John Galliano, casual anti-Semitism and Ezra Pound

I don’t follow fashion and I despise the fashion industry. Out of all the arts, fashion is probably the least politically and socially engaged of all the forms. Its leading ‘lights’ are self-congratulatory and self-obsessed. Some, like John Galliano, are either completely clueless or wilfully ignorant of history. So when I’d heard that Galliano had been accused of anti-Semitism, I wasn’t at all surprised.

Galliano’s excuse for his outburst is that he is addicted to drink. Nowhere Towers believes this is a feeble excuse and suspects that Galliano is being dishonest and is really an anti-Semite at heart. In all of the talk about the incident, no one has once mentioned the fact that he models his appearance (and perhaps his thinking) on Ezra Pound.

For those who aren’t familiar, Ezra Pound was an expatriate American poet who lived in Britain in the early part of the 20th century. He was friends with T S Eliot, another expat American, whose poems he published. He also helped to shape the work of Hemingway and Joyce. Pound wrote for Wyndham Lewis’ (who was also an anti-Semite) literary magazine BLAST and coined the word “Vorticism”, which was the British inflection of futurism. Pound was appalled by the loss of lives in WWI, which he blamed on “international finance and usury” – these words are often employed euphemistically by anti-Semites to refer to Jews.  Initially attracted to  CH Douglas’s social credit ideas, he became a fascist in 1924. He wrote anti-Semitic articles for Action,  Oswald Moseley’s newspaper. He dabbled in economics too…but no one took him seriously.

He lived in Italy during WWII and broadcasted anti-Semitic propaganda for the fascist government.  When the Allies invaded Sicily in 1943, he fled north. Days after Mussolini was shot, he was captured by partisans, who later released him. Fearing the game was up, he and his wife surrendered to the US Counter-intelligence Corps in Genoa. He was imprisoned. He was later examined by psychiatrists, who concluded that Pound had had a mental breakdown. It should be noted that Pound was an early advocate of the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.  If that sounds surprising, then we should remember that Zionism was not popular among the majority of Europe’s Jews and was seen, and rightly so, as a playing into the hands of anti-Semites.

So now Galliano is awaiting his fate. He claims that he isn’t anti-Semitic or racist and yet, it seems, he has plenty of previous form. Besides, racism seems to be rife in the fashion industry.  This blog says,

Issues around racism within the fashion industry aren’t new. Every few months, it seems, a new incident takes place: models being photographed in blackface (Claudia Schiffer in 2010 and Lara Stone in 2009); non-white models dressed in “tribal” clothing (most recently at the 2010 Victoria’s Secret fashion show); all-white runway shows (Fall 2008 is perhaps the most infamous example, but despite media coverage of the issue, the trends have continued); all-white fashion editorials in some of the most influential magazines; and, in seeming apology, the cliched “black issue,” dedicated  to models of color (see, most recently, Vogue Italia, 2008).  Influential people of color within the fashion industry have been speaking out for years, but the situation remains bleak.  With such a pitiful record, it’s little wonder that the hiring of a white editor for Essence magazine was met with such outcry.

Galliano’s defence reminds me of the oft-used defence of the 1970’s, “It was just a joke…can’t you take a joke”? Well, call me humourless but racism is racism and it doesn’t matter if it is masked by jocularities. In fact, that makes it worse.

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9 Comments

Filed under fashion, racism, Society & culture

9 responses to “John Galliano, casual anti-Semitism and Ezra Pound

  1. “in vino veritas” … people don’t turn into anti-semites just because they’ve had a few drinks …

  2. nick

    The fact that Galliano is an admirer of Ezra Pound doesn’t prove that he is anti-semitic. There is actually a great deal to admire about Pound if you can see past his awful politics

    Galliano came across as a complete idiot and the things he said were vile, but the fact that he was a complete dick to people in a bar just means that he is a dick

    I agree that the fashion industry has a lot of toxic in it’s DNA due to the fact that it is elitist and shallow by it’s very nature, and they aren’t the sort of people that I would like to spend time with, but I don’t think it is any more significant than Galliano (and probably his friends) being horrible people

    • I’m not so sure. To claim it was the “drink talking”is a little weak. I’m sure Pound’s poetry is fantastic but like the Italain futurists, it’s hard to separate the art from the ideology. Galliano engaged in an anti-Semitic tirade and that tirade didn’t magically appear from nowhere.

  3. nick

    Oh I don’t think for a second the fact that he was drunk was what made him want to say those things, I just think that there is nothing surprising about it and that vile views are par for the course in fashion. At least half of them are vile people.

    I think my point was that I suspect that these people do exist in a vacuum (as much as it was possible)

    I think with regards to Pound the fact that he and his friends like Elliot and Hemmingway were such amazing writers does blind me a bit. I would love to believe his version that his 5 years or so of active fascism shouldn’t taint the contribution he did make to literature

    It’s an interesting debate the extent to which an artist can exist in a vacuum from society and the role that we play as the audience in that

    • Pound was the only one of those writers who was politically active. He expressed open admiration for Hitler and Mussolini. He even signed a letter “Heil Hitler”. I think Galliano knew what he was doing. If he models himself on Ezra Pound, it’s a pretty fair bet that he knew of his anti-Semitism too.

  4. nick

    and also the debate whether you should be arrested for saying anything while drunk in a pub…

  5. Pingback: CiFWatch: imagined slights, smears and closing down debate | Guy Debord's Cat

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