PRO FORMA SINE CONTENTUS: Vanity Fair Revisited
PRO FORMA SINE CONTENTUS
Flawless or Useless
The idiosyncracy and the quest for flawlessness may preoccupy perfectionsist or linguistic purists, often in combination with a Compulsive Obssessive Disorder, a halt in the anal phase or an emotionally draining need of self assertiveness. To be fair, the efforts to be as precise as possible is a must in science and in verbal or written communication with regards to messages of great importance.
The current surgical or chemical cosmetic boom for physical perfection encompassing minors of age to the elderly of both genders is resting on ideals displayed in tabloids and fashion magazines, all of them photo shopped transformations beyond recognition of the object portrayed. The emotional turmoil and obssessive compulsive strive for perfection, however, may easily turn into a living and a very costly hell.
Women have been a major target for beautification for as long we can look back in history. I am happy not to be a young male adolescent or in my twenties and live up to the six pack flat stomachs and oversized pectorals of current models and ordinary young men, because, let us face it: unless you aim to become a professional model you may find yourself in a maelstroem of excessive demands with regards to your physical appearance, your educational and social skills level, your financial status and your leisure time interests. Life becomes perpetually stressing, a social pathology and discontent chronic.
Great Garbo and Marlene Dietrich were not remotely as beautiful off camera as on the screen with camera lenses covered by nylon stockings and the chiaroscuro settings. They were all eyes and cheekbones and little more. Yes, they had the facial bone structure once established by Greek mathematicians as the essence of human beauty.
The earliest Western theory of beauty can be found in the works of early Greek philosophers from the pre Socratic period such as Pythagorasoras. The Pythagorean school saw a strong connection between mathematics. In particular, they noted that objects proportioned according to the Golden Ratio seemed more attractive. Ancient Greek architecture is based on this view of symmetry and proportion and so are many of the sculptures of gods, demi gods and athletes.
When the Golden Era of Black and White forced the actresses and the actors into the revealing color movies, the concept of beauty did still not change: The movie companies had to find actors looking great in the merciless Californian sunshine. Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly came into demand together with Gregory Peck and Sean Connery, later to be joined by Catherine Deneuve and Alain Delon.
The shape of the bodies of these icons of beauty were not all that important at the time. Delon did not flaunt an overly athletic torso (ok, he had been doing intense exercise for his part in Visconti´s " Rocco and his brothers) and the bust of the classy Audrey Hepburn would have been pitied in present day Beverly Hills or in Roma, except for in the fashion world where the runway female anorexia still rules.The models are trained to maintain facial blankness.
The celebrities, royal or self-made, are rarely seen putting anything in their mouths. The Nobel Prize Gala Dinner will be on display principally before, in the intermission between courses, and after the dessert. Nobody wants to see a radiant tiara diamond studded Queen Silvia stuffing her face with Foie Gras or nibble at a spoonful of Beluga Caviar, no matter how prestigious the menue. Intakes and outlets are strictly faux pas in the perfect world.
Royals are surprisingly often described as beautiful no matter how plain looking they are in reality. It is part of the package and when photographed surrounded by stunning interior design or dressed in designer haute coture and carefully matched accesoires chosen by professional stylists, make up artists and hairdressers, working almost around the clock, we are prepared to agree because of the glamour they project.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty, however, more often than not, stems from personality and charsima which has little to do with physical perfection. The British and the Dutch Royal Houses are far from physically perfect. The painters of old knew how to embellish the fat, moody and ugly Catherine the Great of Russia in hundreds of servile portraits of a rosy cheeked Matron, the sovereign Mother of Mother Russia, in order to flatter her vanity and to keep their heads protected from decapitation because of imperial discontent.
Perfection is, of course, not restricted to physical beauty, the Bellas Artes or the flora and fauna. The beauty of Mathematics, Geometry, Philosofy, Theology, Linguistics, Quantum Physics and the patterns of underlying Social Structures or the dimension of the DNA chain have fascinated the scientists as fully as the visual or auditive stimuli by which we usually define beauty.
Perfection, however, may be provoking. Perfectionism often bore us stiff and we may industriously look for a way to label it with a psychiatric diagnosis or at least escape from people enslaved by this particular feature. They will tell you how to perceive the world from their anonplastic ebony tower while you are desperately looking for an excuse to save yourself from the besser-wisser attacks.
No tree, however, is ever allowed to grow into Heaven and the icons and the perfect will at any given moment become furiously attacked, juste or unfair, but as sure as the next sunrise. The defamation and the fall from grace is equally important in the drama of mediocrity versus perfection. You have to die very young to leave a lasting impression of perfection because sooner or later your flaws will be discovered and it is pay back time or you must outlive your aficionados with decades hidden in obscurity
The untimely death of Princess Diana will, in addition to her personal courage in matters that matter, make her a long lasting legend. Today her unofficial saintlyhood is on par with Mother Theresa, which is taking it a bit too far in my humble opinion.
The contemporary intelligentsia and the rest of us often regard the icons of beauty in human shape with disdain and sometimes contempt. The hierachy of beauty depends on manyfacetted factors and differ by ethnic belonging or cultural backround. The shallowness of physical beauty seems to be a cherished notion by the high brow. The beautiful people are seen, as a matter of routine, as less intellectually gifted although the IQ of Marilyn Monroe, of the divine but forgotten comedienne Judy Holliday, honorary member of Mensa International , and of Catherine Deneuve would easily match many of their brainiest critics.
Vanity is present no matter your place or direction in society. The expressions differ. Formality and etiquette represent beauty to some. The complexity of diplomacy, the ritual royal performances, the Queen Bee surrounded by dancing bees and the parasitizing of the Orchid on an old tree trunk are pro forma but cum contentus which are building bridges whereas snobbism or elitism, no matter how formalised and eloquent which serve no purpose and lacking in content in society as a whole, can only continue because we allow it.
Traditions, I believe, are vital for social organisms as the glue that keep the individuals connected. Why, however, depends on the content and the intentions. Christmas Day dinner at the Matriarch´s palatial home was a lenghty and dreadfully boring must for the relatives and, as a child ,I was horrified by the number of cutlery beside my plate and how to use it correctly. My mild and socially highly competent maternal Grandmother always came to my rescue in her discreet and affectionate manner. The list of subjects for conversation that would not be tolerated at the dinner table was endless. The faux pas and the il faut became so numerous that eventually people avoided the event with overloaded excuses in order to escape a four hour procedure without any content except for a show case of etiquette and prestigious social know how. There was no such thing as emotional bonding. The event served as a staged display of the extended family´s power and social position, which nobody enjoyed except for the Head of the influential family.
Perfection with regards to the menue, the table setting, the impressing amount of silver and the opulent flower decorations, meticulously supervised by the Matriarch and arranged by the patient servants created an atmosphere of icy and ideal aesthetics and little else. To sit correctly by never leaning on the back of your seat, royal etiquette copied by the Matriarch, was a minor trauma for a four year old who was not supposed to utter a word during the solemn event. Pro forma sine contentus..
Perfection if in human shape becomes a threat to the self, by the Freudian concept of the word. We all need forgiveness, whether we acknowledge it or not. A crack in a perfect façade will enable us to extend our forgiveness, to feel empathy and make us human. By tolerance and respect we may hope to be met similarily when we crack ourselves.
“ Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Mathew 5:45) is a requirement I never fully understood. The closest to perfection we may come has been expressed by Hieronymous: Errare humanum est, ignoscere divinum.
Thus we may touch on perfection, the only human perfection I know of.