Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Kids Are All Wrong

Okay, okay, okay.  The din of demands from my tens of readers has finally pulled my bloated carcass away from the dish of Christmas Candy (Holiday M&Ms, natch...the first, and still the best, though the Butterfinger Bells are pretty awesome, too.)  For the next hour I have turned my back on the seemingly endless stream of email and paused the DVR in the middle of last week's Top Chef All-Stars (oddly, despite the insane talent, I still find myself rooting for the daffy Carla Hall (Hootie?  Hoo!) and the misanthropic yet somehow lesbo-chic Jamie Lauren (who, while at Absinthe, was serving some of the best food in San Francisco...the bay area's loss is L.A.'s gain.)

Speaking of L.A., since my last post (Ha! Ha! - yes, that post from, like, two months ago) I was briefly in L.A. (and mostly Anaheim, which is to L.A. what Krab is to Crab: so close, and yet so far away.) I got to catch up with the fabulous Malcolm and Julie (who, when in New York, dine with Mick Jagger, but can't seem to scare up a D-lister when I'm in L.A., so I brought along the fabulous Carrie and Steven.  We went to Gjelina, since Steven had been training for a triathlon and was looking pretty smokin', and Carrie couldn't tip the scales at 100 pounds of you gave her a 50 pound barbell to hold on to.  I figured too much wine, flatbread pizza, and grilled pizzas would do the trick - which it did, if the trick were having a fabulous evening.

But, really, the fall hasn't left much else to write about.  Should I report the domestic drudgery of tweaking the touches on a second home we bought - fully furnished and detailed to the nines - at a price that would have been way below market even if it were empty?  I'd write about popular culture, but it seems to have gotten as boring and middle-aged as I have.  Seriously: Modern Family; the return of Cher to the big screen; the return of Winona Ryder to the big screen; Jennifer Grey's dancing (with a delicious blond boy; ok - that sort of got my attention).

Anything that hasn't been ripped straight out of 1987 is a trend so overdone, overstuffed, and just plain over that I can't even muster a scintilla of interest.  Vampires, "Real" Housewives, Harry Potter, Katy Perry (totally hot and talented but over exposed), Jon Hamm (totally hot and talented but passed overexposed so long ago that the next stop after MadMen is the center square.) I'm even starting to get worn out by Glee; it's so damn earnest that I'm half rooting for Kurt to get bored with his wobbly-Warbler and get into a little rough trade with Karofsky.  Anything for a little less sweater-vest and a little more heat.

The problem with the cannibalization that's created in a copycat culture is perfectly encapsulated by one show: Skating with the Stars.  Here is a show that makes its genesis (the previously referenced "Dancing with the Stars") look like High Art.  At what point do we simply draw the line and say, "No!"?  I'll say this, if Serena Williams and Emmanuel Lewis start playing mixed doubles on prime time, I'm taking up reading again.

Seriously...why not just let it all go to hell and air Celebrity Hoarder-Rehab with the Stars.  We can watch Lindsay Lohan come down off of smack in a houseful of cats and old lettuce.  Throw in a midget or a vampire and you've got a hit.

I was reminded of this last night, when Neil and I went to a holiday party down in the East Village.

Wow, you think - the East Village.  It's so New York, it's so downtown.  It's so edgy and late-night and alternative.

Nope.  Not anymore.

The party was at David Barton Gym - across the street from a Starbucks (the national emblem of overexposed, replicated tedium), and down the block from the worldwide headquarters of J.Crew (nice clothes of good quality, yes; creative and edgy: NO.)  Back in the day, David Barton was the impresario of gym/club culture - the place where you spent your days getting the body you needed to live the nights you wanted to live.  His wife, Susanne Bartsch (who, the story goes, had all the money) was a fixture in the New York club scene.

You've seen the folks that populated that time and place.  The Club Kids.  Richie Rich, James St. James, Michael Musto, Amanda LePore.  You remember them from the movie Party Monster, from episodes of Sally Jessie Raphael and Donahue from the late eighties when they'd come on tv, dressed like a psychedelic frog or a sequined Big Bird, ears and noses misshapen with stage prosthetics; completely over the top.

If we were reinventing club culture for 2010, you'd get my attention.  It was never my thing - and still isn't - but at least it would be something new; or something old re-imagined as something new for this time; this place.  But it's not.  It's not 24 year old assistants or hair stylists or aspiring artists or aspiring anythings expressing themselves artistically.  It's the same old club kids, now club grannies, pushing 50 (or more) made all the more freakish my plastic surgery - wearing the same outfits from 20 years ago.

There's something deeply disturbing about a middle-aged woman made up like an elf and wearing a tablecloth from a pizza place.  A 50 year old man in a tight red suit using an oversize candy cane as a walking stick.  Three people completely covered in crocheted yarn - like it was a metaphor for the knitting that would be appropriate to their age.  My 64 year old mother (sorry, Mom) could have whipped them into a nice sweater vest for those Glee kids.

Speaking of Julie (which I was, like, fifteen paragraphs ago.  Pay attention.) she suggested (back when our daily highs were still in the 60s) that I write about the election.

But how?  How long will it take to describe your disappointment in a president you voted for haltingly (having far preferred his primary rival, the fabulous Mrs. Clinton - who's looking haggard and hoarse and horrible and is, despite that,  the closest America will get to Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir - and we should be ashamed that we let our national narrative of her stand in the way of a job she would have been terrific at.)?

How ironic that we elected the first black president and he's turned out to be so colorless.

You know it's bad when you find yourself in a hotel fitness center at 7:15am, watching George W Bush on the Today show telling Matt Lauer some revisionist history of his presidency, which ranged from juvenile indignance to shocking incompetence, and find yourself sort of missing him.

Because he stood for something.  Because you can argue with someone who has an opinion, even if it is misguided or wrong or ill-informed.

But I have no idea what this presidency means.  What does it stand for.  Even Clinton managed to clothe "stuff I can get passed" in a narrative about restoring the middle class.  And even he managed to take tough stands for the things he believed in; even if he paid a price.

Here's the difference - and here's why I think Obama will end up being more like Carter (a smart, well-intentioned man with great capacity for many things, but lacking in the leadership and theater that's required to be President) than like Clinton; why I think that - unless we get an amazing economic rebound in the next 12 months - he's toast.

When Clinton made the calculated decision to do what was right, even if it cost his party their majorities; they did so fighting - passing the budget bill with tax increases, in 1993, by the Vice President breaking a tie in the Senate.  He took it done to the thinnest of margins, while Obama, presiding over the opportunity to leverage the economy to justify a massive plan to stimulate spending, rebuild our infrastructure, and provide a safety net for healthcare, instead split the difference and gave us not enough stimulus, not enough jobs, and a plan that could have been politically popular but got so nicked away and neutered, that it lost some key provisions that made it worth doing in the first place.

Not that I found myself so inspired by the choices in the mid-terms.  We all knew this was going to be an "eat your peas" presidency - with a lot of things we needed to do now, even though the benefits could take years to materialize, or because they were unpleasant but prevented a more unpleasant alternative.  That's part of the reason it's such a shame we've forgotten the importance of electing people who are smart; who are experienced; who understand the issues better than we do and who know both the answer and how to get it through Congress.

Instead, our culture of narcissism (which, of course, spawned blogs like this, so I'm self-aware, if hypocritical) means that the public at large thinks that the best answer to everything is "change!"  And not just "throw the bums out" but "let's replace them with people like us."  Apparently we're in a phase where the electorate is turning to "relatability" as a key determinative factor, without asking if these people are smart or capable enough to address the daunting slate of problems needing resolution.  Do we really want folks willy-nilly tackling unemployment, the economy, defense, the deficit, when their most recent job qualification was being a talk show staple and possibly a teenage witch?  Sabrina for President!

(OK, I know she lost, but still - the fact that she - along with a cohort of equally unlikely crackpots - got as far as they did, is a national embarrassment.)

So, where does this all leave us?

Why is change so troubling in one area - politics - where I long for some grown-ups to come along with boring stolidity and competence to get things done; and so stultifying in another - politics - where I long for something new?


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  2. All right, throughout this entirely brilliant, entertaining post, the phrase that keeps echoing in my head is that - apparently - I MISSED the New East Village. I'm stunned. I haven't been to NYC in so long that it passed me by!! Last time I was there it was just an idea someone had between Richard Myers buildings (sp?) and now it's OVER? I suck so bad!! Must visit soon. Thanks for writing!