The Legendary Test

Mark Simpson on the (fast dimin­ish­ing) dif­fer­ence between fame and legend

(The Hospital Club magazine, Spring 2010)

Fame The Legendary Test

A recent bloody assas­sin­a­tion attempt on Gore Vidal, the last great American man of let­ters by the English journ­al­ist Christopher Hitchens in the glossy pages of Vanity Fair promp­ted me, and I sus­pect many oth­ers, to pon­der the dif­fer­ence between fame and legend.

Both Vidal and Hitchens are fam­ous of course, but only Vidal is a legend. Hitchens, for all his achieve­ments, for all his impress­ive, furi­ous scrib­bling, con­trarian con­tro­versy, and admir­able G&T habit, is not and never will be legendary.

Not because Vidal has writ­ten many more or bet­ter books than Hitchens.  Not because his essays are wit­tier, his sen­tences more eleg­ant. Not because he knew the Kennedys – and dished the dirt. Not even because Vidal, in a wheel­chair, wizened and enfeebled by war wounds, old age and a lifetime’s booz­ing, is a much greater man than the much younger Hitchens.

No, Vidal is a legend because it is as undeni­able as his own mor­tal­ity that he will live forever. Or at least, as long as people care to remem­ber any­one these days. Should Hitchens be struck down tomor­row by a dodgy canapé or spiked tonic water, after the loud, ful­some eulo­gies have been delivered by his media col­leagues, he would be com­pletely for­got­ten. Hitchens is more aware of this than any­one, hence his entirely under­stand­able yen to liquid­ate his one-time mentor. But pre­cisely because Vidal is a legend the attempt back­fires as hil­ari­ously as Wile E. Coyote’s did on Road Runner.

Admittedly though, there’s less and less interest in any­one who writes.  Unless of course they’ve left nice com­ments on your hil­ari­ous Facebook status update. Everyone is a writer now – or at least a typer.

That said, in a uni­verse increas­ingly crowded with celebrit­ies, apply­ing the legendary test is a use­ful and humane way of thin­ning them out. Annoyed by someone’s ubi­quit­ous­ness? Their suc­cess at mak­ing you see their gurn­ing mug every­where? The way they remind you of your own obscur­ity? Well, ask your­self this: will they be remembered and talked about when they are no longer around to remind us, incess­antly, of their exist­ence? At a stroke, you’ve done away with the vast major­ity of the bastards.

Even though most of them don’t really care about pos­ter­ity  – because they won’t be around to exploit the image rights – it’s a fun game to play.  By this cri­teria, George Best is a legend, David Beckham – much more fam­ous than Best ever was and pos­sibly the most fam­ous per­son in the world today – isn’t.  Paul Newman is, Brad Pitt isn’t (though his six pack might be). Morrissey is, Robbie Williams really, really isn’t. Thatcher is, Blair isn’t. Alan Bennett is, Stephen ‘National Treasure’ Fry isn’t. Julie Burchill is, Katie Price ain’t.  Princess Di is, Madonna prob­ably isn’t. Hockney is, Damian Hirst, even pickled in form­al­de­hyde, isn’t. And so on.

You’ll note that dead legends aren’t in the past tense – this is because legends by defin­i­tion are never past tense. Probably the greatest legend is Elvis Presley. Hence all the repor­ted sight­ings of him on Mars and down the chip shop. The King could never die on his khazi, obese and con­stip­ated. And in many senses Elvis really is alive – it’s just the rest of us I’m not so sure about.

Now, you might object that this is all a very sub­ject­ive busi­ness, that the legendary test is really just a way of being nasty about people I hap­pen not to like and nice about people I do. And you might not be entirely mis­taken. But this isn’t really about who you like – it’s about who will last. Legends aren’t neces­sar­ily good or par­tic­u­larly nice people, either. Hitler and Stalin are legends, and so are Bob Geldof and Mel Gibson.

The 21st Century is not very con­du­cive to legendary status. It’s very, very dif­fi­cult to become one today – and very, very few people even bother to try.  Vidal, for instance, is really a Twentieth Century legend that has sur­vived, much against his bet­ter judge­ment, into the Twenty-First Century – largely as a kind of bad con­science. Princess Di on the other hand is a legend in large part because she man­aged to die just before the end of the Twentieth Century. If she hadn’t, we would have grown very bored with her indeed by now. Katie Price’s fate would prob­ably seem envi­able by comparison.

Today’s infra­struc­ture of fame is designed to dis­cour­age legends. The more medi­ated, the more wired the world becomes, the more people can become fam­ous, more quickly – and the more people are inter­ested in fame. But as oth­ers have poin­ted out, fame has to be more dis­pos­able. More fame and more fam­ous people requires a much higher turnover. Legends, in other words, spoil the celebrity eco­sys­tem because they refuse to be recycled and hog fame resources forever. Put another way, legendary status is ana­logue, not digital.

Impatience is another factor. In a wired world, even if people wanted legends, or at least some­times felt nos­tal­gic about them, no one could be bothered with wait­ing for someone to become one. So instead the media, MSM and non-MSM, cre­ates ‘instant legends’, which are in some ways even more dis­pos­able than common-or-garden celebs.

Barack Obama is a recent example of an instant legend. A very pop­u­lar 1960s trib­ute act of HOPE and CHANGE dur­ing the Primaries, when he was inaug­ur­ated as President last year the media – and the Nobel Peace Prize Committee – behaved as if both JFK and MLK were being sworn in after their assas­sin­a­tions. Lately the same media have been talk­ing about the epoch-making Obama as a one-term President. He may yet achieve real legendary status, but if he does it will be in spite of his instant legend.

Osama Bin Laden is one of the very few people to have already achieved true legendary status in the 21st Century – along with, I sus­pect, Lady Gaga. Which sort of proves the rule.

© Mark Simpson 2010

Gore Vidal Takes on The World — Again

Gore Old Gore Vidal Takes on The World   Again

God, I can’t help but love the old bas­tard.  Another tour-de-force from Gore Vidal (inter­viewed by Tim Teeman) appeared in The London Times last week, in which, as usual, he said so many things, so very loudly that so many people know to be true but daren’t begin to mumble.

This frail, crippled, dia­betic, alco­holic, eighty-three-year-old man repeatedly and ener­get­ic­ally Gores Obama, for his ‘dread­ful’ per­form­ance as President, decries how he has ‘fucked up’ health­care, and most par­tic­u­larly how he has allowed him­self to be rail­roaded by the mil­it­ary into con­tinu­ing the American Imperialist pro­ject, some­thing Vidal has hero­ic­ally ded­ic­ated his life to attack­ing. He also expresses his deep regret over dump­ing feisty Hillary, his first choice, for this smooth-talking ingénue dur­ing the Democratic Primaries:

Hillary knows more about the world and what to do with the gen­er­als. History has proven when the girls get involved, they’re good at it. Elizabeth I knew Raleigh would be a good man to give a ship to.”

Vidal sug­gests that he was beguiled — as many clearly were in the Democratic Party — by the his­toric if not actu­ally romantic appeal of a black man as President of the United States.  Particularly one that was much more intel­li­gent than his white pre­de­cessor; but seems to have been dis­ap­poin­ted even in that department.

Vidal ori­gin­ally became pro-Obama because he grew up in “a black city” (mean­ing Washington), as well as being impressed by Obama’s intel­li­gence. “But he believes the gen­er­als. Even Bush knew the way to win a gen­eral was to give him another star”.

He also dis­cusses, or rather, disses, gay mar­riage — a sub­ject I wasn’t alas able to cover when I inter­viewed him earlier this year for Arena Hommes Plus. When Teeman asks, ‘Has love been import­ant to him?’ he responds blisteringly:

Don’t make the error that school­teacher idi­ots make by think­ing that gay men’s rela­tion­ships are like het­ero­sexual ones. They’re not.”

This one, simple, obvi­ously true state­ment is of course com­plete heresy for mod­ern American gays — who aren’t listen­ing any­way since most of them prob­ably don’t even know who Gore Vidal is.  Which is in itself damning enough.

Vidal puts on a scorn­ful, campy voice. “People ask {of he and Austen, his life-long com­pan­ion who died last year}, ‘How did you live together so long?’ The only rule was no sex. They can’t believe that.…

No, because if you wish to pre­tend that two men liv­ing together is just like a man and woman liv­ing together you have to pre­tend to the same lies and illu­sions het­ero­sexu­als do.

He is single now. “I’m not into part­ner­ships,” he says dis­missively. I don’t even know what it means.” He “couldn’t care less” about gay mar­riage. “Does any­one care what Americans think? They’re the worst-educated people in the First World. They don’t have any thoughts, they have emo­tional responses, which good advert­isers know how to pro­voke.” You could have been the first gay pres­id­ent, I say. “No, I would have mar­ried and had nine chil­dren,” he replies quickly and ser­i­ously. “I don’t believe in these exclus­ive terms.”

They cer­tainly don’t make ‘em like that any more.

The Obama Model

2009 01 26 lanvin The Obama Model

Mark Simpson on fashion’s new love-affair with black males (Arena Hommes Plus, Spring 2009)

Shortly after Obama’s elec­tion last year, Israeli-American designer Elie Tahari made a pre­dic­tion: ‘I think the fash­ion industry will have a ball with him.’ So far, this is one fash­ion pre­dic­tion that has been on the money. Since Obama’s glitzy inaug­ur­a­tion this January, the men’s fash­ion world, too often asso­ci­ated with a ‘Whites Only’ cat­walk, hasn’t stopped dan­cing with the first non-white in the White House.

At the menswear shows in Milan this January a wav­ing, smil­ing young Barack Obama look-a-likey led the final walk-out for Lanvin, com­plete with Inaugural Address over­coat, leather gloves and USA tie-pin. Givenchy mean­while included sev­eral male mod­els of col­our for their show, and their new poster cam­paign fea­tures a Obama-esqe young man in an open, white silky shirt with sleeves rolled up for busi­ness, full lips par­ted as if caught mid-speech.

givenchy men 2 1 194x300 The Obama ModelOscar Garnica, agent at Request Models in New York says that he and his con­tacts in the busi­ness have seen a more con­sist­ent use of black mod­els recently. ‘Since the Black issue of Vogue, and the Obamas took the White House, that inspir­a­tion is run­ning through a lot of the col­lec­tions,’ he says. ‘Having more images of people of col­our around has prob­ably made design­ers more com­fort­able about adding col­our to their aes­thetic.’ But he is cau­tious about the long term impact: ‘Now that we are see­ing four-five mod­els of color on the run­way, will the design­ers con­tinue book­ing these num­bers? Well, that remains to be seen.’

Whatever else Obama’s Presidency might sig­nify, the fash­ion world seems to have decreed that, for this sea­son at least, the black male is power, hope, lead­er­ship — in a word: style.

Ironically, part of the reason that Obama’s book­ing by the American elect­or­ate has helped non-white mod­els get book­ings with the fash­ion industry is because as Tahari has poin­ted out, ‘he looks like a male model… he’s built so well.’ Obama has the height, the looks, the teeth — the ‘sun­tanned’ skin as Italian Premier Berlusconi infam­ously put it — and the instinct­ive under­stand­ing of where the cam­era is and what angle best suits him. He is pat­ently pho­to­genic — and his pho­to­gen­eti­city has helped to make this young, inex­per­i­enced man Presidential. To some degree, he got the job because he gave good face. Even his accept­ance speech at the Democratic Convention last Summer was delivered at the end of a catwalk.

So no won­der the fash­ion world wants to appro­pri­ate some of that. Michelle might be First Lady, and Obama might have exclaimed to the world ‘How beau­ti­ful is my wife?’ on inaug­ur­a­tion night, but pretty as she is, she prob­ably made the cover of Vogue because of her husband’s looks.

As a res­ult of his reli­giously reg­u­lar gym ses­sions on the Stairmaster, Obama is not the same shape as most US male politi­cians — or in fact, most US males. He really is ‘un-American’ — he can wear fash­ion­able clothes. Even though he usu­ally chooses to wear those Teflon-coated Hart, Schaffner, Marx & Hillman suits from Chicago, his have a nar­row cut that advert­ises the fact that he has a body, buns and even angles. Gone are the flap­ping flan­nels of tra­di­tional US male politi­cians. (Even his polit­ical mes­sage was self-consciously styl­ish: those fam­ous cam­paign slo­gans ‘HOPE’ and ‘CHANGE!’ were prin­ted in Gotham font — ori­gin­ally developed for the men’s style magazine GQ.)

Most remark­ably of all, he gets away with it. In a white US male politi­cian such self-care and styl­ish­ness would prob­ably be ridiculed. John Edwards you may remem­ber got into ter­rible trouble for comb­ing his hair and being pretty.

The fickle fash­ion world will of course tire of its clinch with Obama. But per­haps some­thing will endure: per­haps the men’s fash­ion busi­ness will be less inclined than in the past to think of black­ness as some­thing ‘street’ and thus ‘sportswear’.

As Oscar Garnica at Request Models puts it: ‘Despite images of suave black men like Sidney Poitier, Sammy Davis Jr, Harry Belafonte, Denzel Washington, there has always been a nar­row defin­i­tion of what black is allowed to be. My best hope is that Obama’s rise to the highest office in the land will shine a spot­light on the fact that there is more to the black male image than just the stereotypes.’

Copyright Mark Simpson 2009

The Liberal Media’s Hillarycidal Urges

hillary cartoon the times1 The Liberal Medias Hillarycidal Urges

God, but they hate her. Really, really hate her. They hate her so much they want her dead. And it’s gone way past a bloody metaphor.

Not most Democrat voters, of course, who have given her at least as many votes as Obama, (and though many Obama fans hate her pas­sion­ately, reli­giously, a sur­pris­ing num­ber don’t actu­ally have it in for Hillary). No, it’s the tra­di­tional media and the blo­go­sphere that are driven, pretty much unan­im­ously, into a mur­der­ous fury by Hills.

Last week after her slim vic­tory in Indiana and Obama’s large one in North Carolina, both of which were pretty much as pre­dicted, the media, as if on some pre-arranged sig­nal, treated this as big, front page, defin­ing moment news, all agree­ing that she was ‘Finished’. ‘Toast’. ‘Over’. ‘Dead in the water’. ‘Done’. ‘Washed up.’ The power­ful Senator for New York was headed for ‘Oblivion’. Ding! Dong! The witch is dead!


The London Times op-ed page car­toon last week (above) by Peter Brookes graphically/gratifyingly illus­trated the Hillarycidal tend­ency by show­ing That Woman — finally! — face down, dead, speared in the back by a star from the American flag. Hurrah! America strikes back! Like most sat­ir­ists, Brookes has gone to town on Hillary from the begin­ning, por­tray­ing her as a spite­ful, hideous hag and har­ridan — which is his job. But, again like most sat­ir­ists, and most journ­al­ists, he has found him­self strangely unable to do his job when it comes to Obama: his cari­ca­tures are more like lov­ing por­traits, or reli­gious icons. Reverse the roles and put Obama the black man in Hillary’s pos­i­tion, face down with an American State in his back, and the car­toon becomes utterly incon­ceiv­able except as a com­ment on American racism.

When Hillary had the effrontery to fail to com­ply with the media’s uni­ver­sal death sen­tence last week, and, instead of lying down dead on the ground, remained very much alive and well and car­ried on cam­paign­ing strenu­ously, they tried the ‘Hillary enters death-with-dignity phase’ angle. Or talked about how she’s only stay­ing in the race because she’s ‘after money’. Or ‘cam­paign­ing for 2012′. Or how she was just ‘mad’.

And then this week, Hillary wins a huge vic­tory in West Virginia, hand­ing Obama his biggest defeat of the Primaries — not bad for a corpse. Though you might have missed it, because most of the media tried to bury the incon­veni­ent Hillary-Lazarus story. If it covered the West Virginia land­slide at all it was usu­ally in the form of ask­ing whether ‘racism’ was at the root of it. A ques­tion which it curi­ously failed to ask when Obama won 90% of the black vote in North Carolina, but which it now asks repeatedly whenever Hillary wins. Obama you see wins because he’s a good can­did­ate and because black people are good people who recog­nise a good man when they see one; Hillary wins because she’s a des­per­ate can­did­ate and working-class white people are stu­pid and mean and… low-class.

The unan­im­ity of the (edu­cated, well-heeled, lib­eral, over­whelm­ingly white) media class is such and has been for some time now that you might be for­given for think­ing that some of them would feel uncom­fort­able with par­rot­ing one another. But then if you did, you’d be under­es­tim­at­ing the gut­less, herd-like nature of the media class.

Besides, they’re defend­ing their interests as a class.

Why does the media class hate Hillary so vis­cer­ally and want her dead? Partly because her main con­stitu­ency, the white work­ing class, is the only group they are per­mit­ted to look down upon — and boy, do they. By accus­ing the white work­ing class of being racist, which is a charge that seems to eas­ily trump classism and sex­ism, they are really accus­ing them of being ignor­ant. Which they obvi­ously are, since they don’t vote as instruc­ted by the Fourth Estate — who know bet­ter than the elect­oral back­bone of the Democratic Party what’s best for the Democratic Party. The shock­ing naked­ness of the media’s bias against Hillary and her sup­port­ers is delib­er­ate - it’s meant to demon­strate their moral and class superiority.

But the main reason why the media’s Hillarycidal fury is so extreme and so uni­ver­sal this time around is because they told us she was ‘dead’, ‘fin­ished’, ‘over’, sev­eral times before — and she proved them very wrong. Repeatedly.

So she must DIE. They really want to wipe her out — not just because she proved them wrong, after all, it’s their stock-in-trade to be wrong, but because she has suc­ceeded in con­duct­ing a cam­paign without their per­mis­sion. That rep­res­ents an intol­er­able chal­lenge to their author­ity. How dare a politi­cian in the 21st Century in the most advanced, most power­ful coun­try in the world carry on win­ning elec­tions without the sup­port of the media or the blo­go­sphere? Who the hell does that bitch think she is?

Hillary’s chances of win­ning the nom­in­a­tion are cer­tainly not, as the media class keeps telling you — and has been since February — non-existent. But they are very slim. And I make no claim, from this side of the Atlantic, in one of the US’s mil­it­ary satel­lites cur­rently at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, to know who would make a bet­ter President of the United States — even if I think it crys­tal clear which one has a chance of actu­ally beat­ing the Republicans who embarked on those wars (clue: the one who keeps win­ning the big swing states).

But I would love for Hillary Clinton to win the Nomination for one reason and one reason alone. To force the media class on both sides of the Pond to choke on its hideously unat­tract­ive Hillarycidal hat.

Limo Liberals Take The High Road to Defeat

By Mark Simpson

Claiming the moral high ground is, in my view, the low­est form of polit­ics. No doubt this means that, like the voters of Pennsylvania, I don’t read The New York Times enough.

We’re really miss­ing out. Yesterday’s haughty edit­or­ial in the wake of Senator Clinton’s con­vin­cing vic­tory in that key state, des­pite hav­ing the Democratic grandees and the media on her back, and des­pite being out­spent by Obama nearly 3–1, was head­lined: ‘The low road to vic­tory’. Congratulations on your win, Hillary!

The edit­or­ial, which man­aged the impress­ive feat of sound­ing both screech­ing and con­des­cend­ing at the same time, accused her cam­paign of being:

…even meaner, more vacu­ous, more des­per­ate, and more filled with pan­der­ing than the mean, vacu­ous, des­per­ate, pander-filled con­tests that pre­ceded it.’

Wow. You make it sound much more fun than it actu­ally was.

Voters are get­ting tired of it; it is demean­ing the polit­ical pro­cess; and it does not work.’

Because the NYT says so? Or because it pro­duces big wins for Hillary? But you have to admire a news­pa­per that can actu­ally print the sen­tence ‘demean­ing the polit­ical pro­cess’ without it being the punch-line to a joke. Of course, just about the only thing that can ‘demean the polit­ical pro­cess’ is airy-fairy, hypo­crit­ical pos­tur­ing in place of a good, hon­est — and, let’s face it, thor­oughly enter­tain­ing — punch-up.

Limo lib­er­als gaz­ing out at the world through their smoked-glass rear win­dows while cruis­ing along the moral high road might not know this, but blue col­lar work­ers who hap­pen to be the elect­oral back­bone of the Democratic Party appear to. Hillary cer­tainly knows it, which is why she repeatedly com­pared her­self to Rocky — a ‘low’ ref­er­ence which no doubt also caused the NYT to wrinkle its patri­cian nose. Either way, the NYT has had enough of this vulgarity:

It is past time for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to acknow­ledge that the neg­at­iv­ity, for which she is mostly respons­ible, does noth­ing but harm to her, her oppon­ent, her party and the 2008 election.’

And how would you like her to make that acknow­ledge­ment? By throw­ing in the towel? Committing sui­cide? Writing a mea culpa let­ter to the NYT? All three? If only Hillary would get out of the way, stop fight­ing and drag­ging everything down into the mud of hick states like Pennsylvania, we could get on with the busi­ness of read­ing the NYT:

After seven years of George W. Bush’s failed with-us-or-against-us pres­id­ency, all American voters deserve to hear a nuanced debate.’

Yes! America is cry­ing out for nuance! From sea to shin­ing sea, from Pennsylvania to California, they shout: give me nuance! Not jobs, peace, secur­ity, hous­ing, or a Democratic can­did­ate for the White House that can actu­ally win, or even a ser­i­ous set-to proper fight, as if any of this stuff really mattered — but civ­il­ised, sens­ible, op-ed nuance. (Not that there’s much nuance in this par­tic­u­lar example, though.)

In point of fact, it’s past time that the Democratic Party and the NYT thanked Hillary for fight­ing dirty.

By fight­ing dirty — that’s to say, openly attack­ing her oppon­ent instead of rely­ing on email news­let­ters, memos, par­tisan journ­al­ism and the pois­on­ous hys­teria of fans as Obama has done until now — Hillary has begun to awaken the Democratic Party to the unpal­at­able truth it’s been avoid­ing for so long: that the Dali Obama has little or no life out­side the Democratic Party and its sens­it­iv­it­ies. He is the per­fect can­did­ate for defeat­ing her, but the per­fect one for the Republicans to des­troy. She’s given them a small, rel­at­ively restrained taste of what the GOP will do with him — and where they will shove his halo. It’s past time for the NYT and the grandees of the Democratic Party to get down on their expens­ively tailored knees and thank her for doing so before it was too late.

Limo lib­er­als will never thank her, of course. For many of them Obama was never really meant to win any­thing more than the Democratic Candidacy. Winning the Presidency itself would be far too vul­gar, too ‘low’. He was meant to bring them some­thing much more valu­able than a change of Government, espe­cially for those who already have everything. He was meant to make them feel good about them­selves. Come polling day, he was sup­posed, like all Messiahs, to die. The Senator for Illinois is a human sac­ri­fice designed to prove the moral superi­or­ity of lib­er­als to the ‘Repugs’, as they like to call them — and in fact to polit­ics itself.

The very reason Hillary is hated and scorned by the limo lib­er­als is because she didn’t leave it to the Republicans to des­troy their idol. She forced him to show his hand — and feet of clay — and splut­ter pre­dict­able lies, as he did in the last TV debate. ‘John McCain should go on hol­i­day, Hillary is doing his work for him’ pro­tested recov­er­ing Republican mil­lion­air­ess Arianna Huffington recently on her Obama-worshipping Hillary-loathing website.

No, Arianna darling, Hillary is doing the work that lib­eral journ­al­ists should be doing but aren’t because they’ve gone on per­man­ent vaca­tion in ObamaLand: she’s pulled back the cur­tain and showed the Wizard of Chicago to be… shock! hor­ror! a politi­cian. And a very inex­per­i­enced, untested one at that, who, even without Pastor Wright et al bump­ing around in his very crowded closet, will be cru­ci­fied by the Republicans. Unceremoniously. There will be noth­ing mor­ally sat­is­fy­ing or redeem­ing about it at all: it will just be messy, sick­en­ing and bru­tal. The NYT really will have some­thing to be indig­nant about then — but it will be far too late.

But per­haps Hillary’s greatest crime, and her ‘low­est’ trick, is not being more elect­able than Obama and refus­ing to keep quiet about that, but ask­ing who does the Democratic Party really belong to? Arianna Huffington, the New York Times and the former President of the Harvard Law Review, alias Mr Obama — or ‘bit­ter’ Scranton, Pennsylvania?

Shame on her. How low can you go?

© Mark Simpson 2008