Friday, January 4, 2013
Bright Young People
The Kardashians are not original. Before they infected our tabloids there were Studio 54 denizens who were famous by proxy and before that fur-and-diamond wearing socialites and social climbers. Even they weren't the first superstars who were famous for being famous. Nearly 100 years ago, British newspapers breathlessly followed the exploits - real and imagined - of the Bright Young People. A strange mix of the titled, the noveau riche, and pretenders to both titles, they flitted from party to manor house to elaborate practical joke, entrancing the public and (in some cases) horrifying staid parents. DJ Taylor engagingly catalogs the parties and scandals, but was perhaps a bit too even-handed in applying attention to the range of characters. Perhaps that's because Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell were on the edge of the group, and the Mitford sisters (save Diana) were too young to fully participate in the social whirl. Elizabeth Ponsoby and Brenda Dean Paul, on the other hand, staggered from party to scandal to salacious exploit, and they feature more prominently in Taylor's book than the truly accomplished members of their generation. In a way it's comforting to see how prominent they were and contrast that with how obscure they now are. It gives me hope that in a dozen years or so, the "reality" TV starlets who infect the magazine covers I see while buying groceries will have faded in to blessed obscurity.