Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
August 22, 2008
There he was, the infamous Oscar Wilde, Englishman, playwright, author of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and practitioner of “the love that dare not speak its name,” standing on a stage in front of Harvard’s finest 1880s freshmen.
In an attempt to ridicule Wilde, the fledglings had copied his dress, which on any given day might have consisted of “velvet coat edged with braid, knee breeches, buckle shoes, a soft silk shirt with a wide turned-down collar, and a large flowing green tie.” Experienced pederast that he was, Wilde was even more practiced with a quick put-down, and his reply to the unbridled misdirection of youth was to say, “Conformity is the tribute mediocrity pays to genius.”
It would have been tough for Oscar Wilde to get a beer at the Red Onion without also catching an earful of flack, and he’d have no doubt been laughed down the street to the Paragon. But he’d have kept coming back until the crusty crowd at the Onion began to sidle up to him just for the B.S. he could peddle. Whatever you may think of Oscar Wilde, he was a force of change in the arts and in society in general, at a time when England was floundering in the Industrial Revolution.
Before you think I’m boring you to death, flash forward to today. There is an unattractive scourge upon the valley floor beneath our majestic mountains, as Aspen deteriorates in uninviting social change brought on by both a plethora of easy money and a lack of self-esteem in the newly rich. Just as the industrial revolution severely sabotaged both creativity and enlightened thinking, so too are we now draining the creative juice out of our community, sapping the versatility that once made Aspen attractive to so many.
The “money revolution” has us by the short hairs, and our escape from the strangling grasp that such narrowness of focus precipitates doesn’t appear forthcoming. This money revolution is spawning conformity of the worst kind, and certainly no one is brave (stupid?) enough to step forward and claim to be the genius worthy of such genuflection.
As an example, every new house built in the past few years looks the same, which is to say, too big. But, hell, a guy can’t afford to build a smaller house, not in terms of street credibility with his friends and in resale value. It’d be short-sighted to do it any other way. Energy pits of the worst kind, these houses require fleets of relative peasants to keep them going. We have lost the distinction between “value” and “lots of money.”
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And worst of all, these huge second- or third- or fourth-home neighborhoods are dead, full of much ugliness, devoid of personality and lacking in vitality, simply because the owners are seldom home. Occasionally, someone throws the semi-seasonal party.
Don’t get me wrong, we have some excellent creative “houses” around town such as the Aspen Music School, the Aspen Art Museum, the Aspen Historical Society, excellent galleries and many creative artists, musicians and writers. But no matter how great those endeavors and people are, they are somewhat akin to a canoe paddling out to sea in the face of a tidal wave of greedy excess. With the constant “dumbing down” of our little burg, much of it by mediocre-thinking, crass people who believe that money can buy whatever’s needed, we profoundly risk losing the freshness and individuality of perception one expects from great art.
What we need is a visionary, a misfit like Oscar Wilde, who isn’t afraid to fly in the face of dull thinking, someone who, far from being an elitist, can get us off the track, out of the box, and into a new, more exciting realm of adventure. Tiresome paradigms beg change.
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