Sunday, December 01, 2019


"The Assassination of Gianni Versace", a nine episode series, follows the astute writing of  Maureen Orth, whose book, "Vulgar Favors" might or might not have been factually accurate.  In a way, it doesn't matter because taken as a whole, the series is most valuable as a reflection on our times.  The morality of success uses BOTH the morality of sex and that of money, and this story shows how the three are entwined and endorsed by our media.  Politics are left out of it, but we could easily see that Trump is owned by all these patterns, and so is big business.

There are several set pieces of conversation like the argument between Versace and his sister which is said to be the beginning of his pattern of daring clothes full of SM tropes like harness. bondage, and metal.  Let's be honest: Versace's sister is blunt-featured and more short-fingered than Trump, but long bleached hair and painted eyes can make anyone look at least sexy.  (Ask Ivanka).  She is purported to say that women dress to be weaponized, and Gianni  took that seriously.  There is argument about whether high fashion is a success if it is merely talked about by everyone or whether it must also sell, which means clothes that an average woman can wear comfortably.  Another good-if-brief exchange is Versace explaining to the killer what it takes to be a success: hard work and tenacity.

In my undergrad years I majored in theatre alongside young gay men at a time when "gay" wasn't a social concept -- they tell me they didn't know what they were, just that they were a little different.  There was a homosexual underground, I guess as always, but it wasn't organized, connected, or self-conscious.  I'm not gay but I recognized that these men were exceptional and since then some of them have been notable, openly.  At that time Playboy magazine was thought to be daring.  Hustler had not been invented.

Sunanan is considered a genius with an IQ of 147.  This is another media invention, that a paper-and-pencil test can say anything about intelligence or superiority.  The ranking was meant to measure school and army readiness and that's all.  Someone said Sunanan memorized the encyclopedia.  If he did, I expect it was not the Encyclopedia Britannica.  But I knew people at the U of Chicago who passed their exams by reading the relevant entries the night before.  They had eidetic memories as well: that is, they could summon up what they had seen as though it were really there.  But they did understand what they read. 

In undergrad college my biology class partner had that IQ of 147.  He told me that he'd read somewhere that people with an IQ of 150 could not really communicate with dumber people.  My figure was somewhere in the 130's in high school.  I told him I was ever so grateful that he was short 3 points so I could still talk to him.  Luckily, he was a generous, curious, thoughtful person -- qualities of intelligence not always noted.  

One of my close theatre friends -- you'd know his name -- was making a lot of money.  By that time I was in Browning and then in Portland after being divorced and in Chicago at seminary.  Occasionally he would pay for me to fly to Hollywood for Christmas or, once, to do a marriage ceremony.  He was a family man, conventionally, but when I was supposed to meet him at a posh hotel, it was plainly designed for discretion and elegance.  I was not allowed to go upstairs.  In time I saw that my role was to admire, to be the witness that confirmed that all this Hollywood stuff meant success and worthiness. I was media.  By the time I finished seminary, I was through.  It was only about Presentation and Gaze and other fancy concepts that needed to be named.  

The wealthy and the louche are hand-in-hand in this series and in our culture as it is shared around the planet, so that Elton John and Princess Diana really were at Versace's funeral.  Both were part of the glamour and luxury crowd that has somehow managed to replace female palace paramours with handsome young men without giving up the additional concept of the steady enabling partner.  That's what those "Incels" crave, I guess, though they lean heavily on the militaristic temper they associate with power and control.  The murderous rage from underneath.

The genius of this script is not just linking the "high" version of status obsession with the "low" version, but by inventing (I think) a woman achiever who is very thin, very rich, and a star of the late night TV junk merchandize world.  Revealing her pitiful pretence explains both Versace and his killer.  I kept waiting for her to take off her wig, but only the makeup was wiped away.  Her refusal to see the reality of her husband -- the good and the bad -- is the same as the media audience's fascination with what they think is true but is only stereotypical sentimentality.  Women take a very bad rap in this series, esp the mothers.

When it comes to the Filipino dynamic, I admit prejudice.  War and poverty have created an even more intense version of this need to be uniquely important, the object of admiration and obedience even if it takes murder.  The real father sounds worse than he was in the show.  Rather like Trump's father. Two scenes deal with this racism.  One is an escort interview, which is pretty funny.

Though the actors claim to valiantly defend gay men, the show has almost no explicit sex in it, and portrays only a certain view of what "gay men" are like.  Binary gender characteristics are the subject, not the more recent view that male and female are two ends of a continuum with many variations in between, even in terms of genitalia presentation while not addressing desire imprinting.

I used to be deep into all this stuff.  Once long ago I bought several luxury slick magazines -- Vogue, House Beautiful, Harper's Bazaar, House and Garden -- in a little Missoula newspaper shop. The clerk, a handsome young man very like Sunanan, treated me to a contemptuous lecture on my sell-out to luxury. I took my business to the excellent bookstore run by a Reed College grad. It stocked the growing genre of progressive natural history. 

For years I had a subscription to Vanity Fair sent by my Hollywood friend.  I did very much appreciate William Langewiesche's writing in VF.  Nothing sissy about it.  No sex or glamour.  Real achievement and survival.  I like his book about crossing the desert the best: "Sahara Unveiled".  The presentation of wealth and privilege should not distract from human desperation, the need.  Everywhere, even in poverty desert environments.

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