A Bad Year For Beauty

Feb 22

I’ve been called an aesthete. I’ve been called a lot worse, but let’s not go there.

Since an aesthete is a person who loves beauty, you’d think that was a good thing. No way. Loving beauty is SO last century.

And it’s not just this year. From the first time we were told to “let it all hang out,” we have been on a slippery slope, slip-sliding away from beauty and moving towards a very unattractive world —  although not without contradictions. At the moment, we are breathtakingly ambivalent about beauty, both chasing it and chasing it away.

brangelinablog.jpgSure, we love Angelina Jolie as the genetic wonder she is, and worship at her lips, if not her feet. As a couple, Brangelina wins first place in the Hubba Hubba Couples Olympics. We also forgive a lot if a person is good looking. Two words: Sarah Palin.

On the other hand, we’re really into the ugly, the edgy, the uncomfortable. Take the movie, Precious. Critics loved it, warning that it’s a difficult movie to watch. They say this as if you get extra points for looking at something disturbing.

You do get many politically correct points if you don’t mention that its star is not merely overweight, but dangerously fat. Extra poundage isn’t necessarily ugly; it can be attractive or at least comforting. Think of your favorite, always-struggling-with-her-weight, Aunt Sadie. We used to call it “pleasingly plump,” and full-bodied women have been worshipped from prehistoric times to Christina Hendricks on current cover of New York Magazine. Talk about Hubba Hubba  . . .

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But at a certain point, extra pounds are bad for the health. And hard on the eyes. Not aesthetic, to say the least.

Am I living in the past by actually thinking that looking nice is well, nice? That it makes you feel good? Makes other people feel good? Or do we all want to feel edgy, off balanced, but politically correct at all times?

Did you hear about the wildly popular song in Russia, “I Want A Man Like Putin.” No kiddin’. But while he’s not quite The Pits (a little facial scarring not withstanding), Putin is no Brad Pitt. So why are they swooning over him back in the “USSR?”

I totally got it when I saw the guy who wrote the song: overweight, with long wispy scruffy hair, belly hanging out, slouched in a chair. According to him, his countrymen are not just unkempt (ahem), but are drunkards and ne’er-do-wells who will break your heart. Nyet for me. At least Putin looks clean. Weasly, yeah sure, but well-scrubbed. And he has a job and a relationship. Russian women, it appears, have abandoned beauty for anyone who is not a beast. 

And then there was Borat. There are images from that sometimes very funny movie that I wish I didn’t have in my I-Wanna-See-Pretty-little head. The nude wrestling scene. With the fat guy. I could have lived a full life without that, thank you very much.

Let’s face it, most movies — and many things in life itself — confront you with ugliness. It’s so aggressive, it can’t be accidental. And while beauty may be in the eye of the beholder,  it seems to me that people are going out of their way to look weird and/or tasteless and/or like this . . .

guidoguidette.jpgSome say that people like me have lived in a dream world. But wait! What’s wrong with that? Were the songs of Cole Porter and the movies of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers so wrong? Are The Housewives From Hell and those winners on The Jersey Shore so right?

The hipper-than-thou people who seem to run the world say so. They think that pleasant escapism is a bad, bad thing because we’re not facing “reality.” It is therefore necessary for us to face ugliness on a constant basis to make us better human beings. Or to become as miserable as they are: consider the number of creative people involved with edgy movies, books, or fashion who commit suicide.

They foist this ugliness on us constantly: not just on movies and TV (The violence! The torture! The bad hair!), but with all those hideous concrete underground garages, miles of urban blight, and harshly lit fast food restaurants that make everyone look grotesque, even if they didn’t have all that straggly facial hair. Thank Zeus for our personal spaces, which we can make as beautiful as we like.

But how about the bad images for good causes that invade our space (how dare they!): public service commercials to get you to stop smoking that show diseased lungs and amputated limbs in not-quite living color, and pleas for animal rights that feature tortured dogs. I’m afraid that smokers will ignore the ads, and the sadists who abuse animals may actually enjoy the horrible images. But some of us are upset by these pictures. Everyday in every way (or at least more and more) it feels like ugliness is in, beauty is out.

How’s that working for you?



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