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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Another One From The Vaults

(This is another piece from The Antagonist, my old 'zine. Yes folks, in the world shortly before the 'blog, there were several of us weirdoes out there in the world who spent a lot of our time at Kinko's, obsessively cutting-and-pasting for the benefit of almost no readership, and...Well...
(So, there was this bunch of pictures of Jackie O set up near the food court of a mall in downtown Portland. It was being promoted as an art exhibit, and I decided to review it as if it actually were.)

(First, I include a quotation:)
"For what has any consumer ever wanted but to purchase time's defeat and raise yesterday's dead?" -Richard Powers

"Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: The Making of a First Lady"- photos by Jacques Lowe, main floor atrium, Pioneer Place, through September 24, 1998

This isn't art photography. It sort of seems like an exhibit, but is actually about, or a celebration of...A fashion goddess? That's why it was in Pioneer Place, and not a gallery.
About the pictures themselves: pretty good work. They range from carefully staged, posed shots to large shots of crowds (where everyone is at least somewhat candid), to slice-of-life type shots. You shall know which each one is by their title cards.

The title cards are the real story, and they are what I'm actually reviewing. They're nice pictures, but the text is what's really remarkable.
I mean, this isn't here for Art, but has some of art's pretensions (Lowe is referred to as being "recognized as internationally as one of the most renowned photographers of our time" -which strikes me as both redundant and untrue).

It also is not about history, really, so I guess it's all about Jackie, and what made her a fashion goddess. Why? Because she was the first First Lady in modern memory that didn't look like Mom, that's why.
Then again, Jack was the first president in modern memory that didn't look like Grampa. He had an awful lot of Fuck You in his attitude. One of the photos shows he and Jackie at the opera, or some society function that requires balconies anyway, and the title card quotes Jack as saying, "I think this is an ideal way to spend an evening; you looking up at us and we looking down at you."
A lady near me noted this lack of humility out loud, and I noted to myself: yeah, he said that a couple of times. Most famously, there was the time whe somebody called him on the fact that he was rich as hell, and had pretty much had his whole life handed to him. He responded, "Life is not fair."

Heh heh, nooo it's not...There are pictures of early campaign rallies where maybe three or four people show up. Yeah- let history never forget- at first it was like that, until they made a deal with the southern Demos and started spreading the wealth around. They literally had people in West Virginia walking around handing out ten dollar bills.
(In retrospect, there was a lot more to it than that, and the West Virginia story might be entirely bullshit. Just sayin'.)

We see the happy couple at another campaign stop in Coos Bay, Or. The title card notes, "Chatting with a longshoreman; was there anyone she could not charm?" Well, God knows longshoremen usually ignore beautiful women.

It's just too easy to Monday Morning Quarterback history. But- of course Nikita Krushchev is going to smile when he's being photographed talking to the First Lady of the United States. It's what They, The Mighty do, if I'm not mistaken: I've seen all these pictures of 'em.
So the card says, "Krushchev adored Jackie instantly." Well yes, I can see the big smile, and he would have been smiling even still had she looked like a fire hydrant. He had no idea that he'd be proving some faux-historian's point for him, 30-some odd down the road.

Another 'well-that's-hard-to-say' moment for me came later with a picture of the inauguration. The tile card refers to it as "the most memorable inauguration speech in history." I don't remember any of the details from any of the other ones for that matter, and I think that's no accident.
( Of course, thinking about it now, I can recall plenty of other inauguration speeches, and would posit that the above lazy didactic has more to do with that particular speech being watched by so many on television.)
If you ask me, he said all the brave-sounding things new presidents say when they've just stepped off the train from Mere Politiciansville. It's just that he died young, you see.

A good half of the title cards contain some permutation of the phrase, 'this was the last time they would ever...': last time the whole family would be in one room without one of them being in a coffin, last time Jack and Jackie leave their little flat in Georgetown, and my fave; Jackie in a great dress, and it says, "From this day forward, she would be imitated in everything she did." Yup. Suddenly everybody had that stupid accent.
(Oddly, even the popular stage show about the Kennedys - The First Family starring Vaughn Meader- which was a pretty gentle piece of satire, couldn't help making fun of it a little.)

I just can't take it. Here is a picture from the inauguration again. The title card, in some desperate attempt to make Jackie other-than-human, says, "Somehow Jackie, wearing a white pillow-box (sic) hat and white coat" (manages to stand out in an enormous crowd of men wearing black).

This sort of twaddle continues: "The quintessential Jackie: Regal. Serene. Astonishingly beautiful. Exuding inner strength and a certainty of purpose." And a tremendous need to marry Up. To find someone rich enough to sustain her in the lifestyle to which she had become accustomed, as her own family fortune was no longer as strong as could be...
(Even for the writing style of Me, Ten Years Ago, this seems unnecessarily harsh. It would have been funnier too if I'd maybe gone on with the ridiculous hyperbole of the sentence I'm parodying and said, for instance, "With the strength of ten cows. Able to melt lampposts with her gaze." Oh well.)

So she became a political asset to a young, rich person on the rise, and they had children. Jackie is quoted as saying that if one bungles the raising of kids, one has bungled the biggest job in the world. "She didn't bungle," the title card reassures us.

So, no disrespect to Jackie really. On one hand because everybody knows that Dead People Are A-ngels and also because none of this shit is her fault. It's yet another dash of lazy history, mixed with so-called Populist Art, and finally it's just another way to sell clothes.
(As evidenced by the Jackie-inspired Chanel showcase nearby.)

A young lady next to me, truly in awe, said, "She was so beautiful. So, so beautiful...Like Natalie Wood or something. Really beautiful."
I didn't know what to say except, "Yer supposed to say she looked like Audrey Hepburn."

(Natalie Wood is the better comparison though, I now think.)



Blogger Dr. Bill Loney said...


most of the seedlin's growin' up today aint got the slightest who Jackie-O is or was...but I do.

She was the original 1st Babe...and not jus' cause she was pleasin' to look at. Anybody that could smile through all her man's fornicatin' gots a lot more disciplinaryness than most. I dont care too much for fanciness(my idea of fancy is my gold-buckled sky blue leisure suit and white pleather shoes...course, theys just for marryin' and buryin'), but she had pretty good fancy. And I liked that Cliff Clavin accent they all had too.

BTW, you live yonder on the left coast, right? I hear they gotta lot of them hi-falutin coffee drinkin places out there. If yousa send me some fancy coffee, I'lla send you some mushyroom pie. But dont take on any if you aint got 'bout 16-24 hours to kill.

William T. Loney, MD

9:07 PM  
Blogger rich bachelor said...

Perfect. Y'know, out here we generally make ours into tea. And we've always got 16-24 hours to kill.

Oddly, this may be how we discovered the inner secrets of fine coffee making. The combination of steeping something in water and being whacked out of our ever-lovin'-skulls all the damn time. We learned some deeper truths.

Welcome aboard. It's been a while since I've had a country sawbones around.

9:57 AM  

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