A Cure for Love Rats; All About Anna; Eichmann's Memoirs
Love Rat At first I thought it had to be the greatest news since the discovery of penicillin. Scientists are on the verge of finding a cure for those who cheat on their wives and girlfriends, i.e., love rats. Research on rats?pun intended?has shown that a genetic tendency to infidelity can be reversed, and the effects on philandering humans may be just as drastic. All the scientific types had to do was insert a gene from a monogamous rodent into a polygamous one, and presto, the rats turned into Barbara Bush.
The reason for my premature rejoicing is easy to explain. Throughout my life I have suffered from what the Frenchies refer to as "le coup de foudre," the lightning bolt that hits you with 1000 jolts of electricity upon encountering a certain member of the fairer sex. With typical understatement, the Anglo-Saxons call it falling in love, but I prefer the French description. It is madness, pure and simple, and it used to happen to me all the time. Thankfully, the last time I suffered from it was one year ago, but then I'm getting very, very old. The similarities between love and lunacy are too many to list here. The loss of appetite, the sleepless nights, the constant butterflies in the stomach?who needs it, as they used to say in Brooklyn.
Well, as it turns out, I certainly do, and the last thing I need right now is for the scientific types to triumph and turn me into an uxorious rat. We no longer lock lunatics up in dark rooms and beat them, nor should we be heartless to those who are perennially madly in love. (And by this I don't mean a pig like Clinton, who orders women to kiss it, but sensitive types like yours truly, who believe in the old adage of "Whiskey and sofa? Or gin and platonic?")
So, is there, alas, a cure for love? Even if the science boys fail, I'm afraid the end of passion is near. I know, I know, passion and love are two different things, but not in my book they ain't. About 15 years ago, on the island of Crete, I attended a celebrated case of abduction, seduction and imprisonment. It confirmed that we Greeks are a superior race where romance is concerned, and that our justice system is light-years ahead of the Anglo-Saxon mode. "Who hasn't felt passion beyond reason?" demanded a Cretan peasant of the judge, while in the throes of defending himself against charges that he had abducted the fiancee of another man and kept her prisoner in a mountain cave for three months. The judge?probably as passionate in his youth as the peasant?gave him the minimum sentence. The fact that the victim testified in favor of the accused also helped. (The cuckold fiance proved a terrific bore, pedantic, unimaginative and basically unromantic; whereas the kidnapper was dashing, chivalrous, and?I assume?very energetic in bed.)
Clearly, passion beyond reason drove Jean Harris to overcome her bottled-up feelings for the good doctor, and shoot him dead not in the best manner of a Madeira headmistress. Passion, or romantic love, is supposedly the most powerful emotion that sexual love can produce, so intense and devouring that it exerts its supremacy over all faculties, especially the mental ones. It can still ruin lives, destroy careers and lead to prison for life. It also beats the high of any drug and the ecstasy of any victory. I dare anyone, except for a bore like Gore, to deny it.
Remember the tango scene in Scent of a Woman? Had it been real life, the poor little Greek boy would have gotten hit by the 1000 jolts. Gabrielle Anwar was wonderful?demure, sweet, sexy and very, very feminine. Not so long ago, sitting by an Austrian lake, I saw probably the best-looking girl ever standing in the water holding her dress up above her knees. I tried, but no cigar. Let's face it. I'm past it. (See what passion does? The object of one's affection is always the most beautiful ever, and it happens every time.)
Vladimir Nabokov, who knew a thing or two about passion, being Russian, got it right in his short story about an older man watching a young woman sitting on a park bench. In previous centuries, passion was seen as akin to divine love, and from Dido to Aeneas to Romeo and Juliet, it inspired the grandest of artists. The great 19th-century ballets, with no words to express approval of death-defying love, used the apotheosis, the scene in which the dead lovers are reunited in heaven.
Even politicians were not immune to passion. Benjamin Disraeli's epistles to Mrs. Wyndham Lewis burned up the paper, so to speak. Can you imagine the Democrat without the eyebrows who shouts a lot in front of tv cameras?whatever his name is?or the Draft Dodger, come to think of it, writing anything elegant and passionate? Or Ted Kennedy?
Which brings me to the end of passion, with or without the help of science. In the narcissistic climate of today, anyone who loves another more than himself is considered mentally unbalanced, the Clintons being prime examples of narcissism and self-obsession. I guess the rot began when Edward VIII did give up his kingdom for the love of Mrs. Simpson?and was exiled as a result. Perhaps the reason for the further decline of passion is the ability of lawyers to enrich themselves while the passionate couple's high romance ends in broken plates.
Popular music, always a good indicator of the times, is now a grotesque rap sound. Glossy videos are as far removed from passion as they are from Mozart. How much passion can Austin Powers generate? Perhaps passion in the 90s is too dangerous; hence its decline. Steal a kiss from your unsuspecting object of affection and face five years from a feminist-fearing judge. Look passionately at a girl in the office and face the Gulag next day. I guess the days when Ezio Pinza sang, "Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger across a crowded room..." are gone forever. And it's just as well. Science will now give passion the coup de grace. Who cares? I've had my fun, so there.
Toby Young ARRIVISTE
All About Anna For keen students of New York's media-industrial complex, a dramatic power play is unfolding right before our eyes. Kate Betts, the 35-year-old fashionista who resigned from Vogue last month to take the helm of Harper's Bazaar, has declared war on Anna Wintour. So far she's managed to persuade fashion writer Kristina Zimbalist and production director Dawn Roode to defect to the enemy camp. Will the younger woman succeed in supplanting her former mentor? It's a contemporary version of All About Eve.
This is a particularly appropriate analogy, because Anna Wintour's aura is rather like that of a movie star from Hollywood's golden era. Si Newhouse is fond of comparing Conde Nast to an old-fashioned movie studio and, now that Tina Brown has defected to Miramax, Anna Wintour is probably his greatest star. It's tempting to say she plays Gloria Swanson to Si's Erich von Stroheim?you can imagine him as her butler?but she's actually much more like Marlene Dietrich. Dietrich was the only woman allowed to attend the annual ball for male transvestites in pre-Hitler Berlin?a courtesy one can easily imagine being extended to Anna if she was around back then. Indeed, it's conceivable that she's a brilliant female impersonator who's never been found out. "She has sex," Kenneth Tynan wrote of Dietrich, "but no particular gender."
Like Dietrich, Anna Wintour's authority rests on her aloofness, her disengagement from ordinary human affairs. She presides over the fashion business with the imperial hauteur of a Prussian general?no democratically elected leader she. It was that attitude that impressed Si Newhouse in 1987 when he made her the editor-in-chief of House & Garden. In Carol Felsenthal's biography of Si, Citizen Newhouse, she describes the scene when he walked into a House & Garden awards lunch with Anna. Si, according to one person present, "seemed dazzled by this Brit of high accent and high style."
It's a common misconception in the fashion world that Anna Wintour is some kind of British aristocrat. In fact, she comes from that class in Britain that John Maynard Keynes dubbed the educated bourgeoisie, the class from which liberal politicians, senior civil servants and Oxford dons are drawn. One of the hallmarks of the educated bourgeoisie is what's known as "the mask," an expression of grave authority, a face that never betrays any emotion. "The mask" has played a key role in enabling the educated bourgeoisie to seize and retain power in Britain since the war, and Anna Wintour, whose father was the editor of The Evening Standard, has successfully imported this device to New York. In her case, of course, it takes the form of a pair of large, black sunglasses.
The sunglasses have become Anna Wintour's trademark, a symbol of her enduring style in the face of the vicissitudes of fashion. Like Dietrich, by cultivating her personal style she has turned herself into an icon, and it's her iconic presence, her cool celebrity charisma, which accounts more than anything else for her towering authority in the fashion world.
She should have known better than to take them off.
Since last February, when the first blind item appeared in "Page Six" about her affair with a 53-year-old Texan millionaire, Anna's mask has been slipping. It was a shibboleth of the old Hollywood studio system that a star's glamour depended on keeping a certain distance from the fans; that as soon as you let the public get too close, close enough to peep behind the curtain and glimpse the wizard at work, the game was up. It was for this reason that the studios did their utmost to keep gossip about their stars' love lives out of the papers. The same surely applies to the Marlene Dietrich of the fashion world.
Anna almost certainly knows this. Like Tina Brown, she has a publicist's grasp of the supreme importance of image. Yet she's conducted her affair with Shelby Bryan more or less out in the open, allowing it to become public knowledge. Why? To my mind, there can only be one explanation. For once, she has no agenda; it's not a premeditated move. The diva has stepped out of her power zone. Anna Wintour, the 49-year-old Matriarch of Madison Ave., has fallen head over heels in love.
This would account for her momentary loss of control at Vogue. In addition to the defection of her second-in-command and two lieutenants to Harper's Bazaar, she recently lost Paul Cavaco, another key player at Vogue, to Allure. Friends of mine who've worked at the fashion bible have always described it as a vipers' nest, a writhing snake pit of hatred and fear, and it looks like the cobras waited for a moment of weakness to strike. Anna has always cultivated a reputation for cold-bloodedness, for being a steely commander unaffected by sentiment or emotion?hence her nickname "Nuclear Wintour." Now that the sunglasses have slipped, revealing a vulnerable, middle-aged woman in the throes of a desperate love affair, her mystique has vanished. Her heart isn't made of stone; she's human, after all.
A better analogy might be with Scarface, Brian De Palma's blood-splattered 1983 epic about the drug wars in Miami. As with Tony Montana, the vicious Cuban gangster played by Al Pacino, it's her one act of humanity that may prove to be her undoing.
Or, then again, it might not. My sources tell me that Shelby Bryan has proposed to Anna and she will shortly divorce her husband and marry him. He's currently based in Washington?he's a Democratic fundraiser in addition to being a telecommunications executive?and she may up sticks and relocate to the capital, giving up Vogue and reinventing herself as a grand political hostess. The delicious irony of all this is that Kate Betts may have mistimed her move. As Anna's heir apparent, if she'd hung on another year she might have inherited the grand prize. But she didn't have the patience and the games have begun. Personally, I can't wait to see how it all turns out.
George Szamuely THE BUNKER
Never Again Openness is a fine thing, but I wonder about the proposed release of Adolf Eichmann's memoirs. Perhaps Amos Hausner?son of the Israeli prosecutor of Eichmann?is right: Let's not publish.
Not that Eichmann's writings are likely to inspire anyone. Nazism is dead as a doornail, and anti-Semitism is inconsequential. Eichmann's 1200 turgid pages won't tell us anything that we do not already know.
I would suppress the memoirs simply in order to prevent the inevitable orgy of fatuous comment. We will be inundated with the usual "lessons" of the Holocaust. The sad truth is, there are no "lessons" except for the most banal kind. We don't even remember the original trial: Instead we remember Hannah Arendt's account of the trial, "Eichmann in Jerusalem," written for The New Yorker. And of this we only remember the phrase the "banality of evil." This notion is supposed to explain something, though I am not exactly sure what.
Arendt used it as a subtitle for her book. By now it has lost all connection with whatever she had originally meant to say. She did not mean that Eichmann was "banal." She accepted at face value Eichmann's claim that he arranged for the mass murder of the Jews without ever subscribing to any ideology, not even anti-Semitism. He was just a functionary who diligently carried out his duties. Eichmann had nothing personally against the Jews, any more than NATO commanders had anything personally against the Serbs. He no more thought of disobeying orders than they did.
Arendt was probably right. Her insight was only controversial because of the stubborn romantic notion that extraordinary men are responsible for extraordinary crimes. The opposite is the case. Only people devoid of imagination are capable of acts of great cruelty.
Arendt's explanation of the Holocaust was obviously much more troubling than Daniel Goldhagen's. Hitler's Willing Executioners had something more comfortingly circular to say: Bad people do bad things because, well, they are bad people. The Holocaust happened because the Germans were weaned on anti-Semitism. This means that we are safe. We could never have perpetrated the Holocaust because?we were not weaned on anti-Semitism.
Unfortunately, Goldhagen's thesis does not hold water. Germany before 1914 had been one of the most philo-Semitic countries in the world. Jews were more assimilated there than anywhere else. And if it was a culture of anti-Semitism that gave rise to the Holocaust, why did it not originate in Poland or Romania, two countries in which hatred of Jews was much greater, or in France, where it was stronger and more public than in Germany? Moreover, though Hitler was rabidly anti-Semitic, most Germans supported him in spite of this plank in his platform.
So if the Germans were not unusually anti-Semitic, is there something else about them that would explain the Holocaust? Tina Rosenberg in The New York Times has a bold thesis: The Germans are bureaucratic pedants! Or at least they were in the bad old days. But they are better now. Thanks to the 1960s generation, rock 'n' roll, etc., Germans today are self-critical and questioning.
One does not read the Times to avoid cliches, and Tina Rosenberg doesn't let us down. The "orderly" German means about as much as the "hot-blooded" Latin or the "bighearted" Russian. As a matter of fact, she gets it completely wrong. Today's Germans are a very stolid bunch. It was their grandparents and great-grandparents who were a little crazy. They were the ones who were indulging in revolutions and wars and Nazism and Communism.
So never mind the cause of the Holocaust?let's just decide "Never again!" The meaning of "never again" is as clear as what Arendt means by the banality of evil. Certainly, long before World War II people were well aware that killing six million people was a jolly bad idea. What "never again" has come to mean is that the moment someone somewhere starts persecuting someone else, the righteous cops would immediately be on the scene to put a stop to it. This is preposterous. Someone is always persecuting someone else. There is scarcely world enough and time to right every wrong. Clearly then, "never again" refers to big wrongs like "ethnic cleansing." But "ethnic cleansing" itself is a term devoid of all meaning. Since war generally pits one ethnic group against another, ethnic cleansing will go on until war is abolished. To the Strobe Talbotts of this world, the very existence of national boundaries is an invitation to "ethnic cleansing."
Or perhaps "never again" refers to our supposedly new-found determination to stop miscreants in their tracks. President Clinton would never have allowed Hitler to get away with it. He would have stopped him before it was too late. This probably is the most fatuous notion of all. Leave aside the fact that no one today has the slightest intention of messing with big and powerful tyrants, such as the Chinese in Tibet, or the Russians in the Caucasus today or the Baltic states tomorrow.
Was the situation in the 1930s any easier to deal with? The rest of the world immediately disliked Hitler's regime, precisely because of its violent anti-Semitism. When exactly should Hitler have been stopped? In 1933, when he came to power? But that would have been interfering with Germany's internal constitutional arrangement. What about 1935, after the promulgation of the Nuremberg Laws? Or in 1936 when Hitler reoccupied the Rhineland? What would have been the justification? It was German territory. Why was it wrong for Germany to insist on its own historic frontiers? It would have been equally hard to oppose the Anschluss: The union of Germany and Austria was clearly in conformity with the principle of national self-determination as laid down at Versailles. The same was true about the incorporation of the Sudetenland into Germany. Moreover, Western leaders rightly doubted the war option.
In 1939 Britain and France finally intervened on behalf of Poland. But in spite of their help the Poles were crushed. As the famous English historian A. J.P. Taylor observed: "The British stand in September 1939 was no doubt heroic; but it was heroism mainly at the expense of others. The British people suffered comparatively little during six years of war. The Poles suffered catastrophe? In 1938 Czechoslovakia was betrayed. In 1939 Poland was saved. Less than one hundred thousand Czechs died during the war. Six and a half million Poles were killed. Which was better?to be a betrayed Czech or a saved Pole?"
As for the Jews in Europe, military intervention was the option least likely to help their plight. Before September 1939 Nazi policy had been to drive the Jews out of Germany. After September 1939 Jews were forbidden to leave. There were no Allied ground troops in the neighborhood to help. In war, one can never be too ruthless with one's enemies. After all, it's their fault that war has broken out to begin with. War provided the cover Hitler needed to carry out the annihilation of the Jews. Perhaps this was not foreseen. It was not entirely unforeseen either. This is not to say that going to war against Hitler was wrong?merely that the vaunted "lessons" are not that obvious.
The terrible truth is that no one could have predicted the rise of Hitler. A contingent set of circumstances propelled his Nazis to power, and an accident of personality made them anti-Semitic. It was not silly everyday racist jokes or snobbish anti-Semitism that led to Nazi anti-Semitism. The Nazi experience shows that the most civilized of nations can go crazy when they are under extreme pressure. The precise circumstances that gave the world Hitler will not be repeated. This is not to say that there will not be new Hitlers. However, the new Hitlers will not be like the old Hitler. If they were, they would be recognized and avoided.
Vowing to eradicate anti-Semitism is an admirable goal. But anti-Semitism was already a dying creed in the 19th century. No one in 1914 could have foreseen the victory of a rabidly anti-Semitic movement in enlightened Germany, of all places, any more than they could have foreseen the triumph of a radical Communist movement in primitive Russia, of all places.
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“Night Before Christmas” in Chelsea
Out & About
Refusing to Waste
Support Grows for BPCA Shakeup
Helicopter Tours To Be Cut in Half
Crosstown Bike Lanes Get Airing
What’s Ahead in Central Park
Iconic Greek Priest Dies
Church Awaits Word from Vatican