25 May 2009

TEACHING: Video Killed the Lecture

Just a quick update to bookmark a couple videos here for possible inclusion in my fall course on the transnational politics of clothing and fashion. First up, a 2001 undergraduate student documentary (by Anmol Chaddha, Naomi Iwasaki, Sonya Zehra Mehta, Muang Saechao and Sheng Wang) from Berkeley called Yellow Apparel: When the Coolie Becomes Cool, recently digitized and uploaded. While I'm often looking to complicate (which is not the same as repudiate!) this sort of argument (from the synopsis, "While explaining the appropriation of an exotic Asia as an attempt to fill the void created by a bureaucratized suburban lifestyle in America, Yellow Apparel does not attempt to provide a clear-cut solution but rather a critical and informed examination of the commodification of Asian culture"), it might be a good model for possible final projects in my fashion course.

yellow apparel: when the coolie becomes cool from Yellow Apparel on Vimeo.

The second is a brief clip from The Guardian (UK) about the launch of a new "modest but urban" Islamic fashion line called Elenany, including a brief set of comments from Jana, the style-conscious proprietress of British blog Hijab Style.

For the most part, students in the fashion course (most of whom are not Muslim) have known better than to insist that hijab is a sign or symptom of strange and dire oppression. One semester I had an Iranian American student whose classroom presentation involved a mall-shopping skit, and as the presentation went on, she put together a fashionable-and-modest outfit observing hijab from items purchased at Forever 21, Gap, et cetera. (She was also writing her undergraduate honors thesis on what could be called "comparative hijab studies" in contemporary Iran and Turkey.) And the last time I taught this course, a young woman who wore the headscarf argued passionately for the merits of the collegiate uniform of sweatpants (she wore sweats pretty much every day), which included a rousing defense of laziness. Now that's bold -- arguing for the right to be lazy on the second day of class!

And there are the numerous videos from the BBC's website called Thread: Fashion Without Victim, which hosts interviews, essays, and videos about "ethical fashion." By far my favorite videos are the previews for the series Blood, Sweat, and T-Shirts, in which "six young fashion addicts swap shopping on the high street with working in India‘s cotton fields and clothes factories." While I have serious problems with the whole "experience oppression for a day" reality show approach, it's a familiar format with which to engage students in the structural critiques at hand.

Possibly up next from me, inspired by conversations I've had with Minh-ha about our different and often divergent shopping and fashion preferences (see her recent post about her love of Phillip Lim and the sample sale) and recent purchases at vintage shops and thrift stores from my California trip (dudes, right now I am sitting in my parents' breakfast nook in a thrifted black cotton '80s pullover with mesh inserts and snaps and rubberized black leggings), some thoughts on how I shop and decide what I want to wear.