Reading Luxury & 

the concept of choice

 Published march 2018

'Why we need to talk about race' states the cover of British Vogue’s latest February issue. An issue that is, when clearly examined, full with similar alluring statements and so called ‘clickbait’ terms. In the online world this term is used when a title sounds exciting, enticing or hype worthy. The tendency to use active verbs that allude to socially relevant and urgent topics is massive, yet when flipping through the pages of this fashion magazine and searching for the actual content on these topics, the reader is left undone. The articles that seem to be about these urgent themes are overshadowed by advertising and shopping pages that content-wise are nowhere near as relevant as the bumpers on the cover suggest. Besides these mixed up pages, it is also within the articles that ‘educational’ information gets mixed up with subliminal advertising, causing confusion about the readers’ position and the framework wherein the readers find themselves. For example: the beauty page titled better together acts as if it’s an informative excerpt about the need for a genderless future, but it is actually just a page full of products that are dubbed ‘unisex’ in order to fall into an on-trend shopping category. This, amongst many other texts, is a self-acclaimed ‘informative article’ placed within a magazine that is actually driven by the promotion of products and services that the reader is able (and maybe even guided) to consume.

Generally, when reading a Vogue it is not clear what the intention of the article is and therefore it is unclear ‘how’ to actually read it. The intention behind the written information is being mystified. Is the reader being motivated and escorted to buy or, as the headline suggest, to keep up with present-day times and issues? Besides the mix-up of blatant and subliminal advertising with ‘genuine’ information on the topic, the magazine actually does contain articles about race and social diversity. But, although the table of content page shows some (not all) of the articles and their page numbers, searching for the actual content still feels like trying to find your way through a maze, ending up somewhere lost between Gucci advertising and the Adwoa Aboa’s online dating tips.

In today’s print/magazine culture, editors and writers get away with promising to inform you about one subject, while subliminally trying to sell you products or alluding to the fact that what you are reading, may it be racial diversity or radical protest, is for sale. The text therefore actually contains several messages.

In institutions such as the government and the FBI they us a censorship (called ‘sanitization’) to remove sensitive information from a document while still being able to communicate the message to a broader audience. Thus, as seen below, it visibly divides the text into two types of information through masking the parts that are ‘irrelevant’. Although it clearly shows that there are various ‘storylines’..

                                                                It would be                    really annoying for someone to                      read a text                                         like this, because                                     of the obvious                         knowledge         that information is being withheld                             from the                                     perceiver of         the text.                           awfully annoying, but honest.                                                                                                                


The same kind of subdivision within text actually takes place within Vogue but without this visual censorship that could make us aware of the presence of the various motives embedded in the text.

These different frameworks within one text become particularly clear when we take a closer look at the article Dressed To Protest: Can Fashion Help Bring About Change? written by Sarah Mower. When analysing this article, there are three different storylines compiled into one. The overall message of the article is actually rather unclear. It holds a historical, contemporary yet commercial tone and especially the latter is subverted throughout the literary tone of the writer. Bumpers like how is the way we dress at all relevant and a powerful wordless image can have truly a global impact when encoded in clothes, a strategy that is ever more brilliantly put to use by young activists are meant to entice the more ‘radical reader’ while for the ‘consumerist readers’ sparks of enthusiasm are created by lines like anyone can pick up a beret for next to nothing and wear it with the same impact as Beyoncé or the Dior models - or just as an on-trend accessory.
One of the most interesting takes on this article is the fact that Mower proposes critical questions without answering them, or even investigating/addressing them any further, so they end up being empty question marks fading into the background, overshadowed by the promotion of on-trend accessories that fit right into the radical-fashion category. 

    Aside from contradicting itself, by on the one hand saying that we can consume garments that generate change by being dressed to protest, and on the other hand stating that what we wear, will in the end, have no impact on creating actual change, we can conclude that the article underestimates the readers’ intellect and the possibility that the reader might be interested in the topic of protest or radicalisation without the motivation of consumption. 

 

When analysing a text like this we can ask ourselves the following: What if non-independent magazines like Vogue informed their public that there are various ways to read an article? Or in other words, what if there was a choice in ‘reading-perspective’? This concept of choice and the awareness of various ways of reading could be described as a ‘luxury in reading’. The idea of ‘Reading Luxury’ thus presents us with an obvious choice to consciously skip subliminal information or hidden agendas, preventing us from being suckered in by clickbait titles and persuaded to buy products instead of understanding the content.


By dissecting the article Dressed To Protest: Can Fashion Help Bring About Change? according to various reading perspectives and subsequently rearranging the existing material, the following pages give insight in the various frameworks embedded in the text. Together these versions clearly show the chaos that is brought about by all the different types of information the written story contains. 

*this essay is in reaction to Sarah Mower's article 'Dressed To Protest: Can Fashion Help Bring About Change?', which was published in the February 2018 issue of British Vogue.