“In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking,” the great Cole Porter once tunefully observed, memorably adding “But now, God knows, anything goes.” That was way back in 1933, so we shudder to think what the oh-so-sophisticated songwriter of that scandalous era would be thinking if he had stuck around for 2016. The latest rap and rock and pop cacophony would have surely appalled him, the rest of the popular culture would no doubt also dismay the sensibilities of the fellow who lamented that “Good authors, too, who once knew better words now only use four-letter words writing prose,” and even such a classy and contentedly closeted homosexual of that bygone era as Porter would probably be confounded by all this current public enthusiasm for creepy guys hanging around women’s restrooms.
What he’d make of this crazy election year, well, God only knows.
This crazy election year has gone far beyond a glimpse of stocking to include stark naked pictures of a major party nominee’s third wife exposed on the cover of a New York tabloid, and more widely disseminated across that newfangled internet thingamajig without those minuscule but pesky stars over the naughtiest bits that even New York tabloids still feel obliged to use, along with some suggestively sapphic poses with an anonymous naked woman or two that easily meet the late Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell’s definition of pornography as “I know it when I see it.” That same major party nominee used to run a strip joint before it went bankrupt, has boasted in print about the many married women he’s bedded, once offered assurances about his sufficient penis size during a presidential debate, often cusses in front of the kids, seems to share the unaccountable current popular enthusiasm for creepy guys hanging around women’s restrooms, and for crying out loud he’s the Republican nominee.
Meanwhile, the Democratic nominee is the wife of former President Bill Clinton, the predatory serial philanderer best remembered after two terms and nearly 16 years of historical reflection as the punchline to countless late night comedy show fellatio jokes, and for crying out loud she’s running as the long awaited culmination of the feminist revolution. The long-presumed and still potential First Woman President is as always committed to the pro-abortion stand that her Republican opponent took right up until he decided to run as Republican and rather clumsily tried to be anti-abortion, and a lot of the older feminists are still grateful that she protected her pro-abortion woman against the women who spoke frankly about his predatory serial philandering, and a lot of the younger feminists find the Republican just as icky, so she might well get away with it. She’s not about to be outflanked for the creepy guy in the women’s restroom vote even if the Republican nominee is offering them concealed carry, she’ll always enjoy the advantage of that double standard that regards scorned women as admirable victims and betrayed men as laughable cuckolds, and even the current Republican nominee with the naked model third wife and newfound anti-abortion zealotry is unlikely to overcome the party’s cornball reputation for old-fashioned family values.
What’s most striking to us, and would surely get the attention of a resurrected Cole Porter or any other previous American, is that none of this seems to matter. The only interest that the more respectable press took in those naked pictures had to do with the fact that they were apparently taken in in America in 1995, and that the potential first lady’s first work permit was issued in 1996, raising doubts about her future husband’s stand against illegal immigrants taking jobs from natives. Some of the feminist sisterhood even came to her defense, the right to pose naked and especially to do the sapphic sorts of shots being the most up-to-date version of the cause that even the aging Democratic nominee didn’t want to argue with, and no one except such fuddy-duddies as ourselves would wants to be on record saying that there’s something somehow unsettling about naked pictures of one major party’s nominee’s third wife and his opponent being in no position to say anything about it. We grew up long after Cole Porter’s heyday but still in a time when the happily married Rob and Laura Petrie were sleeping in separate beds on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” and when Lyndon Baines Johnson was holding bathroom press conferences and Richard Milhouse Nixon was creating the familiar phrase of “expletive deleted” but never doing it in front of the kids, and both the cutting-edge feminists and the retrograde family values types had an unease with the sort of objectification of women that recently appeared on the front page of that Republican-nominee-endorsing New York tabloid. Call us old-fashioned, but in this crazy election year we feel a certain nostalgia for the hopeful hypocrisy of those long-lost days.
We rarely find ourselves in sympathy with The New York Times’ Ross Douthat, but we rather liked his recent essay about how this crazy election will in one way or another be the culmination of the sexual revolution that coincided with the feminist revolution during those lamentable ’60s. He astutely likens Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s braggadocios sexism with the Brat Pack and Hugh Hefner and of course Democratic icon John F. Kennedy and the rest of the alpha males of the “Mad Men” era of early ’60s sexual liberation, and Clinton with the adversarial if equally libidinous feminism that reacted in the latter part of the decade. Regardless of the outcome of the next election one of the two will be ratified, Douthat suggests, and while we doubt we’re in complete agreement about which would be best he seems to share our concern that neither is at all satisfactory. For that matter, we can’t imagine that any self-respecting feminist or intellectually honest family-value types sees any hope in this crazy election year.
There are more important issues than such long-lost causes, we suppose, such as the ever-harder-to-dispute fact that the Democratic nominee was running an utterly corrupt influence-peddling “family foundation” while in public and that the Republican nominee who openly brags about buying influence was one of the donors during his exclusively private sector career, and that a certain level of personal and financial and political sleaziness is now assumed by both sides and it’s all a matter of deciding which is more objectionable. We can’t help thinking that the lowered cultural standards have something to do with the lowered political standards, and that the range of acceptable debate has shrunk even as the rules about how views can be expressed have expanded, and that Cole Porter and his better generation of contemporaries would be startled what happens when anything truly goes.
— Bud Norman