The green silk bomber

Tucked inside the shallowness, an essential truth about the power of commodity:

But there is more going on here, and it’s being ignored by detractors and defenders alike. The problem is not that Melania Trump wore an unsuitable, blithely out-of-touch outfit, although she did. The problem is that this administration turns every event — no matter how dire — into a kind of anesthetized luxury fashion shoot, which leads us to some disturbing political truths.

Fashion-magazine layouts have a particular feel to them. We know it well: stylized, blank, alluring in an anonymous way, suggestive of sex, but devoid of sensuality or personal emotion. The photographs draw us in, but the models don’t return our gaze. Instead, they tend to wear a kind of frozen, faraway gaze, a look that frees us to gawk unashamedly, without fear of being caught staring. Fashion models feign ignorance of the camera lens in order to signal that we are not their interlocutors, but rather voyeurs whose desires are roused only to be rechanneled toward the items for sale (clothes, jewels, handbags, etc.).

Such photos exist to cast the fetishizing spell of the commodity over us. They create, that is, a dissociative relationship with the viewer. And while Melania Trump was known to have been somewhat stiff as a model, she has clearly mastered that squinty, middle-distance gaze, which she regularly employs as First Lady.

Just so. The disassociation creates allowances for so much – what it takes to make what we use/eat/wear; what happens to the packaging – 40 seconds of use, 75 years in a landfill (or ocean); where does the gas/electricity comes from; what those processes are doing to the planet. We allow ourselves to be cut off from these things, conforming to a genre of existential hypnosis such that we cannot sense who we are and instead access an affinity for emptiness repackaged as fulfillment. Fearing anything that might soil our golden view, we reach for something far more depressing. And all the while, so much of this can be easily fixed. What are your associations?

Train epilogue

Sometimes in an airport, you can feel like you’re anyplace, or no where in particular. The same can be said of the exits off of any major interstate, with their full compliment of fast-whatever offerings.

So, to spend 15 hours on a train crossing a large swath of the country in few ways resembles the same trip by car or plane. But of course, rail travel diverges from the other two in non-trivial ways right out of the gate, or station, such as they are.

First trains are all about a schedule; you leave at a certain time and arrive elsewhere at a certain time. This certainty is where the airline version can and does go off the rails with great frequency, and its anti-thesis is exactly the point of a car trip. Auto excursions are self-defining; in theory, we travel by car in order to chart our own course, in space and time, to eschew the very idea of a schedule. It’s supposed to be liberating, this idea of freedom and, except for the extraordinary telecommunications tools that become necessary (cell phones, GPS navigation, etc., not to mention the portable DVD players to distract passengers from the monotony) as a result, I guess it is. There is a case to be made that we have created a need for highly complex communications systems exactly because we have fouled up our transportation systems so badly, but I won’t make it here.

But back to those 15 hours… were they lost? This question belies the mythical crux of our ability and desire to move about, and the associated problems our choices have created. With no internet connection or TV, I was out of of touch in modern parlance, except, curiously, with the other people in my sleeper compartment. Laughter, conversation, meals, sleeping – these have their place, though we have dethroned them to a great extent, and we all know it. Sharing a constantly changing view out of the window with your family presents an opportunity we could all get to know better. So if the crux is about defining productivity up or down, you be the judge.

And we got there, on a schedule everyone could follow without a lot of last minute calls. We were picked up, by other family. It was a nice reunion, limited to those present; we were rested and in a different place, a very specific place, along with our luggage and all manner of souvenirs from the city. The energy that often gets sucked up by the stress of these other individual elements of travel, we could instead employ elsewhere.