Totalitarian Fashion is a thing in Asia
Fascist Fashion is pretty cool in places like Taiwan, Indonesia, China and Thailand. WTF?
In Euroland or the USA, if you donned a Nazi uniform to class or work there’d be instant outrage, a tidal wave of protest and hell to pay. In Asia, however, it’s no real biggie. Recently at a Taiwanese middle school, students decided to put on a mock Nazi parade/pep rally, which sparked international outrage and condemnation, and caused the principal to resign in shame. The event — allegedly a ‘cosplay’ parade where youths dress up as characters and avatars from their favorite cartoons — got some pretty bad publicity when students were photographed giving “Heil Hitler” salutes and brandishing Gestapo garments and insignia, as well as a cardboard Panzer tank replica with swastikas 卐 and ϟϟ military markings.
Taiwan is obviously wacky and weird. But it’s not entirely unique when it comes to Asian kids and pop personalities embracing and appropriating defunct totalitarian symbolism. Thailand, South Korea and Indonesia are also keen on sporting dictatorial duds, and have made headlines for similar provocations and daft indiscretions. In Asia, ‘Nazi chic’ is a growing trend. Authoritarian garments and ‘Brown Shirts’ in the image of Hitler or Mussolini, or variants on the ‘mod stormtrooper’, are pretty common and don’t have the same historical and sociological trigger-points for Asians as for Westerners. “The outcry over the Nazi costumes in Taiwan, while obviously offensive to those educated on this horrendous period in history, should remind us of the dangers of cultural relativism, said one critic in a Facebook thread. “For East Asian countries, World War II was not about the Nazis or Hitler but rather about Imperial Japan’s pogroms and atrocities. Comparatively little time is spent in Asian countries studying German or Italian fascism than in Europe or North America,” said a professor at the London School of Economics.
That said, Nazi outfits and regalia often have a more punk or anti-establishment connotation in Asia, rather than a political or historical one. ‘Nazi chic’, as it has become known, is an expression of subversive modishness and its wearers in Asia are largely ignorant of its historical underpinnings. In Taiwan or Indonesia you can often see locals adding Nazi paraphernalia to their cars, clothes or even using it in advertisements and marketing initiatives (it is even popular to wear Nazi gear to your wedding, believe it or not!). Check this out.
But it’s not like we don’t do that in our own culture — how many countless ‘fashionistas’ and celebs regularly wear Che Guevara t-shirts or Mao Zedong hats or Marxist-Leninist iconography (think Rage Against the Machine and Green Day) or sport the Soviet hammer and sickle ☭ courtesy of Vetements, Gosha Rubchinskiy, Yulia Yefimtchuk, Denis Simachev and Demna Gvasalia, for example, despite the political baggage. Just recently Kim Kardashian West was spotted sporting a blood red Soviet hammer and sickle hoodie (she’s obvious oblivious to the fact that 63 million people died under that system; the ☭ was conceived as a reactionary symbol during the Russian Revolution and used right up to the USSR’s collapse).
When asked to justify their Nazi overtones, this was a common answer [in Asia, at least]: “it is okay to wear Hitler outfits but not Mao ones. That is because Hitler and Stalin largely failed. That’s why it’s okay,” said a gaggle of Thai students. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t offensive to anyone, however. Israel’s representative in Taipei, Asher Yarden, said on the mission’s social media channels that he found the military formation photos with Nazi appropriations “deplorable and shocking.” “We strongly condemn this tasteless event and call on the Taiwanese authorities, at all levels, to initiate educational programs which would introduce the meaning of the Holocaust and teach its history and universal meaning,” he said.
Both President Tsai Ing-wen‘s office and the Minister for Education Pan Wen-chung condemned the school’s parade, threatening to cut subsidies to the school asap if the code of conduct doesn’t change. But the Taiwanese Nazi parade wasn’t even the first such incident in Asia recently. In November, Sony Music had to apologize after Japanese girl band Keyakizaka46 (欅坂46) wore black capes and hats similar to the SS uniform during a stage performance. Similarly, Indonesian pop sensation Ahmad Dhani dressed up in a uniform worn by SS officers in a music video promoting presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto. He said he didn’t really think about the costume before wearing it and apologized. Thailand in particular has regularly been the target of annoyed Westerners, who can find Nazi-themed clothes and objects throughout the city’s shopping areas, malls and outdoor markets. In 2011 a Chiang Mai school had to apologize after its students were photographed dressing in Nazi gear, complete with Nazi flags, armbands, and stormtrooper styles for a school assembly. Check out these wack pics below.
Images via Wikimedia Commons
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