Napa Valley Updates

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


In 1909 Australian Annette Kellerman was arrested on a Boston beach.&nb sp; Her crime? A polio victim, she'd taken up swimming to strengthen her legs. One day she wore a tight fitting black wool one-piece suit which did away with the traditional skirts and sleeves which were de rigueur for women's bathing costumes.

"I can't swim wearing more stuff than you hang on a clothesline", The Diving Venus, complained. The women's one-piece swimsuit had arrived. Western civilization was headed towards perdition.

Call it the Bikini Syndrome, even though it came 37 years before the actual Bikini. A Frenchman, Louis Reard invented the Bikini in 1946. He created a bathing costume so skimpy that it was first called Atome--in reference to the Atom Bomb which had just been exploded on Bikini Atoll. Though his design was a "bombshell,” he named it after the island, not the device.

When asked to describe what constituted a "true bikini", he said it wasn't a bikini unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring. Gotta’ love the French.

Guys like me have to be aware of the Bikini Syndrome. Not because we are inveterate lechers--we are. But because we are prone to see new ideas and new ways of thinking as the end of civilization as we know it.

This is not about the virtues (or lack thereof) of swimsuit fashions. It is about how we react to changing fashions and changing times.

As we age, we gain wisdom in almost every area except one--that the young will inevitably demand that the world be different than the one we brought them into. We will resist.

This is most apparent in the world of fashion and language, but pertains to politics, religion, art, literature, culture, education, manners--you name it. From the beginning of time, each generation is convinced that the generation following it has worse manners, is less well educated and more licentious.

Yet, there is such a thing as good and evil--right and20wrong--civility and incivility--kindness and meanness. Despite pop psychology, not all things are relative. As Herman Marcuse postulated, there are "Real truths and false truths". It is the job of the civilized man to discern the difference.

As we've learned from the Bikini Syndrome, civilization doesn't end each time a different generation decides to show more skin than the previous one. Excess skin never did make young girls the slatterns their parents thought they were. As a father of two daughters I know: Another man's daughter in a bikini looks racy, whereas mine embraces the innocence of the youthful flowering of womanhood. (When my kid brings her laundry home, it contains tons of outfits—ounces of fabric).

Does anybody remember the 60's? Entire families were torn apart over hair. Boys were thrown out on the street for growing hair on their faces--girls for letting it grow under their arms or on their legs. Each act was considered a sin against both nature and America.

A s we age, how do we discern the difference between "Real Truths" and "False Truths"? Are tattoos and piercing the same as hair in the 60's or the advent of the two piece suit in the 40's?

How about drugs--to say nothing of unfettered sex in magazines, on TV, in the Movies and of course, the Internet?
Are these just signs of youth thumbing their noses at us old folks, or are they destroying the fabric of society as we know it?

What is clear, is that man and civilization tend to survive. The question becomes in what form?

In 450 B.C. democracy flourished in Athens. With the exception of some isolated instances, we didn't see it again, until 1776. What happened?

Is it fair to assume that certain types of behavior are more conducive to a democratic life than one under totalitarian rule? Free people agree to follow certain rules. They embrace certain "Truths"—such as Freedom of Speech, an independent judiciary and20the enforcement of contracts. Those in a totalitarian state need only follow the dictates of the "Big Guy". In other words, arresting Annette Kellerman--bad. Arresting Saddam--good.

Fashion is one thing. Principles--another. Fashion is relative. Principles--eternal. Truth is never relative. "Truth is beauty, and beauty truth/That is all ye know and all ye need to know". Keats knew what he was saying.

The answer? Embrace the Bikini Syndrome. Hold fast to principles. The truth is unbending. When it comes to fashion, swim with the current.