I come before you in defense of beauty. At first glance, that might strike you as necessary as defending money at Davos, but take a deeper look.
When the history of our age is written, whether by human historian or computer algorithm, on silicon wafers or copper plates, in shining cities or global ashes, this will be known as the Era of Ugly.
Pick a human institution, any institution, then put it back in the deck, don’t show it to me. You chose politics, right? Ugly. Oh, it was entertainment? Ugly. Internet snark? Ugly. Reality TV, Performance Art, Advertising, the degraded Environment, Ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly.
We have “sophisticated” the beauty out of nearly every human enterprise. If there was a way of uglifying a sunset with post-modern clashing colors we’d have done that too.
The moon is corny, the stars are trite, the beaches and mountains so predictable. I don’t know how anyone with taste can live here anymore.
Edginess we like. Edginess is novel, challenging, interesting. But there’s a problem. Live on the edge too long and you’ll eventually fall off. I believe, as a society, we have, long ago. We’ve fallen into a pit of ugly and take it for granted now. Ugly is our home.
That’s why beauty cloys, our noses are filled with the stink of ugliness, everything sweeter smells of saccharine. Only simpletons and the deluded think there is anything beautiful about us.
February brings us Valentine’s Day, a celebration of love. But what is love, or the experience of love, but the bliss and recognition that we are in the presence of, and if lucky, loved by beauty?
Most of us desire beauty, want to bask in its presence, and return it.
This seems a near universal human constant. Violated in wholesale ways only in the most decadent times. Is this one of those times?
I’m afraid so. All the signs are there.
We live in an age of memes, ridicule, humiliation, anything-and-everything shaming, and our sick laughter is always at somebody else’s expense.
Even our religions, a ladder upon which to glimpse the beauty of the divine, are increasingly turning ugly and angry. This tendency is always evident, but rarely does it take over, killing the souls it is supposed to redeem.
Beauty is sappy because beauty is for saps. It’s what they sell at the gift shop of earth, to shorts-wearing tourists.
Don’t come here with your penguins and sunsets, we’re locals.
Do I go too far? Perhaps. But consider—what virtue do we cheer and cultivate today? And isn’t the very notion of virtue considered archaic, faintly ridiculous, and a subject for bores and fundamentalists of every side and stripe?
And isn’t beauty itself suspect? Beauty is corny. It’s kittens and yarn, kitschy music, Thomas Kinkade “Paintings of Light,” and Hallmark cards. Beauty is so degraded in our esteem, we tag the tritest junk with that word, the easy, commonplace, gaudy and gauche.
We’ve grown so cynical we use beauty as an insult. The phrase “The Beautiful People” is not a compliment. It means extravagant, ostentatious, visibly rich and shallow as pond scum.
I get it, beautiful celebrity is almost guaranteed to be horribly disformed, distasteful and ugly. But we know that when we watch them, our interest in celebrity is ironic. It better be. Because when we take them seriously, one of them becomes president.
Beauty may be sappy, but sap never rusted shut a human heart, unlike decadence. Beauty builds, grows, warms, decadence decays, corrodes, chills. Yet we seem to be choosing the later lately.
But real beauty, the stuff that glows like radium, inside us and inside our world, that still exists. We’ve been looking the other way for the longest time, but it’s still there.
I know this personally. Beauty was born into my life a tad over sixty years ago, but I didn’t meet her until the 80s. My fortune was so good fate made me wait 40 years to hit the jackpot. The only unarguably smart thing I’ve done in my long life was recognize beauty when it crossed my path.
And if I tell all of you that she was born on Valentine’s Day, you’ll no doubt say “of course she was.”
So, allow me to take a moment off from my labors to say, “Happy Birthday, Baby.”
Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to delete that Lawrence Welk track you cynics slipped into my IPod when I wasn’t looking.