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Madison Avenue Satyricon

Trust fund kid from the Upper East Side? Who can tell anymore? (De Visu / Shutterstock.com)

A reader in NYC who loves to feed Your Working Boy delectable morsels of Dreherbait, writes:

You’ll love this one. In general, it’s not even worth trying to “document the decline,” because it would keep us too busy to do our day jobs, and would only degrade us further . . . everyday life, at least in my part of the country, increasingly resembles Fellini’s Satyricon. I envy you, living in the dark heart of Louisiana.

Here, from The New York Times, is what he’s talking about. Excerpts:

Among the more polarizing sights in Manhattan this spring were the Madison Avenue windows of Barneys New York, an unlikely showcase for a series of mannequins. They were ringers for the real-life models who stalked the Hood by Air men’s runway in January, right down to their elaborate tattoos and the uncanny grillwork distorting their grins.

During a recent week, passers-by stood welded to the spot, challenged to make what they could of the scene, a curious hybrid of street theater and fashion porn. “Obviously, this was done by an artist,” Paul Roberts, a visitor from Edinburgh, said appreciatively. “It goes beyond window dressing, doesn’t it?”

But Claudia Brien, a young Upper East Side matron, pronounced those vitrines “beyond disgusting.”

“I pass them most days, but I go out of my way to keep my children away,” Ms. Brien said.

Yeah, if you go to the link and see the mannequins made up to look like freakish modern primitives, you’ll understand Ms. Brien’s reaction.

Love them or loathe them, the windows, their mannequins lurching toward spectators, lips ringed in jeweled pacifiers, “skin” elaborately inked, were a come-on. They were as surely a testament to a widening fascination with body modification in its most eye-popping extremes: allover tattoos, subdermal implants, piercing, stretching, scarring, branding and the like.

Nasty. But:

At the same time, the windows “opened a door to a very interesting dialogue,” said Dennis Freedman, the Barneys creative director. “You start to become familiar with something that at first might be frightening. But I suspect that, over time, people do acclimate.”

Doesn’t that describe American culture at the moment? One more:

No one, of course, would argue that uptown matrons will be besieging their dentists for grillwork any time soon. But there is plenty to suggest a widening acceptance of body mod’s more subtle arts: fake and real septum rings, quarter-size ear gauging, tattooed “sleeves” on the upper arms.

Yes, well. Here’s a line from Vincent Canby’s 1970 Times review of Fellini Satyricon:

Watching Fellini Satyricon, which opened yesterday at the Little Carnegie Theater, you suddenly realize that Fellini, unlike the creatures of his extraordinary imagination, has refused to be stopped by the sea. He has pushed on, and there are moments when he seems to have fallen over the edge into the cinema of the ridiculous. You ask yourself: Is this dwarf, or this albino hermaphrodite, or is this latest amputation, really necessary?

Anybody checked on Sweet Meteor o’ Death yet? Isn’t it about due?

UPDATE: A reader writes, of this post:

I thought of the opening chapters of Peter Brown’s Augustine bio. I remember him talking about how young, fashionable Romans in the 4th century had begun rejecting the Roman religion in favor of the more exotic mystery religions from the peripheries of the empire – Manichaeism, Mirhraism, and so forth, and indeed Christianity – and how they also began aping the clothing of the Germanic barbarians – trousers and torcs and such instead of the traditional Roman tunics, etc. etc.

This was the young Augustine’s urbane milieu at Rome and Milan. Note too that he embraced a sort of proto Benedict Option after his conversion – returning home to Thagaste, and starting semi enclosed religious communities where study and contemplation and communio were the order of the day. That is to say, before being recalled to a more public life as bishop etc. etc.

This was the biographical backdrop to “City of God.” We all know what happened to Italy and Rome in the early 5th century.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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