Paul Thomas: Galliano takes performance art over the top

Fashion designer John Galliano, right, arrives with his lawyer at a police station in Paris. Photo / AP
Fashion designer John Galliano, right, arrives with his lawyer at a police station in Paris. Photo / AP

The fashion industry has got away with so much for so long that it almost came as a surprise when designer John Galliano failed to get away with his "I love Hitler" diatribe.

Not that some industry luminaries didn't do their best to get him off the hook. All manner of excuses and pleas in mitigation were entered, including the suggestion that seeing he's got away with so much for so long, how on earth was the poor boy supposed to know there's such a thing as a line, let alone where to draw it?

In defence of Galliano, it was said: "He doesn't have it in him". Fellow designer Roberto Cavalli can't believe Galliano could behave in a racist manner because "he's so international". Ditto model Chanel Iman, who calls him loving, caring and "so open to all types of people".

It seems worldly people aren't immune to the illogical assumption that because one hasn't witnessed or experienced a person's dark side, it can't possibly exist.

Whenever a serial killer is apprehended, a neighbour or workmate can be guaranteed to insist there has to be an innocent explanation for the 15 headless corpses buried in the bloke's back yard because "he wouldn't hurt a fly".

It's tough at the top. Veteran fashion journalist Suzy Menkes thinks "there's pathos in the vision of one of the world's most famous and best-paid designers alone, clutching a glass, in a bar. The pressure ... to create new things constantly has worn down other famous names".

No doubt Galliano had a stressful job, but through choice rather than necessity. And pressure, as Australian cricketing great and World War II pilot Keith Miller observed, is relative: "Pressure," he said, "is a Messerschmitt up your arse. Playing cricket is not."

And perhaps Galliano was drinking alone because people have found out the hard way what a swine he can be when he's had a few.

Give him a break, he's a genius: Having tut-tutted over Galliano's "offensive behaviour", the editor of British Vogue was quick to point out that "he has a huge talent and has contributed enormously to the resurrection of the House of Dior".

Her counterpart at the American Marie Claire placed Galliano in the tradition of the tortured, self-destructive artist: "Creative people like John - great artists, great writers - often wrestle with the devil in the form of the bottle or drugs."

Leaving aside the issue of whether someone involved in such a narrow, artificial and essentially commercial activity as fashion should be regarded as a great artist, there's a curious double standard here - if Joe Blow enthusiastically invokes Hitler and the Holocaust, he's reviled as a fascist goon and shunned by right-thinking people. When Galliano does it, it's a small price to pay for the privilege of having him among us.

Shoot the messenger: The editor of Italian Vogue sees a moral equivalence between Galliano's hate-speech and the act of recording it with a cellphone camera:

"I'm just as disgusted by these people who saw what state John was in and took advantage of the situation. It's very difficult to defend him when the news goes around the world."

Indeed, it would be much easier to defend him if it was just Galliano's word against that of his accusers. Of course if he refrained from anti-Semitic outbursts, people might be less inclined to reach for their cellphones.

Can't you tell the difference between a racist rant and performance art? "People ... go and see John Galliano theatre every season," said Sex and the City stylist Patricia Field. "To me, this was the same ... It's theatre. It's farce."

That would make a Tui billboard, except I doubt Galliano's a Tui kind of guy.

We had our own Galliano moment last year when actor and broadcaster David Fane gave Hitler the tick of approval while performing for the amusement of a bunch of radio personalities and advertising big wigs.

As the Herald on Sunday reported, "Afterwards no one reacted. No one protested or tackled Fane. Neither did the bloggers, tweeters or radio talkback hosts take on Fane in the days after."

Radio Network's chief executive John McElhinney, who posed arm in arm with Fane when he came off stage, estimated that "50 per cent of the room was with him", a deeply disturbing statistic.

None of the celebrities present were prepared to condemn the remarks when approached for a comment. Radio host Marcus Lush put it down to Fane sensing that his routine wasn't going down well and resorting to "some of his more radical material".

Note to aspiring stand-up comedians: when all else fails, hit them with Auschwitz. To his credit Fane offered unreserved apologies rather than excuses.

- NZ Herald

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