But my vanity is fairer than yours.
When I canceled my subscription to Vanity Fair a couple of years ago, some months after I stopped reading my monthly subscription issue, it was because, slow as I am, it had finally occurred to me that despite the high end gloss – or, rather, actually, because of it – VF was really just an aspirant’s People Magazine. Oh, sure, it had, in recent years, Christopher Hitchens to provide intellectual and literate heft, and a share of good journalism, like the article this month by William Langewiesche on the midair collision of a commercial jetliner and private jet over the Amazon back in 2007. (If you ever want to fly again, you might avoid this detailed account.) But all of this is akin to the interviews in Playboy. At least back in my days of “reading” that magazine, the interviews were in-depth explorations of which to be proud, and could achieve national significance. Still, the publication was what it was; the interviews didn’t change that.
So even though editor Graydon Carter tried to don an air of seriousness over the past five years with all of those high and easy fungo lobs he gave himself, including this last chance, with anti-Bush editorial upon A-B-E to bat out of the park – take a daring stand why don’t ya – the magazine is what it is. Lent to me from last month for the Tina Fey cover story, I made it my stationary bicycle reading at the Globe gym. So, yes, it is still primarily about celebrity, but instead of People pablum – “Dominck Dunne on life after O.J.: ‘I’m starting to live again!” – we get (oh, my God!) Maureen Dowd and Annie Leibovitz. That’ll extract a little of the guilt from our guilty pleasure. Fey – the sexy Sarah Palin – is talented and seems a nice (yes, nice) person, but off screen she had me conjuring sticks and mud and asses. Also this month, “The Things Yves Loved,” a piece about Yves Saint Laurent’s extraordinary collection of art and oject de, and as the title tells us the interest is not in the art but in its thinginess – the collecting and, “couldn’t you die,” display of it in his Paris apartment, and its soon to occur, “can you imagine what it’ll go for,” auctioning off. Then there’s the desecration of the Plaza Hotel by the Israeli developer (have you bought your nonpareil Central Park view apartment sight unseen yet for, say, 20 mil?) and, vying for my favorite, “Profiles in Panic.” Asks the table of contents blurb about that piece:
How are all those high-rolling Wall Streeters and their pampered wives holding up as the pink slips multiply and portfolios evaporate? From the returns counters at high-end stores to the reservation desks on St. Barts, Michael Shnayerson surveys the financial and social wreckage of a gilded age.
Clean yourself up and I’ll go on. It’s at least comforting to know that no one reading Vanity Fair is or would want to be one of those high rollers or “pampered” wives, but if conjuring that return counter at Bergdorf’s or canceled reservations in St. Bart doesn’t ply your tear ducts, the account of the Greenwich, Connecticut wives driven to the use of supermarket coupons will. (“I saw her using them, I tell you. Gloria? Yes, Gloria. I can’t believe it – it’s all going to hell.”)
Carter apparently knows where his ideal reader’s present or imaginative sense of identification and sympathy lies – not with the millions of unemployed and foreclosed upon who didn’t rape the economy, nor those who don’t need an economic collapse to be in real dire straits all of the time. Throw in a distancing adjective like “pampered,” to pretend you don’t endorse this way of life – you’re just reporting – and an A-B-E – and, hey, you’re not a sycophant in Louis’ court.
Co-finalist is Bob Colacello’s paean to William F. and Patricia Buckley’s “grand old romance.” Well, good for them, I truly and sincerely say. I always disdained Buckley’s politics while I appreciated him as a person, but I’m not sure author and editor realize that it is the love, but not the individuals – for anyone not to start in thrall to the high altitude – that is well-served in the piece. The Mr. in his will is a totally dismissive Catholic shit to his illegitimate grand-child, and the Mrs. is to be taken for one of the good rich and mighty because she won’t stand for shitting on waiters in the dining retreats of the privileged. But the detail that keeps hanging my nail is that, we are informed, at the buffet for the couple’s 50th anniversary, the party dined on “barbecued pork and whole lobsters.” Swell. How edifying. I must tell you, though, that my parents enjoyed a 50th anniversary catered affair – a memorable occasion not least because my Aunt Goldie managed to stick her head into the frame of nearly every photo taken – but neither I nor, I would wager all of the Buckley estate, anyone else present will recall what we ate that day. I would wager even more if the estate had it that you wouldn’t care to know even if I did. And with the Buckleys? Well, there is the succulent indulgence of the “lobster” – too bad there was not Beluga or foie gras – and maybe, just maybe, there is just a little more vividly enlivened in the reader the sense that – ah, if only – one might have been there.
As Aunt Goldie would precisely have said, “Feh.”