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2.07.2006

the beautiful old man theory 

The essence of my Beautiful Old Man theory centers on the fact that "beautiful" does not refer to aesthetic or morally pleasing character. It is a word adapted from an older phrase, which I'm about to explain, and the meaning is more abstract. For instance, I don't support the work/actions of all Beautiful Old Men (BOM), I am simply commenting on their status in our society.

In the 19th century, a pioneering (and female!) photographer named Julia Margaret Cameron emulsified the images of lots of wild-haired men. Formidable, respected men- beautiful old men. Quick links: J.F.W. Herschel, an astronomer, and John Everett Millais, a painter.

Cameron took two main kinds of photographs: gorgeously romantic, fairylike portraits of children, and what an old professor of mine called Beautiful Old Men. I always thought that was a term that Cameron herself used, but Prof. Sapir may have made it up (I bet he himself would qualify, if he had his say.) In the context of Cameron's work, it is surely an aesthetic description, and more importantly, the overlap of their aesthetic representation with their contributions to society. There was something about the way the men were photographed that communicates this.

I'll list a few modern-day BOMs before I go any further. Yasser Arafat, Johnny Cash, Johnny Carson, Saul Bellow, William Rehnquist, Ronald Regan, Marlon Brando, Strom Thurmond, Pope John Paul II.

Notice anything? They're all dead! So this is where my theory arises. I believe that we are living in an era of transition and instability on all accounts- politically, culturally, environmentally. The red flag that brought this to my attention was that all these BOMs are dying. All of these pillars that our current global identity rests on are crumbling. Ariel Sharon is one. Hell, Rosa Parks is one. And, perhaps, Phil Spector is one as well. Only time will tell.

People often tell me that it's a constant process, old people dying. To a certain extent of course this is true, but periods of boom and bust come and go, and I believe this works in the same way.

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