What does brilliance smell of? A recent piece by Neal Gabler in the NYTimes brought up the trivialization of U.S. thought. We seem to have been miniaturized by each SUV, each McMansion, each vacation at Disney World, until we’ve become intellectual pygmies. Could someone in a position to know, say an educated Frenchman (not DSK, for preference) tell he was downwind of a bunch of dummies? Do we smell stupid?
Neal was lamenting our loss of such figures as Einstein. Brilliant physicists, however, may be too much to expect of U.S. culture currently, so let’s settle for a free thinker. Maybe we could produce (Gabler’s choice) another Betty Friedan? Honestly, how much trouble could one feminist polemicist be? (O.K. in the age of Michele Bachman, don’t answer that.) I like to think that we could pull off one controversial theorist, but the evidence is to the contrary.
For the record though, not even feminist titans are quite on the advertised scale.
My mother met Betty Friedan one bright day during the sixties when the times they were a changin’. The Feminine Mystique herself had stumped into our kitchen on Fire Island in search of a potato ricer and Mom, true to form, was frying fish.
Now I wish-who wouldn’t? – that this encounter had taken a different form. I wish the dialogue sounded like something out of a Woody Allen movie, particularly one of his earlier, funnier ones, but alas, no cigar. Instead Betty took one look at what my mother was cooking up for dinner and the pioneer of feminine self sufficiency asked: “What’s that gahbbage?” My mother never did think of an appropriate come back.
The whole episode smelled of fish. So yes, you could say that stupid situations at any rate have a smell, and it isn’t good. Would things have gone better if Mom had been sporting Shalimar? Heaven Sent? Bal a Versailles? Her fave, Tabu ?
I doubt it. I suspect it would have gone worse. Betty would have assumed that Mom was not only a typical sexually/societally exploited female, she was also a vain one. But at least there’s this, she wasn’t wearing Aquolina Pink Sugar, or Miss Dior Cherie or, the ego shrivelingly named Baby Doll.
Mom may have been out of luck. She and her kitchen were going to smell bad and frankly to Betty, stupid too. No matter what she did, however, neither Mom nor her Tabu had devolved to our current level of Ethyl Maltol and Iso Super E. I mean, the perfumes had got some backbone. She didn’t have to welcome Betty into a miasma of fish and Baby Doll. So yes, maybe Mr. Gabler’s got a point. If we even smell like we’ve regressed, then maybe we have.
I wonder what Einstein smelled like.