A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
1937 – Peter Max, a 60s going on 70s artist who put the psycho in psychedelic. Max’s work uses strong colors, bubble letters, sunshine and rainbows. Like most artists of the period, he uses American clichés as a backdrop for his art. He is deeply influenced (“rip-off” is such a 60s word!) by Andy Warhol and he must have seen the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine at least 8 times. Today, Max’s art seems horribly out of date but he’s still flogging it — mostly to government officials and old company executives who think it’s still cool. Eventually there will be another 60s revival, and ordinary people will reclaim Max’s art.
1969 – Trey Parker, one half of the geniuses behind the mega-funny TV series South Park. Parker and his creative partner, Matt Stone have done a lot of other things but none of them is as funny as South Park – except maybe Team America: World Police, which died at the box office. South Park is so funny that it has angered many members of “Politically Correct,” a special interest group for people born without a laugh track. They claim that Parker, Stone and South Park have a Hidden Right Wing Agenda. I’ve seen the show, and they might be right.
1453 – French troops recaptured the city of Bordeaux, and so virtually ended the 100 Year War. This was a war that had everything. It even lasted longer than it was supposed to –116 years (a great trivia question, by the way.) It had great battles, Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt (where the obscene middle finger gesture comes from.) It had fascinating personalities: Edward the Black Prince, John the Fearless, Henry V, running around calling everybody his “Band of Brothers” and shouting “Once more into the breach,” etc. etc. And everybody’s favourite heroine, Joan of Arc, answering God’s summons to save France and, (when the English burned her at the stake) ending up looking remarkably like Ingrid Bergman. It started out with glorious knights, in full armour, hacking away at each other in chivalrous individual combat and ended with rows of cannons, dramatically blasting away, in indiscriminate wholesale slaughter. It would have been a brilliant war except for a couple of minor problems. One — it started as a family feud when Edward III of England and Philip of Valois both wanted to oppress the French peasants at the same time — not a real good reason to have a war. Two – it lasted so long that the original arguments between the original combatants were long since gone and forgotten, and you had people’s great-grand-children shooting at each other, for no apparent reason. And finally three – it irreparably changed the face of warfare. It’s all well and good to have a couple of hundred noblemen dressing up and playing Capture the Flag, but when you field huge professional armies that spend year after year butchering the civilian population for money and sport – that just gives war a bad name.
1987 – The stock markets of the world unexpectedly crashed on what has come to be called Black Monday. And they didn’t just collapse, they dropped like they’d fallen down a well. It was the largest percentage drop in world history (even bigger than the Stock Market Crash of 1929.) Wall Street alone lost over 20%. People lost millions in a matter of minutes. Even the big boys, Gates and Buffett, took a kicking. Immediately afterwards, economists gathered in Washington, DC, to figure out the cause and future prevention of such a terrible occurrence. They yipped and chattered, hemmed and hawed and rattled around for about a week and a half, then announced that they had no idea what the hell just happened but they sure hoped it wouldn’t happen again. It has — several times.
1745 – Jonathan Swift, yet another witty Irishman. Everybody knows that Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels about Lemuel Gulliver’s adventures in the land of the Lilliputians (little people) and the Brobdingnagians (giants) but most people never get past that. Actually, Gulliver travelled to several other strange lands including Laputa, a flying island, Glubbdrubdrib and Japan. On his final voyage, he goes to the land of the Houyhnhnms where graceful and noble horses rule a race of filthy, stupid men called Yahoos. When Gulliver’s Travels was published, many people believed that there was a Gulliver and that he did actually travel to those places. I’m not sure that Swift ever clued some of them in. Swift also wrote A Modest Proposal in which he advocated poor people selling their children to rich people for food – an interesting concept in 1729. Once again, many people thought Swift was serious.
2008 – Mr. Blackwell! Has it come to this? Richard Blackwell was a very successful fashion designer who made extensive use of television and journalism to promote his designs. He wrote a fashion column and a couple of books. His House of Blackwell designed clothes for Jane Russell and Nancy Reagan among others. He was very good at what he did. But what is he remembered for? Blackwell’s Worst-Dressed List, an annual mean-spirited charade that served absolutely no purpose. The thing ran for over 40 years and just got bitchier and bitchier as it went along. People ate it up, enthralled with celebrity women getting impaled by Blackwell’s nasty barbs. It was insult humour for the masses at its best. Who am I kidding? I loved it, too.