Whit Stillman has a new movie called Damsels in Distress coming out this year. As I look forward to that, I took a look back at one of his New York classics. When the Criterion Collection release of 1990's Metropolitan came out in 2006, Luc Sante wrote the accompanying essay.
He said, "Nowadays, you might wonder whether there is anyone left on Park Avenue whose fortune antedates the second Reagan administration. New money is so loud and so insistent that old money has either slipped discreetly away to ancestral hideouts or has, as it were, gone native. Metropolitan, which looked like a perverse bit of daring in 1990, today seems like an artifact from an earlier century."
An artifact it is. The socialites of 1990, in Stillman's lens, are smart, literary, intellectual snobs.
They dance the cha-cha and the rumba. They use words like "untenable" and discuss Thorsten Veblen and Lionel Trilling. They make statements like, "I'm a committed Socialist, but not a Marxist. I favor the socialist model developed by the 19th-century social critic Fourier." And "Bunuel's a surrealist, despising the bourgeoisie is part of their credo."
They read lots of books.
Fast forward to two decades later. Gossip Girl is also about young socialites on the Upper East Side.
These kids are not the brightest bulbs, nor do they value the intellect. They say things like: "He texts me every night before he goes to sleep, it's so sweet." And "You know how torturous it is for me to find shiny things that aren't intended for me." And "I think that whore may be my mother."
We're left with "high society" reality stars, celebutantes like Jules Kirby, who likes to go downtown and say stuff like: “It’s fun to go hang out with blue collar people at a scummy bar. They do fratty things like play beer pong.”
Now with Kourtney and Kim Take New York, we've also got the Kardashians, who spell everything with a K to match their name--the Kardashian Kard, Kardashian Konfidential, etc. You think Stillman's kids would've tolerated such misspellings?
I might not have liked them, but I miss the smart old socialites. I was on the Upper East Side recently, thinking about how much I used to like to go up there, once in awhile, and look at all the super-rich people in their natural habitat. Ladies in crazy hats and furs. Men in exotic plaids. All the fusty shops with windows full of products you had to be an old-money WASP to know about--Spode plates, cloth cocktail napkins, stuff like that.
Now it's all the same stores they have on Bleecker Street and the Bowery. And it's all the same people, too.