Orientalism and the MET Gala

In 2015, the annual MET Gala theme was China: Through the Looking Glass. In essence, the event was an exhibit of Asian inspired designs made by western designers. The MET released a description of the event, stating the purpose of the theme was “to propose a less politicized and more positivistic examination of Orientalism as a site of infinite and unbridled creativity.” The statement implies Orientalism is a conversation rather than a system used to oppress eastern cultures.

Orientalism at its core is “a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.” The use of American designers at an American event which targets Asian culture is doing just that – dominating and defining the culture for the Western world. The suggestion that Orientalism is a site of “creativity” implies that the culture is something Americans can play and explore with rather than a region’s way of life.

We like to believe that racism and Orientalism are things of the past, but in reality they are so deeply embedded into our culture that they become trends for the Western world to capitalize off of. The MET Gala is just one example of Orientalism in America, but its certainly one of the most blunt. Hopefully, the MET will do a better job of picking appropriate themes in the years to come.

Why are women in power so threatening?

We can all agree that in King Lear women in power are villainized. By being portrayed as vicious animals, and”tigers not daughters” the narrative sets them up to be antagonists.

Think about all the women you have seen in power. Sure, we’ve progressed as a society enough to even allow women in power which some may argue is enough to define us as inclusive. But have you ever seen a woman in politics run a successful election and come out with her reputation completely unscathed? Hillary Clinton, AOC, Michelle Obama; each of these women has to do something men don’t have to in order to make her way in politics: prove their worth. These women are constantly questioned and belittled for each decision they make, and it’s because America has a problem. A problem with powerful women.

So why are they so scary?

It’s because of how powerful the image of the “ideal woman” has become. She’s small, clean, submissive, pure, unconditionally loving, and naive, and best of all she never asks for anything more than a man might deem her worthy of. We hate women in power because they break this narrative. It’s easier to villainize someone if they stand out from other members of their group, or at least don’t match the stereotypes of that group. Women have trouble holding positions of power because it has become so ingrained in our society’s culture to believe that women cannot hold positions of power. We have learned that women are submissive and a real man is he who holds power. A woman that has learned her true power and worth is the most dangerous thing to a man. A woman that hasn’t is easier to manipulate.

When we see a woman ascending to a position of power, there are immediately news stores attacking her, allegations fly forward from seemingly nowhere, and her sanity is often questioned. We have a problem with women in power because we have been taught to. We have a problem with it because it switches the gender dynamic, and men with fragile masculinity problems will do anything to keep a woman from making him feel feminine by holding power over him.

Cardigan

Most, if not all, of Taylor Swift’s music, is poetry. The most popular song on her Folklore album, Cardigan, is just one great example of how her lyrics incorporate poetic devices to weave a story with a deeper meaning.

Cardigan is a song about first love and first heartbreak. The passion and excitement of first love are enthralling. The innocence and the bond between the two young lovers lead to heartbreak as their relationship ended and trust was lost. This song comes from the perspective of a heartbroken young girl, who feels her first love was truly a heartbreak, although she is aware that “when you are young they assume you know nothing.”

First, Swift uses imagery to symbolize the innocence of young love.

I knew you

Dancin’ in your Levi’s

Drunk under a streetlight, I

I knew you

Hand under my sweatshirt

Baby, kiss it better

The youthful scene described here gives a vivid image of the fun, innocent love the two share. It also depicts the nature of their relationship: exciting, intimate, candid. The speaker knows her lover; she remembers every minute of their relationship. This scene perpetuates the idea that she was truly in love with him despite her age because after all these years she still looks back fondly at their memories and is able to recall the specific moments that made her fall for him.

As the song moves chronologically through the relationship, similies are used to describe the depth of emotion of the speaker caused by the betrayal of her lover.

I knew you

Leavin’ like a father

Running like water

She chooses to describe her lover as “leaving like a father,” arguably the most tragic betrayal imaginable, in order to both convey the intense emotion she felt towards him, and to draw a connection between her lover and her father, who also left. The line serves both to describe the level of heartbreak he caused her and to compare her lover to her own father, implying that from the beginning she was worried about the relationship ending in the manner it did, and has consequently lost her trust in men completely.

Taylor ends the song using metaphors to describe the impact the relationship had on her psyche.

I knew you’d haunt all of my what-ifs

The smell of smoke would hang around this long

‘Cause I knew everything when I was young

In this line, Taylor compares the lingering memory of her lover to the smell of smoke. The vivid memories that haunt her burning relationship have hung around, she still wonders what could have been if things were different. This line reveals that all along Taylor knew the outcome of her relationship would be torture, but was unable to remove herself from it.

This song represents the paradox of young love. Adults judge the naivety of teen romances, but this song argues that young people are very much aware of the pain these short-lived relationships will cause. Despite the struggles, this song defends young love as a necessary experience that teaches those in them more about themselves and helps create expectations and dealbreakers for a forever partner.

This entire song is filled with metaphors, similes, imagery, personification, and so many more poetic devices. The reason I love this song is that it achieves a highly personal, deeply relatable meaning using beautiful poetic phrases. The way she writes her music makes listening to it an experience, you have to pay attention to understand the real meaning behind it. I highly suggest everyone listen to not just “Cardigan,” but the entirety of Taylor Swift’s discography because much of her music is written in a similar manner.

Live and Let Die

Over Saeed and Nadia’s migration journey, they end up losing their romantic love for each other. However, they end up gaining something much more valuable: fulfillment. Hamid’s exploration of self-growth throughout his novel focuses on the idea that enduring traumatic events provokes a more complete understanding of one’s sense of self.

For example, Nadia learned that she loved Saeed, but not in a romantic way. She was uncomfortable with the responsibilities and family dynamics that came along with being faithful to Saeed. When she met the woman in Mykonos, she began to understand that she was attracted to females as well. Saeed was also able to come to terms with the fact that Nadia wasn’t exactly the kind of girl he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. What he really wanted was a woman who shared more of his personal and religious values.

Being thrown into a life-or-death scenario allowed Saeed and Nadia to see clearly what was really important to them without the pressures of society’s expectations. Simply being faced with the prospect of death sparks self-reflection. Nadia and Saeed were able to reflect on what was truly important to them so they could lead authentic lives – even if that meant letting their romantic love die.

The Great Gatsby and Existentialism

While the Great Gatsby was not written from an existentialist point of view, it can certainly be tied back to it. The main theme of the book is money does not buy happiness. Gatsby ends up conquering his wildest dreams – and yet he is not satisfied. He realizes that he has achieved all there is to achieve in life, leaving him empty with no dreams to chase. He marries Daisy, and realizes she is not who he thought she was, and again is disappointed. He holds countless parties, and still he is removed from others.

The Great Gatsby emphasizes the existentialist view that there is nothing more to life than existence. One can work until they have made all of their dreams come true, and yet, they will still feel unfulfilled. By assuming that artificial things – money, material wealth, etc – will make you happy, you are buying into the power structure. Existentialists would say that we have been taught to believe that money will make us happy. We have been taught how to love in a certain way, and believe that will make us happy. We spend our whole lives chasing what we think will bring us joy, and yet, the greatest joy is freedom.

Had Gatsby been able to understand that true power and happiness comes not from wealth, but from freedom; perhaps he would have been better off.

Sociopath or Sane?

Mersault, the main character in Camus’ novel The Stranger appears to have no true emotion. He senselessly shoots an Arab man on the beach, and seems to feel no remorse although he understands he is guilty. He confides, “I knew I’d shattered the balance of the day, the spacious calm of this beach on which I had been happy. But I fired four shots more into the inert body, on which they left no visible trace.” Mersault’s lack of guilt and continuous display of disinterest with his mother’s death, his friends, and the woman he is romantically involved with gives the reader good reason to believe he is not normal, seeing as he exhibits many sociopathic tendencies. However, existentialists may argue he is completely sane. Existentialists believe there is no overarching meaning to life – that we are all free and responsible for determining our own existence. An existentialist would argue that Mersault is not crazy, he is free. He is free from the social expectations that cause guilt, pain, and suffering. In that sense, perhaps Mersault is not crazy. Perhaps he is simply free from society’s expectations and is living exactly the way he wants to.

My Thoughts

I honestly don’t know how to judge Mersault’s character. I have had times in my life where I have agreed with some existentialist ideals, but I always go back and forth. Critics of existentialism would say existentialists are cynics, unable to find joy in life. Existentialists would say their critics are slaves who derive life’s meaning from what they have been told to believe in. They would say they are not cynics, they are simply free. Whose to say which side of the argument is right? I have no idea which I agree with. I know there is nothing more to our existence besides ourselves, I understand that I rule my path. But I, as I’m sure most do, hate the idea that there is nothing more. That there isn’t really love, philanthropy, or individual values. I think it’s a really interesting debate, and The Stranger gives an excellent explanation to existentialism and the essence of life, especially in the last few pages. It really helped me grasp the existentialist point of view. As of now, I really don’t have an answer, but I look forward to continuing this conversation in class and learning more so I can broaden my perspective.