Even a movie that is so dated that it’s painful to watch can contain some insight or observation that gives it current day “redeeming social value” (to use the words of the Supreme Court re works of art that would otherwise be unpublishable).
I’m thinking here of the early sixties hit movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Supposedly about a zany, mad-cap party girl from Tulip, Texas (“Holly Golightly”) who takes New York by storm, it’s really about a gay young man like the author Truman Capote (just as the female character “Albertine” in Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust is based on a boy the author was in love with).
Holly (played by Audrey Hepburn, looking fabulous I have to admit) tells an admirer that when she feels stressed she likes to simply get in a cab and go to the carriage trade jeweler Tiffanys. It has an immediate calming effect on her, she explains:
“It calms me down right away, the quietness and proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there, not with those kind men in their nice suits, and that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets. If I could find a real-life place that made me feel like Tiffany’s, then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name.”
I think if you gave former local publisher and the KC Star’s current token “conservative” (sic) columnist Steve Rose truth serum, he’d come out with a similar dreamy reverie, but the locus of his fantasy would be the private dining club favored by Kansas City’s plutocracy, The River Club.
Everything about Steve Rose’s life is aimed at one goal, to get accepted into The Kansas City Establishment. Like the book of that name, which took a marketing professor at Kansas State fifty years to write, however, by the time he’s figured it out, it’s disappeared! There simply is no “Establishment” left to get your validation from, the way there was thirty-five years ago.
First of all, Kansas City’s become a branch office town. Fewer and fewer significant businesses are locally owned and managed. The dwindling ranks of those that are have been hard hit by changing consumer preferences and tastes (e.g. Russell Stover and Hallmark). Secondly, the World War II generation that ran things for two generations is practically gone. To a large degree, their offspring have not taken their places. When I entered Pembroke Hill almost fifty years ago, one of our teachers gave us a pep talk about how we owed it to our community to be serious about our education since we’d be running the city someday. (It didn’t turn out that way!)
How do I know this about Little Stevie Wonder?
Fifteen years ago, I called Steve to compliment him on an editorial that he’d written in the Johnson County Sun, the weekly that he then owned and edited. I left my name and number and the message that I’d like his permission to submit his editorial (on the Lewinsky scandal) as an op-ed piece to The New York Times.
Much to my disappointment, I never heard back from him. My mother, however, called and said he’d called my parents’ house three times to talk to my father, the late Dwight Sutherland, Sr. I realized that he could care less about my opinion. (I was a young lawyer, making a modest salary, not a CEO nor a multi-millionaire listed in the Forbes “400 Richest Americans” issue.) What he saw was an opening which might lead to corporate nirvana, i.e. a chance to break bread with the Kempers, Sutherlands, Soslands, and Halls at The River Club.
Everything else follows from this. Abortion? The Mission Hills crowd likes abortion because it reduces the number of blacks and poor people, so Steve is pro-choice. Does the Respectable Media lobby for gay marriage? Yes, by a 5 to 1 margin, so Steve’s position “evolves.” (You got it! He’s “grown as a person”!) Do Don Hall and Henry Bloch support every Republican Presidential nominee? Well, so does Steverino (despite castigating local Republicans as “extremists” for taking the same positions!).
Which is not to say Steve is dumb, or that he can’t write! It’s just that everything he says can be explained away in this fashion.
Interestingly, the one thing Steve Rose does break from “mod-squad” orthodoxy on is school finance. He’s smart enough to know that Johnson County is getting the short end of the stick under the existing Kansas school finance formula and that it needs to be changed to let us raise and spend more money locally. The problem is that if you give a blank check to the KNEA and the rest of the educational-industrial complex here in Johnson County, the rest of the state will want to do the same and send us here in Johnson County the bill, since to quote the late bank-robber Willie Sutton, “That’s where the money is!”
My own quandary is that I see Sam Brownback and Company going to the opposite extreme, trying to create the laissez-faire dystopia of ‘Pottersville’ in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” What happened to a thinking conservatism of fiscal prudence, evolutionary change, and a sense of duty to those less fortunate? We aren’t about to get it from either Rose’s crony capitalism or Brownback’s social darwinism.
That is the real tragedy of today’s Kansas Republican Party.