Judging a magazine by its cover: the Trumps and a tattered Tilley

MAGAZINES

February 20, 1994|By Mark Feeney | Mark Feeney,Boston Globe

What is it about the cover of Vanity Fair and odious people? Last month it was Roseanne Arnold, wearing a teddy and a look about as far from come hither (go yon?) as you can get and not end up in a fistfight.

This month (March) it's the Trumps, looking like the strontium 90 of nuclear families: They give off an almost extraterrestrial glow. Ah, "the Trumps," a great American family name: like the Flintstones or Clampetts, only, somehow, loopier.

Really now, aren't "Marla" (the missis) and "Tiffany" (the young 'un) names right out of where the gene pool meets the cement pond? At least "Ivana" had a farcically Feydeau whiff to it, aspiring to the kind of silly savoir-faire one might hope for in the wife of a shameless climber and self-publicist. But now the '80s are rapidly receding in the rear-view mirror of your BMW -- or, rather, Lexus (who drives a BMW in these chastened times?).

The bonfire of the vanities has ceased even to sputter. The Ronald is back in California. And The Donald, well, having moved downmarket in the market, he's also moved downmarket in ooze he can use. How very '90s.

The most interesting thing in this issue is how Dominick Dunne (speaking of the '80s) begins his account of the Menendez trial (speaking of the '90s). "So what happened? I'll tell you what happened. I was there, and these are my beliefs. Two juries took the word of two world-class liars, two rich, spoiled, arrogant losers who were already on the road to a criminal life when they shot their mother's face off and their father's brains out." Pussyfooting, thy name is not Dominick Dunne.

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What is it about the cover of the New Yorker (Feb. 21) and odd-looking people? Every year around this time, the magazine celebrates its anniversary by putting its rarefied mascot, Eustace Tilley, on the cover. Not this year, though. Rea Irvin's Regency dandy has been updated by an R. Crumb knockoff of him, a scraggly, cap-backward teen whose unprepossessing profile single-handedly -- single-headedly? -- calls into doubt the theory of evolution.

Also in this issue, another New Yorker first (so far as I know, not having made a study of this): a photograph of a penis. It's an element in a collage accompanying a review of the American Repertory Theatre's production of "What the Butler Saw." It's quite small (the photo, that is) and flaccid (the penis, that is). It does not belong to Eustace Tilley.

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The amazing thing about the enduring interest in the Bloomsbury group is that, when you get right down to it, almost all its principals were so inconsequential. It boasted only two members of real stature, Virginia Woolf and John Maynard Keynes -- and insofar as Woolf so diffused her talents, only Keynes can be seen as a figure of the first rank in this century.

Or can he? Much of the '80s, in both public policy and academe, was devoted to exorcising what had once seemed his ineradicable influence. Now, with a Democrat back in the White House, and 36 million unemployed workers in the West, how relevant is liberalism's favorite economist?

That question assumes further pertinency with the publication of the second volume of Robert Skidelsky's magisterial three-part biography. Thus the American Prospect devotes a special section of its Winter issue to "Keynes: The Second Coming." Such millennial optimism might be a little strong -- not least of all because, as Will Hutton notes, "Part of his effectiveness was that he was able to terrorize the Anglo-Saxon establishment with the prospect of communism if the capitalist economy failed. But that terror has gone."

Not that there aren't other terrors out there in the global economy, but they tend not to be ones business panjandrums have to deal with, as John Hoerr shows in his report on the impact of the tens of thousands of IBM layoffs in the mid-Hudson Valley. Until such time as management success can be guaranteed (yeah, right), the need for the sort of governmental responses to economic hard times, which Keynes helped provide an intellectual rationale for, will be, like the poor, always with us.

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On the higher ed front, Lingua franca (January/February) writes of Tufts Medical School's psychiatry department and its discontents. What happens when an empiricist heads a department that had been dominated by psychoanalysts? Worlds collide, of course.

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The best thing about the "State of Music" package that Entertainment Weekly (Feb. 18) has assembled in advance of the Grammys is its observation that Frank Sinatra "is the original gangsta rapper."

Think about it. As EW notes, the Rat Pack prefigured by three decades the idea of the posse. Frank's use of "broad" and "chick" were, for a tamer time, the equivalent of today's "bitch" and "ho." He's been known to take a swing at those who cross him. And no pop star has swaggered the way Mr. Sinatra did. Not for nothing, apparently, is it just those three letters that begin his surname.

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