Wednesday, November 7, 2007
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A post in which I defend the most insipid magazine article of the year
The nice publicists at Vanity Fair e-mailed me an alert about this Maureen Orth essay about the decline and fall of the Washington social scene (apparently, partisans killed the socialite stars).
Here's how Orth's essay opens:
Red Fay, undersecretary of the navy under John F. Kennedy, was a charming bon vivant, a great pal of the president’s, and the uncle of my roommate at Berkeley in the 60s. So it was my great good luck, on my very first trip to the capital, in May 1964, just six months after Kennedy’s assassination, to have “Uncle Red” invite me to dinner on the presidential yacht, the Sequoia. A few minutes after we arrived on board, I was amazed to see not only Jackie Kennedy but also Bobby and Ethel Kennedy and Jean Kennedy Smith and her husband, Steve Smith, walking up the gangplank. They were followed by George Stevens Jr., the youthful head of the U.S. Information Agency’s motion-picture division; the Peruvian ambassador and his wife; and my roommate’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charles McGettigan, of San Francisco. This was one of Jackie’s first nights out since the tragedy, but she greeted everyone graciously. She was in ethereal white and spoke little during dinner, except to the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who was seated to her right.As you can imagine, a whole lotta of bloggers have gone to town on the piece -- and I really can't blame them. Beyond her personal reflections, the piece primarily consists of older DC doyennes bemoaning that people don't know what finger bowls are anymore, or socialities that lack old money, an illustrious family, or great wealth..
At one point Orth actually complains, "Washington is far more diverse today than it was when Wasps with pedigrees who went into journalism and government service constituted the Georgetown set." Mon dieu!!
In the perverse joy of contrarianism, however, I will try to find two things that are useful in Orth's essay.....
1) Orth's essay will be a great template for the Vanity Fair arrticle I will write in 2042 about how the blogospheric social scene ain't what it used to be. Here's how my essay will open:
Tyler Cowen was a bon vivant, a gourmand, and an acquaintance of mine from my days orbiting Virginia Postrel's intellectual salon. So it was my great good luck, on my very first trip to the capital, to have “the Big Kahuna” invite me to dinner at one of the best hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurants in DC. A few minutes after we arrived, I was amazed to see not only Megan McArdle but also Ana Marie Cox, Steve Clemons, Matthew Yglesias and Josh Marshall, walking up the order window to get some tacos. This was one of Megan's first nights out since leaving New York City for DC, but she greeted everyone graciously with her dewy green eyes. She was in ethereal white short shorts and spoke little during dinner, except to Jacob Levy, who was seated to her right (she asked him to pass her the hot sauce).And so on.
2) The piece suggests that there has been no real replacements for the old hostesses: "Susan Mary Alsop, Oatsie Charles, Evangeline Bruce, Kay Graham, and Pamela Harriman." What puzzles me is why. If we're drowning in a sea of the super-rich, surely there must be at least a few individuals who would choose to specialize at the task of non-partisan power-schmoozing. (One possibility is that these people, rather than creating non-partisan social environments, take the charitable cause route. Damn those AIDS victims!! Damn them to hell!!)posted by Dan on 11.07.07 at 03:51 PM
The Republican base isn't looking for politicians who will go to Washington and engage in "non-partisan power-schmoozing." And as Bill Clinton pointed out when he appeared on The Daily Show, fundraising is now a full time job for politicians. So, as far as I can tell, the reason there are no replacements for the old hostesses is that the environment is no longer conducive for success, for the reasons Orth gives. The atmosphere in Washington is too partisan, and politicians are too busy going to fundraising dinners to accept many invitations to anything else.
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