Crime, Fashion, Free Speech, Music

Feline Riot

Seven members of Pussy Riot.

This website has been sadly bereft of Pussy Riot coverage. Sadly, because typing the words “Pussy Riot” is fun. Pussy Riot. Pussy Riot. If you don’t know of what I speak, here’s a quick crash course on all things Pussy and Riot. They’re a female punk band in Russia and, this August, three of their members were convicted of something called hooliganism because of a performance that took place in an Orthodox Christian cathedral, where the band shouted anti-Putin slogans and railed against the Orthodox Church’s support of the Russian president. Comprende?

Well, like that Che Guevara shirt you thought was so transgressive at the time and now looks like nothing more than the celebration of conformity and a youthful attempt to graft meaning onto an otherwise whitebread, boring upbringing, the Pussy Riot gals have transcended politics to become something even greater. Namely, fashion. The lasses of Pussy Riot have inspired lame middle class American kids to start wearing balaclavas.

If you don’t know what a balaclava is, don’t despair. I had to look it up too. It’s just a ski mask.

But contra Freud, the state of New York believes that sometimes a ski mask is not just a ski mask. Sometimes, it’s a criminal act…

Last week, the New York Times reported on a legal challenge that seeks to overturn a New York law that criminalizes the wearing of ski masks. Specifically, it criminalizes three or more people wearing them together at the same time. Here’s the statute in question, which defines loitering, in part, as:

Being masked or in any manner disguised by unusual or unnatural attire or facial alteration, loiters, remains or congregates in a public place with other persons so masked or disguised, or knowingly permits or aids persons so masked or disguised to congregate in a public place; except that such conduct is not unlawful when it occurs in connection with a masquerade party.

Different ways of wearing a balaclava (per Wikipedia).

That’s right. Wearing masks in a group is illegal. Unless you’re attending a party hosted by Truman Capote.

According to the Times, this law has been challenged before — once by the Ku Klux Klan, and once by anarchists. The Klan had asserted that the law inhibited their speech. A federal appeals panel disagreed, stating hilariously that the Klavern’s message “could also be communicated through the members’ tall hoods and flowing robes.” And flaxen hair and dignified mien and sophisticated saunter.

And so now the state of New York has something worse than the Klan to kontend with. They’ve got three female fans of Pussy Riot, who have decided to fight their arrests for wearing balaclavas while protesting the arrest and conviction of three female members of Pussy Riot. Who wear balaclavas. First as Pussy Riot, then as farce.

The three women fighting their arrests in New York argue that, much like the unreconstructed racist Klansmen who came before them, their free speech rights have been violated. That wearing a ski mask is a political statement:

At the heart of their defense is the contention that the masks were used to express a message that could be effectively conveyed only by wearing that specific type of mask.

“The balaclava is the defining symbol of Pussy Riot,” the lawyers wrote. “It conveys a particularized message of support for Pussy Riot and the likelihood is great that viewers will understand this message.”

This message being, clearly, “my nose gets cold.”

And so these women are now fighting the charge of loitering just like the women of Pussy Riot fought the charge of hooliganism. The women of Pussy Riot, however, were fighting an autocratic political system that continues to threaten whatever delicate democratic impulse can said to be still emanating in Putin’s Russia, while the women in New York are fighting an antiquated law akin to laws prohibiting spitting on sidewalks on Sunday. The stakes are, shall we say, a bit different.

But it’s a dumb law. A law based on old-timey fears of masked villains. The lawyers for the three ladies who were arrested in New York have made clear that they don’t think the law is unconstitutional on its face, but rather that the law as applied in the protesters’ case is unconstitutional. That sounds about right. It seems ridiculous to admit as much, but the fashion choices made here are obviously political speech, no matter how dumb. If you want to learn more about balaclavas and Pussy Riot and generalized yearnings for freedom, click here to read the lawyers’ memorandum of law in support of their motion to dismiss the charges. It actually is pretty entertaining reading if you’re into those sorts of things.

In the comments, tell us what your favorite feminist punk collective is. Or, better yet, talk about the movie Mask, starring Eric Stoltz.

3 Fight Anti-Mask Law That Prompted Their Arrests [New York Times]

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