Fabulous didn’t die after Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast, it didn’t die when the economy collapsed, and it didn’t die during this election season. The Death of Fabulousness occurred on the Friday night of 2012 Gay Pride. I’d been invited to a big, queer bash, sponsored by one of the trendiest, gay hotels in the country, and entered a room of forced thrills. The only people who looked remotely interested in the party were the hosts, and they didn’t seem aware of anyone but themselves.
The guests, mostly straight, mostly drab and suburban, looked desperate to have fun, not surprising since the drinks weren’t free, the rain outside was still on their clothes, the DJ’s were irritable. Although the party had been hyped for at least a month as an exclusive Gay Pride event, anyone could get in for a fee, VIP’s were just like regular folks, and there was no food or reserved tables or back rooms or post-party affairs. It was a bit like going to an exclusive, fabulous event at the Olive Garden, minus the unlimited breadsticks.
If anyone thinks Studio 54 days are coming back, think again. New York’s only equivalent to the original club is XL Nightclub, and it’s a nice, chic, smart spot opened by the old Roxy promoters that only takes an I.D. to get into and never seems packed. Streisand’s not showing up at clubs unless it’s a promotion, and her concerts, once considered Bucket List material, don’t sell out. Liza’s (thankfully) playing it straight, while her mother’s legendary life has thrown up on itself—literally—in Broadway’s End of the Rainbow. Once video vixens like Mariah and Britney and Christina are now teachers, instructing newcomers how to, perhaps, get a reality show of their own one day.
“Glamour” has always coupled with fabulousness, and the former is now about as popular as the magazine Glamour. Even the Romneys, with all their wealth and cars and homes and horses, were hell-bent on proving they’re struggling just like you people and me. Before the 47 percent were (privately) disowned, Mitt and Ann backed off from trying to emulate Ron and Nancy, let alone John and Jackie. There was nothing glamorous about any of the debates or either convention: Even Michelle’s DNC dress took a backseat to her emotional speech. In 2012, who knew that Harvard would become a bad word unless you wear a hoodie and sneakers and get married in your backyard like Mark Zuckerberg.
If the Great Repression is anything like the Great Depression, I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have enjoyed living among the flappers and Prohibitionists and war vets. I hated the Roxy because I wasn’t pretty enough or rich enough to get in free—I had to pay and wait in line like a common criminal or, worse, a guy from Jersey. I wasn’t in New York when Studio 54 was all the rage, but I’m guessing I wouldn’t have been able to come in between Brooke and Calvin and Bianca and Bette. I did go to Elaine’s once, and was humiliated, along with the rest of my group, and thrown in the back, away from the glitter and models and expensive escorts, by a nasty fat woman who seemed pissed off we wanted to pay to eat her terrible food and lack of service. When I heard celebrities lamenting Elaine’s’ demise, it was like reading about those popular kids from high school reminiscing over cheerleader and prom days.
“Fabulous” was never a kind word, because it’s tainted with superiority and, often, self-loathing. It was never all-inclusive and that’s the point. La Dolce Vita and Halston’s life were both fabulous, and the former salutes decadence over health, while the latter stood on top of a ladder, using a diamond-tooth saw to cut off the steps of those beneath him. Never mind that he also cut off his escape. The Royal Family’s status always seemed intent on leaving the rest of us to gaze with unworthy eyes. Diana started the transformation to normalcy, tragically, and Harry put to rest any notions of Divine monarchy, as well as the royal days of Vegas.
If Anderson Cooper proved anything by coming out, it’s that “fabulous” no longer describes the gay lifestyle—even that righteous word has been omitted from the vernacular. There is something slightly marvelous about celebrities who hide, and homosexuality is the last frontier. Once the world knew that TV’s hottest anchorman was attracted to men, the story ended. With his frolicking boyfriend and meddling mother, turns out he’s just a celebrity like everyone else. Gone are the days of Monty’s tragic beauty, Rock’s secret love affairs, or Roddy’s star-studded bohemian fests. The “star” label itself used to imply an unreachable stature until “Kardashian” became a household word and Dancing with the Stars labeled Bristol Palin a super nova…twice.
Judging by the three Presidential debates, gay people aren’t even extreme. Never mind The New Normal and Modern Family, when a sitting President says he favors same-sex marriage and the issue doesn’t even get a sound bite from the Republican side, we’re as ordinary as unemployment.
Fabulousness, for all its fabulousness, has no right to exist in a time of war and economic crisis and obesity as the new black. It also doesn’t need to exist. For every fabulous trend, there’s a victim in the wings. Big cars were fabulous while pollution strangled pedestrians, martinis were fabulous until cirrhosis set in, and wealth was fabulous until the rest of us realized we were paying the price tag. We numbed ourselves of the truth during the Reagan years, with clubs and drugs and Dallas and Dynasty. We numbed ourselves of the truth during the Bush Years, with misplaced patriotism standing in as glorious opulence. By the time a black man got to office, the country turned full circle. We are starting from scratch.
Woody Allen, the antithesis of fabulousness, yet somehow a movie-maker for the marvelous elite, deconstructed the notion of Beautiful People in Midnight in Paris, showing us a 1920s City of Light no more polished than modern times. Allen himself has lost his intellectually superior following, and it’s not because of the scandal. New York is no longer a city of Left Wing and Right Wing and East Side and West Side; it’s a city of one, usually looking for the nearest Starbucks. If it’s insensitive to make jokes about the fat tourists who’ve taken over Times Square it’s because we’ve learned that insulting people who are lesser is no longer funny. And if you still haven’t gotten over the “decline” of 42nd Street, remember what it was like to visit back when Allen shot Manhattan, in glorious black and white.
In 1971, Simon & Garfunkel asked the question “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” in what seemed to be a desperate plea for heroic returns. The answer, we now realize, is he was never there to begin with. Accomplishments aside, we know too much about our sensational figures to celebrate them unconditionally. From DiMaggio’s own wife, to the White House, to college football teams, to today’s baseball players and bicyclists, to the Vatican, nothing’s sacred, and sometimes that’s for the best.
The substitute for fabulousness is extremism, and that’s been taken over by the Right. Ann, Sarah, Rush, Michele; they live in an isolated frat house of half-camp, half spectacle, hazing anyone gullible enough to think drinking piss is its own reward. Donald Trump isn’t even a fabulous buffoon, because that feat requires the performance skills of a vaudevillian comic, not the guy in the back pimping out the strippers. Trump 20 years ago is what Elton John is now, the end of an era in which truth is in the manner of affectation.
At our best, we’ve become a society of practicality. Like those women who ditched the pumps for sensible walking shoes, it might make us a little less pretty, but health is the reward. I, too, would love to see a return of The Good Old Days, provided I knew they existed. I don’t trust old movies and old stories to convince me that folks were more decent back in the day—more polite and mannered, yes; less informed and more bigoted and racist, another yes. As much as I would love to see someone ride a horse half-naked through the most famous nightclub in the world—which, according to Ms. Jagger, never happened—I’d hate to go back to a time of repression and back alley love. And I’d hate to exploit without recrimination the inhumane treatment of animals for our own decadent pleasure.
The path most of us are on is compromise. You can have your cake, provided you don’t eat too much, provided you make sure the eggs are organic, and provided you save enough for everyone at the table. For most gay men, bragging rights are out of fashion.
An out actor friend of mine who hit it big on TV a few years back told me that the first things his managers advised him on was not to run out and buy a Bentley or anything frivolous. He’s from a poor background, and he agreed that status symbols were inappropriate. He also stopped posting on facebook details of lavish dinner parties or black-tie affairs. Those, he said, were just cruel jabs to fans without money. Quite an about-face from Liberace’s world of glitter.
A few of us are still lost in wonderful-land. Last month I had lunch with a hopeful hot-shot in the gay scene—if such a thing still exists. He derided my fashion choices as dull, my hats as un-cool, my love of animals as an irritant, and my ancient Blackberry as “too ghetto” if I cared about visibility. Then he went back to his “meal,” and admitted he was starving himself to stay in immortal shape. His words didn’t sound fabulous at all; they sounded rather sad.
David Toussaint is the Senior Editor of GuySpy.