Saturday, October 6, 2007

Gossip Gurus

In the International Herald Tribune, Maureen Dowd reviews a new collection of journal entries by noted economist Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Like the new TV series Gossip Girls, his journal kept all sort of catty comments about the Upper East Side circles he traveled in. The opening paragraph sets the tone.

It's hard not to like a book that expounds on Marilyn Monroe on one page and the Monroe Doctrine on the next. When Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. ruminates on the realm of hemispheric affairs, the transition from one Monroe to the other is seamless, as is the slide from Bosnia to Bianca Jagger and from Alexander Hamilton to Angie Dickinson. His diaries are a Tiffany's window of name-dropping. This is not history so much as historical trail mix.
Three pairs of alliterative allusions in the first paragraph. That is fast and furious even by MoDo standards. You are on your own for each of those. But the pace doesn't let up:
The old-school, bow-tied liberal and Kennedy courtier had a weakness for cafe society and Century Club martinis served by Arthur the Barbadian drinks waiter.
Schlesinger got his fame for being a special advisor to President John F. Kennedy. By calling him a Kennedy courtier (and making alliteration number four), Dowd evokes the Camalot metaphor for the Kennedy administration, a metaphor which is mixed and matched and abused throughout the rest of the review.

Arthur was also a member of the ultra-exclusive Century Association that has a toney clubhouse at 7 West 43rd Street. Other members include Mayor Bloomberg, Henry Kissinger, and Andy Rooney. Picture the rich guys in Trading Places. Arthur the Barbadian has me completely baffled. The prime minister of Barbados is named Owen Seymour Arthur, but I think Dowd is trying to evoke a meticulously dressed Caribbean manservant in juxtaposition to a Schwarzeneggerian Conan the Barbarian.

Dowd makes a couple of comparisons between Kennedy era figures from the book and modern newsmakers:
  • Adlai Stevenson = Barack Obama
  • McNamara, Rusk and Dulles = Cheney, Rummy and Condi
  • Schlesinger and The Bay of Pigs = Colin Powell and the invasion of Iraq
That Bay of Pigs/Iraq Invasion analogy is advanced by noting Schlessinger's reaction to the failure to overthrow Cuba:
"We not only look like imperialists . . . we look like stupid, ineffectual imperialists, which is worst of all," Schlesinger moans afterward.
In order to prove her point that the book is full of intellectual elitist gossip she mines the book for some of the dishiest stuff, much of it second hand, saving the subjects the need to look themselves up in the index:
Gary Hart is Gatsby. Walter Mondale is "a repressed and somewhat irascible Scandinavian." Mario Cuomo is "provincial" and "insecure," throwing inner obstacles in his own path. Bill Bradley is "dull," with "the deep thoughts of a bright sophomore."

John Kennedy calls Nixon "sick" and Johnson a "chronic liar." Jackie calls Nixon "a scurvy little thing."

Kissinger crowns Donald Rumsfeld "the rottenest person he had known in government"
And when you are called rotten by Nobel Peace Prize winner Henry Kissinger, that means something. Kissinger once said that faculty politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small. In reviewing Schlesinger's gossipy tell-all, Dowd points out that there is plenty of pettiness even when the stakes are enormous.

1 comment:

Jean-Luc Picard said...

I must admit, I've never heard of Maureen. She's not known in England.