Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Emporer's Old Clothes

When I was a child, the funniest story for me was of the Emporer who paraded naked through his kingdom, believing that he was wearing a beautiful invisible garment, having been sold by a trickster on the notion that his new invisible clothes were the grandest; that is, until a simple child cried out that the emporer was had no clothes on.

Lately, I have thought of that story in connection to the obsessive concentration of our society on fashion. The Academy Awards show was about women in extraordinary, elaborate gowns and guys in goofy tuxedos shilling for designers. That red carpet took gifted entertainers and turned them into mannequins, touting designer brands. "Who are you wearing?" was the idiot question of the night. A designated crone wearing a designer face lift and her shriekingly ignorant daughter commented on the gowns and the looks of the participants, with little curiosity about the roles these actors played and the training it took to create their characters on screen, let alone the artistic value of the work they had accomplished. Little if anything was said about the work of the actors parading before us in full sail. They were turned into commodities of the fashion world, diminished in stature, robbed of their true talents, dazzling with their "bling bling" jewels and backless gowns. Now, as a playwright, I have enormous respect for actors, too much respect to believe that anyone of talent should shill for fashion houses. Can you imagine a Bette Davis or a Joan Crawford being asked what they were wearing? The reply would have been a curt "What business is that of yours?" Or more likely, "Are you nuts?" But now the Oscars and the Grammys and the People's Choice Awards sell the idea that the gowns are the women, and the package is the talent.

Today, people are being packaged, and social programs are being packaged. It's the wrapping, not the content that seems to matter. Our President comes before us and tries to sell us a Social Security package based on privatization, a scam if there ever was one, a designer package meant to reward the brokerage houses for loyalty to the party, and further diminish the future security of the elderly. A war in Iraq has been packaged, calling it "Iraqi Freedom" - and we are to look at the package and forget the mounting number of the dead, our soldiers and the civilians caught in the crossfire of the war. And few are willing to say that our Emporer, the goernment is not wearing new clothes.