Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Ah, yes, back in the days when everyone showed some fucking class

Vanity Fair has one of those quasi-obligatory decline-of-culture articles--“When Washington Was Fun” by Maureen Orth--focusing on what a double-wide trailer the White House has become since the days of Camelot. And you know what that means: a retro-
spective of the National Photo Album pages that feature Jackie Kennedy looking like the newly crowned America’s Junior Miss of 1962.

Robert Frost yadayada Pablo Casals yadayada Pearl Buck yadayada Leonard Bernstein yadayada André Malraux yadayada Alice Roosevelt Longworth yadayada Pamela Harriman yadayada.

Back then, apparently, no one was partisan. Everyone knew how to behave, even when beyond being drunk and inconveniently seated next to a spouse’s current lover. Everyone had excellent table manners because no one had yet been raised since birth on sporks, Slushies, and fast food. And no one, unlike Elizabeth Hasselbeck of ABC’s The View, would ever mistake a rosewater finger bowl for dessert, as she did at the recent state dinner for Queen Elizabeth.
“They had rose blossoms for dessert. They brought out a bowl of water that smelled like roses, and then something in the middle. And someone asked me what was for dessert, and I said, ‘This is it.’ But then I saw Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice—you dip your hands in it and you wash your fingers in it.”

In this subgenre, there is always much historical lusting after French Cultural Minister André Malraux. That‘s understandable. There was much to lust after in real-time as well, for the man was an author, adventurer, statesman, soldier, resistance fighter, and outspoken anti-colonialist. But let’s remember that in 1962 the top-rated television shows in the US included the Beverly Hillbillies, the Red Skelton Show, Bonanza, Candid Camera, and Gunsmoke.

The closest thing to André Malraux appearing in popular American culture at the time was Dick Van Dyke as Rob Petrie, if one generously equates being the fictional head writer of the fictional Alan Brady Show with being the French Cultural Minister.

Anybody above the age of, say, 35, knows how stupid this twisted nostalgia game is. Magazine and newspaper editors and writers don’t seem to get it: It’s not that Americans are no longer what we used to be, it’s that we never were those witty, fashionable, globe-trotting, intellectually curious people memorialized in the National Photo Album.

In the great socioeconomic ranking of the citizenry, most of us know that we’re much, much closer to the double-wide trailer end of the spectrum than to anything else. Nonetheless, even we believe there’s no excuse for our president to mangle with cruel indifference the names of visiting dignitaries and heads of state. Ehud Elmo and Mahoomed Abbas?! Shit, Bush fucked that up real bad.

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