Arts & Culture

Rachael Ray May Be Awful, But She Probably Isn’t a Terrorist

One of the minor problems with being a reconstructed neocon weenie such as myself is the company I'm forced to keep. I don't much like the right-wing personality because it seems a funhouse distortion of the left-wing personality, only with … Read More

By / May 30, 2008

One of the minor problems with being a reconstructed neocon weenie such as myself is the company I'm forced to keep. I don't much like the right-wing personality because it seems a funhouse distortion of the left-wing personality, only with better clothes. This is not an accident. How easy it was to renounce the core substance of communism and yet retain the dire style. A friend of mine, who has undergone every permutation of ideology imaginable, phrases it like this: All ex-radicals take something away with them from the 'movement,' whether it's the atheism, the loyalty to trade unionism, the love of god-awful folk music, or being a fucking asshole.

A good sign of membership in that last contingent is an obsession with the non-issue, a conspiratorial mindset that has the more even-tempered comrades rolling their eyes behind your back, or, since you're likely to suffer from an almost autistic lack of self-awareness and shame, right in front of your face. Worse still than the late-in-life-winger is the cradle-to-the-grave variety. Will someone please inform Michelle Malkin that Rachael Ray is not a jihadist? The insufferable Food Network hostess must want you to eat on $40 a day because the rest of your income should go to Osama bin Laden. Ray was caught on national television hawking ice lattes for Dunkin' Donuts while wearing a kaffiyeh, and the rest of this story some poor fool at the BBC must have written in crayon:

In a statement, Dunkin' Donuts said the silk scarf had been "selected by Rachael Ray's stylist and that no symbolism was intended.

"But given the possibility of misperception the commercial was no longer being used."

This has caused a fair amount of consternation in some quarters but the conservative blogger at the centre of the row has praised the decision.

"Fashion statements may seem insignificant, but when they lead to the mainstreaming of violence – unintentionally or not – they matter," Ms Malkin has written.

Now let us at once concede that Yasser Arafat wore this Arab headdress and had one of his strapping male Aryan lieutenants daily shape it to resemble the lost Palestine he would spare no drop of Jewish or Muslim blood to reclaim. Many beheaders and suicide bombers and illiterate adherents of a single book have been known to don the kaffiyeh as a symbol of their militant struggle, as have quite a number of secular followers of pan-Arab nationalism.

None of which eliminates the historical fact that centuries of harmless Bedouin traders, stifled not by irrendentism so much as by the unremitting heat of the desert, also wore kaffiyehs the way my fashion-backward Jewish father would his Panama Jack hat at the beach. It's the fanny-pack of the Orient.

T.E. Lawrence famously donned one while leading a popular revolt against Ottoman imperialism. Many of our Kurdish allies in northern Iraq wear the checkered garment and not out of solidarity with politically null hipsters in Williamsburg, who must think the mountain people's billowy pants intend ironic commentary of the career of M.C. Hammer.

This is the problem with iconography in general. There are only so many icons to go around. Many are bound to be hijacked and recycled, and thus their symbolism is bound to be muddled to the point of negation.

Before black became synonymous with Italian Fascism, or Ann Coulter's morning wear on the Today Show, it was the honorable hue of Russian anarchists who fought alongside the infant Red Army in the Russian Civil War. (The rather pure-seeming color white was reserved for the proto-fascist armies of czarist dead-enders.) Indeed, that the valiant liberators of the Crimea were later killed during the Stalinist terror for not being Bolsheviks only underscores the necessity of "taking back" certain banners.

More notoriously, the swastika was not just an ancient Jain glyph for fertility, it also furnished the name of Meyer Wolfsheim's dubious bond company in The Great Gatsby, a book published in 1925, when Hitler was still a reactionary house painter in the Weimar Republic. Anyway, we knew Wolfsheim was no good because he wore cufflinks made of human teeth.

But for those who presume to read clothes as manifestos, they should at least be well acquainted with the histories of both before holding forth on so-and-so's revolutionary aims.

America may run on Dunkin', but the conservative blogosphere runs on paranoia.