Waiting in the dentist’s reception area longer than usual, owing to ‘protracted extraction issues’ with an earlier patient, I’m informed, some professions requiring the use of euphemism more than others, I pick up the 29th Annual Hollywood Issue of Vanity Fair from the table beside me.
A shimmering periodical dedicated to showcasing the glitz and glamour of big-time movie and TV stars?
Voice given to the underrepresented and forgotten among us.
Who am I to judge such matters? (A good mantra to develop for daily encounters, large and small.) We all require a little glossy in our lives from time to time.
Flipping through the shiny pages, impossible for the amateur to distinguish between articles and advertisements – Pretty Woman: The Musical? – recognizing none of the young Hollywood icons, to no one’s surprise. They are all impossibly sculpted, modern superhero alter egos and, at least like a good many of us, apparently unhappy and dour. Not a smile to be seen between the lot of them.
It’s been thought that the absence of smiling in classical portraiture painting had to do with bad dental hygiene. Who wants to show off their rotten head of teeth or capacious gaps of missing chicklets? That’s so Caravaggio. Certainly not a Lord or Lady’s legacy for posterity, hanging on the manor walls.
Like so many obvious explanations, this might not be the case.
Some suggest that the severe, harsh or, more generously, straitlaced visaging in old paintings had a cultural component to it. Tight-lipped was considered de rigueur. Toothiness deemed crass, of the lower orders. Tout simplement pas fait! Serious people struck serious poses. Smirking might be acceptable, if done tastefully, enigmatically. The Mona Lisa smile. Lent an air of mystery and beguilement.
But there just might be an even more practical explanation.
It’s incredibly difficult to maintain a smiling pose!
Before long, even the most genuine, beatific smile collapses into a forced grin, a jaw clench, an awkward grimace. Up until, what? A hundred and seventy years or so ago? There was no quick snapshot to capture the desired smile to use as the painter’s model. You might endeavour a slapdash sort of sketch, but even that. No guarantee of the catching the perfect moment.
None of this applies to modern photography. With enough money, anyone can have the picture-perfect chompers. There seems to be no cultural proscription against flashing those pearly whites, at least in the west. Smile for the camera! The Serious Person Being Serious might still be in effect, I imagine, which could offer an explanation for the absence of any sort of seeming enjoyment emanating from the firmament of stars in this Vanity Fair’s ‘In Crowd’, as successful and celebrated as they are.
But if this cohort’s disgruntled, how can any of us expect otherwise? Isn’t it their role to uplift us, to deliver an image to which all of us aspire? Or perhaps they are simply posing to reflect the current zeitgeist. A distorted mirror held up to society where we’re all sad and lonely, seeking solace in cocktails and haute couture.
Maybe I’m reading (skimming?) too much into it. As is my want. But surely, amidst all this parade of excess, such affluence unknown until only recently to anyone other than royalty and the upper echelons of the landed gentry and Catholic church, there must be at least a sliver of happy satisfaction.
The first story that grabs my attention.
‘West of Eden’ by James Pogue.
“Out of the fringe Right, a new vision of the old frontier is rising – off the grid, back to the land, ‘protecting’ an American Dream that they believe to be their own…”
It seems that a bunch of very wealthy people, sickened and tired of living in a globalist liberal dystopia, a fallen world of their own creation, one could argue, are buying up tracts of land in the not-quite-far West, red-friendly places like Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, to establish, or rather, re-establish Olde Tyme Americana with Olde Tyme American values as they imagine those to be. “The So-Called Dissident Right,” according to author Pogue.
‘The Dissident Right’. Monied malcontents. Chafing under the rules and responsibilities required to operate in a society designed for their individual success. The Homesteaders. Seasteaders. Colonizers of space. All escapist fantasies of those who contributed mightily to the deep boring of the hole in the sinking ship of state.
Next up, an article about the competing claims of who wrote Gloria Swanson’s autobiography. Hint: It wasn’t Gloria Swanson. Ghost writers, unmask yourselves! Then onto a piece about the Ponzi scheme calling itself NFT art featuring Bored Apes, their own Yacht Club and the latest crypto-villain, Sam Bankman-Fried.
“Was it a legitimate burst of enthusiasm for a revolutionary way to create and sell a new kind of art?” the article’s writer, Nate Freeman, poses. “Or a tulipomania speculation bonanza that was driven purely by greed and hype?”
Is this a rhetorical question or am I just a cynical old-timer?
In fact, I might suggest, tossing the magazine back on the table beside me, imagining the muffled screams from the semi-medicated patient back somewhere in the dentist’s chair, it’s not too far off the mark to see greed and hype as fundamental building blocks to existence.
Why does a gorilla beat its chest?
A pigeon puff up in the presence of a possible mate?
A flower bloom into brilliant colours?
To showcase their impressive merits. That’s hype. Hype in the service of securing the appropriate share of the necessary resources due to such a highly esteemed (if they do say so themselves) member of their respective species.
Are humans really that different?
We believe ourselves to be beyond such base, primal motivations. We humans are driven by reason, rationally determining the outcomes we aspire to, strive for. Think it. Be it. Achieve it.
We believe that when the going gets tough, the tough get to withdraw from the wreckage to live among like-minded individuals. An exile of disaffection. A utopia of spite.
We believe that expertise goes to the highest bidder. Money denotes knowledge. Success transcends any field of study.
The Great Man hype.
We believe in a forever and always upward trajectory of progress as long as we all continue to believe in it. No wavering. No doubting. The arc bends justly.
Historical determinism hype.
We are all ready for our close-up, Mr. De Mille.
(Allow me to get my teeth cleaned first.)
Hype is hope devoid of truth which, when it comes home to roost, make us all a sad lot.