Wednesday, 19 November 2008

A Little Too Obviously Jealous

What we have here is based on an old entry from my other blog. Although it, or rather the event that triggered it off, is dating more than three years back, I consider it still topical. It, too, has a strong style-aspect, which merits a publication here. It is about a nasty little bit of racism that went largely unnoticed for obvious reasons, but after having bellyached about it, the question remains what children ought to wear at a dignified public occasion, so here it goes:
An Image A Little Too Carefully Coordinated
By Robin Givhan
Friday, July 22, 2005

It has been a long time since so much syrupy nostalgia has been in evidence at the White House. But Tuesday night, when President Bush announced his choice for the next associate justice of the Supreme Court, it was hard not to marvel at the 1950s-style tableau vivant that was John Roberts and his family.

There they were -- John, Jane, Josie and Jack -- standing with the president and before the entire country. The nominee was in a sober suit with the expected white shirt and red tie. His wife and children stood before the cameras, groomed and glossy in pastel hues -- like a trio of Easter eggs, a handful of Jelly Bellies, three little Necco wafers. There was tow-headed Jack -- having freed himself from the controlling grip of his mother -- enjoying a moment in the spotlight dressed in a seersucker suit with short pants and saddle shoes. His sister, Josie, was half-hidden behind her mother's skirt. Her blond pageboy glistened. And she was wearing a yellow dress with a crisp white collar, lace-trimmed anklets and black patent-leather Mary Janes.

Even the clothes are conservative: Judge John G. Roberts, left, and his wife Jane, right, with their children Jack and Josie listen to President Bush's announcement.
(Pool Photo By Shawn Thew)


The wife wore a strawberry-pink tweed suit with taupe pumps and pearls, which alone would not have been particularly remarkable, but alongside the nostalgic costuming of the children, the overall effect was of self-consciously crafted perfection. The children, of course, are innocents. They are dressed by their parents. And through their clothes choices, the parents have created the kind of honeyed faultlessness that jams mailboxes every December when personalized Christmas cards arrive bringing greetings "to you and yours" from the Blake family or the Joneses. Everyone looks freshly scrubbed and adorable, just like they have stepped from a Currier & Ives landscape.

In a time when most children are dressed in Gap Kids and retailers of similar price-point and modernity, the parents put young master Jack in an ensemble that calls to mind John F. "John-John" Kennedy Jr.

Separate the child from the clothes, which do not acknowledge trends, popular culture or the passing of time. They are not classic; they are old-fashioned. These clothes are Old World, old money and a cut above the light-up/shoe-buying hoi polloi.


Dressing appropriately is a somewhat selfless act. It's not about catering to personal comfort. One can't give in fully to private aesthetic preferences. Instead, one asks what would make other people feel respected? What would mark the occasion as noteworthy? What signifies that the moment is bigger than the individual?

But the Roberts family went too far. In announcing John Roberts as his Supreme Court nominee, the president inextricably linked the individual -- and his family -- to the sweep of tradition. In their attire, there was nothing too informal; there was nothing immodest. There was only the feeling that, in the desire to be appropriate and respectful of history, the children had been costumed in it.
Well, nobody in his right mind would accuse Ms. Givhan of looking "freshly scrubbed and adorable" or, for that, like a fashion icon with the right of being condescending on the strength of her own self-consciously crafted perfection, and frankly, it is beyond me why the Washington Post (or ANY newspaper, for that) would make such a frump fashion editor. Or why this sort of fashion drivel is allowed to take up a lot of perfectly good space in a "serious" newspaper in the first place, even if it were NOT as politically prejudiced, sneering and vile as it is, but that is not the point.

Neither is the point that this piece of jealous media flotsam has obviously not the slightest compunction about abusing children to vent her well-calculated, class-ridden rants. Yeah, GAP has got ist SO right! X billion flies and hordes of idiot parents can't be wrong, eat more shit and buy more GAP. Who wouldn't just LOVE to see one's little girl clad like an underage prickteaser? Everything (but EVERYTHING!) not to appear "classy".

The real point is, that, had a white journalist written about the appointment of a black man to a major public position and referred to his family's hairdo as "too self-consciouly ethnic" with "their nappy heads standing out too much" we would have had a major earthquake in the media, whereas a not-so-sly dig at a blond pageboy's is quite okay for the self-hating whites in the media.

So now the bellyaching is over and done with, what would be the right choice of dress for children at such an occasion? I personally, think that they ought to be left at home anyway, but then, I am not American and the entire "human touch"-aspect in politics bores me, to put it politely. As it is, I think the Roberts made an excellent choice.


Moshea bat Abraham said...

That article annoyed the heck out of me when it was first published.

Though I'm an American, unlike most of my countrymen I can't stand the "human touch" nonsense, though it's inevitable with universal suffrage. I also think the children should have been left home. In fact, when Sarah Palin was chosen as John McCain's running mate, my first action was to make a post to my personal LJ criticizing her for bringing her newborn to her gubernatorial office. Everybody got really mad at me for that. Well, I already knew I was born in the wrong century.

Florence King reviewed A Woman's Place: The Freshmen Women Who Changed the Face of Congress by Marjorie Margolies-Mevinsky.

1992 was called "the Year of the Woman" because 24 female congresspersons were elected.

"When we were sworn in," [Karan English (D-Ariz.)] recalls, "there were a lot of kids on the floor. I thought it was a delight. It did sound like an elementary schoolyard.... There were kids coughing and crying and young voices and everybody was excited." Some of the (white male) old timers complained of the lack of decorum, but English brushed them off. "I thought, I couldn't be more proud of all this noise, because it represents all walks of life. Sure it was disruptive, but it was real life."

If someone had said, "If we let women run for Congress, they'll bring a bunch of rowdy children to their swearing-in," even a hardened misogynist like myself would have dismissed this as silly. Of course women who are serious and driven enough to run for Congress would behave with more decorum.

This is not a unique incident: Representative Mom: Balancing Budgets, Bill, and Baby in the U.S. Congress by "moderate" Republican congresswoman Susan Molinari has this tidbit - this is Florence King's review summarizing it again:

During a debate on funding the National Endowment for the Arts, Molinari's daughter Susan Ruby escaped from the GOP side and crawled over to the Democrat side. When she realized her baby was missing, Molinari panicked and went looking for her in defiance of the time-honored rule that representatives never cross the aisle in the middle of a debate. Meanwhile, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) waylaid the errant baby and, also ignoring the rule, crossed the chamber to return her to her mother. They met in the middle.

Molinari relates the end of the episode:

We [she and Lowey] shared a hug, then looked at each other and laughed. Ideology, even party loyalty, became irrelevant. A really important and pressing matter was at hand: Susan Ruby needed her diaper changed.

What am I doing in this century?

Evil Style Queen said...

The quotes you kindly supply are cringemaking, aren't they? I couldn't agree more.

As to Palin, she was both, applauded and reviled for the wrong reasons. She may have conservative views on certain issues, but a conservative she isn't.

I have posted at my other blog about the contradiction between Palin's claim to be conservative and her reality as a (very much) working mother. People are stupid. Hardly anybody was able to see her as what she is and she was either put down as an extreme rightwing Christian or hailed as the saviour of the conservative movement when she clearly is neither.