chaos. The old forms of political order are dying, the new are yet to find life. Within this twilight crisis, we are asleep, but deceived by the brilliance of our dreams. We say we are awake to meaning. We say that we can find it everywhere—this week, in a jacket.
No, not “we” as in “all persons”. Not you, just me and my own class of obligate twits. You are likely neither bored nor thick enough to look for enlightenment in a garment worn by Melania Trump. But, me and my industry peers have been made bored and thick by the conditions of our work. The owners and commanders of media companies ask us to produce explanations of the world through its merest objects. They have been asking us to do this work for so long, we came to confuse it for meaning.
It is possible that Mrs Trump is so worn down by the fact of being Mrs Trump that she has lost her fashion shit.
Last Thursday, the First Lady was photographed in a fast-fashion jacket which bore the slogan, “I don’t really care, do u?”. A great hunt for meaning followed. There had to be a reason that FLOTUS would wear this thing while visiting children interned without their parents. There had to be something to decode, some truth beyond a thoughtless outfit choice.
A piece in Teen Vogue dared consider the role of thoughtlessness. The writer is aghast that any person, especially one with help, could do such a Fashion Don’t in public. But, not for long. With the clumsy words, “fashion can absolutely be political. So, it’s worth focusing on”, we can see what Condé Nast demands: the search for meaning. The writer started well, but goes on to ascribe political meaning to the jacket, and so does everyone else.
CNN says the jacket was purposely worn, you see, to distract all US voters from the true horror of Trump’s cruel detention policy.
Colleagues. I say this with kindness, understanding and an unwholesome interest in the interpretations of cultural items by Slavoj Žižek: you people are thinking too hard. It is possible that Mrs Trump is so worn down by the fact of being Mrs Trump that she has lost her fashion shit.
“What 48-year-old woman wears this, anywhere, much less to a detention camp for children?” – Kirstie Clements
To test this possibility, Daily Review contacted Kirstie Clements. Clements, editor-in-chief at Vogue at its sharpest, now the discerning peddler of some lovely fashion smut, is hardly in the habit of not reading meaning into fashion. But of Melania’s jacket, she says that she was “gobsmacked”.
What is the meaning of the FLOTUS jacket? “I will say that I am bewildered”.
“So, you think of the very particular choices in clothing she has otherwise made. We see her as Crisis Barbie in Puerto Rico, with her Top Gun look and her Louboutins.” Mrs Trump has previously dressed with intention, says Clements. Even if the look of stilettoes in a hurricane is “a sort of glossy magazine version of appropriate”, it has been planned.
But perhaps, says Clements, it is true that Melania no longer cares to plan. “She is disengaged at some deep level. She must be. She wore a teenager’s nihilistic t-shirt. What 48-year-old woman wears this, anywhere, much less to a detention camp for children?”
But the search for meaning in the jacket continued until the search itself was declared meaningful. You’d think a Vox piece legitimising our need to search for meaning in Mrs Trump’s wardrobe would end this woeful tide of piss. No. Next, t-shirt responses to the jacket were produced by several organisations, and this then became a source of meaning for storied publications, who all agreed that the t-shirts, which all feature some variation on “I do care”, were winning the battle for the true American spirit of liberal generosity.
Some of the proceeds from some of these t-shirts are intended for select migrant charities, and some of them are for-profit. The Democratic National Committee are selling a version for themselves. Certainly, “we care, we vote, do u?” fits more neatly on a t-shirt than one of the inspiring pro-immigration things President Obama had to say. Such as, in 2012,“When I see Mexican flags waved at pro-immigration demonstrations, I sometimes feel a flush of patriotic resentment. When I’m forced to use a translator to communicate with the guy fixing my car, I feel a certain frustration.” But, this graph which shows that annual arrests made by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under Trump are yet to even approach those record-breaking Obama years would fit just about anywhere.
Not, though, in the minds of reporters, who prefer the creation of meaning to the trouble of reality. Let’s all agree that a t-shirt can talk to a jacket, that Trump has the worst record, and that the important thing is not to count the people interned or deported, but to tell everyone you care, whatever the human cost.
The First Lady of Pearl Jam cares. Some company that specialises in “sustainable luxury cashmere” cares. Everyone cares to show they care, which, as we know, is the most meaningful act in a media age crammed with so much meaning that nothing can be said.
Everything is meaningful! Everything matters!
How does a grownup journalist come to believe that Wonder Woman matters, or that it matters to “skate like a girl”? How are so many so deluded that the television program Roseanne was once meaningful to watch, or that in 2018 it was meaningful not to watch the television program Roseanne at all? How are the pages of The Australian filled each day with the claim that some school for meaning could have mattered so much? Practise. Declare that things that don’t matter that much matter more than anything, you eventually come to believe it.
The Oz has its Ramsay Centre to believe in, and this week, the compassionate commentator has a shirt. It’s a fight by the media right for a program of cultural studies, and a fight by progressive media to study only itself. In this dark age, media brings us little but false enlightenment. It falls to the people to make sense of a world on which no one reports.
Still. One thing, above all others, is clear, and terribly important: I REALLY DO CARE DO U.