The Dress Situation: Part 1

The day after the Met Gala, I was happily enjoying the end of the semester and grabbing some lunch with friends. My phone pinged, and I looked down to find an email from a journalist at Slate. Heather Schwedel reached out to ask me about museum ethics in relation to the Kim Kardashian/Marilyn Monroe dress situation. I felt like years and years of competing interests and dabbling were finally coalescing: this was my moment. I can now add Kim Kardashian ethics expert to my CV.

So as I was preparing for my interview with Slate, I started getting WAY deeper into the ethics of MANY of my interests as related to this situation. It was like a Stefon moment to reference a cultural icon of the 2010s; this story had everything: historical artifacts of (questionable?) cultural patrimony, museum ethics, and even human remains. You know, it’s that thing where a “museum” gave a lock of Marilyn Monroe’s hair to Kim Kardashian at the dress fitting.

I was really happy with how the Slate article came out, overall. I managed to get in some great quotes against my old enemy Ripley’s.

“Ripley’s is a corporation,” said Katie Stringer Clary, a historian at Carolina Coastal University who has worked in museums and teaches museum studies. “They’re a company; they’re not a museum.” 

A Question for the Historians Furious at Kim Kardashian

The Slate article mainly focuses on the ethics and definitions of museums; the sum of the article is: “It’s no wonder really that Ripley’s lent out the dress: Its objective is not to educate or to preserve artifacts for the good of the humanity. It’s to make money. The whole reason the company bought the dress was likely that it presented an opportunity to do more of that by attracting visitors in Florida. In that light, letting Kardashian wear its dress was likely a sound business decision: Think of all the exposure. The dress may even be more valuable now.”

However, the entire opportunity to speak with Slate opened up even more questions for me. What are the ethics at play here? What about authenticity? What wormholes could this open?

My next blog will be about the ethics for museums (and corporations), and then I plan to tackle the most interesting aspect of this all to me… the human remains.

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