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September 17, 2019 | Rome, Italy

Slut-chic

By | 2018-03-21T18:38:55+02:00 December 13th, 2009|Area 51|
Strip-club chic promotes sluts, whores and philanderers.
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uclear submarines and an outspoken prime minister helped me fall for the New Zealander who lived on Via del Panico. The prime minister was David Lange. His “mouse-that-roared” refusal to allow U.S. nuclear submarines to dock in New Zealand ports exasperated American President Ronald Reagan, which in turn thrilled my friend.

Our debate over American pretenses and fissionable material produced a kiss and an island weekend that made for more. The dalliance lasted until my companion found out. Her fierce slap sent my glasses flying and appropriately flattened my ego. The affair ended.

I later wondered why the girl from Via del Panico had gotten under my skin. Thirty is an urgent age, and a reckless one. Infatuation doesn’t necessarily pick and choose between submarines and stilettos. Flirtation’s best projects amuse themselves with both.

Along those lines, Time Magazine‘s first Woman of the Year wasn’t Marilyn Monroe or Eleanor Roosevelt but Bessie Wallis Warfield, better known as Wallis Simpson, or just Mrs. Simpson.

The (twice) married American socialite made Time‘s annual cover (between Haile Selassie and Josef Stalin) thanks to a shocking affair with a man named Edward, who happened to be Prince of Wales and later King of England. When she divorced Mr. Simpson, he quit the throne to marry her.

Gossip could hardly contain the public and religious hubbub.

Here was a snobby, night-clubbing American woman known for seductions corralling a night-clubbing, womanizing English nobleman next in line to British throne (“For some hereditary or physiological reason his normal mental development stopped dead when he reached adolescence,” Edward’s private secretary would later write cruelly).

Royal shenanigans, more outrageous the 1930s than in the Diana 1990s, fell into the global Depression’s gladdened lap.

A married American? It was all so deliciously… vulgar.

And Time was agog. “No woman in history has ever equaled Mrs. Simpson, for no press or radio existed to spread the world news they made…”

Transmission has since been fruitful and multiplied, and with it vulgarity. The irony of Time‘s discreetly nasty swipe at Wallis — “She resolved early to make men her career.” — would hardly register today. Celebrity kitsch and its outsized libido supplant what’s left of discretion.

When Vogue magazine’s Sally Singer was recently asked to describe the work of a young New York fashion designer named Alexander Wang, she came up with two words: “humorously slutty.”

While the Mrs. Simpson era parked sexual imagination behind bedroom doors to keep fantasy on a leash, the new slut-chic manufactures feral whores and philanderers as comic book celebrities whose organs and orifices are ever-ready for profit, publicity and low-rent masturbation. Legislating against the caricature begs a different kind of extremism.

Still, it’s a long, long way from nuclear subs. Not to mention ladies and gentlemen.

Though Edward’s weakness for Mrs. Simpson had much to do with sexual attraction, it was discretion that paradoxically ramped up the erotic charge. What you didn’t know you guessed at. What you weren’t told you imagined. Whistles aimed at slick legs intimated more. But the more would pollute the spell. The teasing musicals and romantic comedies of the 1930s and 40s depended on protecting intimation against too much adrenaline.

In writing about Mrs. Simpson, Time was careful to hew to the mores of the day. It acidly turned the man-eating divorcee into a vain but docile housewife: “From the moment King George V died, [Simpson] began to ‘help’ infatuated King Edward VIII, according to her lights,” wrote the magazine. “She helped him to spend thousands of guineas royally, imperially, wildly; and she helped him to pinch pennies, convincing His Majesty that in housekeeping she is most economical. Together they cruised the Balkans in one of the world’s costliest yachts, they ransacked Carrier’s in Paris for diadems, in October they picked out the ermine skins recently made up in London for Mrs. Simpson’s Christmas…”

Getting housekeeping, thrift, yachts, diadems, pennies, Paris and Christmas into one vivid paragraph was a drooling feat. “According to her lights” was a nice handful of words.

The anti-intimation era drools differently. It is less inclined to dwell on Paris or London (runway models excluded) than to broadcast the deployment of sexual anatomy, with soul-searching included to deflect from wholesale voyeurism. Yet organs are organs. Original or embellished, their depth has limits.

Dwell without end on basic instinct and you risk forgetting those who bucked the prevailing sexual and social orthodoxy without indulging the call of the wild. Though no charmer, Mrs. Simpson wasn’t driven by whorehouse imperatives.

She and her “retired” husband were were joined by elitism, a love of travel, and one another’s company. Lo and behold they stuck together.

About the Author:

Christopher P. Winner
Christopher P. Winner is a veteran American journalist and essayist who was born in Paris and has lived in Europe for more than 30 years.

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