Sunday, August 22, 2004

The Photographer Tina Barney made a career for herself in the 1980's with her touchingly partisan documentation of the failed lives of the nonetheless well off grandchildren of the WASP Ascendency. At an exhibition in 1988 in NY I made an off-hand comment to this effect to the director of her gallery. The director's response was hushed, but wide-eyed in a mischievous sort of way, as if the photographer's being a registered Republican were an art world secret: "Oh, she thinks it's just tragic!" "Of course" she was voting for Bush.
Barney's work since has sometimes replaced sadness with emptiness—or a description of the thing with the thing itself—and she has devolved more than once into the maker of Gap ads for the hereditary ruling class. Given her loyalties, it's helped that unlike Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, and more importantly their hireling, Bruce Weber, she's not Jewish. [I was wrong. She can pass] She has a mother wasp's sense of honesty both about herself and her children. 

Yesterday the Times ran a truly awful commentary accompanying some of Barney's recent photographs, all taken in England or on the continent, one of which, of a group of young Etonians and titled The master, roused David Adesnik of Oxblog to respond: [deleted]
Moreover, those who wear such uniforms in Britain tend to feel both embarrassed and besieged -- embarrassed by antiquated notions of social hierarchy and besieged by widespread antipathy toward their customs. As a result, the Oxbridge elite have torn a page out of the American playbook and sought to recast their aristocratic habits as indicators of merit. These days, there is an increasing number of students at Oxford and Cambridge, both male and female, whose darker skin indicates that admission to Britain’s top universities has increasingly become a reflection of an applicant’s hard work and God-given talent.

David Adesnik
Rhodes Scholar, Class of 2000
New York and Magdalen
I couldn't find a photo of Adesnik but I found one of his blogmate Patrick Belton. Does it really matter if the figure on the left, bearing the facial expression of a minor character, has a somewhat darker skin tone? Not really. The insufferable arrogance is the same. There will always be ascent and descent. Describing either in terms of morality is nothing but self-interest and defensive posturing masquerading as a sense of fairness. The choice is always the same: curiosity or power. And if you don't want to choose, as most people don't, then the question is how to balance the two in interesting ways. I have yet to find an example of anyone at Oxblog being able even to understand that fact, let alone make anything of it.

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