Most of us stared at the television in awe of the seemingly racist remark, some took to Twitter to immediately express their outrage, while others simply sat back, waiting for the controversy to unfold. Nonetheless, judging by Rancic’s comment as well as the look on critic Kelly Osbourne’s face, we all became aware, at that very moment, that this would become one of the greatest and most publicized ethical controversies in the critical community of fashion in recent years.
Of course, we are talking about the infamous incident that occurred in 2015, when E!’s Fashion Police host, Giuliana Rancic, provided racial commentary on Disney star Zendaya Coleman’s Oscars Red Carpet look, which featured a white, sleek off-the-shoulder gown by Vivienne Westwood as well as dreadlocks.
Courtesy of dailymail.co.uk
“I feel like she smells like patchouli oil…or weed,” Rancic suggested in regards to the styling of her hair. “Yeah, maybe weed.”
Rancic’s comment was quickly followed by on-site chuckles among those working with the show or others who acted as part of the audience, as the program is largely known for its satirical nature set in place by Joan Rivers. However, outside of the Fashion Police bubble, a large majority of the public did not find the “joke” amusing, as they released their anger toward the falsely stereotyped and ignorant remarks in a series of Twitter rants and social media comments defending the young actress.
Courtesy of Twitter
Perhaps, the most significant post came from Coleman herself, who published a response that not only addressed the harsh slurs and stereotype associated with Rastafarian dreadlocks and weed smokers, but focused on the beauty and the strength depicted by that hair style.
Courtesy of Twitter
“There is a fine line between what is funny and what is disrespectful,” stated the teenage fashion icon.
But, in the world of fashion criticism, where is the line drawn between satire and ethical critiques? Moreover, where is the line drawn between criticism and criticism as a form of journalism?
As journalists we are taught to seek the truth in our reporting, to be accurate and fair, and most importantly, to avoid stereotyping as it is our duty to inform the public with the negligence of our prior prejudices or biases. In fact, the latter is included in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.
“Avoid stereotyping,” the statement reads. “Journalists should examine the ways their values and experiences may shape their reporting.”
However, when it comes to criticism as a form of journalism, these fine lines and codes can often be somewhat blurred, as critiques are more heavily composed of opinions than mere facts.
Despite Rancic’s efforts to refute the racial nature of the comments as they were intended to refer to a “bohemian chic” look, journalists are similarly subject to ethical challenges and critiques such as this example, the very second they voice their opinions.
That is simply the price they must pay.