Events in Syria that seem — emphasis on the seem — to point to the imminent demise of Bashar al-Assad (often referred to as a strongman — more in a moment) have turned my mind again to last year’s coverage of the Syrian regime by Vogue.
Some will recall that in March 2011 the magazine published a glowing profile of Assad’s wife by novelist Joan Juliet Buck titled “Asma al-Assad, A Rose in the Desert.” That encomium has long since been cleansed from the Vogue site, leaving behind their own (stylish?) version of a 404 error. The original can be found here and elsewhere. It begins:
Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the couture-and-bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power but a deliberate lack of adornment. She’s a rare combination: a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement. Paris Match calls her “the element of light in a country full of shadow zones.” She is the first lady of Syria.
It goes on from there, including photographs of the trendy Assads on the floor playing games with their kids, just like your average family in, say, the Upper West Side or Brentwood.
More recently, Vogue publisher Anna Wintour has surfaced as a leading public spokesperson for Barack Obama, making her a fascinating case study in what we might refer to as the psychopathology of the modern liberal. What is their weltanschauung and why do they think the way they do? In other words, just who are these people?
(On June 1, 2012, Wintour premiered a pro-Obama video inviting the public to compete for a dinner with her, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Michelle Obama. Interestingly, about a week after the appearance of the video — June 10 — and more than a year after the article, Winotour finally disowned Asma al-Assad.)
Generalizations are dangerous, but Vogue magazine may be a better indicator of this liberal world view than the more predictable Newsweek, Huffington Post, or even the New York Times. It is, after all, an arbiter of taste — and modern liberalism is, more than anything, about style. It is largely a fashion statement. You are who you appear to be. Substance is of less importance. Hence, Asma al-Assad is chic, therefore good (well, at least until her family acts out and starts killing people right and left — not cool).
On the other hand, conservatives are dowdy. They do not dress well. Some of them even go to church in silly bonnets. Their ideas are of no importance because they have no style.
This is related to a kind of phony class consciousness. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, once a leader of the Paris “Events” of ’68, famously said in those days that he wanted a revolution where everyone could “drink capuccino at the Cafe Royale.” Nice thought. Actually, in retrospect, what he really wanted was a world where he didn’t have to feel guilty for drinking his capuccino.
And that is how Vogue relates quite directly to modern liberalism. ML is primarily for show.
Now admittedly I am talking only of part of the liberal scene here, the elites. But those elites determine liberal opinion and ideology, which is decidedly top down. Forget McLuhan and “the medium is the message.” In the real world we live in, the media creates the message. And one of the most important is that to be conservative is to be out of style.
This makes an especially strong impression on the young and is part of the explanation for why they vote the way they do (if they vote). But more importantly the dominance of “chic” in our politics makes us blind. Bashar Assad may be a “strongman” but he has a lifestyle like any good citizen of West L.A. or Manhattan. Sure, there are servants — or in his case security goons — lurking in the background, but he is one of us, playing on the floor with his kids, therefore okay.
The determined embrace of Barack Obama — though not nearly as odious as Assad, of course — comes from the same form of blindness, a kind of sexualization à la Vogue magazine of our political leaders. Coolness is all. Substance is nothing. Who cares what Obama really thinks? He’s in vogue (small and capital v). Who cares about the content of the healthcare legislation? Nobody knows what’s in it anyway, but it doesn’t matter. After all, it’s also in vogue.
This also accounts for the obvious fact that many of our entertainment elites live like conservatives (or even robber barons) while talking like liberals. Style, style, and more style. It’s all in vogue.
Meanwhile, the rest of us suffer, stuck looking at the glitzy models on the runway. The middle class has no style.