Men can be just as superficial and vain as women, I reflected as I worked out at South Beach’s Crunch one afternoon. The men could not get their eyes off themselves in the mirrors. One muscleman, passing by and noticing that I was looking away from the mirror towards what was going on, took it upon himself to counsel me that I should look at myself for the sake of good form.
He was right up to a certain point. Good posture and the correct positioning of the limbs are important for safe and effective muscular development not to mention beauty. Still, the intense mirror-gazing had gone far beyond that, to displays of abject narcissism. Several dumbbells had positioned themselves so close to the mirror that I could not get to the dumbbell rack.
I just had to get out of there. I decided to take a hike over to Denis’ joint for a glass of Modelo and a chat with Marjan the bartender, a young man from Serbia. Marjan married a beautiful, tempestuous Latina; I like to check out his moods once a week for an update on the ups and downs of marriage so I can congratulate myself that I am not only a bachelor but am all washed up and not worth knowing as far as South Beach girls are concerned.
As I left Crunch, I grabbed a free slick magazine, called 944, for something to look at in case I got bored with South Beach life over my beer. Marjan was busy serving up drinks and chicken wings, so I thumbed through the magazine. It was the March 2011 Spring Fashion edition. Good grief, this is hardly haute culture, I told myself, not the kind of garb and accessories on chic models one usually finds in the slicks.
I noticed a lot of words on a few pages with pictures of a girl I had never heard of, one Jena Malone. Normally there are hardly any words at all in the slicks other than advertising copy, so I was caught by surprise. I gritted my teeth and started to read.
“It gets so boring. All of it. Every last hiked-up skirt of it. Every week there’s a new “It” girl pouting in front of the camera, spreading suggestively for this or that dude magazine, all the while purring that she, really, actually, wants to be taken seriously (seriously?) as an actress. Then, in two year’s time, she’ll have some sort of scandal – and fade into irrelevance or infamy. Boring. Save it for someone who gives a shit.”
But of course Jena Malone is not like that. “Jena Malone has never been the aforementioned stereotype. While completely beautiful, what with a pixie face, lithe physique and smirk suggesting something salacious, she never succumbed to the performance pressure that grabs so many a budding babe in the public eye – instead, she’s been doing her thing – and doing it well –for most of her life.”
Maybe so, but I had never heard of her. Maybe she’s someone the kids know. I could see that she was a cute kid from the photographs, including one of her in bed with the purportedly salacious smile. I was not turned on. She looked young, inexperienced in her bedroom pose, not lascivious enough for me, but to each their own. The writer was probably right in suggesting that she is a real girl and not a phony sexpot, at least not yet. But that depends on the beholder, I suppose.
“Less affected by the tangibility of fame than expressing herself in an artistic and authentic way, Malone is the ultimate cool girl.”
So she has yet to strike it rich, is not a material girl yet, she is a genuine artist, and that’s pretty cool because most of 944’s audience have apparently not made it yet, are young, up and coming, highly unlikely to spend $5,400 on the pair of high heel shoes advertised in a slicker magazine. But what does she do? She has a band and is a movie starlet. I looked her up on the Internet. Not much there. A sex-scene clip from a movie: not for me. She is developing….
This is pretty good copy, I thought as I read on, very good bullshit as a matter of fact, a rendition of the phony-versus-real theme. I think I’ll call the writer, Sarah Pachelli, and tell her so. She would definitely qualify for South Beach artist housing, as the late A.C. Weinstein defined “artist” when he was promoting CANDO – Cultural Arts Neighborhood District Overlay – for former Miami Beach Mayor David Dermer.
Writers, A.C. reassured me, would qualify for the special housing because they are “bullshit artists.” He was a writer himself. As it turned out, CANDO was bullshit. Not that its advocates did not have good intentions – but goodwill in itself is invisible; its subjective presence is only proved by its objective appearances.
“What ever happened to CANDO and the artist housing?” I asked my friend ‘Aliz’ that evening. “The Miami Herald used to trumpet it as if it were news in the making, but now, whenever they publish something about the area, they call it the historic museum district or whatever. I took a photo of a tattered CANDO banner in front of one of the many blighted building the other day.”
“Never heard of it,” she quipped.
Aliz was very much involved in everything to do with art back then, and she had gone to considerable length promoting the concept of the special zoning exception that would allow developers to build smaller rooms if they provided a few of them for artist housing. After all, it seemed to be a great idea – who is not for affordable artist housing? There are no such rooms and there probably never will be although national media picked up on the bullshit as if it would result in a national model for helping struggling artists – the dirty secret in South Beach was that a truly struggling artist could never afford such affordable artist housing and the whole thing was part and parcel of the mayor’s anti-gentrification gentrification plan.
I recalled how A.C. had been a muckraker for the local weekly newspaper before he sold out and became the mayor’s preacher. And he had long been a political fixer, not much caring what he got out of the deals. When you pointed out the contradictions of someone he supported, he would claim he did not understand your point, and would ask again and again what the problem was, until you gave up and threw the towel in, thinking he was obtuse – not really. He helped me get something done but he was not interested in converting the terribly blighted block in the CANDO district to an international art academy with housing for artists and faculty.
The papers were piling up on A.C.’s doorstep a few days after I visited him at City Hall; he was found dead in his apartment. That’s when I realized the Miami Beach value of subscribing to the Miami Herald when you live alone, besides stuffing it in your waterlogged shoes after wading through flood streets during heavy rain falls.
Shortly before A.C. died, I had given him a biography of Renoir, underlining references to the famous Impressionist’s cork theory – how it is best to bob along with the flowing stream. We may venture from one extreme to another, to one bank of the river or the other, but our fate is mutual; we should strive to get along with one another somehow.
“Heck,” I said to Aliz, “I have always said that if they brought me in from the cold, I would sell out too, write all sorts of great copy for their causes instead of criticizing everything they do. Writers are bullshit artists. I think I’ll call Sarah Pachelli at 944 and tell her I enjoyed her bullshit while I was having a mug of Modelo.”
“You should do that,” said she. “You know a writer would like that. She will be pleased.”
I must say for the record that I spoke falsely about myself. Like Jena Malone, I am not a phony person; I am the genuine article. I am certainly more Jesuit than Sophist. I am not a literary prostitute; I am a literary slut. I believe in giving away the truth. Of course propositions seem true r when you are rewarded for making them. Alas that we are fallible and truth is something we must make of the facts.
Now I am not averse to criticism of myself providing that I am the one providing it. I like trashing the trash culture from the very heights of my abysmal insignificance. Naturally whatever I say is bullshit. The way I say it does not change the fact that everything I say is bullshit. The world as we know it is not only vain although the real world outlasts us by eons; our world is bullshit dominated by bullshitting machines.
I think I have finally become Herbert Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man, a man flattened by the materialization of the high culture of the good old days when highly placed people actually had transcendental ideals. Now those ideals have been dragged down into the commercial muck and hawked as vulgar commodities, the common denominator of everything being a filthy unit of legal tender.
That is, the sublime has been de-sublimated, the high culture debunked and bastardized i.e. left without a father-god. The truth today is nothing but an advertisement; we know the ads are so much bunk but we cannot help being herded by them. Woe unto us all, the high culture is long gone, no longer exists, so kiss the romantic, chivalrous days, the spiritual and moral heroes of yore goodbye. Our heroes today are freaks; murderous warriors; tycoons and fraudsters; devils and fools; gangsters and whores; shoplifting, adulterous, drug-crazed stars; et cetera. And let us not forget the so-called rebellious artist whose co-opted crap is sold for millions. The only thing that counts is profit. We have no height: we are serpentine flatlanders creeping on our bellies.
No, Sir, there is no God because God has been pulled down, from Heaven to Earth, and buried in bullshit. Like the Death-of-Godders (DOGs), we await not the resurrection of Jesus, for we are debased gods; we await rather the resurrection of God.
On second thought, I am not a One Dimensional Man because I transcend him by criticizing him like Marcuse did. Negative criticism is essential to individual identity and for the survival of the race as well. Whatever the truth is supposed to be should be criticized; the ancient rabbis whipped the boy who sat dumb in class and did not question the Torah. I am neither this thing nor that thing; this man nor that man; I do not think exactly like anyone else. I disagree to exist. But then what am I? I am an author, my own authorizer, the captain of my cork!
So what the hell are the “transcendent elements in the higher culture by virtue of which it constituted another dimension of reality?” Bullshit, basically. To heck with the conservative’s Golden Age – life there, especially the communal conformity, was brutish.
Besides, what is inherently wrong with the democratization of high culture? Sadly, today things are no longer dumbed-down but are dumbed-up – the elite make much of some vulgar thing and it becomes stylish. The whole culture is stupefying. Anything that negates the establishment becomes the establishment. But here we go again, criticizing the One Dimensional Man, as if he existed. No man has only one dimension; flatlanders have at least two. I think I may have three or four, maybe more, with feet planted in several parallel universes. Heck, I am a transcendental man!
Like it or not, the primordial principle of the ascending culture or advancing civilization is negative criticism; everyone has reason to complain about something from time to time, and that includes, most importantly, complaining about negative things. Remember that a minus times a minus is a plus. Everyone is a critic. Marcuse was a good critic. He was a writer, a bullshit artist. He would qualify for affordable artists’ housing in South Beach if that were not bullshit.