For the past few years, I’ve deliberately avoided discussing politics in my column, or social media generally, simply because it’s usually a waste of time and energy (as will be this rant). But, sometimes the need for one to express one’s thoughts (and yes, feelings) about such matters becomes overwhelming. I’d be curious as to how many folks here think about what’s going on, particularly as pertains to the presidential (and in many ways least important) race.
For me, I have to say this has to be the single most disappointing presidential race I have ever experienced in my, perhaps too many, years on this planet. Never, have I disliked, even been repulsed by, both candidates. Usually one is relatively acceptable. For me it’s usually been the Democratic candidate because I am generally of a more progressive persuasion. Notwithstanding, that hasn’t precluded the positive aspects of the candidates from the other side. Even Nixon was responsible for the establishment of the (now virtually moribund) National Endowment for the Arts. At least Reagan, Ford, G.H.W. and G.W. Bush were not openly malicious, notwithstanding my disagreements with most of what they brought to the White House. Anyway, you get my drift here.
However, this time around I have to say I am in a serious quandary. Back in 2008 I was very much in favour of Hillary Clinton; Let’s face it Barack Obama was simply not ready for the office; and he has (very much to my regret) proved it (the reasons for this would be for another discussion). At that time Hillary Clinton was still a very credible candidate for the office; she had not been corrupted by the secretive machinations as Secretary of State for the Obama administration. Her credibility has been seriously undermined by her inscrutable determination to not be forthcoming on not just her incessant e-mail revelations, but her whole circumspect approach to dealings with the Foundation and in what other cryptic endeavours she and Bill have been engaged. I’m not generally one to pay attention what the American public as a whole thinks (since I for the most part have a pretty low opinion of the American public’s irrational, emotional and largely ill-informed “thinking”), but this time around I have to concur, I find her to be vexingly disingenuous.
That being said, I then think, how can anybody in their right mind even remotely consider Donald Trump a serious contender for president? To those of you who support his candidacy… What is wrong with you? I know that people don’t like to be told that they are stupid, but… YOU’RE STUPID! There is, and can be, no other explanation as to why anybody with anything other than the I.Q. of a radish, and the emotional development of a four year old, would even remotely consider this man for the office. There simply is no excuse.
I guess what bothers me the most is that the Democratic Party had a bona fide alternative, a chance to win not only the presidency, but actually precipitate a major sea change in Washington beyond the presidential level, which I mentioned is actually less important that what is commonly referred to the “down ballot” part of this election. Nothing could reflect more clearly the distinction between the two major parties than what happened prior to and during the conventions:
The Republicans went with the “outsider” candidate who reflected precisely all the worst qualities of the so-called base of the party: xenophobia, racism, religious fanaticism and the worst form of jingoism, economic inequality, global arming denial, you-name-it, all packaged in the fear of anything remotely associated the government. The result is a candidate who the majority of Americans find repulsive. A person whose unfavourable ratings are close to 60 per cent of the public.
The Democrats on the other hand through their blatantly corrupt determination to assure their predetermined (thank you Debbie Wassermann Shultz machine candidate of choice was the chosen one despite all data that evidenced over and over again that THEIR outside candidate Bernie Sanders would have beaten Donald Trump by as much as two-to-one margins. Why? Because people knew Bernie Sanders was authentic. He didn’t have innumerable skeletons in the closet, and always stayed on message — a message, by the way, to which the folks at “Black Lives Matter” blinded themselves because of their tunnel visioned approach to the political situation.
Anyway, for me the political process in this country has not only hit an all time low, it doesn’t look to improve anytime soon. In fact, with the mass media frenzy feeding on Clintons e-mail and foundation bungling and the latest Trump crazy man faux pas on virtually anything, I don’t expect the American public to become intelligent soon — if ever.
So, I’m confronted with the “lesser of two evils” syndrome — again. Do I vote for a big mouthed blowhard, narcissist who cannot make a decision in which he feels does not benefit him personally, or do I vote for a completely compromised, surreptitious person whose credibility ever since becoming an high profile ill-prepared member of an high-profile ill-prepared president’s cabinet? I afraid I’m going to have to hold my nose and divine into the quagmire with the latter, for two reasons:
1) At one time she was an idealist with progressive ideas, and maybe, just maybe, if she’s elected with at least a Democratic majority in the senate she can retrieve a little of her old self
2) She’s not Donald Trump.
I really can’t stand this.
This Christmas was more special for me: it’s the first Christmas I can remember in a very, very long time in which I can safely say I’ve enjoyed and fully appreciated the season. You see, for the past 30 plus years I’ve worked in what is probably the most Scrooge-like, coldblooded, mean spirited business in which a person could work at this time of the year — retailing. Actually, I’m insulting the Dickens’ character because he, at least, became repentant toward the end. Retailing on the other hand, especially what are referred to as the “big box” stores, primarily (but not exclusively) department stores has no such scruples. Moreover, the American consumer has become equally coldblooded in encouraging major retailers’ (and many small ones’) behaviour by gorging themselves in spending and debiting themselves to borderline insolvency in order to slake a need to be accepted by others through a superficial act of materialism.
The problem lies in that this act of buying “things” in voracious quantities has been so conditioned into the American psyche that those who don’t (and even a few that do) work as retail sales clerks — oh, excuse me: “associates” (as if that reflected that they aren’t considered the low life scum that they are considered) — don’t even give it a second thought that these stores have to be manned by people during those wee hours of the morning in which these stores insist upon being open. When stores like Kohl’s are open 24 hours during the week before Christmas I’m sure the people who shop at 3:00 a.m. are so incredibly selfish, or absolutely stupid/clueless to understand that just because they can’t sleep at night, it doesn’t mean that that sales person, who is doing everything he or she can to stay awake, doesn’t want to be at home sleeping next to a partner or spouse. The thoughtlessness of the American consumer is one of the most telltale examples of our material obsession over life affirming values. It is significantly indicative of how petty and shoal American society continues to devolve.
We could give a s— about those essentially indentured servants to our beck-and-call to which they must respond (at 4:00 a.m.), and who must deal with the most petty of enquires about those things that are no longer in stock and for which there is no longer a supply and the irate self-entitled behaviour such circumstances engender. Hey Ms/Mr. shopper, do you think that: 1) what you ask is reasonable? 2) That the person of whom you are demanding your petty concerns actually gives a damn? Moreover, even if you don’t acknowledge what kind of loathsome creature you are, do you think making some one else’s life miserable just so that you can buy a few trinkets for somebody you wish to impress with your “thoughtfulness” justifies your incorrigible behaviour?
Nevertheless, I still blame retailers for taking Christmas and making it into something so less than the religious and (dare I say?) spiritual holiday that it is supposed to be. It is simply a reflection, a byproduct, of the materialism as generated by the avarice defined by the nature of Capitalism. Greed has not only become the dominant force behind this holiday, it has become the expedient tool by which the avaricious have asphyxiated the original concept of Christmas by quite literally eviscerating it. A recent Wall Street Journal article shows how the season has been co-opted by businesses appealing to recent societal trends by capitalising on trashing Christmas for the politically correct and the monetarily fruitful vomit of “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings.”
I, for one, am sick of it.
The lust for profit has driven retailers to take these extraordinary and ultimately unprofitable extremes with little or no consideration for the fiduciary responsibilities to their employees welfare. The amount of business they do in additional sales relative to the cost of good will and additional expense to their employees (I’m sure there are egregious anecdotal exceptions) much less operating overhead, simply goes against any rational business sense. But, that’s what we’ve come to expect from these big stores: desperation over rationality.
Anyway, I’m glad I’m out of it and am in a position to say “no” to working weekends and late nights. This year I was able to do what little shopping I needed to do with ease and no stress or pressure. I was able to simply spend quiet evenings listening to REAL Christmas music, watch “It’s Christmas Charlie Brown,” have a simple yet elegant meal by candlelight, and just overall simply relax and absorb the the wonders (again through the true music of the season) and mystery of Christmas with my beloved. Whether or not one adheres to precepts of the theology associated with Christmas Day is irrelevant. There is something much more — a metaphysics if you will — that, if you’re simply willing to give yourself the time and honesty, transcends all the commerce, and avarice that have become such an unfortunate aspect of Christmastide. Hey folks, there are twelve days in Christmastide, not one; do something more than just buy a present or two for someone. Find yourself.
I had planned to publish a diatribe concerning an important art museum—well, not so much as the institution but one of its principle individuals, who has a tendency to be… let’s say… rather petulant and vindictive, who will satisfy that peevishness at any cost, namely on another individual who had no idea that he (me) was a pawn in this little game of vengeance directed (actually misdirected) by this important, albeit unsuccessful, individual toward a previous immediate subordinate. Taking that into consideration, rather than risk a law suit by this childish, mean spirited individual and his HR flunky I chose not to post my original diatribe. At leafs I finally got it out of my system and now can hopefully move on.
It’s unfortunate. I had found a perfect use for floccinaucinihilipilification.
Contrary to what some of you might have been led to believe, I will still continue to compose and make my comments here. I wrote the previous column because I needed to say this. This has been something that has been eating at me for a long time; and, I felt that if I didn’t finally express my thoughts and feelings I simply wasn’t going to move forward.
Ergo, for those of you who do think I have something to contribute to this world, I’m sorry to say that you will see my comments from time to time here.
While I was writing about my feelings about Boston since we moved here, I got to thinking about why it was taking me so long to get though it, which in turn, got me to thinking about the impatience of those who have don’t have to struggle, or have little trouble expressing ideas or performing tasks, or learning things quickly with those of us who are more deliberate, or seem “slower.” I usually find those who are impatient with people who don’t get it the first time — or even the second — to be a generally intolerant and non-empathetic group as a whole. There’s an arrogance, and a smugness which accompanies impatient people: they feel they “must” explain things twice to others when they (of course) understood or learnt the first time. They simply can’t understand why others have to be so stupid or dense — or so SLOW! “Why does it take so long for them to do it?” or “…get the job done?” Well, some of us just need a little more time. It’s not that we’re stupid or retarded; usually it has to do with making sure whatever it is we are doing is done right — the first time, as much as possible.
I am NOT a believer in multi-tasking. It’s a foolish and virtually impossible concept, and invariably leads to second rate, or worse results. The business community has adopted this concept with the nitwit idea that getting someone to try doing three or four things simultaneously will increase productivity saving time and money. Of course this is a fallacy, except for the unique profession of the Organist/Choir Director (which I don’t feel like explaining at this point) it is physically impossible for someone to perform two things simultaneously, much less three or four. And even if it were possible, would you really want your surgeon double as your anaesthesiologist? I didn’t think so.
But, I digress. For me the main reason for my plodding along is (and I for once don’t think I stand alone here) an obsession with perfection, or what I perceive to be perfection. That means fussing over details: choosing the precise word, or notes/phrases. I certainly do not presume to think that in my case what I do is superior to others; quite the contrary, I feel that I have to slave over everything I do in order to at least achieve a level of parity to others. With words it is the constant rephrasing of a sentence or obsessively trying to find the precise word to express my thoughts. Unfortunately, I am not blessed with the encyclopaedic memory or razor sharp wit of Oscar Wilde or, musically, mon cher maître Malcolm Williamson. No, I have to scratch and clammer my way in order to achieve a few notes, phrases, words, sentences. Luckily there are the slow geniuses: Gustave Flaubert comes to mind, as does Ernest Chausson and Henri Duparc.
I have always admired prolificacy. I look at Bach and Mendelssohn; also Frederick Church and Thomas Cole come to mind: people whose individual output was astounding, not only for their quantity, but the quality of their work. It is very humbling indeed. Unfortunately (yes I know I’ve been using that word a lot), as someone who has more than likely suffered from some form of ADD (w/o the H nowadays) it has been very difficult to prioritise, or at least focus on any one thing. As a result little gets done. Ironically, once I do focus on something then nothing, I mean nothing gets in the way. I remember one summer I lost about 3-5 lbs because I would spend the entire day learning and memorising the Franck Grande Piéce Symphonique. Of course I also had access to one of the biggest organs in the country upon which to practise. Such is not the case presently, or probably forever.
So, I hope that explains a little as to why I’m so cumbered in my attempts at some sort of productivity. I may have more to say on this; but now, I have to go practise.
A couple generations ago dressing down used to have negative connotations. It meant dressing below standard, below what was even considered appropriate for casual or sportswear. It was so onerous that the last thing you wanted to experience from a parent or your boss was a “dressing down.” Nowadays, dressing down pretty much means avoiding at all costs anything resembling good taste, especially anything tailored, such as a suit (men’s or women’s), or a blazer and slacks, a dress, or a skirt with a co-ordinating blouse. Dressing down is a by-product of the 70’s/80’s commercialisation of the 60’s free-speech, anti-war, “it’s-not-what’s-on-the-outside-but-what’s-on-the-inside-that-counts” movements. This, of course, brings us to the idea of “casual Fridays;” which is little more than an excuse for not wanting to look like Gregory Peck in “The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit.” A look I don’t necessarily see as pejorative.
The movie “Good Night, and Good Luck,” made a strong impression on me. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it takes place at the CBS studios in New York during the early 50’s. What impressed me (beyond David Straithairn’s uncanny realistic portrayal of Edward R. Murrow) was the setting. More precisely, how people dressed in that setting in that time: the men in their dress shirts and ties, and women in A-line dresses or skirts and blouses with mostly collar and stand or peter pan necklines. Now granted, this was an office environment in the news division of a major network; and yes, there was a sameness, an overtly conformist look (emphasised by the black and white cinematography); nevertheless, the setting was not atypical of the standard office environment of the time. The point is, they looked professional – people serious about their work and dressed accordingly.
Ideally, I suppose, the world would be better if people weren’t judged by what they wear, or how they maintain their hair, or how they smell and other aspects of personal hygiene – hmmm. Anyway, such are not the ways of most highly developed cultures. And since our society thrives on the visceral, what we wear is one of the primary determining factors in the way we present ourselves; it tells others a lot about how we wish (or, more accurately, how others think we wish) to be perceived. That includes all manner of dress, whatever the circumstances. Whether we like it or not, what we wear makes a very powerful initial – visceral – impression.
Dressing down is just that; dressing down. It’s a symbol of lowered standards; standards society has come to accept as the norm. It reflects the cavalier attitude that recent generations have fostered toward the imprecise, the unclear, the inexact. We no longer focus our attention on one or two tasks and endeavour diligently to assure their veracity. No, today we multi-task, which is a euphemism for companies to overwork and under pay employees so as to achieve what can only be at best the bare minimum. As long as we get the job done. Whether it’s done well is really not the principal concern today. Businesses supposedly can’t afford the time and cost of some one concentrating single mindedly on only one or two projects and doing them well. We proclaim the need for and supposedly value excellence; but, we really don’t have time for it. We can’t afford it. Yet, for some reason we have lots of time and money to redo the job again and again until it’s right; that is, until it’s “good enough.” I use general terms because this issue of multi-tasking is endemic throughout our society. It does not matter whether the work involves manufacturing or supplying a service; multi-tasking, cutting corners, is pervasive. And it’s reflected in how we dress. Treating your appearance seriously is no different than treating your work seriously.
Oh, I can hear it now, “I don’t need to get all dressed up to do my job well.” Theoretically that’s very true. But, dollars to donuts, reality dictates the opposite. Unfortunately, as Kevin stated, the sin of it all is that when you don’t know an higher standard you don’t know you’re lacking it. If the standard of dress is slovenly, well, I guess that’s “the style” and we’re supposedly no worse off for the lack of knowing any better.
Unfortunately, there is no surprise to any of this. After all we are a society driven by what is commercially expedient; and the key to commercial expediency is the lowest common denominator – what has become referred to as “Pop Culture,” in which charlatans like Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Laurie Anderson, Meredith Monk, John Cage, Terry Riley, John Galliano and John Gaultier , and any street thug who spews violence laden profanities to a back beat are lauded as geniuses. Who needs to learn how to draw? Who needs theory and counterpoint? Who needs talent? Evidently nobody these days.
Good taste, bad taste. If there’s one thing of which a person does not like to be accused it’s of having bad or poor taste. Unfortunately, since the 70’s good taste is a concept whose paucity becomes more and more evident every day. Poor taste in art, music, fashion, writing have become the norm, coin of the realm. I mean, have you read or heard what passes for poetry nowadays? Case in point: Elizabeth Alexander’s Inaugural piece of prosaic blather. It’s a testament to the general malaise of standards (which set the criteria for good & bad taste) that someone can conceive such tripe and be considered worthy of the Pulitzer Prize. Robert Frost she ain’t. Maya Angelou she ain’t.
Why the 70’s? Because it was in the latter half of that decade that industry decided to capitalise on the hipness of being “radical;” when long hair, tie-dyed shirts, peace symbols and other nonconformist forms of apparel went from being political to profitable. So, we ended up with corporate execs and lawyers wearing polyester leisure suits with bell bottom pants and lapels out to the shoulder and either tie-dyed or flower print shirts to show that they were “with it.” If a tie was worn it was as wide as a bib. And let us not forget the granny dress and the ultra-short miniskirt in which 99.99999% of women then, as well (Oh Lord) as today, should never be seen.
Yes, it was in the 70’s that began the long precipitous decent of taste in style. But that was just the beginning; the stage was set for the next great decline: Punk followed by Grunge, from which society never recovered. All anyone has to do is walk around any city, or college/university metropolitan area, or any public high school and see the remnants of the waste laid by the pop culture of the 80’s.
Then when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, along comes rap and hip-hop with its foul language and glorification of the criminal life. As soon a the “music” became commercially viable so did the corresponding “fashion” of low rise wearing baggy jeans and oversized clothing. Oh, lets not forget the jock/frat mentality of the middle class with their backwards baseball caps and faux hip-hop clothes and scraggy beards.
My generation has no one to blame but itself. We raised a generation (along with the ensuing generation) of kids who were told that they were all just great, that everyone was special and each every one was entitled to whatever he or she wanted and that instilling some form of discipline would damage their self esteem. So, our society is blessed with two or more generations of people who can’t be told anything, even how to dress. Fresh out of school (either graduation or dropping out) they expect to be paid whatever they want, come to work whenever they want and work as much or as little as they want because that’s how they’ve been conditioned to think. Our colleges and universities have become little more than glorified trade schools whose only purpose is to make sure that what is taught are those things which are going to get junior or sis into a good MBA programme. That is all that matters. It has become the primary focus of both private and public education. The well rounded liberal arts and humanities education has long been discarded in favour of pure avarice. So how is one supposed to know how to dress appropriately when the whole of society is bent on the expedient?
Good taste, like any skill, is learnt. Good taste is a by-product of the understanding of those things which are reflective of a society taught that there is more to life than the temporal high of instant gratification.
When one has learned to appreciate –– to relish –– the complexity of T. S. Eliot, Dante, Guillame de Machaut, J. S.Bach, Jan van Eyck, Frederick E. Church, Gerhard Richter, etc. then one can learn to appreciate the subtleties of the deceptive simplicity of a tailored suit by Joseph Abboud or a simple belt cinched shift by Kenneth Cole.
There’s good taste and bad taste.Good taste simply reflects a discerning mind as manifested through a well exercised intellect and a highly developed sense of cultural history. Things which with our current education and child rearing practises are woefully in short supply in today’s society.
Don’t get me wrong. I still believe in what were ultimately the progressive social and political ideals of my generation at that time. And some of them have partially come to fruition –– today’s inauguration being an example. Moreover, I fully realise that the long hair, the grungy clothes, head bands, beads and other “accessories” were all part of that statement. Nevertheless, as with most large scale, unstructured good intentions, the “It’s not what you see on the outside that counts; it’s what’s inside” philosophy of so-called open mindedness was easily corrupted into what has basically become a lame excuse for bad taste.
Of course the prostitutes –– er, designers –– of the fashion industry found it so much more expedient to follow, and hopefully capitalise on this “free spirited” so-called style of the times, they merely contributed to the overall decline in standards and personal discipline with which our society has now become so insidiously plagued. So called icons of fashion such as Giorgio Armani have been enablers of this trend. All you have to do is walk into an A/X store and see the gratuitously overpriced rags that pass as fashionable sportswear. It’s become so prevalent and easy that just about any street thug who manages to make him or her self a successful hip-hop album, or reality show contest winner, or drug and alcohol induced former airheaded model, or any other talentless pop icon can become a “designer;” thus further perpetuating the fraud that looking like either a homeless person or a gang member is considered fashionable or “cool.” This takes us further into the subject of what defines good and bad taste…(to be continued)
I’ve been in the men’s apparel industry now for a little over 8 years. I stumbled onto it pretty much by accident. Up to that point music and the music industry had always been the focus of my life. Even after the demise of my sheet music store “Heritage Music House” in Philadelphia, I ended up working full time at Tower Records Classical Annex on South Street. Meanwhile, I kept my fingers in the church music pie as Music Director at various Philly churches. After I quit Tower I decided to take on a part time gig at Lord & Taylor in Centre City Phila. since my primary work was at the now defunct St. Peter’s Episcopal Church of Germantown.
Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to work in something different and fashion had become a source of interest to me recently. Of course, I can never involve myself halfway in anything; so, I began researching vendor sources, as in,” Who makes this stuff for all these designers?” Most designers, of course, don’t produce much of their stuff themselves; they license out production to any number of vendors who own the factories. I became more and more intrigued with the idea of knowing how the clothes are made: men’s suits, even the cheap ones, are amazingly complicated constructs. What is between the outer shell and the lining is a maze of layers and sub or partial layers I need not go into at this moment.
Moreover, I discovered I have a natural talent for putting together a man’s outfit, especially a tailored one. I suddenly discovered I had this flair for taking a suit or blazer & trousers and combining them with a shirt or two and three to four ties and making them all interchangeable so that a man can, with just a few items have a fully functional tailored wardrobe. I don’t generally like to brag (which, I guess is one of the reasons I can’t get a decent job), but I’m really good at this.
At first it was very interesting, exciting even. But, coming down to earth it is, after all, retail. And that’s been my biggest problem. I’m a retailer. That’s fine if you have your own business, such as when I had Heritage Music; but, working for others makes it very dreary and wearisome. Coupled with the duties of being a church musician and, well, weekends are non-existent.
Moreover, retailing has a stigma to it that almost precludes you from finding work in another field. I don’t understand why, but it does.
But, I digress. Since my active involvement in the fashion industry I’ve become more aware than ever of the dismal state of dress in our society. I’m a firm believer that fashion, not unlike the arts (or should I say the other arts), reflects directly on the state of a civilisation, either enlightened or barbaric. Unfortunately, the current trend has been toward the latter. The whole idea of looking like you just dressed yourself out of some dumpster being considered cool is a hideous product phenomenon originating uniquely from the late 20th Century, namely the late 60’s
Unfortunately, it’s one remnant from that era that actually stuck. All the struggle for political, social and economic justice; all the striving to achieve an higher, more enlightened consciousness have at best seen token achievement (racial & sexual justice) or at worst regression (economic justice). No, dressing like a slob just like all its attendant undisciplined and just basically rude behaviour, not to mention bad taste, seems to be the enduring legacy of the radicalism of the late 60’s…(to be continued)