We here at Scallywag and Vagabond have been amazed and literally aghast at the advent of unrelenting vanity in the corridors of society. Every where you go you see pictures of tight peachy asses, (Pamela Anderson thank you so much, you were wonderful down in Miami last week), actresses with their naked toned bodies (I know but we still love you Jennifer, really) that serve not to reinforce the dramatic acumen of their chosen craft but the collective narcissism that serves to reinforce her ‘glamorous’ career and by extension our glamorous selves. After all, you are what you eat, never mind if it’s healthy.
… Floundering love life aside, Jen has never been the same since beauty boy ‘Brad Pitt’ ran away to be with that other beauty girl, Angelina Jolie, never been the same but those abs, my god we do notice, but that’s the whole point right.
But why stop with Jen? Let’s look at the latest misbegotten misbehavior of our collective consciousness. Electing presidents who do not accurately reflect our current social or economic situations, thanks Dubya for making us feel glamorous until you decided to take matters a little too far and run with your vain illusions that you could not only assert a moral and leisurely aesthetic, not just to the American public, but to the Iraqis themselves. Oil and profits aside, does it ever make sense to vote for a man who is three hundred sixty degrees removed from your economic and social position? Sure in America, everything makes sense, because eventually you’re going to be just as rich, celebrated, financially adjusted, and thoroughly loved as the crew that runs in front of your TV screen. Except when you don’t…..oh well, c’est la vie, n’est pas?
We love living vacuously through our celebrated media set, their handlers and reality shows. Rest assured, Scallywag does too… but we do wonder what’s the point of blowing a hundred thousand bucks in a single evening at some flashy nightclub and declaring at the end of the fiesta in front of a page six reporter or to our friends over at Guest of a Guest that it was the best gazillion dollars you ever did spend? I mean, if it was done amongst friends we applaud you, but done for the cameras well we abhor you!
But who can blame the patrons of Bungalow 8 or 1OAK, the idea of spending six hundred bucks for a mid shelf bottle of vodka doesn’t spell travesty so much as lack of modesty. Look at me, I can spend and by extension of my surroundings approximate royalty, celebrity and the sojourn of a disco girl. We are after all collectively inspired by what we read, see, believe and misbelieve. Well that’s media for you…no that’s vanity for you, but who can blame you? After all… you are a rock star.
Let’s look at some of the latest misbehavior on show of late, is it a function of vanity, simplicity, or just misaligned principles?
Scallywag’s favorite of course is the one involving the CEO of Merrill Lynch, John Thain, see New York Times article. After having presided over the worst financial collapse since the Great Depression, squandering billions of dollars he then had the taxpayer (that’s right you and I ) bail him out along with his fellow buddies at other investment banks decided that it would now be okay to pay himself a mere ten million dollar bonus this year on top of his dismal performance. That’s on top of the fifteen million dollar signing bonus earlier this year. Ask yourself when was the last time anyone ever gave you a twenty two cent bonus let alone a ten million dollar bonus for ruining a company, presiding over disastrous investment decisions, being bailed out by Henry Paulson over at the Treasury Department, and then being summoned later that evening for a sumptuous dinner in your honor with a fat check of endearment waiting in some hand pressed envelop to be opened immediately after the Cru Cognac?
Where does such behavior come from, how has our culture allowed this unabashed reckless behavior to continue? One can argue that it’s simply a few bad apples, isn’t that what W argued every time something went wrong (and you know we cant wait to hear Barack Obama’s excuses when it’s his turn…) One can argue it’s a culture of greed and misappropriated sense of entitlement especially those in the investment class. Well maybe, but I do wonder if it’s simply just a big case of misappropriated sense of vanity. After all it takes a certain ego to act the way people like Mr.Thain chooses to act, and thank god people like New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, do exist to make people like Mr.Thain back down and publicly apologize for acting like a pig.
Speaking of pigs, what about the one that could no longer stomach the guilt of running off with your money for so long? Yes, Bernard Madoff made it to the top of the charts this week too with his brilliant ponzi scheme which managed to ruin a collective of people to the tune of fifty billion dollars. yes better than Mr.Thain… way better. What allowed this gentleman, the pillar of his society, good standing, adulation and impeccable acumen to behave the way he did? Greed certainly, lack of shame, a sense of wonderful entitlement, a likely psychotic disposition as well as a unchecked vanity. You better bet your bottom dollar, actually on second thought, your better of if you didn’t!
Before we can continue this discussion, let us ponder to ourselves was it always this way? As much as we would like to believe otherwise, the answer is yes. Back then the degree of misbegotten behavior was usually reserved to rogue emperors, Caligula being one back in Ancient Rome. He’s the bloke who had a horse voted into the senate and forced the senate’s wives to work as prostitutes…scrumptious! The garden variety rogue general and/or dictator, pick one, they all excelled themselves. Joseph Stalin would be one of the more obvious choices, not only did he exterminate you or send you to an indefinite work retreat program in the alps of the Gulag chain gang, he’d then take over your plot of land and build a very nice statue of himself. In essence supplanting your existence and reinforcing his very own. We do have this today, but it goes by the celebrity/corporate circus these days, which adopts personas and belief systems for all of us to adopt and to call our very own.
So now, where this never happened fifty years ago you now have teenagers like Lindsay Lohan, well.. she is no longer a teenager but still very much acting like one. Where prima donnas feel comfortably at home to misbehave ad hoc, having public spats with their girlfriends, snorting blow in front of the cameras, running around with shaved heads, amphetamines and all behind a moving vehicle- Britney Spears, and there was Paris too, but I understand jail has tempered her.
Where do these action heroes get the chutzpa to behave the way they do? It put us all in some public peril and then continue to demand huge public fees, signing bonuses and hissy fits? Of course one can argue once you see yourself enough times in the media you begin to believe your own spin, begin to believe that you are above reproach and in this fast action paced action world called virtual reality and the internet you too can be famous and glamorous in a nanosecond.
Does vanity precede fame, or does fame precede vanity? Either way, we here at Scallywag do wonder if the two go hand in hand and allow the engendered behavior of total attention to get out of hand.
At one stage, let say in the 70’s it was cool, even artistically permissive and experimental to dye your hair red, appear as an androgynous soul, yes we are talking about David Bowie and to sing and bellow. But the art merited this behavior, it was grandstanding on a marvelous level, even if Mr. Bowie was swashbuckling on buckets of coke, the neo dandy was prolific in his work.
Talking of dandies, what about the dandies of the nineteenth century, Charles Baudelaire, Robert du Montesquiou, Walter Payter, Oscar Wilde who were all very conscious of their outward appearances and feminine sensinbilities…What led to their rise, after all, until then we were all living under the wrath of the church and only just getting in touch with the enlightenment period, and what followed next, call it the Modern Art movement, Surrealism, Dadaism, etc.
And these are some of the clues we need to understand the degree of unrivalled vanity in our society, the unabashed level of decadence and the hitherto concentration of vanity that even compelled the singer and songwriter Carly Simon to write a smash hit song back in the seventies called “You’re so vain you probably think this song is about you.”
With decadence comes more brave, extreme attempts to reassert oneself, one after all has to compete and if we can’t deal with our psychological disarray and morass (that always comes with the decadence) what better way to deal with oneself than to try and outdo oneself and become the supposed media star for all to see and wonder, and thus forever validating us and by extension you- our reader .
If vanity can be defined as the ubiquitous display of ones wares, supposed sensibilities then what are we to make of the all pervading symbols called corporations. Look around you, next time you look at a Nike ad think about how much that swoosh symbol has now come to supplant a vigorous approximation of self worth, achievement, athletic talent, or just talent as a whole. What would happen if we were to affix the swoosh sign onto the American flag would anyone notice, or would it just be a logical extension of living in our modern age?
What about Apple computer, that little apple symbol, it too has become conspicuous, nearly as much as McDonald’s golden arch. Maybe it’s this level of conspicuousness which allows us to collectively assume that it’s always about us, that somehow we’ve now supplanted the symbols and desires of valor, fame, beauty and every other heralded quality (perfect abs anyone) which by extension gives us immediacy and implicit permission to be the thing we consume every second of the day. After all that’s what corporations want you to do and by extension the media too, is consume and resume. After a while,, who can tell the difference, by extension by wearing that designer suit, turning up to a particular event, drinking a certain beverage or dating a certain someone we are now validated, more validated then all the coke, booze, and medicine prescriptions hiding in our bathroom.
And the truth is this article is probably about you, it’s about all of us, our desires, expectations, our brazen behavior, our misplaced sense of integrity that comes with power and decadence (it’ll be interesting to see how this translates with our current malaise….especially given the recent rejection by the public of the media’s unwavering regard for all that is celebrity and heaven).
Andy Warhol was right, one can expect fifteen minutes of fame and few of us a lifetime, but what happens when we keep pushing past those fifteen minutes with nothing positive to show for it. One can after all be famous for misbehaving, but admired? Look at the robber barons in the recent investment fiascos, are they to be admired? What for? A look is great, but substance has always turned you and me on more, or at least we hope as long as we listen to our selves from time to time.
So excuse us here at Scallywag and Vagabond as we complete our order form and buy the perfect ab machine courtesy of which ever company all the stars resort to, do our hair, make up, our bogus stunts, and turn up to your next party nearly as vain as the guy opening the door to let us in…well silly that would be you!
“aghast at vanity? I thought you were celebrating it?”
You are trapped in a perfect storm of vanity.
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