Mim, I rather suspect we've been brought in to provide a bit of shallowness, especially after Midge and Norman spent a week braying about the onrushing end of American civilization (a process seemingly ongoing since at least 1690). We're a palate cleanser, or perhaps a diuretic. Actually, I was in a bit of a Podhoretzian mood after reading in the Times fashion supplement about the new $3,810 Gucci flowered jean skirt that the proverbial everybody is dying to get their hands on. Will this stand as emblematic of a kind of late nineties overcivilization in which ever more obscene amounts of money are lavished on things of less and less intrinsic value? Of course, this is nothing more than an extension of a process that Richard Artschwarger and other artists began in the sixties, forcing sophisticates to ante up ever greater amounts for less and less ornamentation. Prada has been masterful in this regard, applying post-Marxist notions of utilitarian anti-chic (the magic word is banal) to items priced in the low four figures. Valerie Steele, author and provider of quotes to fashion stories that masquerade as lite sociology, describes the Gucci phenomenon thusly in the Times: " ... this is a mass society. And while everybody has jeans, not everybody has hand-decorated $3,000 jeans." The writer, perhaps anticipating a few snickers, does an artful dodge at the end. "Maybe that is why coolness will accrue to those of you who will wear [Tom] Ford's comfy and familiar faded denim, as well as those of you who won't, but who'll 'get' it," she writes. "And how egalitarian that is: pleasure for both the haves, and the have-nots." Clearly, we're headed for some sort of apocalypse.