Cole Porter

Whither 'high society'?

The mysteriously alluring and exclusive Bailey’s Beach (official name Spouting Rock Beach Association), in Newport. “Rejects’ Beach’’ is in foreground.

The mysteriously alluring and exclusive Bailey’s Beach (official name Spouting Rock Beach Association), in Newport. “Rejects’ Beach’’ is in foreground.

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in

GoLocal readers may have read last week of the death of Marion “Oatsie” Charles at the age of (I think) 98. She seems to have been about the last of the great Newport and Washington, D.C., socialite hostesses – a vestige of the old “WASP Ascendancy’’: old money (once stinking new!), clubs (many of them for a long time anti-Semitic and even anti-Catholic), The Social Register, boarding schools, Ivy League colleges and debutante parties.

One thinks of the world parodied in High Society, the 1956 movie, set in Newport and with songs by that world’s poet laureate, Cole Porter.

Marion Charles was apparently a nice, amusing and resilient lady, though her world had plenty of social bigotry and cutting cruelty. So what about the new-money folks (money from, for instance, hedge funds and other Wall Street creatures and Silicon Valley) that are the foundation of the new high society in Newport and other watering holes of the rich, if there is such a high society anymore? I would say that they’re less bigoted, more informal, more impatient, at least as arrogant, and less polite than Oatsie Charles’s crowd.

It will fun to see how they change the mores of such old-money Newport clubs as Bailey’s Beach and the Reading Room. And change them they will: Money wins in the end.

Chris Powell: Too much even for Cole Porter?

Until a few weeks ago the Connecticut Department of Children and Families was using its Internet site to propagandize children about sex and politics by publicizing a list of purported definitions of sexual terms.

The definitions held that every form of sexual expression and conduct is normal except one and that anyone who questions anything sexual is an enemy of the people. The one purportedly sexual deviancy admitted by the list was interest in guns. "Someone who has an unnatural romantic relation with firearms or affection for or love of firearms" was termed an "ammosexual."

"Binary sex" was defined as "a traditional and outdated view of sex, limiting possibilities to 'female' or 'male.'" The supposedly proper outlook was reflected by the term "gender gifted" -- "a person whose capacity for gender expression exceeds the binary." Such people, according to the list, might better be described with a new gender-neutral pronoun, not by "he" or "she" but rather "ze."

Even a few ordinary words were redefined and sharply narrowed in their meaning by the list. "Advocate" became "a person who works to end intolerance, educate others, and support social equity for a group," while "ally" became "any non-lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender person who supports the rights of LGBT people."

The list forbade use of a few sexual terms as disrespectful even as it advocated a disrespectful term of its own: "gayby," the baby of a same-sex couple, as if babies need to be classified according to the gender of their parents. (What are the children of "gender-gifted" parents to be called? Thankfully the list didn't say.)

It's good that the country has become more libertarian about entirely personal matters. No one really needs to care much that, for example, some men want to dress as women and some women want to dress as men. But whose bathrooms they use is another matter.

For it is one thing to tell children that much of gender is a social construct, that sexuality can be fluid and mysterious, that gender dysphoria is a phenomenon deserving scientific study, and that it may be best to be kind to people and refrain from unnecessary judgments. It is something else to tell children that social norms have no legitimacy, that people must be politically correct, and that the only perverts are people who support the Second Amendment.

Even the songwriter Cole Porter, who, in a repressive era, still managed to enjoy plenty of extravagance, including sexual extravagance, recognized lyrically, in this song “Anything Goes,’’  the necessity of a little social order.


In olden days a glimpse of stocking

Was looked on as something shocking.

But now, God knows --

Anything goes. ...

The world has gone mad today

And good's bad today

And black's white today

And day's night today

And that gent today

You gave a cent today

Once had several chateaux.

The sexual-definitions page on the DCF internet site was disclosed by an internet site, the Daily Caller, whose report was publicized by the Connecticut Capitol Report Internet site, whereupon the department recognized the content's inappropriateness for children or at least its political indefensibility and removed it.

A DCF spokesman told the Journal Inquirer that the department had no idea where the definitions came from or who was responsible for conferring the department's endorsement on them and that it would be impossible to find out. This only raised suspicion that the department didn't want to know and that, as its troublesome record suggests, its attitude remains that even with children anything goes.

Chris Powell, an essayist on cultural and political topics, is also managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.


'It might as well be spring'

Lori "Leaving Dennis at Dusk'' (oil on canvas), by C.J. LORI, in the show "Leaving,'' at Galatea Fine Art, Boston, May 1-31.

I can't remember for a long time a landscape so beaten down by a brutal winter as this year's -- flattened shrubs, broken tree branches, etc.  Of course, we bring our own sense of being beaten down to it.

Still, as the grass turns green  on south-facing slopes,  the crocuses fade and the tulips push up,  it seems that when full spring arrives this year, it will be  particularly lush.  I vividly remember the spring of 1961, after a bad  winter, though not as bad as they one we just went through. (There were only three huge storms in the  winter of 1960-61. One was the famous Kennedy Inauguration Snowstorm.)

It seemed as if the big elm, maples and oak trees would never leaf out, and then, in about two days in the first week of May, there was a green explosion in the western Boston suburb where I found myself living. The next few weeks were so breezy, warm, lush and deliciously melancholic that it was virtually impossible to focus on such June horrors as final exams.

On some days, there were blizzards of  dogwood petals. As a line from the Rodgers and Hammerstein song "It Might as Well Be Spring'' had it: "I feel so gay in a melancholy way that it might as well be spring.''

That was written for a 1945 move called State Fair, and the word "gay'' merely meant happy, though Cole Porter, himself gay,  used the word in a different way in a 1941 song called "Farming''. He was making fun of the many celebrities buying country places in such places as Fairfield and Litchfield counties, in Connecticut, upper Westchester County, N.Y., and New Hope, Pa.

His line goes:

Don't inquire of Georgie Raft Why his cow has never calfed, Georgie's bull is beautiful, but he's gay!

George Raft was a gangster-movie star of the time.

Ah, the great  evolutionary glories of the English language!

--- Robert Whitcomb


Putin has big plans for it


From the show "Russian Photography: Siberia Imagined and Reimagined,'' at the Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, Mass., through Jan. 10.

The museum explains that the show "brings  {new} photographs of Siberia by Russian photographers to the American public for the first time. Countless images of Siberia by non-Russian photographers have been published and those depictions have shaped perceptions around the world. 'Siberia Imagined and Reimagined' offers an insider’s view.''

No Gulag pictures in this show!

Cole Porter, in his musical "Silk Stockings,'' had a song called "Siberia,'' in which one of the lines was that in Siberia, "you never have to send out for ice.''