In this review, Laura Thompson revels in a biography of Janet Auchincloss and her two famous-for-being-famous daughters, Jacqueline Kennedy and Lee Radziwill.
Jacqueline Kennedy and Lee Radziwill are nothing. They are nobodies. They are famous, of course, but the sole reason for their fame is that they were attached to men who did things, who had money and power, and some importance, and who mattered. Jacqueline and Lee did not matter, did not accomplish anything, and were never important, and neither was their nasty mother, Janet Achincloss. (Yes, I know that Jacqueline later became a book editor at Viking in New York. And how did she get that job? She was hired by publisher Thomas Guinzburg who was her stepbrother’s room-mate in college. At Yale. Must have been an impressive interview.)
So, in the face of the conspicuous fact that you have no accomplishments, no special skills, no talents, and no real achievements, what do you do? You create an entirely new, fake class of accomplishment, and to conceal the trick you attach language to it that makes it sound important and interesting.
Among Jackie’s sterling accomplishments as a book editor: a “memoir”– if you want to dignify it with the name– by Michael Jackson, “Moonwalk”. Vanity Fair, embarrassed by proxy, wants you to believe that she had to “endure” this task, as if someone chained her to a desk in Michael Jackson’s Foreverland for the duration.)*
But the magic of Jackie’s aura is imperishable to this day.
This is the kind of absurdity we have to put up with about Jackie Kennedy. What is this magical aura? It is the mountain of trashy tabloid interest that create a celebrity who her worshipers believe is incredibly important because there is so much tabloid interest in her. They don’t realize that she makes the news because the tabloids made her the news because tabloid audiences want to vicariously experience the delusions of the tabloid world: that she belongs to them. That she suffers for them. That they appreciate her beauty and grace with the perversity of privilege of the voyeur. That something in their own mediocre lives can be compared to her mediocre public life, and can be just as noble, and justified, and beautiful. That fashion and jewelry really matter and that all of us deserve to be the center of attention because we are beautiful and charming and arrived in a limousine.
So consider for a moment this review, by a woman, of a book, by a woman, about three women. I don’t know if Laura Thompson thinks feminism matters or if women really are anything more than what she “celebrates” in this book, but I know she has contributed towards the uncomfortably persistent idea of there being something magnificent about women who, purely through privilege– absolutely purely through privilege– lead rich and glamorous lives. And I mean “glamorous” in the best possible way: trivial, inane, inconsequential, vain, vulgar.
As I point out in my piece on Lee Radziwill, in spite of the incredible volume of celebrity press that insists on calling the sisters “beautiful”, neither one of them really is. They have this glitz and polish that comes from proper breeding, I suppose, and they know how to apply make-up in a Laura Petryish tone of 1950’s chic– or 40’s really.
And it’s a wonderfully illuminating discussion.
Jackie on her job:
It’s not as if I’ve never done anything interesting. I’ve been a reporter myself and I’ve lived through important parts of American history. I’m not the worst choice for this position.
[whohit]Ladies: the Very Elusive Charm of Lee Radziwill[/whohit]