Vanity Fair puts Mr. and Mrs. Milosevic on the sofa, as if they're regular folks

THE BALTIMORE SUN

There they are in Vanity Fair (June), cute as cute can be, Mr. and Mrs. Slobodan Milosevic, sitting together curled up on the couch in their designer sweaters. He's got a hopelessly blank look on his face. Presumably, that's one of the tricks of the trade: Think bland and -- who knows? -- a guy can get away with, you'll pardon the expression, murder.

Then again, that blankness verges on grimace: One gets the sense Slobodan Milosevic might be singing to himself the refrain of that old Pet Shop Boys song, "What have I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this?" Unleashing genocide on tens of thousands, fine, it's a rush -- but sitting for a la-di-da photographer from some magazine you've never heard of, that's another story.

As for Mrs. Slo, she's focused on crime, not punishment: With fist planted firmly under chin (that oldest of tricks for trying to fool the photographer about avoirdupois), she's no media innocent. Or is she? "Is Vanity Fair a women's magazine?" she barks at profiler Bella Stumbo. "Because I don't give interviews to women's magazines." The reason Mrs. Slo granted this one and then got her husband to go along -- Ms. Stumbo's great revelation is that wife wears the jacket in this family -- is that she has a new book out. (Mrs. Slo is a sociologist who writes a magazine column on the side.) You know how it is -- gotta promote the product.

It's all quite the package. You've got Tom Hanks on the cover, and Hillary inside complaining (surprise!) about how unfairly the press covers her and Bill, and Gail Sheehy injecting a little bit of the old psychobabble into a profile of Kathleen Brown, Jerry's sister, who's running for governor of California, and then, whoa, there they are, Mr. and Mrs. Slo: the mice in the wedding cake. Amid all the scented perfume ads, tucked in among the tanned and taut bodies, here are these two matter-of-fact monsters: stylish as a mass grave, glamorous as an amputation. Right between a profile of an MTV VJ and an article on Coco Chanel, up pop Mr. and Mrs. Slo. Welcome to the intersection of atrocity and celebrity. Heavy rotation, ethnic cleansing, little black dresses -- whatever, whomever -- the banality of evil meets the banality of fame.

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Not that, as world leaders go, Fidel Castro is any bargain, either. Still, there is this lunatic perfection to his appearing on the cover of Cigar Aficionado (summer). Even though he hasn't smoked a stogie in nearly nine years, he remains as identified with said item as anyone since Churchill -- or Groucho. (Hmm, if you combined Churchill and Groucho, would you come up with Castro?) Cigar Aficionado spent two years pursuing Mr. Castro, and the resulting interview is a coup, all right. "Che used to really enjoy smoking," Mr. Castro confides. Later on he inquires of his interlocutor, "You say that Clinton smokes cigars?" If things got any loopier, you'd swear it wasn't tobacco in the Havanas. As for those who prefer their panatelas without geopolitics, this issue profiles another cigar icon of note, the Boston Celtics' Red Auerbach.

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Maybe you didn't notice, but this week marked the 40th anniversary of the greatest day in 20th-century American history. Wait a second, you say, the anniversary of D-day isn't for another three weeks and it's the 50th anniversary, isn't it? Correct. All the media attention notwithstanding (see the May 23 covers of Newsweek and US News & World Report), what thousands of brave soldiers accomplished on the beaches of Normandy pales in importance when compared with what nine elderly judges did on May 17, 1954, when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. The Nation (May 23) devotes a special issue to the anniversary. Perhaps the most pertinent observations come from Jonathan Kozol and J. Anthony Lukas, both of whom note that this year marks the 20th anniversary of a less celebrated Supreme Court case, Milliken vs. Bradley. That decision overruled a lower court's metropolitan solution to school integration, in effect saying that while de jure segregation was not acceptable, de facto segregation was. Twenty years before, the court had (finally) invited everyone to the party; now it ducked out on the tab. Preparing in Boston for a 20th anniversary of our own as regards schools and segregation, we are still feeling the consequences.

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Ultimately, Architectural Digest isn't about affluence, it's about interchangeability. As the reader gapes his or her way through these mansions of the rich and famous, suspicion grows into certainty: Winona's place could be Clint's place could be Tonya's place could be . . . OK, trailer parks have yet to make it into AD, but you get the point. The residences come with A-list names attached, but you get shockingly little sense of the character of the owner (or even of the character of the owner's decorator). Conspicuous consumption -- tasteful conspicuous consumption, I hasten to add -- is one thing, but cookie-cutter conspicuous consumption is quite another. Of course, that's part of the appeal. You read People or US (note the welcome-aboard insinuation of that first-person plural!) to feel a kinship with celebrities through finding out about their lives. You read AD to feel a kinship through imagining what it might be like to live in their homes. And if their homes look like everyone else's, only a whole lot nicer, then so much the better -- it's that much easier to see yourself within those four walls.

All of which is prefatory to saying how refreshing the feature is in the June issue on Daniel Patrick Moynihan's country place in the Catskills. It's a long way from the Hell's Kitchen saloon Mr. Moynihan's mother ran when he was a boy. But from political mementos to Indian artifacts to period detailing (the senior senator from New York was ambassador to India in the '70s, and his wife is an architectural historian), this Greek Revival farmhouse is not only a place you'd want to live in yourself, it also gives a sense that actual human-type beings live there.

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Footnotes: People (May 23) has Paula Jones on the cover but nothing really new on the woman it calls "The President's Accuser." However, on that same subject Michael Kinsley in the New Republic (May 30) has the lead of the week. "It is very hard to believe that Paula Jones is making the whole thing up. (I've tried, I've tried)," he writes in his TRB column. "But it's not hard to believe she's making a lot of it up." . . . In the New Yorker (May 23), Peter J. Boyer doesn't tell you anything you don't already know about Ted Kennedy and his re-election campaign -- but Stephen Schiff sure does change a reader's sense of V. S. Naipaul. How do you get a famously reticent novelist to discuss his adulterous affair with an Argentine beauty? I don't know, but Mr. Schiff managed to. . . . That higher-pitched whine you have been hearing is the sound of the spin cycle on trendspeak ratcheting up a notch: The cover story in this week's New York (May 23) is on -- oh, have they no shame? -- "Generation Y." . . . The meaner-spirited of us in Generation Y Not will be amused to note that only now, nearly six weeks after his death, does Rolling Stone (June 2) get around to Kurt Cobain. Hey, had to get those babes from "Melrose Place" on the previous cover, right, Jann?

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