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On camouflage and orbs

“I need to tell you something and I’m going to do it in a public place so you can’t get really mad at me,” the Beast said on a recent night out for dinner at The Ace.

“You’ve joined a men’s rights group and you’re boycotting the new Wonder Woman movie?” I asked.

“No. I bought a camouflage jacket today from Thrift-Mart.”

“Let me see it.”

“It’s in the freezer.”

The reason the Beast correctly suspected that I’d be angry was a) he shouldn’t be spending money on things he doesn’t need, especially because he’s not working right now, and  b) he really doesn’t need a new coat because he has at least 25 pieces of outerwear, and c) he knows that camouflaged clothing makes me feel uncomfortable.

My aversion began a few years ago when conversations about cultural appropriation relating to apparel, like Coachella-goers wearing cheap feathered headdresses purchased at fashion mega-chains, were making headlines.

Camouflage is not cultural. But when I thought about its 100-year-old original purpose, which was literally to conceal soldiers from their enemies, I decided I would feel ridiculous wearing it. Don’t worry, I’m fine with striped nautical shirts, brought to every store near you thanks to Briton and Russian sailors, and also blazers and peacoats, first worn by British soldiers. Everything in fashion comes from something. I am just too self aware to dress in a pattern whose purpose meant life or death to someone else.

Besides camouflage, I think profane cultural borrowings in fashion–like those striped shirts, which I own several of–are different. Think non-indigenous people wearing turquoise rings and moccasins, for example, and indigenous people who integrated Victorian garb, like hoop skirts and wool vests, into their wardrobes. Cultural misappropriation is that headdress, a symbol of respect and honour worn only by indigenous chiefs, worn by a culture who decimated the other.

As a European-desecended fourth generation white Canadian woman, who has no religion, I can think of nothing from my culture that someone could possibly appropriate. I can’t even really define what my culture is. But I sure as shit wouldn’t want to appropriate from a culture that someone else holds sacred.

This all leads to a tweet I recently deleted because I feared I had.

Last Sunday night, I was looking at social media while I grilled up some vegetables and haloumi cheese for our crostini party dinner, which we enjoyed with a beautiful pea purée and burrata while watching some of the new Twin Peaks.

I was getting a kick out of all the orb memes of Trump, Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman. As I brought in dinner, I told the Beast to give me a minute because I had something to contribute to the Twitter party.

“Does Agent Cooper find a damn good cup of coffee in the new Twin Peaks?” I tweeted along with the photo.

“Clever!” I thought. Then right before we ate, on account of my ego, I made the mistake of checking Twitter to see how many likes my tweet had received. Three! Plus one response: “What is this?” asked a newspaper editor who I follow.

I was going to respond redundantly with “Trump, King Salman, and Abdel Fatah al-Sissi with hands on glowing globe” because the question, I felt, was also redundant: why would a newspaper editor ask me what it was? Why not Google it? And how could you not know what it was by this point?

Then I was overcome with fear. My stomach dropped to my toes. What if the orb is actually a sacred religious artifact and I am both careless and ignorant? I immediately started scanning Twitter for outrage. There were thousands of memes that had already been aggregated into funny posts by media outlets who specialize in this, which made me feel safe. Still, I thought, the outrage is coming. You can’t be too careful.

Here’s the funny, sad, and pathetic part, depending on how you think about it: I deleted the Tweet (and responded to the editor’s question of what is was with: “poor taste”) because I didn’t want to engage, because I lacked conviction, and mostly because I just wanted to eat my dinner. My god, I was hungry.

Dinner and Twin Peaks were wonderful, but my night was still ruined because my nerves were shot. There was still the slight possibility, I thought, that my tweet had been screen-grabbed and I’d wake up the next morning to find my name in the paper along with everyone else who tweeted about the orb.

Turns out, the newspaper editor also asked a colleague who’d tweeted the image along with a Twin Peaks-related caption, too. “No but seriously, what is this?” the editor asked. (Perhaps it wasn’t an antagonistic question after all.)

The colleague, who must have already eaten dinner, replied perfectly and accurately: “A gift from the meme gods! (But also: just a regular ol’ glowing globe.)” (The editor never replied to either of us.)

#OrbGate had ended. But the fear that I will misstep still haunts me.

Social media outrage is sort of like that Lynchian concept of the evil that lurks in the woods around Twin Peaks. It’s out there, floating around, looking for any crack in normalcy to get into and explode.

Social media outrage is also a reminder that you shouldn’t be careless with people’s culture, which is a good thing, not evil.

I know I’m not an idiot. I’m a thoughtful person, who is sensitive enough, I think, not to make an offending blunder. But I also want to have the confidence and conviction to engage with anyone who thinks I have, rather than fake apologize for a fake offence.

The Beast has that conviction: He explained why he bought that camouflage jacket to me. While he was on his daily bike ride in High Park, he was inspired by the sight of a beautiful black woman, probably in her early 60s, as wide as she was tall, decked out from head to toe in three different types of camouflage. “It was a sign,” he said. “If God sends you an angel, you have to embrace it.”



7 replies »

  1. I typed out a comment, thought about it, and deleted it. We are all so afraid of saying or doing something that will offend someone else.

  2. I kind of feel like Connie does. I have found out way after saying something that it was offensive to another culture and had no idea. Where’s the handbook on this? Btw…where’s the camo? All I see is green stuff…heh heh.

  3. I’m one of those lurking fans who never says anything but this post is terrific and I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed it. Thanks for your candor.

    Two other things, since I’m finally taking the plunge and commenting:
    Not so long ago I spent some time in Nevada City, CA and had breakfast at this great spot called Ike’s. We were sitting in the outdoor patio and it was completely shaded by blooming cherry trees. I looked over and could have sworn I saw you and the Beast eating breakfast! I spent the rest of the meal trying to sort out if it was really you. Turns out it wasn’t but you’ve got doppelgängers in the world who had a great New Orleans-style breakfast in California back in April.

    Also — We are planning a trip to Montreal and I went back and read your posts from your trip there. Fantastic! — and a good introduction to the city.
    And I’ve bookmarked your posts about your recent trip to Greece, for whenever I can finally make it there.

    Thanks for sticking with this blog. It’s one of my favorite things.

  4. Thank you for being so honest about feelings I’m sure many of us share! I think your reaction is a hell of a lot better than stubbornly refusing to even entertain criticism. It’s a delicate balance, isn’t it? Toughening our skin a bit is also important. If we figure out how to protect that inner core it’ll be easier to stand up for our convictions.

  5. There is picture of a favourite trip hop musician Tricky that I really like, sadly he’s wearing a headdress. The reason I like this particular picture of him is not just the headdress alone but the defiant attitude and composition of the picture. In that picture I see solidarity for the oppressed, which makes me wonder if it matters what the intention is when an item is culturally appropriated.

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