- - Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Too made-up

“The fashion shoot, by photographer Greg Kadel for Numero magazine, shows fair-skinned Lancome model Constance Jablonski in a succession of afro wigs and decidedly darkened skin … is this merely a slightly tongue-in-cheek shoot attempting to encourage debate, or is it, in fact, racist?

“This is by no means the first fashion campaign in which a model’s skin has been darkened; Vogue Paris, V magazine and America’s Next Top Model have all courted controversy by using make-up to change a model’s race. …

“Why, then, do shoots like this leave such a bad taste in the mouth? Is the problem that Caucasian women are still massively overrepresented in the fashion world? … it is easy to see why Naomi Campbell and others continually complain of racism in the industry … The obvious question in light of this is: why didn’t Numero just use a black model?”

Sophie Cullinane, writing on “Why Do Magazines Cast White Models To Portray Black Women?” on Sept. 29 at Grazia

Myths reign

“Contrary to the message of ‘Agora,’ Hypatia’s murder didn’t extinguish learning, nor end civilization. Scholars in Alexandria couldn’t put the legions back on the Rhine. Barbarians had already invaded the Empire; the Goths had sacked Rome five years before Hypatia’s death. Some knowledge survived the Western Empire’s fall because the Church maintained it. More Greek learning survived in the Christian East and seeped back westward over the next millennium. Philosophy benefited from these infusions more than any other discipline.

“Ancient science was mostly theory, but medieval Europeans put technology to work on an unprecedented scale. They harnessed wind and water power and made advances in agriculture, metallurgy, shipbuilding, optics, weaponry and machine design beyond what the ancients had known. Without these developments and the Christian view of an orderly cosmos passing through linear time, modern science would never have emerged.

“But the myth of faith as the enemy of reason has been popular since the Enlightenment. ‘Agora’ simply repackages Edward Gibbon’s ‘triumph of barbarism and religion’ over superior pagan culture — this time with cgi effects.

Sandra Miesel, writing on “Agora-phobia: The True Story of Hypatia” on Sept. 24 at Ignatius Insight

Sowell skeptic

“So why do intellectuals often seem so lacking in common sense? [Thomas] Sowell thinks it goes with the job — literally … . The ideas dispensed by intellectuals aren’t subject to ‘external’ checks or exposed to the test of ‘verifiability’ (apart from what ‘like-minded individuals’ find ‘plausible’), and so intellectuals are not really ‘accountable’ … .

“But I’m skeptical that the world is divided between professors of comparative literature talking only to themselves, and real people, facing the test of the market. We have a whole lot of middle managers in large corporations … who spend most of their time reading and writing memos. Is it true that these people are accountable for the opinions that guide their decisions? … Corporations may face market discipline, but that doesn’t mean every manager (let alone every employee) has to focus on how to improve sales.

“On the other hand, it is not quite true, even among tenured professors in the humanities, that idea-mongers can entirely ignore ‘external’ checks. Even academics want to be respectable, which means they can’t entirely ignore the realities that others notice. There were lots of academics talking about the achievements of socialism in the 1970s (I can remember them), but very few talking that way after China and Russia repudiated these fantasies.”

Jeremy Rabkin, writing on “Can’t Live With Them,” in the September issue of the American Spectator

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