The Shades of the Soul

The New York Times is at it again.  That’s not to say that the so-called newspaper of record is getting it on with the Christian Science Monitor or the Wall Street Journal and giving birth to tabloids while Rupert Murdoch rides around town on an Indian elephant distributing cigars to bankers before he gets locked up in the same cell as Julian Assange for the upcoming reality show and remake of television’s The Odd Couple, starring  Jack Klugman and Tony Randall, which was itself based on o movie with Walter Matthau as Oscar Madison and Jack Lemmon as Felix Unger, the celluloid incarnation of a Broadway musical directed by Neil Simon with Truman Capote as Oscar while Felix was played by none other than Marlon Brando.  The play was a relative flop, not least because the actors had been cast against type, but also since after a few weeks on stage together, they ended up doing unflattering impressions of each other that stuck with both of them for the rest of their lives, so that they were doomed along with Elvis, Frank Sinatra, and Stevie Wonder on the musical side of the street to be become increasingly inescapable parodies of themselves.

No, the New York Times is not up to that kind of censorship, prudish self-restraint be praised.  Instead, they’re doing something every periodical does at the behest of the advertising industry, trying to play with our minds by juxtaposing certain images in order to make the ad appear more appealing while the person depicted in the leading story looks like even more of a rascal than he otherwise would.

Here in Seoul, we’re about thirteen hours ahead of the folks who live on the eastern seaboard of the United States, where I originally hail from like a wayward hailstone that for some odd reason hasn’t melted yet, so by the time you read this, the pictures may already have disappeared and been replaced with a fresh assault of subliminal suggestiveness.

The photos I’m referring to are one of:  a) former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, who’s experienced a sudden reversal of fortune and may be spending the rest of his life in prison for his participation in torture and murder (what’s so bad about those crimes?  Our leaders in the U. S. have been getting away with them for years; I guess it’s all about who you know–long live the double standard!), following in the foosteps of Charles Taylor, his Liberian role model and the sinister inspiration for the long-running civil war in Sierra Leone, which made an institution out of recruiting child soldiers to do a lot of the dirty work, keeping them numb with drugs and lots of cool weapons–if you’ll excuse the redundancy, as described in the memoir A Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah.

In the photo, Mubarak is wearing a thuggish pair of shades, what look to be Ray Bans (no offense to representatives of that company; I just have to leaven the mention of your product with a dollop of cynicism so that disinterested readers don’t think I’m whorishly resorting to a product plug, which I assure you I’m not; not that I have anything against this particular brand of shades either, or those who wear sunglasses in general, although I avoid wearing them myself because I think everyone has the right to see another person’s eyes, which may be the reason why my eyesight has become borderline non-existent), as he sits with defiant impassivity in his cell.  One can safely conclude that the reason he’s wearing them in the first place is that he’s stoned and doesn’t want his ruby-red corneas to show up in the Times‘ color cover photo.  Even a cornered rat has some dignity.

The other image, in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, depicts a disembodied pair of more stylishly effeminate sunglasses, the kind that might be worn by Elton John or Elizabeth Taylor if she were still alive (I doubt she needs them where she is now; it’s got to be pretty goddamned dark down there already).

Now clearly the company that posted the ad hadn’t asked the editors at the Times to place it there with the notion that Hosni Mubarak epitomizes glamor and cool, or that he’s the Angelina Jolie of recently deposed Middle Eastern dictators.  Moreover, the contrast between the two types of eyewear suggest that the advertisers intend for readers to surmise, “Hmmm, I don’t think much of what that bad man is wearing–say, maybe these are the sunglasses for me!”

(Apart from what I said above, if I were still a young man trying to play the field and  establish my credibility as a person with the capacity to be cool, or at least the ability to keep a straight face long enough to do okay in a poker game, or else make a strong impression on a prospective employer while being interviewed for a position as a dishwasher at a family seafood restaurant, I might break down and drop whatever money I’d been able to finagle from my mom for the Ray Bans.  Having said that, of course, giving a product plug is never cool; just ask Fay Weldon, an overrated English author who writes forgettable books and once shamelessly penned a title which was itself a plug, for which she was remunerated handsomely.  This led another author to write The Devil Wears Prada, which managed to kill two birds with one stone by promoting both the hoity-toity fashion line and Lucifer himself, a man I at least have a modicum of respect for.  As his own mother would say, Oh, he’s an angel!”  Or, if you want to get all Miltonian about it and shit, to quote from Big Johnny M.’s Paradise Lost:  “Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven.”  And just in case you think I’m trying to show off, think again:  that quote is only on page eleven of the poem, which I just started reading last night before going to bed.  As monumental a work as it clearly is, I picked it up more as a soporific and, due to the self-sabotaging vagaries of A. D. D., there’s a good chance I won’t even get through the whole thing anyway, especially since it’s due back at the library today, and I’m about the slowest reader on earth.  I try to make up for it by being a fast driver, which is why I keep running stop signs and accidentally running over pedestrians.  Sorry!)

Curious to find out what all the hoopla was about and too lazy to actually read the article about good old Hosni, I moved the cursor on the computer over the pair of shades and clicked on the image, only to be led to a page reserved for the company promoting them.  The cost?  Three-hundred and fifty dollars.

Jesus Christ.  You’d have to be an Egyptian dictator to afford a pair of those.  Maybe if King Tut were alive today, he’d buy them as a gift to give himself on his birthday.  Got to look cool for all those slaves you’ve “hired” to waste their whole lives building your paranoid pyramid.  Wouldn’t want them to think you were no longer capable of getting it up, especially if you expect to get any in the afterlife with some other mummified corpse in an over-inflated tomb.

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