Should Queerness be Commodified? Gucci Thinks So.
Gucci has unveiled a capsule shoe collection called Queercore, with the flourish of an introduction that explains:
Queercore, the gay punk movement of the mid-1980s lends its name to a new collection of shoes. Reflecting the spirit of the subculture, the styles are fitted with multiple straps, studs and metal embellishments, including the Dionysus buckle.
Looking at the shoes, I wondered what made them Queer. The four styles feature straps and stud embellishments, not unlike several other Gucci brogues and heels. So I did some research on Queercore. Perhaps not surprisingly, the founders of the movement are pissed off. Gucci didn’t consult them about this "tribute," which in itself is an affront to Queercore's defining values.
First, let's note the price-range for the collection: $1250 to $1890. This is Gucci's business, literally, but what it's not is punk. Just as a safety pin in a Versace dress is not a safety pin in Richard Hell's threadbare t-shirt. Gucci is a high-end luxury brand selling aspiration in its goods and logo. In a way, you could say that Gucci itself is antithetical to everything the Queercore movement was about.
Legendary punk filmmaker and musician G.B. Jones told LGBTQ Nation:
Queercore didn’t ‘lend its name’ to Gucci for their shoes. I should know, I invented the term ‘Queercore.' They stole it, plain and simple. It’s theft.
According to Out Magazine, the Queercore scene grew out of a generation that bristled against what it saw as the bourgeois trappings of a mainstream gay lifestyle and the macho, hetero hardcore scene that punk had become. Queercore was a call to arms and storming out of the closet. It was a subculture within a subculture, marked by a sort of filthy, outrageous way to be gay.
Queercore was a specific arts movement created by a specified group of people. Why would Gucci create a Queercore line without contacting Jones and his cohorts? It would have been so simple to extend this courtesy. But it's hard to imagine Jones et al applauding the pricey shoes. "I’m sure if half the people buying these shoes knew what Queercore was really all about, they’d return those shoes in a heartbeat," Jones says, adding "I live on less in an entire month than it would cost to buy one pair of these shoes." There's nothing new about a counter-culture movement being co-opted by the mainstream. In this case, it's the blatant marketing that seems so questionable. Rather than a tribute, it feels more like exploitation.
Commodification is often criticised on the grounds that some things ought not to be treated as commodities - like queerness. Feminist bell hooks has deplored this tendency, complaining that social movements are losing their voices on change because members of the "movement" are not promoting the message but participating in a fashion statement. Activists' hard works are marketable to the masses without accountability.
I'm not queer, so I may be unqualified to make a judgement. However, trying to think of an analogy to Gucci's move, I'm wondering how we'd feel about Ralph Lauren rolling out a "La Raza" collection, honouring the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement. How about Balmain doing a "Black Lives Matter" line?
Chris Freeman, of Queercore band Pansy Division, is not happy, saying:
It’s truly absurd and I’d love to see a class action lawsuit brought upon Gucci by every artist who ever felt kinship to Queercore,
Another OG activist, Joanna Brown, says she can't see how Gucci shoes relate to a movement that was diametrically opposed to consumerism and “actively opposed gay-targeted advertising and marketing.”
The choice to merchandise a social movements is not exclusive to Gucci. Dior and Ashish are both selling t-shirts with slogans about women's rights and immigration. Fashion mags are saluting these expressions of solidarity, forgetting that they don't come cheap. Personally, I find them ridiculous and a little offensive. Just get one of your t's and write your protest with a sharpie! What do you queers, straights, feminists, Chicanos, immigrants, it-girls, and people of colour think?