I started this post in 2020 but left it hanging in the balance when I lost the purpose of this narrative.
Initially, I wanted to comment on cancel culture, asking, “Do we cancel out all art because it doesn’t reflect the oppressed? What do we do about nostalgia and romanticized images of the past? Do they no longer hold value because entire groups were oppressed or subjugated? Without context, how can we not continue to discuss certain works intelligently? How can these individuals not serve as lessons of evolving mores and ideologies? What does cancel culture do to those artists who helped realize a specific vision, particularly in the filmed arts?”
What prompted this post? I don’t even remember. I initially found inspiration from one of the final duets from War Paint, a 2017 musical with music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie. This ballad, sung by Tony-winning powerhouses Patti LuPone (as Helena Rubinstein) and Christine Ebersole (as Elizabeth Arden) as the legendary beauty complex magnates and fierce rivals, imagines a meeting between both women. The song “Beauty in the World” is a poignant lament on changing times as they see their life’s work and influence diminishing, perhaps even fading away. Following is a portion of the song’s lyrics:
Back when there was beauty in the world
Women had such elegance and grace
Fashion came and fashion went
Inner style was permanent
When there was beauty in the world
Long before the circus came to town
Every woman’s drama was her face
Eyes that glittered like a gem
The lovers we bewitched with them
When there was beauty in the world
Taste and poise
Now it’s noise
A dress rehearsal
Gone the past
The age of everlasting beauty in the world
Deciding to flex my synapses this rainy day in March, I began thinking about this shelved post as I walked around my neighborhood, ignoring the light, steady drizzle. Three years ago, we went into lockdown mode as the COVID pandemic took over our lives. Three years later, we can never ignore the tally of one million American deaths as a result of the virus, a figure that includes my uncle, my mother’s last surviving relative in the United States.
Since the pandemic, our collective outrage has grown exponentially on all platforms. In addition to a wildly polarized voting population, our collective rage gave birth to “outage content,” further muddying the waters with a steady, roiling atmospheric river of toxicity and negativity.
In 2019, NPR featured this report, “How Outrage is Hijacking Our Culture and Our Minds.” Host Steve Inskeep said, “Anger draws Internet clicks, which is to say that many people now have a motive or even a business model for getting you mad.” We’re beyond the brush of rage now- thick into the woods without an exit plan beyond monetizing our anger and fear. It’s beyond cynical and reproach.
Instead, I will find new ground to build something more substantial and calmer.
As for the beauty in the world, if you’re on the same path to restoring mental wellness as I am, it is essential to first find the beauty in yourself. Step away from the platforms trading on outrage and vanity, which continue to cloud your sense of stability. Romanticizing the past is not the answer, but its glow can be therapeutic. Pick the parts that apply to our present reality. But we need to cancel the constant stream of outrage. We’re out of dress rehearsal time – the curtain is up. Make it count.
Photo: Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, V&A Museum, South Kensington, London, 2017