(Or: Why Our President Is Like A Maxfield Parrish Painting)
I figured it was time to rerun this one.
When I was in junior high school I fell in love with a painting. It's official title is Reveries; but my private title for it has always been The Girl on the Swing.
You can imagine what things were like for an adolescent geek in the days before being a geek was cool. Aside from the usual travails, there was a certain difficulty that arose that I found particularly hard to bear: my (in)ability to impress girls.
Now, this is probably a very good thing. Adolescent geekiness is the most effective form of pregnancy prevention known to man; it is both salutary to the long-term success of the geek as well as being one form of birth control fully approved by God, The Blessed Mother Mary and the Roman Catholic Church.
Be that as it may, I was miserable at that age, as it seemed that She - the mysterious She whom I would spend my life with, the Woman of My Dreams - would never appear, and that I would spend my life like I spent it at fourteen, standing at the wall during the school dance, doomed to walk the world alone.
So I fell in love with The Girl On The Swing.
Maxfield Parrish was the artist: a contemporary of Norman Rockwell, Rockwell Kent, Frederick Remington, his specialty was creating beautiful, sensual, sweet, kind-appearing, chastely lovely and (ahem) fully clothed young women in poses that would not have offended Mrs. Grundy, yet carried an electric sexuality that was detectable seventy years after they were painted.
She's almost shapeless. Her female form is barely hinted at. She appears to be wearing a semi-toga, semi-bedsheet that covers her entire body from neck to toes. All you see is face, hair, arms, and a wistful and sad look downward that makes you want to approach her and make her look at you - and fall as much in love with you as you with her.
I carried this picture in my notebook throughout my junior high school days. In days where there were no girls in my life, she was my Secret Love. Any time I wanted, I could gaze on The Girl On The Swing, and she was always there, like a flower about to open.
One day, some philistine swiped the three-ring binder with her picture glued inside the front cover and artistically amended certain deficiencies, such as a hitherto unnoticed moustache, goatee, and Groucho Marx glasses. I ripped my picture out of the binder and threw it away in a rage: how DARE they spoil this timeless beauty?
Now, my rage and grief were of course absurd, for the girl was not a girl. The Girl On The Swing was truly an Unperson: she did not exist, she had never existed. She was all those things that I saw in her because of (a) the technical skill of an artist long dead and (b) my own wants, dreams and desires. This girl in the picture represented everything about Woman that I wanted to know... and yet she was not a girl at all. It was an image, a painting, a swath of dried chemicals cunningly rendered.
I eventually grew up and left the Girl on the Swing behind. I came to know, and (sometimes, rarely) even fell in love with, real women--three dimensional, living, breathing reality. Some were as prosaic as pumpkins; some were as sweet as apples on Christmas day, some were delicate as roses; but none of them were remotely like The Girl On The Swing.
In particular, the wonderful woman I met and married and who bore my children bears absolutely no resemblance to her. And I mean this in the best possible way: for The Girl On The Swing is just a representation of wants; she cannot possibly love back.
She is.... a lie.
A beautiful lie, but a lie.
For the picture was not a person, just a focal point of my desires.
Now, a similar point is made in the Harry Potter series. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry, on Christmas day, encounters a very special magical item: the Mirror of Erised. And yes, this is relevant. From the endlessly plagiarizable Wikipedia:
On it is inscribed, erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi — which, when reversed and correctly spaced, reads I show not your face but your heart's desire. Harry, upon encountering the Mirror, can see his parents, as well as what appears to be a crowd of relatives; Ron sees himself as Head Boy and Quidditch Captain holding the Quidditch Cup (thus revealing his wish to be acknowledged out of the shadow of his highly successful older brothers, as well as his more popular friend, Harry). Dumbledore cautions Harry that the mirror gives neither knowledge nor truth and that men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they see.Yes. And try to imagine, if you will, the reaction a man, addicted to sitting in front of the Mirror of Erised, when some prankster casts a stone through its glass: rage and vengeance would be left him, with his illusions taken away.
And this is why Barack Obama is so dangerous. He is like the Girl On The Swing, like The Mirror of Erised.
My good friend Jim, a university teacher in the DC area, pointed this out to me back in May [of 2008]. The front page of the Washington Post that Sunday morning featured a young college aged woman reacting to Obama as if she were a thirteen year old girl meeting Justin Bieber.
In spite of his manifest lack of ability as President, he has, somehow, become a natural focal point of millions, or even billions, of people's desires. People see in him not what is, but what they dearly want him to be and themselves to become.
One remembers the one good scene from the otherwise execrable movie Nixon: a drunken Tricky Dick, played by Anthony Hopkins, looks at a portrait of John F. Kennedy in the White House, and says, "When men looked at you they saw what they wanted to be. When they look at me they see what they are." And it is in this way, and this way only, that President Obama resembles his predecessor of fifty years past.
Barack Obama, age 48, former community organizer and elected nobody, is, in fact, nothing in his own right, except that he is but a mirror. He is manifestedly a great nobody - clothes which contain no Emperor, not a Being of Light, but a Being of Emptiness, filled only with our desires.
And this makes him the most profoundly dangerous kind of politician of all. Combine that level of ability to cause obsession with ambition and power, he becomes a profound threat to the Republic. For to oppose him is not merely to oppose a political figure, it is to oppose the desires and needs of his millions of followers.
Let me be perfectly oblique: it is when someone casts a stone through our Mirror of Amabo, shattering the reflection, that things become most volatile. People will not give up their illusions easily.
Those who would mock and criticize him should beware: they should remember the story of The Emperor's New Clothes, particularly the last part that they don't tell children.
To wit: "And the King's Guards arrested the little boy and he was never heard from again."
And it could be dangerous for him as well. Christ help him (and us) when--not if, when--the illusion is shattered: for in the end Obama is only a man. Not a god. A man.
And God help us if anyone treats him in the way the image of my Girl was.
ADDENDUM: Since this article was first written in 2009 there have been some changes. Clearly the bloom is off the rose of most people's fanatical love for this unworthy man--not everyone, but enough people, now see the man for what he is: a swath of chemicals cunningly rendered, and not the Christ--or anti-Christ--of two years ago. This is a good thing. Men on horseback are the last enemy of democracy.