Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Marie Antoinette and Conrad Black Trial

Why is there no male equivalent to the "Marie Antoinette" archetype?

This week Christopher Hitchens writes in Slate about the outcome of the Conrad Black trial. Of course, he spends more ink on Barbara Amiel, Black's wife, than on Black himself. Here's an excerpt:

"Lady Black, the former glamour-puss Barbara Amiel, turns out to be one of these women who are insatiable. Insatiable in the Imelda Marcos way, I mean. Never mind the mammoth tab for her birthday dinner in New York, where it's at least arguable that business was discussed. Never mind the extra wings that had to be built onto her homes just to accommodate the ball gowns and shoes. What about the time she was on a Concorde that stubbornly remained on the tarmac at London airport? Irked at the delay, she telephoned the chairman of British Airways, Lord King, to demand action and—failing to get crisp service from him—announced that she would never fly the airline again. This, in turn, meant the acquisition by Hollinger Securities of a private jet for her. And this, in turn, meant the installation of an extra lavatory on the aforesaid private jet, at a cost of half a million dollars, so that Lady Black wouldn't have to be inconvenienced by the crew members coming down the fuselage to use the existing one.

It's that last touch that promotes her into the ranks once described by the novelist Joyce Cary: the people who utter what he called "tumbrel remarks." A tumbrel remark, as you may have guessed, is the sort of observation made by the uncontrollably rich that is likely to unleash class warfare. Marie Antoinette's advice on cake is the original. Barbara Bush, on the upgraded accommodations for Katrina refugees in the Houston Astrodome, is a good recent example. Lady Diana Cooper, when approached by a ragged man who said he hadn't eaten for three days, upbraided him roundly and said: "But my dear man, you must try. If necessary, you must force yourself." You get the picture? "You are good enough to fly me, but not good enough to use my loo" is well up in this class. On another celebrated occasion, wishing to consult one of two women who worked for her husband and had similar names, she had one of them summoned to her home and, on discovering that she'd made a mistake, trilled peevishly: "No, you're the wrong one. I want the other one." I want, I want …"

Note that all of Hitchen's examples of people making "tumbrel" remarks are women: Marie Antoinette, Barbara Bush; Lady Diana. Why is that when powerful women have huge desires and demands, women in positions of power and wealth that are able to satisfy those gigantic desires, they are then hated and reviled. And they are often blamed for the downfall of a man that loves them. Is it some aversion to female desire?? Some instinct to keep a limit on it? There is no male equivalent: the wealthy, powerful man who has outrageous material desires is not as offensive to the average psyche: Donald Trump, or any other powerful CEO. Witness this week's New York Times article on Sanford Weill and other very wealthy male CEO's "The Richest of the Rich: Proud of a New Gilded Age," which paints its portraits in rather glowing terms.

Conrad Black himself mentions Marie Antoinette in the reaction to him and his wife:

From the International Herald Tribune, July 16, 2007: "[I]n an interview in 2004, after his ouster from the company, Black said of his wife: "The attempt to portray her as a Marie Antoinette and me as a supine love-struck spouse, like most comment on the subject, is a complete fiction."

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