Lady Gaga, Orientalism, and cultural appropriation

 Ignoring for a moment the fact that this particular outfit looks like Gaga wrapped herself in a bedspread and then got attacked by wild animals, we need to talk about how with her latest burqa-wearing shtick, she’s planted herself smack dab in the middle of a long tradition of Westerners simultaneously hyper-sexualizing, othering, and dehumanizing Middle Eastern women. Her past fashion choices could be read as edgy social commentary, but with this she’s stepping into a realm where she clearly doesn’t understand the broader context of what she’s doing or the place it fits within a long history of exoticizing women while treating them as minor supporting characters in their own life stories. It’s not my place to speak for women of Middle Eastern descent, and rather than going into an academic discussion of all the reasons why this is incredibly problematic (read Edward Said’s brilliant “Orientalism” for a broader academic discussion of where things like this fit into the relationship between East and West), I’m going to tell a story.  My family comes from Pennsylvania Dutch/Anabaptist stock, and after getting chased out of Europe sometime in the 18th century, we settled down in Pennsylvania and didn’t budge for 250 some odd years, give or take a few decades.Various branches of my family tree were part of different plain Anabaptist sects, including Mennonites and plain Brethren, which means looking through old family photo albums includes pictures of great aunts in plain cotton dresses and prayer caps. I’m not clear on the time frame, but my grandmother spent the first years of her life as plain Brethren. For those who lack a reference point, think a more modern version of the Amish. Electricity, modern conveniences, but still dressing in a way that sets them apart from mainstream Western society. I’ll[…]

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