The Victor of Kosovo; Madonna's Ghost; Status Panic
The Victor of Kosovo To be, or not to be abused; That is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the press to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous accusations, Or to unleash Carville against a sea of pundits, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; No more; and by sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand subpoenas... (With apologies to Will)
Ah, how wonderful it feels to be far away from the rotting state of Denmark, sorry, I meant Hillary's and Tina's state, once upon a gentler time known as the Empire State. I am in the lake district of Bavaria, in Tegernsee to be exact, among the most beautiful parts of Europe, if not the world. Because of my German blood, whenever I go near a lake I feel romantic, randy and poetic, so I will try a stanza on you concerning the first female senator to be from Noo Yawk.
She was unfit for any job Save posturing to please the mob. Her mind, apart from greed and spite, Was superficial and trite. This selfish, lefty-feminist star Used right-wing conspiracies for PR. One major talent she'll bring to town Will be to asslick Tina Brown.
Okay, okay, it's not very good, but what the heck. Hillary Clinton is not the type of woman to wax poetic over. The best article about her so far was written by my old friend Bartle Bull in the Post. The only thing I didn't like was the headline, calling Hillary Lady Macbeth. (The Lady went mad because of a bad conscience; la Hillary is as likely to do that as I am to go down on her.) Bartle is a liberal Democrat?which to me means being on the left of Lavrenti Beria?ergo he has no ax to grind, a la some conservatives. Yet he has seen through her, and knows what a phony feminist and most probably a crook she is. Hillary is an authoritarian lefty who insists on telling us how to live and how to think and behave. Her audacity is breathtaking. She may tell her natural constituency?feminists, gays, blacks and immigrant and welfare lobbies?what to do, but she is not big enough to tell the rest of us.
From where I am, The Draft Dodger and Hillary would seem to be engaged in a public squabble about which of them is the more pathetic. While victimhood has served them both extremely well in the past, especially Hillary following the Monica Lewinsky "nonsexual" scandal, neither of them now wants any part of it. I guess victimhood, like so many of their friends, has served its purpose and "it's time to move on."
The Clintons' genius lies in their ability to fool most of the people most of the time. Take for example the falsehoods he told at a White House press conference about the unlucky JFK Jr. ("John Kennedy had not been back to the White House since his father was killed, until I became president.") Sure, he did get caught (Kennedy had been back during both the Nixon and Reagan administrations) but most of the people swallowed the spin following his getting caught.
Clinton claimed he was proud of having defended the Constitution by his impeachment. He said this to Dan Rather with a straight face, and Rather, instead of throwing up on him, nodded with understanding and compassion. If Clinton had been Captain Smith on the Titanic, he surely would have told the passengers and crew that he was stopping to take on some more ice cubes. Last but not least, both Clintons publicly abhor "the politics of personal destruction" but it is they who instructed the hundreds of White House flunkies, starting with Sid?the scumbag?Blumenthal, to destroy anyone who opposed them in the most vicious and personal manner.
Now the victor of Kosovo preens like a modern-day Patton, having bombed the hell out of a defenseless population. The truth is impossible for him to admit. We missed the Serbian armed forces, we only got 13 tanks after almost 80 days of bombing, we killed more among the innocent and defenseless populace than the KLA and the Serbs combined and provoked the Serbs to ethnically cleanse the Albanians, just as we have failed to protect the Serbs being ethnically cleansed by the criminals of the KLA as I write. Yet the Draft Dodger has spun this disaster into a great victory for the good guys. In the meantime, Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Jackson, NATO's commander in Kosovo, has admitted to the Sunday Telegraph of London that "the event of June 3 (when the Russians backed the West's position and urged Milosevic to surrender) was the single event that appeared to me to have the greatest significance in ending the war." So much for those two great war leaders, The Draft Dodger and the Grinning Hyena (Tony Blair).
Mind you, history repeats itself, and just as the hacks ignored Clinton's lies before the '92 election, they will do so again before the 2000 one. Hillary I predict will get a very free ride from the media, because it is in the nature of the beast. The media is scared shitless of offending minorities, feminists and gays, her natural constituency. The media loves beating on white males who pay the taxes welfare pimps live off. Giuliani will be crucified by the Sharptons of this world and painted a racist Nazi. Hillary will be sanctified by the Times and the networks. So what else is new? If Hillary runs I am covering all bets, starting with MUGGER, who apparently has yet to win one.
Jim Holt THE TIRED HEDONIST
Madonna's Ghost I have spent the last couple of weeks doing two things that are rarely done together: reading Appearance and Reality by the neo-Hegelian English philosopher F.H. Bradley (1846-1924) and watching the music videos of Madonna Ciccone (1958- ). Why? Because I am swotting up for a very important ghostwriting assignment. I have been tapped to write the discourse on "image and reality" that Madonna will deliver later this year to the assembled fellows, dons and syndics of Cambridge University's Peterhouse College.
It certainly came as a surprise when one of Madonna's people rang me up a month ago to sound me out about the matter. The number of addresses I have ghostwritten could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Admittedly, three of these were composed for celebrities and read before learned bodies. The most successful, perhaps, was the one that the promising young actress Parker Posey delivered to the Aristotelian Society in London two years ago, under the title "Transgender Marginalization and the Post-Baudrillard Framing of the Latina Other" (reprinted in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society [New Series] vol. XXVI, no.3.) I was also proud of "Time, Essence, And Reality: A Systematic Re-evaluation of Nothingness," which James Van Der Beek, the star of the acclaimed tv show Dawson's Creek, read before a very receptive Mattachine Society conference last spring. Even better, though, was my "Non-Existence: What To Do If It Suddenly Strikes You," which congressman and former pop-vocalist Sonny Bono would have presented to the Kit Kat Club were it not for his untimely death in a skiing accident.
Evidently, one or more of these addresses had come to the attention of Madonna?hence her interest in "collaborating" with me. Knowing what I did of her reputation, I guessed that she would want something lighter and less metaphysical in nature. Not at all. A weighty discourse was expected. Her assistant faxed me an article from the London Times in which a Dr. John Adamson, the Peterhouse College fellow who had arranged her Cambridge engagement, declared that Madonna "is not a vapid rock star. Her talk will be serious... The traditional dons may not have heard of her, but the more 'happening' ones are tingling with excitement."
What was I to do? Madonna's assistants seemed to be fairly clueless as to her current philosophical interests. I recalled having read in a People at the dentist's some months ago that she had been studying the Cabala. Lacking anything better to go on, I began roughing out a discourse for her on gnostic and neo-Platonic themes, all the while complaining to my contact that I needed more direction from the pop star. Finally, my complaints were heeded. I received a call from Madonna herself.
It came from London, where she currently makes her residence. I was quite taken with her voice. It had a soft, silvery timbre that suggested a chinchilla muff painted by Whistler. She began by assuring me that I would be well paid for my efforts, first mentioning a sum of "550 quid," then one of "550 guineas." I politely pointed out that these were not exactly the same, and added that I would prefer the payment in guineas. I then brought up Cabalistic philosophy and its bearing on "image and reality."
"Oh, please, I've come to find the Zohar and all that just a trifle tedious," she said, pronouncing the last word TEEEE-jus. She was now interested in German idealistic philosophy, she assured me, seemingly as a result of a jocular remark about Fichte that had been made to her by Seal. What she would really like to do in the talk, she said, was to address herself to the difference between existence and eXistenZ.
As we were talking on the telephone at the time, this distinction eluded me initially. At length, though, I twigged. I suggested that in that case she might like to instruct the Cambridge dons on the subject of phenomenological ontology.
"You follow me like a leopard," Madonna said, and rang off.
I started working on the speech around the clock, putting aside my half-completed study of semantics which will prove that sentence structure is innate but that whining is acquired.
Then, last week, Madonna made the trip across the Atlantic to attend the launch party for Tina Brown's new magazine Talk. The morning after the party I was bidden to come to Madonna's pied-a-terre in lower Manhattan so we could go over my draft.
I was not a little astonished when, before the third chime sounded, Madonna herself answered the door. Her hair was up in curlers, and she was wearing a Viyella housecoat and fluffy slippers of floral design. From the middle distance came the squalling of a small child. This turned out to be Madonna's 2 1/2-year-old daughter Lourdes, whom she had by a man that, I regret to say, was not her husband.
We got immediately to work. I had taken Madonna's own protean career as my inspiration, likening her core "Material Girl" self to the noumenal reality underlying the multiplicitous phenomena of experience. By adding to this basic structure a few witticisms and touches of belle peinture, I felt that I had made the address, for all of its philosophical rigor, as entertaining as a Persian tale.
Madonna did not seem to share that view. But this was the least of our problems. As she read the draft, adding histrionic gestures that I felt would have been more appropriate for an audience of adolescent girls than one of Cambridge dons, her enunciation was adequate?until, that is, she arrived at the term "phenomenological." This, it seemed, she was incapable of pronouncing with her newly adopted English accent. (It invariably came out "phenomenolological.") Only by switching back to her discarded native Detroit accent was she able to get its many syllables straight. On top of that, she kept botching the address' ringing conclusion, putting it "Minerva the owl takes wing at dusk."
Oh dear. Now I am back to rewrite, trying to expunge every occurrence of "phenomenological" in Madonna's speech without destroying its philosophical integrity. I wish I had asked for more than 550 pounds, I mean guineas. I will never ghostwrite for a celebrity again.
CORRECTION: A few weeks ago in this space I mistakenly referred to a philosopher as "Von Wittgenstein." I actually meant of course Mr. Ludwig Wittgenstein of Cambridge, MA.
Toby Young ARRIVISTE
Status Panic I had the pleasure of seeing my friend William Cash recently who came to visit me on Shelter Island for the weekend. As the author of Educating William, an hilarious account of his misadventures on the Los Angeles celebrity circuit, I thought it might interest him to accompany me to Bridgehampton Polo, ground zero of the Hamptons scene. Unfortunately, the prospect of mingling with so many East Coast socialites interested him a little too much. I've never seen anyone fly into such a panic.
"But I haven't got anything to wear," he bleated.
I offered to lend him one of my shirts but it didn't pass muster. He proceeded to raid the wardrobes of my three housemates and, after piling all our spare clothes onto his bed, assembled a variety of different outfits which he then modeled for our benefit.
"How about this?" he asked, emerging from the guest bedroom for the third time in 10 minutes. "Is it a bit too try-hard?"
It would have been quicker to wait for Claudia Schiffer.
The extraordinary thing about this is that William is a bona fide British toff. He attended Westminster and Cambridge, his father is a Conservative Member of Parliament and his family home in Shropshire is straight out of a P.G. Wodehouse novel. If he was attending a polo match in England he would have thrown on an old cricket sweater and thought no more about it. Yet here he was suffering from an acute case of status anxiety. What was going on?
Until I came to America, I thought members of the British ruling class were immune to such feelings. Back home in Blighty, our aristocracy doesn't appear to suffer from the insecurities that afflict the rest of us. To ordinary, middle-class people like me, Britain can seem like a very large boarding school, hidebound by thousands of little rules and traditions. To the aristocracy, by contrast, it's one vast playground where they're free to do whatever they choose. It's not an exaggeration to say that in our class-bound society, they're the only people completely free of class-consciousness.
For some reason, that all changes when they arrive in America. I first became aware of this when Cash threw a party for me at his house in Los Angeles five years ago. Just before the festivities were due to begin, his friend Henry Brocklehurst called and asked William to move his VW Golf from his driveway. Now Henry is the heir to Sudeley Castle, a baronial pile in Gloucestershire which, if you throw in the art collection, is worth about $75 million. Yet since arriving in America he'd become acutely conscious of the way status is delineated on the West Coast.
"The thing is William," he explained sheepishly, "I don't want any of my friends to think I know anyone who drives such a shitty car."
Obviously, to a great extent, such insecurities are attributable to the fact that in America members of the British upper class are no longer at the top of the food chain. In Britain, where class trumps everything, including money, status is something they're born with. They've never had to do anything to attain it and, however badly they screw up, they're never going to lose it. Of course, nearly all the great British aristocratic families are in a state of gentle decline, but it's such a gradual process it doesn't cause them much anxiety. When it comes to their position at the pinnacle of British society, they have life tenure.
The moment they set foot in America they instantly lose this cachet. It's as if they're celebrities who've arrived in a foreign land where no one recognizes them. For the first time in their lives, their accents and surnames won't guarantee them preferential treatment. Being a toff, they discover to their horror, isn't enough to get them laid. Before long they're in the throes of what the American sociologist C. Wright Mills identified as a full-blown "status panic."
If they've got money?and few of them have?they instantly begin to spend it. Fortunes which have been left untouched for centuries are depleted overnight in a frantic effort to join the American social elite. They learn golf; they organize fundraisers. They gorge themselves in an orgy of conspicuous consumption. Within months of arriving, Henry Brocklehurst bought a Range Rover and a Porsche. He confided to William that this "two-car combo" was the only way he could impress budding Hollywood starlets.
In New York, one of the most noticeable changes in the behavior of newly arrived nobs is their sudden interest in fashion. Snaggletoothed young men, who for years had made do with a few tweed suits, can be seen at Indochine's high-visibility banquettes dressed from head-to-toe in Prada. If they work for an investment bank?and most of them do?their idea of "insider trading" is the location of the Gucci sample sale. When they return home for Christmas, their friends and families barely recognize them.
Generally speaking, the overall effect that living in America has on British toffs is beneficial. It rounds them out. There's something a little inhuman about a class of people who aren't socially insecure. After a tour of duty in the United States, they're reduced to pretending they don't suffer from status anxiety?just like the rest of us. Secretly, behind their Oliver Peoples sunglasses, they're now as class-conscious as everyone else.
William Cash was a little shocked when we finally arrived at the Mercedes-Benz Polo-Challenge in Bridgehampton.
"I can't believe it," he exclaimed. "There are people here wearing shorts!"
Compared to Upper Class Brits, Hamptons social climbers are models of self-assurance.
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A love-hate relationship with height
A love-hate relationship with height
Ground Zero then and now