I’ve refrained from saying anything about Auckland’s infamous Ya Ya Club – the high society banquet club – because it wasn’t worth an evening at the pub typing over several pints. However, this week social media crusade has flared up, this time over the ‘Bal Du Monde’ event featuring ethnic world-influenced fashion costumes which many have denounced as racism and cultural appropriation. Far from me to defend this group, I find some of our broader motivations in our sneer and dislike somewhat misguided.
Our existing hatred towards the Ya Ya Club reflects a common problem among modern leftists in imbuing individuals and groups with a power and mythology they lack, and this wouldn’t be the first time I’ve complained. John Cleese, in an excellent 1980’s political party broadcast, suggests we often justify our righteous anger at individuals and groups because they are the source of evil. In this case, the Ya Ya Club is treated as the cause of socioeconomic inequality rather than a symptom. They provide a proxy through which to express our hatred towards John Key and the ‘rich pricks’, like similar social media snark towards son Max and daughter Stephanie. Rather than focusing our time and energy on the complex task of how to reduce inequality, it’s easier and more instantly gratifying to play a perpetual game of political whack-a-mole. Ironically, Ya Ya Club members behaviour is more simply explained as the predictably behavior of many children who were raised wealthy. They have more access to money and spend it on luxury items in which they flaunt. As I have written in the past, a common affliction among the modern left is, living in a free market democracy, we treat all decisions – whether fashion tastes or political opinions as consumer ones and a matter of personal choice rather than the result of class and/ or cultural upbringing. We treat Ya Ya Club members as making the wrong political and luxury consumer choices compared with our superior ones without a consideration of class culture.
Us politically engaged left leaners are hardly immune to the flaunting of our exquisite tastes either. Politically, our Facebook posts and tweets against the Ya Ya Club too often contain an underlying narrative of “I am against bigotry and I need as many people to know this as possible.” – itself a branding exercise. There’s also a hypocrisy from many critics’ anger at Ya Ya’s glamourising consumer wealth. Consider how many of us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook celebrate our consumer choices: the bottles of Bollinger, the food selfie from an expensive restaurant, and the exotic beach holiday. To an extent, Ya Ya Club is not dissimilar to one of our Instagrammed potlucks, but with more money and therefore a better venue, more famous guests, and more likes.
The claims of racism and cultural appropriation also run a huge risk that potentially ensnares ourselves – something I’ve been concerned about social media calling out for some time. High fashion photo shoots and runway fashion commonly feature exotic influenced designs and costumes, which themselves only become a problem when public sensibilities deem individual instances cultural appropriation, like in this case and with Stephanie Key’s Native American headdress before it. However, the difference between what is acceptable and what is bigoted can change overnight. I recall friends wearing Native American headdresses a few years ago when it was considered perfectly acceptable, with most of them likely embarrassed about it now. Changing cultural mores are unpredictable. Soon it may be Asian peasant hats from the Auckland Lantern Festival, yoga pants, or dressing as a cholo/ chola for a costume party. The well meaning among us may be caught out by shifting social mores.
If anything, those who oppose the Ya Ya Club would be better served considering it as satirical fodder. A youthful version of the silver-haired Toorak Liberal Ladies who lunch and fundraise for charity. An removed experience but mostly harmless, earnest, and at worst needlessly provocative. The Ya Ya Club are not the cause of inequality or racism and make poor substitutes for John Key, the National Party, and the ‘rich pricks’ and cannot heal our wounds of seven years of political disappointment. Unless the Ya Ya Club sends out a press release inciting a race war or merges with the Taxpayers Union, then it means little to me beyond an amusing curiosity.