Saturday, July 5, 2008

I, convalescent III: She Reads the Press

The TUE (totally useless education) offered broad de Tocquevillian cultural speculations on the difference between BBC English (RP) and the totally flat Midwestern American newscaster pronunciation, which is totally accent-less (to an American). I read both the high and the low press, and when I say low, I mean really low, the lowest of the low, "The National Enquirer." I love you Dominick Dunne, old fart and insignificant snob that you are, for admitting that you were thrilled to learn one could get a subscription to that publication. Sometimes, I read "Vanity Fair," then in Mallorca, I discovered "The Daily Mail,"Hello" and "Tatler."

Although their standard is hipness as opposed to old money, "Vanity Fair" and "Tatler" seem to employ a formula first popularized, for Americans of my generation, by "The Preppy Handbook." Referring to the latter, Angela Carter amusingly described it as symptomatic of Reagan era prosperity, an instruction manual for the "nouveaux riches" to study the mores of the "anciens riches" so that they might pass among them unnoticed. "The Preppy Handbook" offered insights such as "money is like the golden retriever sitting by the fireplace, you don't necessarily notice it much, but it's good to know it's there." Written by a class-traitor, who bites the hand that feeds it (and laughs all the way to the bank), the levity of style reassures the reader that it's ok to pay attention to this sort of thing because nobody takes it seriously. As for le vice anglais, "Vanity Fair" tends toward interminable articles in which the Dear Reader is offered a glimpse at people whose lives are touched by beauty, coolness, social significance and/or deviance, the likes of which his own will never approximate," whereas "Tatler's" articles are shorter and get right to the point: new and unsuspected opportunities for social mortification. "What kind of bore are you" (always suspected you were a bore, but now you can find out what kind!) "The new ultra-rich" (and why you aren't anybody if you haven't got at least $IB) or "The latest, coolest neighborhood off the M something or other" (don't worry, once you discover it, the hip will have moved on someplace else.) I think I like the "Daily Mail" better.

Back to Anglo/French/American stereotypes, in the more serious international rags I read, where I quickly skim past all references to the Dismal Science, but linger in the Arts, Culture and Home sections, it appears They view us (Americans) as naive, overgrown children who are occasionally (but not often) visited by glimpses of self-awareness. Friday's FT movie section queries, in all seriousness: "Is the American capable of irony?" As for sex bay-bee, they seem to ascribe to us a mix of Puritanism and liberation that makes us sexually weirder than they are. It's barely relevant, but I love this repartee from my husband's great-aunt, a Very Grand Lady, who as the wife of the Spanish ambassador somewhere in South America, responded to a remark about Spanish imperialism with the comment "Really you ought to be grateful to us for civilizing you. Prior to the Spanish arrival you were running around with nothing but a tail-feather in the arse." Not sure where that leaves us, their own descendants, who grew up in Rousseau's Garden of Eden among the noble savages, the "criollos" or creoles, from the Spanish "criado alli" or "raised over there," but having lived in both the Old and the New World, I think we are a hybrid mutation.

Le Monde est Mondial

At any rate, I'm a lot more "demi-monde" than "Monde"--that's "demimonde" not Demi Moore and, if you do look it up: not a "grande horizontale" either. See "demi-world of ghost writers, hacks and publicists." In a life, largely unburdened by any qualities likely to make me popular or easily identify with selective groups, I do remember one time at Wellesley, I considered joining a "Society." It was one of the better ones frequented by the pretty, witty girls. I had friends there, I might have got in, but then I thought better of it. I realized to get in would be a complete masquerade. I'd have to spend the whole time making sure they didn't get to know the real, not pretty, not witty me. I joined the Shakespeare society, instead, which offered a greater mix of people, more interested in Elizabethan masques than social status. This is where I learned there was an Indian equivalent of "The Boarding School Boys." This phrase, straight out of my high-school and early college vocabulary, had to do with getting a date to PDC (local prep school, girls ask boys, Sadie Hawkins dance) or deb parties. The only thing more mortifying than having to rely on A Boarding School Boy as your date (you were such a loser you couldn't get anybody you actually knew--or their brother, or their resident exchange student--to accompany you), would be to learn that you (the male), had unwittingly, through the machinations of Your Mother, become the poster-child (I'm pretty sure a picture was included) for The Boarding School Boys. That is to say, she had written up a resume of your qualities and, more succintly why she thought you would be a desirable date aka "Eddy would like to meet some nice local girls." I think the Indian equivalent, never actually saw it, was a marriage-focused resume with picture that went something along the lines of "Arun is a doctor/engineer with a degree from blank, or blank IIT, great professional prospects, job waiting for him in the States...who would like to meet a suitable girl."

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