An American Classic
Like the dove returning to Noah with an olive branch, David Cassidy, the Duchess of York, George Jones, and Mr. October go to Macy's.
11:00 AM, Nov 6, 2001 • By J. BOTTUM
I RECEIVED A PRESS RELEASE this week that says the Duchess of York is coming to Macy's on December 4. Joining her at the famous New York City department store--a beloved American landmark, right in the heart of Manhattan--will be a parade of celebrities, including baseball's legendary "Mr. October," Reggie Jackson, country-music legend George Jones, and David Cassidy, legendary star of the 1970s television show "The Partridge Family." Together, in an effort to raise money for 19 children's charities, they will unveil this year's holiday window at Macy's, featuring the Santa Claus suit as worn by the legendary Edmund Gwenn in the original Academy Award-winning film "A Miracle on 34th Street."
I wish I could put my finger on exactly why I find this news so heartening. It's not just how good it is to hear that David Cassidy can still find something to do. I've always thought he deserved more credit than posterity has granted him; his vocal work in "Point Me in the Direction of Albuquerque" has never been the subject of enough serious scholarly work, and any drama critic with even half an eye for the Aristotelian unities ought to be able to see how he carried Susan Dey, Danny Bonaduce, and the rest of "The Partridge Family" cast through episode after episode.
No, what makes this Macy's news heartening is that the press release arrived without a single reference to September 11. It's so hackneyed and trivial, so old-fashionedly silly, that I wanted to wave it like a banner. I wanted to mount upon the Atlantic ramparts, while the sea raged in impotent anger below, and shout to the cold, uncaring heavens: "Yes. Yes. This is what we stand for. This is proof that our way of life goes on. Hear, O you who hate us. Behold, O distant planets. Still we stand. Still we hold firm. Still we remain as we have been. Still we do what we have always done."
Well, maybe that's a little much. I admit I may be overreacting here. But we have been unserious in this culture for so long that we have forgotten how to separate the serious from the unserious. In one way, of course, the Clinton presidency was the nadir. But it was, in another way, only the predictable extension of a trend that had been sliding down for decades: the transformation of politics by the culture of celebrity, the fading of high national purpose in the fog of transient public feeling, the impossibility of distinguishing what matters from what doesn't.
In the weeks since September 11, a number of commentators--some of them Weekly Standard authors--have been oddly upbeat about American culture. They've seen a new seriousness arrive, a new understanding of what matters. But I, at least, have been much more depressed. In the response to the anthrax attacks, in the assurances issuing from Congress while Congress itself scurried away in fright, in the portions of the attacks on Afghanistan that appear to be prosecuted as public-relations campaigns, I felt the indistinction of the Clinton era.
Even more, I felt it in the use of September 11 for every purpose under the sun. Planned Parenthood, as a gesture of solidarity with all who mourned for the victims, offered free contraceptives and abortions to workers at the World Trade Center site. The Washington Post published an op-ed on October 25 by Eric Holder, former deputy attorney general, claiming that the terrorist attacks demonstrated the necessity for gun control. One congresswoman argued, during a debate about the United Nations Family Planning Office's complicity in China's policy of forced abortions, that our bombing of Afghanistan proved why we needed to continue to fund the United Nations' program. Activists on every side of missile defense, tax cuts, church-state relations, same-sex marriage, explicit rap lyrics, baseball, and probably crop subsidies have used the attacks as an excuse for their agendas.
What they want, of course, is a piece of the seriousness, a chance to hook their pet projects to the balloon as it goes up. What I want is a world where the Duchess of York, Reggie Jackson, George Jones, and the legendary David Cassidy can stuff the Christmas windows of Macy's with the detritus of 1940s Hollywood--and not have to pretend they are participating in the high moral purpose of America.
J. Bottum is Books & Arts editor at The Weekly Standard.