Bonne Fête Nationale! It’s le quatorze juillet — or what we non-French people call “Bastille Day,” which we do because we’re horribly plouc. Back in the day, I was lucky enough to be in Paris on July 14 three years in a row, so I have fond memories of the Eiffel Tower’s fireworks and wearing a tricolor dress.
I always love dressing for a theme! I seriously thought about doing it this year, because I could have been more on-theme than ever, even though I’m not in Paris and none — I mean, NONE — of my dresses, tricolor or otherwise, fit due to pandemic weight gain. This July 14, all I had to do was put on the gold guillotine pendant I wore to death (ha!) last year.
I bought this pendant from my colleague Jessica Kagan Cushman. I normally don’t wear other jewelry designers’ work, but I laughed so much when she posted it that I had to have it. The pendant represented my feelings about the likes of Jeff Bezos and other power- and money-hungry billionaires, as well as the tech companies — including Amazon — that rake in millions by helping the government gather the information it needs to deport poor people. But the pendant was a humorous way of making that serious point, because how can wearing a guillotine around your neck seem anything but ridiculous? As Stella Bugbee explained in a story about guillotine jewelry for New York Magazine in January, “Guillotines can seem absurd in ways that threats of gun violence could never. Somehow it feels less scary to joke about a cumbersome, preindustrial machine.” It’s like my own jewelry line’s poison ring designs — those rings are meant to give people a naughty thrill, but they’re not an endorsement of real-life poisonings.
I happily wore Jessica’s guillotine pendant layered with my own gold NASTY necklace for months. But then came the attempt to overturn a fair presidential election via the insurrection at the Capitol this January 6. During the attack, domestic terrorists hunted for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while others built a gallows and called for the hanging of Vice President Mike Pence. Fascists really ruin everything, don’t they? While they’re busy depriving you of your right to vote and your right to control your own body, their evil trickles down the way wealth never does, and suddenly the jewelry/television show/music that was pointed but funny is drained of its humor because of people who are genuinely violent.
The fascists then gaslight you about the violence you’ve witnessed with your own eyes. As George Orwell wrote in 1984, “The past was alterable. The past never had been altered. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.” In May, a Republican congressman from Georgia — who was photographed looking horrified and helping to barricade a door on January 6 — compared the insurrection to a “normal tourist visit.”
Cheers to the person who created the Bastille Day version of the Georgia congressman’s interpretation of mob violence.
The fight against American fascism obviously isn’t over: There will be violent minority rule unless we can preserve the democratic process. You can help do that by pressuring your senators to get rid of the filibuster that authoritarian Republicans plan to use to block the passage of voting rights protections at the federal level. Check out Indivisible’s Filibuster Friday toolkit to learn what you can do this week.
If we can contain this threat, maybe I can go back to fully enjoying Jessica’s guillotine pendant. It wouldn’t be the first time a symbol of capitol punishment came to stand for something better! As Stella Bugbee concluded in New York Magazine, “… millions of people wear simulacrums of death every day in the form of simple graphic crosses — the gory origins of the crucifix having long been supplanted by the teachings of its most prominent victim.” Perhaps the guillotine will one day represent that fact that inequity — and the billionaires that inequity enables and who then put massive resources into preserving their advantages — are a thing of the past. “Remember when the New York Times devoted front page space to three unbelievably rich white guys building space ships for themselves?” we’ll ask each other, our guillotine earrings shimmering.