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Zooming Out on John Galliano

By Andrew Burgon /
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November 26, 2013

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John Galliano Forgiveness and understanding

John Galliano: A Shocking Fall From Fashion Heaven

While the anti-semitic remarks of John Galliano in 2011 were jaw-dropping they’re arguably not as shocking and offensive when we reframe the incidents with understanding and compassion. In fact, those who continually condemn and ridicule him should consider whether being concerned for his well-being and glad he didn’t share the same fate as Steven Robinson, Alexander McQueen and John Flett as the better path to go down.

The problem is that we have a tendency to zoom in so close to such incidents that our faces comically smack against a glass pane. With a funny, contorted Jim Carrey-like face and a beady eye we start to criticize what we see sometimes jumping to conclusions about someone. Conclusions that are biased and ignorant.

For arguments sake, let’s take his anti-semitic verbal attacks at face value. John Galliano is completely racist. He hates Jews.

Even before we zoom out a little we find that Galliano isn’t making much sense. He’s obviously not in a right state of mind. He swore at Fathia Oummedour as though she was Jewish but she’s of Arab descent. He called Geraldine Block a “dirty Jewish face” but she’s not Jewish either. His “I love Hitler” intoxicated rant was actually said to some people of French and Italian origin. What is going on here!?!

In saying he loved Hitler he failed to comprehend that Hitler would of hated him and sent him to the very gas chambers he touched on in his video rant because of his gender preference.

He called Geraldine Bloch “a diry whore,” “ugly” with “revolting eyebrows” and “no hair.” She was described at the court case as being petite, almost pixie-faced, with brown hair.

As it happens the couple who put Galliano’s sordid behavior on the public radar were not completely innocent. It appears Galliano was provoked in his drunken state.

Bloch’s companion, Virgitti, admitted that he lost his temper and threatened Galliano with a chair despite the fact he knew something wasn’t right with him. Throwing logs on a fire with a man who is clearly drunk is begging for trouble but I digress.

Perhaps he got into a bad habit of using this foul language the same way people use mindless vulgar swear words. As he admitted later, in his drunken ‘black out’ state he just reached for the most spiteful thing that came to mind.

Galiano’s Behavior Was Out of Character

Now, let’s zoom out just a tiny bit. We see that some of the people who know him are bewildered by his words. Socialite Daphne Guinness has called his behavior completely out of character. Fashion editor of Le Nouvel Observateur, Marie-Pierre Lannelongue, is a friend of his and has said that anyone who knows him can tell you he has a completely calm character.

Ingrid Sischy, who wrote the Vanity Fair article, ‘Galliano in the Wilderness,’ spoke to many of his friends and colleagues none of whom could remember John saying anything prejudiced.

John Galliano has often brought up the fact proudly that there is Jewish blood in his family. He has stated often times that part of the melting pot of his heritage included Sephardi Jews who came from Spain and Portugal in the 19th Century.

In fact, his first love happened to be a young Jewish man by the name of John Flett, who tragically died in his twenties. While I wasn’t able to establish that Flett was Jewish mention of their relationship predating the incident can easily be found on-line.

Courtesy of Fashion Channel

Everything is Beautiful

His career as a fashion designer has been about tolerance and the inclusion of others. He is a man who loves and appreciates cultures from around the world. He has drawn inspiration from so many sources including the Italian Jewish painter, Modigliani.

Fellow couturier Jean Paul Gaultier spoke out early concerning the incident saying in effect that Galliano’s work does not reveal him as a racist. In fact, it shows that he is otherwise.

The spring & summer 2006 show he did for the Galliano label was called Everything is Beautiful. Models took to the runway of all ages, colors, ethnic origins and sizes. A wonderful embrace of humanity.

When sober at least he has been described by those who have observed him or know him as a quite, fragile man who is obviously in love with his art. He comes across as graceful, courteous and polite. Lovely and kind are two other words that have been used to describe him.

A Sea of People

When we zoom back a lot, that’s when we really get a shock. We see that Galliano is just an unnoticeable drop in a sea of people around him that have ill-feelings toward Romas, Jews, Muslim immigrants and vice versa. If he just used the racial slur as a dirty word and holds no ill-feeling towards Jews like he says then it’s questionable that he should be counted among them.

Galliano is a notable public figure so naturally he’s singled out by the world at large, put against a white backdrop and his actions looked at under a magnifying glass. People wag their finger at him and then he has his guts handed to him and is promptly discarded.

Deep Racial Troubles in France

One should keep in mind that France is a deeply troubled country when it comes to racism. So troubled in fact that the government has enacted laws forcing people to bottle up any anti-discriminatory speech or actions and it has outfitted the populous in a figurative sense with high-voltage electric collars to make sure they comply. While it did seem to be having a positive effect early on in 2012 there was a surge of verbal and physical racial attacks.

There have been many violent acts fueled by racism in France. People entering Roma camps armed with baseball bats, iron bars and petrol bombs. Rioting in Trappes, a suburb of France, after police forbade a Muslim women to wear a veil and tried to fine her. A mosque in Limoges in central France that has been repeatedly defaced by racist graffiti, excrement and red liquid.

Putting Things in Perspective

If I was drunk it would be really weird if I said anything anti-semitic. I’m an Australian who has lived in Taiwan for 20 years. I’m not aware of any Jewish community here and I don’t have any face-to-face contact with Jewish people. I have never heard anyone express anti-semitic sentiments in my life.

Galliano, on the other hand, has been living in France for many years. He’s living in the thick of racial problems there. He’s probably read or heard about so many incidents in the newspapers, in magazines and on the news.

Going back to his childhood in South London where many Jamaicans, Indians and Greeks had emigrated to he says he heard a lot of awful insults. He may even have picked up the bad habit of using them as swear words just as people pick up the “f” word.

Add to this the fact that he is reportedly knowledgeable about the holocaust. That he had been researching Rudolf Nureyev before the incident and would have come across the assertion that the dancer had made anti-semitic remarks. His consciousness would have been littered with all this knowledge and vile flotsam. My point is this. How easy would it have been to tap into it when you are under the influence of alcohol and drugs?

His Behavior Explained

His behavior is no longer a mystery.  We found out through the trial, his interview with Vanity Fair and Charlie Rose that he was a man who was spiraling downwards out of control. The crippling horrors of alcohol, prescription drugs combined with the constant grind of his work and the resulting exhaustion caused his behavior to deteriorate.

There were other factors, too. One of the things he revealed was that he started drinking heavily when his closest friend and colleague, Steven Robinson, died. While some jaded people may cry foul and call this yet another ploy for sympathy, it’s not a stretch of the imagination that a 20 year close friendship with someone who has been one of the pillars of your success could be deeply upsetting.

Compassion and Understanding

I remember when I was going through severe depression that someone invited me out via a text message that all his friends probably got and I texted him back declining the invitation. I don’t remember what I wrote but I know I felt at the time that my friendship situation was hopeless so I didn’t want to go.

Another friend of mine accused me in a brief remark of being rude to this friend. He didn’t bother to ask why or try to understand why I wrote it. Knowing this friend as I do I’m sure that if he had of known how deeply troubled I was his accusatory jab in the ribs would have been immediately replaced by alarm and concern. Amazing, no, what a difference understanding and compassion can have on reframing an incident? Try doing the same for John Galliano.

Galliano’s Marvelous Transformation

Finally, we zoom all the way back and see a man who for the last two and a half years has done a marvelous job at reforming his life. Who has profusely apologized for his behavior and is still looking for ways to make amends. It is time I think to congratulate him on the success of his recovery and welcome him back into society.

Lanvin’s Israeli fashion designer Alber Elbaz has a point. When the subject of John Galliano came up he said that it’s a pity we have such short memories… Long memories like my own keep me in touch with my own failings and I’m far more understanding and tolerant of others because of it.

Some people still criticize John Galliano as though the incident only happened happened yesterday. At this point, they must be careful lest they become bigoted themselves. Not against a race, but against a reformed man.

What’s your opinion of this whole John Galliano fiasco?

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