Fakery Factories 1: Ciudad Juárez; or, an Appalling

by on Aug.05, 2011


1. Dropping the kids off at school yesterday (haha), Johannes and I were treated to this NPR report on Montevidayo’s (twin) sister city, Ciudad Juárez. The report was entitled “Big Business Booms in Mexican Border Despite Violence.” After the usual sickening statistics about how much money American firms make by sticking their factories across the border in Juárez and operating their businesses in the middle of a charnelzone, the story concludes:

Manuel Ochoa with the El Paso Regional Economic Development Corporation says the violence doesn’t appear to be significantly affecting the rebound of the Juárez economy.

He says it’s as if there are “two separate realities” unfolding in Juárez: The city’s murder rate rivals that of a war zone, yet its factories are exporting products at a record level.

2. But can there be “two separate realities”—if so, what does the term “reality” even mean? One way of looking at this is that there is just one reality—that this state of miserable violence yoked to record exports (read: profits) are part of the same reality—the reality of capitalism. Another way of looking at this paradox is that both these “realities” are in fact fake—fake states of affairs generated by the factory called capitalism, which generates fakery as both its product and its by-product—its consumer product and its waste. And both are for human consumption. And both are a waste. This quote cheerfully attesting to the two ‘realities’ is in fact another piece of ‘fakism’ generated by the fakery factory-  a ‘fakism’ that naturalizes capitalism’s nastiest products and byproducts as natural, inevitable, and ‘real’.

3.Last spring I wrote here about the scandal by which Rodarte, fashion line of the weird sisters Mulleavy, was forced to withdraw its Juarez-inspired makeup line, featuring blush, eyeshadow and lipstick with such names as “Sleepwalker” , “Ghost Town”, “Factory,” “del Norte”, and generally reported to create a bloodied or corpsey effect.  The sisters were accused of trying to profit off the murder of these women. For example,

 Hispanic activist Carlos Quintanilla calls it appalling, pointing out many women have been killed on their way to and from their factory jobs.

“It’s regretful that they would take the pain and suffering of a community and make a profit off of it,” he said.

4. “Appalling” , the OED would have us know, bears the etymology of the verb “to appall”: Old French apalir, apallir, later ap(p)alir, to wax pale, be in consternation; languish, waste away; also trans.to make pale, etc.


5. Or, as the Mulleaveys would have it,

6. Who is appalled by capitalism’s fakery factory? Who’s made of its wax? Who languishes in it, who made pale before it, who’s forced to consume its luxury fakism and toxic by-products, who wastes away? Who takes a bullet for it? Who wears its sticky mask?

7. Who doesn’t?

8. The Mulleavy’s Art-Crime was to make the situation acute, to mass-produce a fake face that could be applied to one’s own fake face, a mask for a mask.  But rather than conceal one fake-reality with another, Mulleavy’s death masks double up on capitalism’s fakism, supersaturates it, makes capitalism’s fakery and death-production excessive to itself and visible, makes it hurt and appall, exposes its waxen and corpse-pale and fake mask-face.  And, of course, it was the Mulleavy’s Art-Crime, the spectre of their presumed profit, that was found to be unbearably ‘appalling’, their ghost-makeup factor that was shut down. But not the American maquiladoras in Juárez, where “Big Business Booms on Mexican Border, Despite Violence.” 


17 comments for this entry:
  1. Lara Glenum

    Yes, it seemed to me that people were upset about the Rodarte Art Crime not because Rodarte brought together things that should be kept apart (i.e. serial killings of large numbers of poor Mexican women *and* high-end fashion) but because they exposed the contiguity and co-dependence of these things. The fact that they are sutured together at every point. The fact that there is heavy profit to be made from this particular construct of “reality.”

    As Baudelaire was fond of pointing out, accumulated power’s greatest strength is its ability to naturalize its own systems, values, and affects. Rodarte’s gesture denaturalized one of capitalism’s principle machinations: the bodies and costumes and spectacle of high-end fashion. All that (dis)posable female flesh. All the factories strewn across the globe. The dead women piling up in Juarez. Hello, twin. Hello, corpse.

    Bolano is one of the only male writers I know who doesn’t glamorize the trope of the dead woman. In his accounts of the serial killings in Juarez, the women just lie there in the dirt, decomposing, uneroticized (even in memory). Their bodies accrue and accrue.

    For the record, I’m not anti-fashion. I just have some seriously conflicting feelings about the economic and social terms on which fashion is built. Also, the way that fashion is often use as a form of collective sadism and policing. Humiliation seems endemic to its mechanations, which is maybe interesting. I especially love Rodarte and McQueen because they make these rather fraught tensions and dialectics legible in their work.

    On the phone the other day, I asked Danielle why Rodarte (and so many designers) don’t design for men, and she said, “Because everyone knows that a beautiful woman is the ultimate object, and everyone wants to design for the ultimate object.”

    Something is perhaps wrong with this.

  2. Joyelle McSweeney

    Hey Lara, thanks for this comment. I love what you have to say about Rodarte. But I have to disagree with you about Bolano! I think there’s a kind of ambivalence around this topic in his work, in the literal sense of something that turns/twists two (twin) ways (perhaps like a Moebius strip? Or like a radio star?).

    In _Distant Star_, the photos of dead women are like pinups in the little bedroom of the killer; one’s eroded image makes it look like she is literally ‘evaporating’ into the air. To me this is glamour– in, again, that archaic sense of it, as haze or fata morgana, an illusion, a dazzling effect of light. Photography is a glamour (i.e. a dazzling effect of light– and also its absence!), and to display photographs of dead women acknoweledges the circuits of glamour that surround and perhaps emanate from Death.

    In 2666 and the Savage Detectives, death seems both the departure point and the destination. The fact that both these sites are occupied by women actually feels like an embodiment of the romance of death and literature for Bolano.

    Finally, I’m just not convinced we can draw a gender line and say, most males make this mistake about women, etc. To begin with, who are the men? Who are the women? How do you know? Does a certain amount of queerness make you not a ‘man’? Does a certain amount of persecution make you not a ‘man’? If you don’t primarily identify by these genders then what? Is gender actually the most important attribute anyone has at any given moment? ARe you thinking of genitalia, chromosomes, clothing, the role assigned by the particular culture the person is sitting in when he/she does the writing?

    Also, where does that Moebius strip stops twisting, what kind of valence or twisting is buried in that Death-glamour? Maybe like a Moebius strip the twisting doesn’t stop…


  3. Lara Glenum

    O no, I didn’t intend to say that most men make this mistake about women! I’m not sure I even feel comfortable calling it a “mistake.” In fact, I don’t.

    I can’t, though, off the top of my head, think of too many parallels to the fourth section of 2666, which sags and exhausts under a catalog of crime reports. This is, as you point out, of a very different stripe than what happens in Distant Star, which very much mobilizes death-glamor as part of its overall effect.

    I’m not, in fact, trying to draw a gender line. Just observing a line that seems to be frequently drawn–the necessity of the dead female body to the art/crime trope. The glamor of the dead female object.

    Obviously, this trope can spin and refract in any number of ways. No interest in policing it. This is not a de facto indictment.

    I am, though, grateful for the occasional gesture (like Rodarte’s and like Bolano’s in 2666) that punctures the romanticization of dead female flesh. That’s not to say that these gestures are somehow more pure or ethical or correct. Just uncommon.

    I’m a little troubled by the suggestion that because the art/crime trope is mobile, invertable, doesn’t stop twisting (like all art, all tropes), that we can’t balk at the ways in which it’s often deployed.
    Or balk at the fact that the horizon is dotted with actual female corpses. The women of Juarez. The women in the Congo.

    That being said, I don’t want “moral” art. Or safe art. The dynamism and brilliance of Rodarte’s Art Crime lies in its relentless yoking of terms, not merely a romanticization of them. That, to me, is a very splendid thing.

  4. adam strauss

    I asked Danielle why Rodarte (and so many designers) don’t design for men, and she said, “Because everyone knows that a beautiful woman is the ultimate object, and everyone wants to design for the ultimate object.”

    Interesting–too, I’d guess, the male form might be more of a challenge: cut, tailoring, know-how is gonna matter from the getgo: less frills, less ways to draw attention away from lack of foundational education.

    As well, the male figure has not been socialized to updo itself experimentally–well nowadays, prior powdered wigs etc.

    If I was striving to be a really good designer I think I wld feel I needed a menswear apprenticeship even if wild female creations were my goal.

    I’m fascinated by the divide between designers who don’t know how to make clothes and those who do. There’s a really, I think, interesting bio of D Versace chronicling her continuation of Versace: according to this book she (at the mega sufferage of sales) made many-many evening gowns, and scrimped on daywear because it required more knowledge of nutsandbolts fitting than she had at the time.

    For brilliant male couture (Saville Row lol with flare: is that mean of me? I guess I’m assuming oldschool London is drab) we need to have fashion as skillset emphasized; perfect hangs of fabric is just not as exciting as runway flash.

    Note: please don’t assume I think masterfully made clothing for women isnt a huge skill and that maker knowhow cant coincide with megaglam. This is a reason I love Azzeidine Alliah: his stuff is not tame, but it also has very confident, solid lines which to me at-least suggest craft knowhow.

  5. Lara Glenum

    Also, Joyelle, I love the string of questions about “who is a man? who is a woman? how do you know?” I very much think all these things are in flux, indeterminate. That gender categories are being splendidly and rockingly skewed in so much art/performance and in so many bodies these days. But there are (as your original post points out) still some pretty radical imbalances in power in the world, some of which fall out along sex/gender lines (not that these are any more significant than other strategies of oppression). And art, like so much cultural production, as often glamorizes these imbalances as much as it interrogates them. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. I don’t really know.

  6. adam strauss

    “Who are the women? How do you know? Does a certain amount of queerness make you not a ‘man’? Does a certain amount of persecution make you not a ‘man’? If you don’t primarily identify by these genders then what? Is gender actually the most important attribute anyone has at any given moment? ARe you thinking of genitalia, chromosomes, clothing, the role assigned by the particular culture the person is sitting in when he/she does the writing?”

    I lovvvvvvvvvvvvvvve the above!

    The certain amount of queerness demanning interests me at the gutlevel because I often feel like I “get” females more than I get men, and that I have as a gay guy never quite been socialized to be a male/conceptualize myself as one; and although I think the prior statement is not absurd, I also don’t for a second think I am not a man/more than less socialized male and sporting various male privileges. When I was like six–and regularly messing around with a galpal of mine–I used to, at times while on the toilet, imagine I was, or had, become a female.

    For genitalia to not be a central marker, I–piggybacking on Judith B–am guessing that heterosexuality wld have to not be the most pervasive world order there is (I’m using numbers to draw this conclusion: other than the category human more humans are heterosexual than all else); she posits (in my reading: which seems to have zilch to do with the standard paraphrase of GenderTrouble) that sex difference is contingent on heterosexuali8ty, that that dynamic precedes and creates the conditions for the other distinction.

  7. Lara Glenum

    I’m very interested in this, Adam: “For genitalia to not be a central marker, I–piggybacking on Judith B–am guessing that heterosexuality wld have to not be the most pervasive world order there is.” That’s often my sense of it, too, though I often wonder if it’s true or if I’m oversensitized to this fact, given that I’m sporting labia and all. Heteronormativity just seems so, ugh, monolithic. And repetitive. And damaging.

    Ok, I’m going to go eat chocolate and paint with my children. Or eat my children and paint myself with chocolate.

  8. adam strauss

    I agree with this:

    ” Heteronormativity just seems so, ugh, monolithic. And repetitive. And damaging.”

    The sorta wonky thing is most–like 99% and maybe the one percent which doesn’t is queer theory not feminism tho I personally feel eeky splitting them–feminism fuels the above dynamic. Which, for me, does not then lead to the smarts being in abandoning feminism/that term. But I do think that the “figure of the lesbian,” the lesbian trope or whathavenone, is absolutely essential to get feminism out of various ruts. I cannot think of a subject position with more “light” to spotlight sundry dynamics than le lesbioan (I likely ought to not go for any kitschiness here seeing as I am totally serious).

    I wish I knew an unawkward way to alter the equation/chiasmus/hydrafreakflip feminism=heterosexual; heterosexual women=shit end of heterosexual stick; heterosexual=shittily monolithic.

    Men–in my discursive crackout field0–are so irrelevant I love it!

  9. Lucas de Lima

    A lot of interesting things happen in Bolano in terms of gender/sexuality/desire… heroic marginalized gays who become self-professed mothers (El Ojo Mauricio Silva) as well as straight men crippled under the weight of Latin machismo. Women are just as compelling and seditious (the toilet paper-eating Auxilio Lacouture, who if I’m not mistaken christened this blog, plus Florita the seer in 2666, the only character invested with a sense of shock and rage at the Juarez murders).

    I think the work of Bolano and Lynch, to bring this ongoing discussion full circle, is queer. I think both deeply rupture heteronormativity, but it seems that rupture often has to be violent, there sometimes have to be dead women, or even a dabbling of romanticization of dead women, otherwise what’s at stake? How does the artist wrest identity and subjectivity away from norms-whether textual or referential-without citing and momentarily embodying those norms? To me that forceful, often painful inhabiting and reworking from within is key to queerness… it’s how you account for the body’s interpellations rather than posit some fantasy space for the body’s freedom.

  10. Lara Glenum

    Ok, children eaten. Joyelle, your questions bring to mind that moment when Raul Zurita said that he’s neither a woman or a man when he writes. My first response was raucous applause. Cuz I believe in the total mediumicity of art, in a demolition of identity that is a species of performance *and also* in no way performance. A hybrid zone.

    This kind of identity collapse, as Lyotard often notes, seems fundamental to the radical thrill of art (both making it and consuming it).

    So I was cheering Zurita’s claim to be neither man nor woman when he writes.

    Then a woman I happen to know who seated near me said huffily, “Well, maybe he can shed his sex when he writes, but I sure can’t.” And this made me pause. The woman later told me she thought that Zurita’s claim was a fantasy born of male privilege.

    This didn’t really ring true to me (esp. since Zurita seemed to be making the claim on behalf of all artists, not just himself), but it did make me pause.

    I don’t know who I am when I write, but my sense of personal embodiment–the markers of race, sex, gender, etc. that I bear, my experience of these things–does leave traces all over my writing. And I’m not sure I can (or want to) escape this.

    I don’t know if I’d claim I’m neither a man nor a woman when I write. I feel strongly that I would, then again, I feel that I wouldn’t.

    I’m not sure, to return to your questions, Joyelle, that “man” and “woman” aren’t just rather flaccid (or highly mobile) categories. But I do still live my life marked as a woman (and a host of other things), which seems to inform my experience at every turn.

  11. Lara Glenum

    Adam, for me queer theory has opened up spaces that feminism has not, and I really feel for the rutted/gutted situation of a lot of contemporary feminism. Don’t think we’re in a post-feminist moment. The situation for straight girls feels pretty freaking grim at times.

  12. Lara Glenum

    Lucas, I love this: “To me that forceful, often painful inhabiting and reworking from within is key to queerness…”

    I feel this quite strongly in Bolano. The painful inhabiting and reworking. It’s absurdly moving.

    It’s clear that, as you say, “the rupture has to be violent” and that heteronormative tropes have to be engaged/taken up to rework them. I wouldn’t suggest otherwise.

    I think the shifting boundary in all these discussions has been the rather personal call as to whether or not a given artist is inhabiting a trope to rework it or merely replicating it. I really love the readings you’re offering of Bolano and Lynch. I hope you’ll write more.

  13. Jared

    Yes, I experienced Zurita’s statement that he is neither man nor woman when *he* writes as relevatory and prophetic, both revealing what he does when he writes and communicating (as if from the Void) a reality/possibility of which I might also become aware and partake in and grow into. A wonderful moment with an inherent challenge to carry the moment forward, made all the more challenging by his apparently soft/pliant demeanor. Thanks for the reminder!

  14. adam strauss

    “Don’t think we’re in a post-feminist moment”–

    Oh goodness, I totally don’t think we’re in a postfeminist place; nor, really, do I want that: I have an impossible time imagining feminism–so long as it doesn’t totally ossify and I verymuch doubt that will occur–as other than au courant.

  15. adam strauss

    I love this:

    “Ok, children eaten.”

  16. Joyelle McSweeney

    Hey All, I really love this line of discourse, how it’s twisting and turning (Moebius again!).

    I must say that the Zurita anecdote disturbs me somewhat– it’s very hard for me to see Zurita as an exemplar of any kind of ‘privilege’. This is someone who was imprisoned, tortured, his work destroyed, then spent the rest of his life doing these crazy self-destructive things, burning, branding, blinding himself even, to try to keep the wounds of the dictatorship open and visible, to exteriorize a pain and loss (of the disappeared) that would not heal, to refuse to let it heal. Moreover, he often writes in the voices of women or in voices that seem to bear all genders at different points, in particular speaking in the voice of a woman who was called crazy because she (like he, Zurita) burned her face– so it seems like there are many levels of identification and self-objectification in Zurita’s life and work.

    I don’t discount your seatmate’s account of her writing experience or her experience of endemic sexism, Lara, but I think as a critical category it really needs more nuance if it limits one’s ability to engage with a body of work. I see Zurita’s work as based on dis- and re-embodiment, empathy through a kind of co-embodiment. I take Zurita’s comment as being about disembodiment from gender. I think to let one’s ‘male privilege’ radar go off and let that limit one’s reaction is not to cope with the complexity of Zurita. And as a test-case, I think the Zurita example actually shows that the ‘male privelege’ can be too blunt an instrument sometimes.

  17. Lara Glenum

    Yes, I totally agree, Joyelle. I was in no way advocating for this woman’s position, which stuck me as rather painful. I hope I made this clear.

    I was only noting how her remarks triggered further thoughts/considerations for me about identity and writing.

    I personally found Zurita’s claims profoundly moving.