Let them eat CK

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Nov 14, 2004

Charlotte Hays at Inkwell quotes Theodore Dalrymple on the subject of faux pauvres:

"The fashion of torn jeans is an insult to all those who must wear clothes with holes in them for lack of better ones: of whom, unfortunately, there are still many millions in the world.

"When I think back to the heroic efforts of poor Africans I have witnessed to make themselves smart and tidy for special occasions -- efforts that filled me with admiration -- I feel an anger at this frivolous assumption of false poverty by people who've never had to wear rags. Once, only Marie Antoinette played at being shepherdess; now, it's a mass phenomenon."

Probably there's a certain element of power trip in celebrity chic du slob ("I can dine at Lut├Ęce in sweat pants while you have to put on a tie..."), but D is right that it argues remarkable obtuseness toward the larger World Out There, and his remarks put me in mind of a passage from a 1993 New Yorker essay by Ted Conover, recounting his trip with a trucking convoy in East Africa:

I did not arrive with the three trucks in the escorted convoy but instead joined them in a fourth truck, Fleet 19, which was carrying empty beer bottles. Such a load, Malek explains, does not qualify as protected cargo. It is unlike auto parts, imported liquor, or "clothes from your dead people."

"What?" I ask.

"Yes, you know, the clothes -- the clothes they sell at markets," he says.

"But what dead people?"

"You know, the clothes they sell that have been worn by your people who now are dead -- nguo za mitumba."

It suddenly dawns on me. "Secondhand clothes."

"Yes!"

I see that Malek, though he is a worldly man, who has travelled on three continents, does not understand the discarding of clothes that can still be worn. In other words, he does not understand the Western practice of fashion. I don't have the heart to explain it.

Maybe Susan Sarandon could make Malek see the point.

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