Last year, we wrote here about a garden party held by fashion designer Stella McCartney (Paul McCartney’s daughter) at her Manhattan home. The theme was “Cuba Libre.” High-profile guests, such as Maggie Gyllenhaal, Alicia Keys, and Liv Tyler, enjoyed Cuban treats and snapped selfies with two actors who’d been hired for the occasion to dress up as Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
The Hollywood Reporter, Women’s Wear Daily, Vogue, and other major media found the whole thing just adorable; so did one after another of the leading fashion websites. One discordant note was sounded by Anna Quintana, a young Cuban-American style writer, who lodged this complaint: “I find it hard to process how a designer I have long admired…could feature a garden party with walking caricatures of Castro and Che Guevara, two figures that many, if not all, in the Cuban-American community would consider to be the epitome of cruelty.”
Why, indeed, would Stella McCarthy, who has spent her entire life enjoying all the privileges afforded to the daughter of the world’s richest musician, celebrate monsters like Fidel and Che, who, if her father had been Cuban, would likely have thrown him in prison or put him in front of a firing squad?
In his classic 1970 article “Radical Chic,” which we began looking at yesterday, Tom Wolfe identified the attraction of the cultural elite of forty-five years ago to totalitarian thugs like the Black Panthers – who sought to overthrow the U.S. government and replace it with a system just as brutal as Castro’s – as an example of nostalgie de la boue. Meaning what? Literally: “nostalgia for the mud.” The term refers to the attraction of many foolish people at the top of the ladder to those at the bottom of the ladder – and not just any of those at the bottom (certainly not the hard-working, law-abiding drudges), but those whom the people at the top view as the most exotic, colorful, violent, primitive, dangerous.
At this site, we’ve touched before on the Black Panthers – and on the perverse eagerness of many decent, civilized people to makes heroes out of them.
Last December, discussing a documentary about the Panthers by Stanley Nelson, we noted that the movie was nothing less than a group hagiography, presenting the Panthers as (in our words) “an endearing crew of human-rights activists who were devoted to charity work and whose repeated clashes with police reflected not any predilection to violence on their own part but the cops’ ferocity and racism.” The film’s cockeyed portrayal of the Panthers won cheers from film-festival audiences and from reviewers for places like the Hollywood Reporter.
It was Michael Moynihan of The Daily Beast who provided a reality check, pointing out that the Black Panthers, guided by “the revolutionary works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Chairman Mao, Comrades Kim Il Sung, Ho Chi Minh, Che, Malcolm X, and other great leaders of the worldwide people’s struggle for liberation,” were responsible for innumerable “revenge killings, punishment beatings, purges, [and] ‘disappearances.’” In their official newspaper, they ranted about “racist imperialist faggot honkey[s],” ran paeans to Stalin, Mao, Kim Il-Sung, and Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha.
And yet the crème de la crème of New York’s beau monde invited these people into their houses and dug into their pockets to contribute to their “cause.” How to make sense of it? Tune in tomorrow.
We thought we’d wind up 2015 by revisiting some of the folks we’ve covered on this website during the last year. No, these definitely aren’t the ten worst human beings we’ve written about; they’re just some of the people whose activities during 2015 we found despicable in distinctive ways, and we thought that, as the year moves toward a close, they just might be worth looking at one more time.
Russell BrandLast year, the holier-than-thou British comedian came out with an inane book, Revolution, in which he celebrated Castro and Che Guevara, whose transformation of Cuba he presented as a model for the 21st century. This year, his image took a big hit when it was discovered that his line of sweatshirts – which he’d represented as being manufactured in the UK – were, in fact, made by laborers in Bangladesh who worked up to eleven hours a day for 25p an hour. Also, while he’d claimed that the profits went entirely to charitable causes, it turned out that only £1.37 of the take on a £65 sweatshirt was going to charity – and the “charity” in question was a trendy London café Brand opened in March.
Stella McCartney In June, flibbertigibbet clothes designer (and daughter of the immortal Beatle) threw an exceedingly high-profile party with the theme “Cuba Libre.” In the garden of her Manhattan townhouse, such guests as Alicia Keys, Liv Tyler, and Maggie Gyllenhaal sipped rum-and-cokes, grooved to the rhythms of a salsa band, and mingled with two guys dressed up as – we kid you not – Fidel and Che. McCartney’s explanation for this obscene trivialization of totalitarianism: “I simply wanted to have a fun party, and I think Cubans know how to do that.” Almost unanimously, the fashion media applauded what Women’s Wear Daily described as McCartney’s “nod to Cuba.”
Max BlumenthalThe spawn of unsavory D.C. operator Sidney Blumenthal, young Max has made a career out of slandering Israel in particularly nasty ways while cheering on some of its most violent enemies. This year, in collaboration with Electronic Intifada and Al Jazeera contributor Rania Khalek, he co-wrote a long piece smearing several U.S. journalists for criticizing Putin – among them Liz Wahl, a reporter who’d recently quit her anchor job at the Kremlin-run TV “news” channel RT America because she was sick of serving up pro-Putin, anti-American propaganda. Writing in Commentary, Seth Mandel called Blumenthal’s attack job “a textbook example of character assassination.”
Lanny Davis In 2015, regular viewers of cable news saw a great deal of this shifty creep, a longtime Clinton crony and spinmeister who, during the current presidential campaign, has spent a great deal of his expensive time trying to extinguish the many scandals that have been swirling around Hillary Clinton. (During a March appearance on Fox News, Chris Wallace asked Davis, “Do you ever get tired of cleaning up after the Clintons?”) When he’s not engaged in this unenviable task, Davis keeps busy shilling for some of the planet’s most corrupt and brutal despots, including Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea and Laurent Gbagbo of Cote D’Ivoire.
Gloria Steinem In May, the 81-year-old Ms. founder traveled to North Korea “to say we care by being physically present” because “conflicts are far more likely to be solved when people sit down together.” She then led a group of women on a “walk for peace” across the DMZ. The whole thing came off as a PR stunt to polish Pyongyang’s image. It didn’t help that the feminist icon stayed mum about the Kim regime’s treatment of women – and chose as her partner in this dubious undertaking one Christine Ahn, an open admirer of Juche ideology who routinely blames the U.S. and South Korea for North Korea’s problems.
We’ll get to the next five tomorrow. Happy New Year!
It was back in March 2011 that Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, ran a long, gushing profile of Asma al-Assad, the First Lady of Syria. In addition to painting her as a glamorous, sophisticated “Rose in the Desert” – the title of the piece – author Joan Juliet Buck served up a flattering picture of her subject’s hubby, dictator Bashar al-Assad, who came off as a charming and down-to-earth family man. Wintour was manifestly shocked when this piece of inane propaganda sparked worldwide outrage; within days the piece had disappeared from the magazine’s website.
No, you can’t expect people in the fashion business to be world-class models of social awareness. On the other hand, you might at least think they’d have learned a lesson from that episode. Nope. In early June, fashion designer Stella McCartney – Paul’s daughter – held her annual garden party in New York. The theme: “Cuba Libre.” There were “chocolate cuban cigars, Coco Rico, Cerveza Hatuey, special rum cocktails, and various hors d’oeuvres, like vegetarian Cuban sandwiches.” And one more thing: while models showed off McCartney’s new collection, the guests mingled with actors dressed up as Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
We’ve scoured the Internet for any indication that any of McCartney’s high-profile guests – among them Alicia Keys and Maggie Gyllenhaal – found Stella’s party theme distasteful. Nothing. The media, for the most part, also responded with a hearty thumbs-up. Note this passage from the Hollywood Reporter‘s account of the event:
From the stilt-walkers in colorful costumes to the multicolored ribbons streaming from the trees, attendees agreed that the party indeed matched McCartney’s exuberant ideas. “When you walk around Havana, it really is like this, music and life in the streets,” said Alan Cumming….he was happy to get into the spirit of the event: “I was just in a Fidel and Che sandwich,” he joked of posing with the actors impersonating Castro and Guevara.
Explaining the party’s theme, McCartney gushed: “I simply wanted to have a fun party, and I think Cubans know how to do that.” She recalled that she’d “visited Cuba over 20 years ago, when Cuba was really Cuba” (a statement she didn’t explain) and called her collection “a celebration of spring: new life, color, hope, energy and fun….Cuba is just to have some fun. Fun on top of fun!” Commented Fashion Week Daily: “McCartney is fun on top of fun; we have to thank her for reminding everyone that fashion is as well.”
We’ve looked at a couple of dozen fashion websites that reported on McCartney’s party; with a single exception – which we’ll get to in a moment – none of them so much as hinted that its theme was in poor taste. Style magazine titled its cheery article“Cuba Libre! Liv Tyler, Amber Valletta, and More Turn Out for Stella McCartney’s Colorful Garden Party.” Calling the bash “a colorful nod to Cuba,” Style quoted attendee Liv Tyler‘s words of praise for Stella: “I always learn something new from her.” The Fashionista website was also ebullient, congratulating McCartney for “manag[ing] to bring the feel and flavor of Cuba to Nolita” by transforming “a garden on Elizabeth Street…into a lively, Cuban-themed fiesta, complete with street performers on stilts, rum cocktails and cigars passed on trays, Che Guevara lookalikes playing dominos as models looked on, and a live band with salsa dancers on hand to set the groove.”
Nor was there a trace of criticism in Women’s Wear Daily, which described the fêtematter-of-factly as “a nod to Cuba, complete with costumed characters on stilts, a live salsa band and dancers, and two men who looked remarkably like Che Guevara and Fidel Castro enjoying a beer and chocolate cigars at a picnic table with some models.” In sum: “a cheeky, festive and timely photo-op.” Even Vogue seemed not to have learned from its own Syrian misadventure: “Stella’s world,” concluded its account, “is always sweet.” Elle UKenthused, too: “Stella McCartney knows how to throw a good party….don’t you wish you were there?” Not even The New York Observer saw anything unsettling about the theme of the fiesta, which it dubbed “the garden party of the century.”
At least the feminist website Jezebel got it. Reproducing several tweets that included photos taken at the party, Jezebel commented:
Guests included big names like Cara Delevingne, Miranda Kerr, Liv Tyler, and—most noteworthy of all—two men posing as Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Not present: anyone who’s suffered through Castro’s half-a-century-long dictatorship. How fun!
Jezebel suggested themes for future McCartney parties: “Sensual Stalin! Kim Jong’s Krazy Korea!” The Yahoo news site, to its credit, also recoiled, noting that “McCartney famously heralds cruelty-free clothing, while Guevara and Castro aren’t exactly, uh, pacifists—the former leading execution sweeps and training Congo rebels; the latter denying many of his citizens basic civil liberties.” Yahoo noted that New York Magazine had posted a picture from McCartney’s shindig on its Instagram account, only to remove it later after commenters expressed disgust at the apparent homage to a half-century of tyranny.
We mentioned earlier that we found exactly one (1) fashion writer who was actually appalled by the theme of McCartney’s soirée. The writer in question: Anna Quintana, who, quoting a bubbleheaded, self-flattering statement made by McCartney at the event – “I’m just too global for my own good” – suggested that “McCartney was not ‘global’ enough to understand the complex and sensitive nature of the Cuban story, especially given that she had men dressed up as Che Guevara and Fidel Castro mingling and playing dominoes with the guests and models.” Quintana added:
As a Cuban-American, I find it hard to process how a designer I have long admired, and one who prides herself on being ethical when it comes to her cruelty-free designs, could feature a garden party with walking caricatures of Castro and Che Guevara, two figures that many, if not all, in the Cuban-American community would consider to be the epitome of cruelty.
Bingo. Another Cuban-American writer, Humberto Fontova, also castigated McCartney – and, in addition, made this highly salient observation:
Fidel Castro and Che Guevara…made it a criminal offense for their Cuban subjects to listen to Stella’s Dad’s music. During the mid ’60’s Castro and Che’s ever-vigilant STASI-trained secret police was very scrupulous in ferreting out the counter-revolutionary crime of listening to the Beatles. The hapless Cuban youths detected in this crime were herded into forced labor camps at Soviet bayonet point.
Finally, there’s MSNBC journalist Collier Meyerson. She was offended by the party’s theme, too – but for another reason: in her view, McCartney’s capitalistic “commodif[ication]” of “the iconic faces” of the Cuban people’s “struggle” – she was referring, of course, to Castro and Che – showed “disrespect” for those two great socialist revolutionaries.