Because I will feel guilty about crises no matter how culpable I am, I have been feeling extraordinarily guilty this whole week. To suppress my guilt I usually turn to the things I love — porn, movies, comic books, shoes, fashion, appliances, postmodernism, magazines and newspapers, pictures and articles torn out of those magazines and newspapers, and television — and find solace in a world even more inconsequential than my own.
Nevertheless, the feelings of this week have not allowed me to “escape” to my usual diversions. Even that I desired them has made me feel guilty.
Dan Rather cried on Letterman Monday night. “Fashion Week” was canceled (without anyone being able to say they missed it, either because they really didn’t or because it would have been inappropriate). All of the comic strips in the newspaper have the grim sentimentality usually reserved for “Ziggy” and “For Better or For Worse.” An exception is “Doonesbury,” which was clearly done six months ago, proving it impossible to graduate from Yale without selling out in some way.
The New York Times’ “Fashion & Style” section on Sunday used its pages to denounce humbly the trivialities with which they had so pleased me on hundreds of weekends prior.
One article from the section quoted Josh Patner, who is (apparently) a partner at Tuleh (this is a very big deal in the fashion world): “Fashion has gotten so far away from itself. It’s all rehash and showmanship. Fashion has not necessarily benefited from its overexposure in the popular culture. In 25 or 50 years, will people look at this as an era of spectacular clothing? No. They’ll think of it as an era of spectacle.”
I paled and felt ashamed. We are extravagant fools, and it took apocalyptic violence to make us realize this horrible fact.
But as I continued to read the hundreds of articles previously about sports or fashion or television and now about “this Tuesday’s tragedy,” I came across an interview with a New Yorker named Clark Wolf, who is apparently a “restaurant consultant” (there is no tragedy that could keep me from snickering at this profession even though I would apparently be lucky to get a job as a “cafe consultant,” given the prudish looks I’m getting from the dark and mysterious labor market across the pub — which, by the way, is not an acceptable vibe because, as a senior, I’m in a gotta-get-laid mood. I will not extend this metaphor to date rape, but you know what I mean. These concerns are exactly the kind of concerns I am now forced to parenthesize out of guilt that my professional aspirations are absurd now that the world has changed forever.)
Mr. Wolf, as if speaking directly to me and others who were already pretty resigned about the future of mankind before that Tuesday, said to the New York Times, “In the 90s it was ‘comfort food.’ Now, I think people are going to be wanting comforting foods with no quotes around them.”
I agree, apart from the expression “the ’90s,” which is going to take me a little longer to get used to than most people. This must explain my sudden cravings for steak and apple pie. It also explains how cheap I feel when I extraneously use quotation marks ironically (OK, I felt cheap doing that before last Tuesday).
My nostalgia for popular culture is not a secret patriotic tic I never knew I had (I feared that if I ate the apple pie last Saturday I would be too close to being one of those people standing in a bar the next day drunkenly chanting “U-S-A”), but a desire to be consoled by those trappings of our pop culture that have brought me comfort before, whenever in trouble.
At age five I comforted myself during my mother’s long, evening shopping excursions by getting lost in the shoes — patent leather, magenta high heels. After Hurricane Andrew hit our home in Miami in 1992, I ached to watch Disney movies — oh to be a young singing French girl in medieval times, captured by a beast who’s actually (fortunately for the young French girl, as typical medieval French girls did not fare so well in the suitor department) quite hot — even though I was already 13.
And after Tuesday, though I thought I had buried popular culture as we know it deep into the soiled ground of my pop-culture-detritus-filled mind (probably somewhere between Birthday Bear and the Dukes of Hazzard), I found myself obsessively watching the television, the epitome of comfort food for the pop culture deprived soul (that phrasing in no way endorses those horrible books).
On one level I sincerely wanted to get information and hear about how everyone else was dealing. Instead I found myself not comforted by the news but by the cultural staples of American television — Sam Donaldson’s crazy hair, Tom Brokaw’s uncanny and slightly eerie ability to say things seriously while wearing a smirking boyish grin, and the tons of reporters called in wearing whatever they had left home in that day, going into wreckage like the now cliched image of the reporter in Vietnam and the Gulf Wars with bombs exploding in the background.
I finally let myself cry though when I saw Maria Bartiromo, whom I watch every day from the pit of the New York Stock Exchange on CNBC, still in the pit of the New York Stock Exchange despite being covered in soot from her shoulders on down, talking up to the CNBC camera in chaos and trauma like she does every day with brute men trading around her, not unshaken but so committed to the culture of being a good newswoman that she rallied on.
And I realized that if watching “Blind Date” and CNBC and reading pornographic comics (ah, the best of both worlds) is what we need to do, then we must by all means do it. Popular culture is not dead. Like one who has to sit at the children’s table at family gatherings at age 16 (16, for god’s sake, it was ridiculous), it will come back when it stops feeling so trivialized and silly, and when someone starts bringing out the comfort food.
Lisa Cohen is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. She is an economics major, but rather than investment banking next year, she will be producing porn, where she hopes to work with a team of like-minded yet unique individuals who share an interest in synergy.