Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Beautiful People

By Alan Caruba

Every generation selects its standard of beauty, usually from the world of show business. The fashion industry exists to herd people toward the purchase of a particular “look” that signals you have fallen in line with the majority.

In the Sixties, a whole generation of young people decided to opt out of fashion standards by letting their hair grow long and wearing clothes that looked unwashed and unwanted, but even their choices were turned into a fashion statement in the form of mini-skirts and blue jeans. I was already out of college by then and thought the circus had come to town.

Few recall that when Elvis and the Beatles first showed up they were wearing coats and ties like the perfect young gentlemen they were. You can check the re-runs of the Ed Sullivan Show if you don’t believe me.

I got to thinking about this while pausing to watch a bit of a film from the 1950s about the birth of rock’n roll when the skirts ended well below the knee. The music was great, but the fashion statement was pure geek. The dancing though had plenty of hip movement and there wasn’t a fox trot or waltz in sight.

It struck me, for no particular reason, that today’s movie stars, particularly the men, have more of an “every man” look about them. Adam Sandler or Ben Stein could be flipping hamburgers or selling insurance without generating any talk about what a “hunk” they are. Young comedians often look like they just came on stage from having pumped gas somewhere.

The look of this decade is to have no look.

The male role models of my day were handsome to a point that any young man in the audience knew he was never going to be as stunning as Errol Flynn, Cary Grant, Tyrone Power, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, or the young Paul Newman. We would never be as rugged as John Wayne, Robert Ryan, Robert Mitchum, Steve McQueen, and, of course, Humphrey Bogart. You have to have a lot of machismo to get past a name like Humphrey. And Bogart had it. A very young Lauren Bacall married him when he was in his 40s.

This is not to say that there aren’t a lot of handsome men and beautiful women today from whom to choose, but too many of the woman are poor role models for their lack of moral values and too many of the men are grungy on screen and off. When you toss in stars from the music scene, it just gets worse. In fact, the problem may be that, today, there are so many “stars” it is hard to tell them apart except for those going to or getting out of prison or rehab.

I feel sorry for a younger generation that must struggle to learn proper moral values because they surely cannot find them on the movie or television screen. I think there has to be a lot of confusion for young men seeking a role model to help them define their masculinity. Girls may have it worst of all. They are led to believe that the old concepts of femininity, i.e., virginity, modesty in dress and manner, and the ambition to be a wife and mother, are hopelessly out of date.

The problem, of course, is that the old-fashioned values served society quite well and still do. Rampant divorce, single motherhood, and using drugs are just a few things that were generally unknown and always disapproved in the 1950s and earlier.

A society sees itself reflected back from the movie and television screens. A lot of what I see today makes my skin crawl.

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