John Galliano has a Zoolander moment

March 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Was John Galliano singlehandedly trying to prove to the world that Zoolander is a docu-drama based on fact? That the high end fashion industry is riddled with narcissistic monster egos with shaky grasps of reality?

If you haven’t already heard, Galliano is the English fashion designer who has been caught on video in a Paris bar professing a love for Hitler and saying nasty things about Jewish and ugly people.

I’ve watched the video. It was on YouTube but it has since been removed.  But I have managed to find a duplicate of the video on Youtube, which you can see below and see Galliano’s career take a big plunge in the 42 seconds it takes to view it. In that professionally suicidal clip, he also tells the couple speaking to him that if Hitler were still around, they would be gassed to death. Never mind that gay fashion designers would also be sent to the death camps.

Christian Dior has since sacked Galliano and there’s been pretty much universal condemnation of his racist outburst.  If there’s one lesson among many in this, it is, don’t piss off Natalie Portman because she has a formidable PR machine.

But many in the fashion industry are conflicted. Looking at the Galliano posts on Tumblr, some are sticking up for him, posting comments and images of the clothes that remind us of his genius. Remember that nearly 20 per cent of Tumblr’s top 1000 blogs are fashion related so it makes it a good window on the reaction.

Here are some of my favourites:

“That awkward moment when someone you looked up to gets caught on video making a horrible anti-Semitic rant in some random Parisian bar.”

“Anybody who doesn’t want their John Galliano or Christian Dior anymore can totally give it to me, I’ll totally take it.”

“I am in mourning for the House of Dior. It will inevitably go to hell in a hand basket just like Dior Homme when Hedi left the House.”

“The chick that got John Galliano fired from Christian Dior is a crazy, jealous ho – in a bad way.”

Galliano said tasteless, obnoxious and offensive things. He also didn’t do himself any favours by wearing a hat that even looks fascist. Watch the video.  The hat looks like something General Franco would have worn during the Spanish Civil War when the Nazis were his friends.

More crucially, Galliano looked very drunk. We all do and say stupid things when we are drunk and Galliano really looked plastered. As much as I deplore the things he said, the episode should have all of us thinking about how one transgression, recorded, published and disseminated, can destroy a reputation and a brand within hours. The internet and social media can gather a mob of righteous indignation quicker than it takes to watch a documentary about Isaac Mitzrahi.

But in the rush to pass judgement, some bothersome questions have been left behind. Did the couple who encountered the obviously trashed fashion designer know who he was? Had they planned on seeing him at the bar or was it a chance encounter? Did they know he was an obnoxious drunk? Had they met him before in a similar mood?  In other words, was Galliano the victim of a sting to entrap him?

The other issue that troubles me is the lack of context in the short video. Galliano says he loves Hitler but we don’t know what conversation preceded the comments and what conversation followed afterwards.

It is also staggering beyond belief that someone of his celebrity did not have some kind of minder around to keep him out of trouble.

While Galliano’s comments were unarguably offensive, there’s much we don’t know to be able to arrive at a more balanced view of what passed. Unlike hearsay or having someone claiming to bear witness, there is an understandable tendency to think we have all the evidence when we see something on video.

Is John Galliano a sad, anti-social drunk with a nasty mouth? Was he deliberately provoked? Is he a spoilt man-child with dodgy politics?  I wouldn’t be too quick to assume either on the basis of a 40 second video recording.

What Galliano said was stupid and offensive. But his biggest mistake was to do it in front of a mobile phone. That was the clue right there but Galliano was too drunk to see it. A mobile phone held up to record a racist tirade.

Why should we care about what happened to John Galliano? It is because it has implications for all of us. Slow witted, alcohol or drug addled celebrities are now easy targets for anyone, easier than when celebrities only had to worry about packs of paparazzi ambushing or trailing after them.  Today the mobile phone, the internet and social media mean we are all paparazzi.

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