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Do you really think a former model going out in front of cameras doesn’t consider her clothing a statement? #melaniasjacket pic.twitter.com/4U2p5We2dl— Jackie Brown (@bluesinvitation) June 21, 2018
A couple of weeks ago First Lady Melania Trump was photographed in a jacket which had “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” written on the back. Chaos ensued. Well, not exactly chaos, but rampant speculation about what she meant by that statement.
The statement itself seems harmless enough, a vague undirected statement of detachment or nonchalance. But such a statement seems, on the surface, in conflict with the context in which she wore the jacked. In the photo above (to the left) she is boarding an airplane to fly to a detention center for immigrant children. The children’s families attempted an illegal border crossing, had been caught, and the children had been separated from their parents. This policy was (and is) enormously controversial and is strongly identified with her husband, President Donald Trump, who’d made cracking down on immigration a cornerstone of his policy. That controversy was at a fever pitch when the First Lady got on the plane.
Such a trip is ordinarily an expression of sympathy. But if the First Lady was sympathetic to the children, then why wear a jacket that expresses detachment on its back? Is she saying, in effect, that she’s not at all concerned about/for the children? If so, isn’t that a terrible thing? But then, isn’t her husband a terrible president? And thus the full force of anti-Trump sentiment became directed at Melania and her jacket.
Abstractly considered, it’s possible that she just grabbed the jacket on the way out the door without thinking about it. But, as the tweet above points out, she once made a living by wearing clothes for the camera. It seems unlikely that she’d be so cavalier. She had some intention, but what?
I surely don’t know. It’s possible that she had something specific in mind, for a specific audience. It’s also possible that she thought about it and picked that jacket on a purely intuitive basis, sure that it was just the thing, but without an explicit sense of what that thing is. I don’t know.
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To what degree or in what way are literary texts like the writing on Melania’s jacket? So-called formalists have argued that literary texts contain their meaning within themselves. Hence we don’t need to know anything about the author or the historical context in order to determine the meaning of the text. But not all literary critics are formalists, not by a long shot. For these critics, context is essential.
In the case of Melania’s jacket context, yes, is essential. But it is not definitive, not for those of us without access to Melania’s mind. And maybe not even for Melania herself. She had a certain intention when she first put the jacket on and was photographed wearing it. Has that intention remain intact through the ensuring controversy?
Today’s visit w the children in Texas impacted @flotus greatly. If media would spend their time & energy on her actions & efforts to help kids - rather than speculate & focus on her wardrobe - we could get so much accomplished on behalf of children. #SheCares #ItsJustAJacket— Stephanie Grisham (@StephGrisham45) June 21, 2018
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Addendum: From Rebecca Jennings, Racked, Aug 15, 2018:
Between the “salacious allegations,” “wild tales,” and “gossipy asides,” as Vox put it comes Omarosa’s opinion of how Melania used her style — and specifically the jacket — to send a message not to the media but to her husband:
I believe Melania uses style to punish her husband. It’s my opinion that Melania was forced to go to the border that day in June, essentially, to mop up her husband’s mess. She wore that jacket to hurt Trump, setting off a controversy that he would have to fix, prolonging the conversation about the administration’s insensitivity, ruining the trip itself, and trying to make sure that no one asked her to do something like that again. Not that Melania doesn’t have compassion for immigrant children; I’m sure she does. But she gladly, spitefully, wrecked her husband’s directives to make him look foolish.If true, it falls squarely into the suggestion, often coming from liberals, that Melania is somewhat of a prisoner in her marriage (e.g., the chorus of “Melania, blink twice if you need help” posters at the Women’s March).
It also echoes the widely held belief that even though Melania doesn’t say much, she’s constantly communicating through her clothes.