Weekly musings on the arts and current events.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Contemporary Realism

A man in an ill fitting Superman suit sits deep in thought amid the trappings of a Valentine's Day party, or perhaps a Las Vegas style review. He is lit from two directions: hot artificial light strikes him from within the room, and gray-dawn from the window. He lacks the musculature, the virility, the confidence, or the hair of a surrogate superhero. His shadow of a beard, his wrinkled costume, his folded hands, and his fatigue suggest that this masquerade has gone on too long.

Superheros were born in the 1930's as a reaction to the frustration and impotence of the Great Depression. They were wholesome figures then, but their incarnations today seem to have a darkside and to be familiar with despair.

This week marks the one hundredth birthday of Ronald Reagan. It also marks the destabilization of Egypt, an American ally. The Obama administration lagged about a day behind events before calling for Hosni Mubarak's removal. The truth is, we are helpless to chart a course there because we are unsure of our welcome. Unlike Reagan standing at the Berlin Wall, there are no easy adversaries for us to denounce, no crowds cheering us on, and no mission for a Superman.

Reagan's legend has grown since his passing. Not only are his mental lapses forgotten, but his willingness to compromise and to raise taxes have been wiped clean from his popular perception. It's not important; there is no harm in remembering him fondly. But we should not so mythologize him, (or Teddy Roosevelt, for that matter), that we blind ourselves to the nuances and paradoxes of our own time.

Untitled (Superman); Steven Assael, 2006. Click on the picture for a closer look.


DUTA said...

America doesn't seem to have much luck with its presidents.

The Kennedy brothers are remembered, at least outside of America, mainly for their affair with Marilyn Monroe.

Bill Clinton will probably be remembered for his stupid affair with Monica Lewinsky.
Obama won't be remembered. Who would want an affair with Obama??!!

Carter has always reminded people of peanuts, but now with Obama's interference in the affairs of a foreign state, calling MuBarak to resign, everyone recalls Carter's similar "brilliant" move regarding the Shah of Iran.
(My hindu friend in India says, "that's what I call upgrading, from peanuts to nuclear Iran").

As for Ronald Reagan -
Talltchr, I hope your memory is good enough to remember that you've written a post proudly comparing your father to Reagan.

emmiegray said...

I see him in a costume shop, and that he thought that outfit would fit him, and more telling, that he would fit the outfit. In seeing the folds and wrinkles, he sees all his shortcomings, the ways in which he has failed to fill out his perceived roles in society, and now he sits like a dejected little boy in play clothes, wondering if he will ever measure up. He had hopes of impressing someone...My, but it's a sad painting!

TallTchr said...

Yes, thank you for remembering that post from a year ago. My comments today are directed at the unrealistic way in which the Tea Party remembers him. They've made him their patron saint while chanting the mantra of "no compromise." But the real Reagan is remembered fondly by Democrats and Republicans as a reasonable man who listened and negotiated honorably. These are qualities we are much in need of today.

TallTchr said...

@emmiegray: I think your comments are very sensitive and perceptive. Thank you.

DUTA said...


I wish to apologize for my comment. It looks and sounds blunt, impolite, insensitive, even toxic.
It has to do with how I feel about what's been happening in Egypt lately,and the role played by the USA.

As someone who lives in the area, I'm scarred, worried, angry. For me it's not something academic, but a matter of life and death. Egypt might become another Iran.

TallTchr said...

Thank you again, Duta. I still have great hope for President Obama, and for Israel, as well. I know that Iran is licking its chops over the unrest in Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Tunisia, etc. But I doubt that many protesters want to emulate the Iranian Islamist state. Of course, I tend to be optimist.