The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

June 23 2000 11:30 PM

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument


BYE, BYE, CALISTA Responding to government pressure and medical concern, the editors of Britain's top women's magazines will refrain from using excessively lithe models and actresses, such as Calista Flockhart, in their publications. A recent British Medical Association report said, "Broadcasters … and magazine publishers should adopt a more responsible editorial attitude towards the depiction of extremely thin women as role models, and should portray a more realistic range of body images." Liz Jones, editor of Marie Claire, said: "A lot of people came up to me … including fashion stylists and fashion editors, and they want to get together to do something." Alexandra Shulman, the editor of British Vogue (or Brogue, as it's affectionately known by American cousins), writes in her Telegraph column: "In this new world, it's goodbye perfect body, goodbye even to thinking about having one. You certainly aren't going to wake up in the morning wishing you hadn't had that second helping of spaghetti carbonara the night before." About 60,000 people suffer from eating disorders in Britain, while in America the number is closer to 5 million. To visit the American Anorexia Bulimia Association Web site, click here. Roughly 10 percent of people with eating disorders are men, though the editors of male magazines have yet to take action about the representation of their chaps—or their gals, for that matter. The number of male sufferers might actually be higher: A report in the New England Journal of Medicine says, "Men die several years earlier than women. They have more health-risk behaviors and see physicians less often than women. Yet there are few medical books about men's health, whereas those about women's health abound."


The Parallel History Project, a team of historians from Russia, the United States, and a number of European countries, has unearthed a 1963 Soviet plan to invade Western Europe. The idea was to reach the French city of Lyon in nine days. The Russians believed that the most ferocious part of the battle would take place in Czechoslovakia. NATO would try to "destroy the border troops of the Czechoslovak People's Army in border battles, and to destroy the main group of our troops in the Western and Central Czech Lands by building upon the initial attack." The Russian plan also included provisions for the use of "tactical" short-range nuclear missiles, similar to those stationed in Cuba in October 1962. On Nov. 15, 1963, the National Security Council released its top-secret report on a potential Russian invasion of Western Europe. To read the declassified document, visit the National Security Archive.  

Thanks to the Internet, it's never been easier to spot trends in obituary-writing. Reflecting on coverage of the death of Syrian President Hafez Hassad, complains that obituary writing has become a staid art: "The toothless eulogies and conflicting messages that resulted couldn't fail to depress readers with this reflection: Major obituaries no longer report on the news or shape opinion, they reflect the tenor of their times and the timid culture of the newsroom." On the whole, though, Omnivore doesn't think there's much cause for complaint. New York Times obituaries are thorough and always take a special interest in the cause of death. The Daily Telegraph'sobituaries are both elegant and colorful: " Toni Kotch, who has died aged 73, was formerly the senior Dame at Eton. The position of Dame in a boys' house at the school is a demanding one. … A Dame … has to take charge of the domestic staff and have a head for figures. And, living as she does in the house, she has to provide a feminine corrective to an overwhelmingly masculine environment. Above all, however, she is required to take care of the boys' welfare, and to win their confidence. For this task Toni Kotch was admirably suited." For other obituary pages, see the links column at right. For two all-purpose obituary portals, click here and here.


Andrew Sullivan  blames Maxim, FHM, and "a certain kind of feminism" for bringing about the "crisis of the American male." (For Maxim's open letter to Sullivan, posted by MediaNews, click here.) Salon finds evidence of said crisis in MTV's bawdy spring-break shows: "It's almost like an orgiastic version of the 'Today' show … Instead of gathering around to say 'Happy Birthday, Mom,' kids pull down their pants or pull up their shirts to show their breasts." For George Will, there's something about There's Something About Mary and American Pie that's so horribly vulgar. Neither Sullivan nor Will has yet argued that the mores of Maxim or Mary are somehow responsible for the attacks on more than 50 women by a rampaging group of men during New York's Puerto Rican Day Parade. In any case, obnoxious rowdy males would hardly disappear if Maxim were to cease publishing. Moreover, ribald as Maxim may seem, it contains far more about the right and wrong way for a man to behave than you would think. If the Central Park attacks reveal a crisis, it's less cultural than institutional: It's indefensible for the police to ignore reports of crimes. (The NYPD say that in the absence of any 911 calls, how could they react—although as most of the attacks took place in Central Park, where there are few public telephones, that's not suprising.) Equally, it's indefensible for the NYPD to punish a handful of officers when it's obvious that commanders are responsible for a such a massive collective failing. If the police had reacted more manfully, then maybe the women could have been spared the assaults. Perhaps, in the interests of promoting greater valor and manhood, complimentary copies of Maxim ought to be given to the boys in blue. [Postscript: Slate's William Saletan comes across some encouraging signs in the aftermath of the rampage.]


Kausfiles chastises 60 Minutes for its story on the Iranian defector who blames Iran for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie. In the broadcast, Leslie Stahl reported the defector's claim that he was the "czar of Iranian state-sponsored terrorism, for more than a decade." But as a well-informed source told "Omnivore," the man is only in his 30s, so how could he have been head of Iran's overseas operations in 1987? What's more, the forensic evidence clearly leads to the two Libyans who are standing trial in the Netherlands. (In a new development, on June 20, the Swiss manufacturer of a sophisticated detonator used to bring down Pan Am 103 told the court that he supplied the Libyan secret service with 20 of these devices in 1985. For the complexities of the case as well as day-to-day coverage, click here.) The defector's story raises a more important question: Why isn't the media covering the trial? Joshua Rozenberg, writing in the Guardian, suggests that the court's officials have made it difficult for journalists to follow the proceedings. Why? "Prosecution lawyers are thought to be afraid that reporters might approach witnesses if they knew who they were." But just because it's an arduous story to report isn't an excuse for ignoring it. What's with the "czar" thing anyway? There's a perfectly good Iranian word for king, and it's "shah."


CALLING OUT AROUND THE WORLD Alistair Cooke's " Letter From America" is heard by 34 million people every week. (For the latest "Letter," click here.) Not bad for a man who is in his 90s and has broadcast continuously for more than 50 years. True, he may be better known beyond these shores, but thanks to the BBC's World Service, Cooke is heard around the globe. You could argue that he's has been more influential in shaping the world's views of America than any other journalist. For some, he's too enthusiastically pro-American. When Cooke became a U.S. citizen in the early 1950s, spy and defector Donald Maclean said: "How can you call me a traitor? What about Alistair Cooke?" To pre-order Nick Clarke's forthcoming biography, click here. To read the Idler's interview with Clarke, click here. To buy Cooke's Memories of the Great & the Good, click here



Robert Darnton, writing in the New York Review of Books, suggests that the origins of the Internet can be found in 18th-century Paris: "To find out what was really going on, you went to the Tree of Cracow. It was a large, leafy chestnut tree, which stood at the heart of Paris in the gardens of the Palais-Royal. … Like a mighty magnet, the tree attracted nouvellistes de bouche, or newsmongers, who spread information about current events by word of mouth." The point, of course, is that the information was free. Jim Romenesko tells the Los Angeles Times that "people have only so much time and the Web audience wants information free, with no excuses"—bad news for Web sites like, which plans to charge heavily for its content. editor Kurt Andersen disagrees. Readers will pay for an Internet publication as long as it has good information and a strong local audience, he says: "The brilliance of Yahoo—and why it's worth four times as much as the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, and Newsweek and all their respective TV stations and smaller newspapers combined—is that it uniquely embodies both free-media models: it's national and it's local, it's cheap to produce and it gives its audience real depth." The New York Observer's Gabriel Snyder asks what will happen when the Internet becomes … television.


FREUD IN TRANSITION The new Penguin edition of Sigmund Freud's complete works will be edited by Adam Phillips, the author of On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored and other collections of aphoristic essays on psychoanalysis. The contrarian Phillips can be counted on to stir things up in Freud circles: "Psychoanalysis has become a very dreary profession indeed," Phillips tells the New York Times. "It is terribly puritanical, moralistic and coercive. The institutionalization of analysis has killed its wilder spirit. The craving for academic respectability has made analysts want to be recognized either as real scientists or real artists. … I don't care whether psychoanalysis survives or not—it's not a religion which we need to sustain." In his recently published Darwin's Worms, Phillips argues that Darwin and Freud require us to reconsider our conception of death. (Click here to read Frank Kermode's review in the London Review of Books.) "It is possible to have a more realistic sense of our mortality. It has only just dawned on us that there is no God, no afterlife, yet we continue to live as if there is one, or might be," Phillips told the British Psychoanalytic Society in a recent interview. (For a sample of Phillips' idiosyncratic style, click here.)


Britain's great Laura Spence debate moves into its third week. Translation: Laura Spence, a star pupil from a British state school, was denied a place at Oxford University but won a scholarship from Harvard. This prompted Gordon Brown, Britain's chancellor of the exchequer, to attack Oxford for admitting students on the basis of an "old-boy network." Oxford's vice chancellor replied: "[I am] dismayed that claims of this kind are made without knowledge of the real facts behind the headlines." Alan Ryan, the warden at Oxford's New College, argued that Spence's rejection had nothing to do with her having come from a state school.

Richard Riley, the U.S. secretary of education, implicitly criticized the Blair government by defending Oxford and Cambridge against charges of classism. Ironically, the professor who rejected Spence turns out to be a champion of state school education. Maureen Freely, who interviews potential British students on Havard's behalf, argues that Harvard is actually more elitist than Oxford, because the children of alumni get preference. Meanwhile, a report on higher education in Britain calls for the introduction of American-style SATs. Alan Ryan attacks the SAT and the Educational Testing Service in his review of Nicholas Lemann's The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy. Writing in the New Statesman, R.W. Johnson, once a tutor at Magdalen, recalls a former college head. It was Sir Herbert Warren's "habit to greet every incoming freshman: when the Imperial Prince of Japan arrived, Warren asked him what his name, Prince Chichibou, actually meant. 'The Son of God,' the young scion replied.'Of course,' replied Warren. 'You'll find we have the sons of many famous men here at Magdalen.' Most of us were keen to put the Warren days as far as possible behind us."

Photographs of: Calista Flockhart by Fred Prouser/Reuters; Alistair Cooke by Archive Photos.

Illustrations by Nina Frenkel.