Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Is The Grass Always Greener?

Alexander McQueen was one of the most well respected English fashion designers in recent history with outlandish designs and widespread success. From the outside his life seemed to be perfect. His career was moving exceptionally fast as he was propelled into the lime light after starting his own line titled after himself and most recently he was preparing to debut his second line called McQ. He enjoyed his privacy and rarely granted interviews or made himself accessible to the media. But all of this fame and fortune could not hide the troubles he was dealing with in his life. Five days ago the young designer was found dead of an apparent suicide on the same day he was to debut his McQ line and most likely be greeted with critical acclaim.

I can’t help but make the comparison between Alexander McQueen and “Richard Cory” by Edwin Arlington Robinson. Everyone thought Richard Cory lived a good life because he was richer than a king and looked as though everything was in place.
And he was rich, yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine -- we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

But clearly he did not feel his life was as perfect as everyone else thought it was because he put a bullet in his head at the end of the poem. We must ask ourselves the age old question of whether or not the grass really is greener on the other side?

Both of these stories tell us that no one ever really knows the secrets a person can hide and riches and fame don’t necessarily equate perfect happiness. It was a sad ending to Alexander McQueen’s life and career and as it was for Richard Cory, we should not assume a person’s life is perfect simply because they walk down the street with a smile on their face.
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet in his head.


  1. It's interesting to think about how this particular narrative--the I'm-so-bummed-out-even-though-I'm-rich-and-famous narrative--has become a stock one in celebrity culture. Alexander McQueen, Kurt Cobain, Ian Curtis, Jack Kerouac, Richard Cory. (All men in this case, interestingly. What would Gilman think?) The list goes on and on. What I'm wondering is if we can be reasonably skeptical of this narrative. Is there another way to read these figures than as closeted depressives. Thoughts?

  2. Following the themes of modernism emerging from elements of romanticism and naturalism, I feel as if the modern world that poets such as Arlington depict in works like Richard Cory is really one of alienation and confusion. No longer are things clean cut and simple, such as the natural world suggested to us during the Romantic era. Now, we have taken the focus away from natural order to things of human creation- in this case, money and success ("success" is a completely subjective, invented notion by people like us). The end result, in my opinion, is an alienation from our state of being. There are so many human-created layers, of success, status and self worth, that we lose touch with our true nature. We forget to just be.

    In Alexander McQueen's case, I feel as if he was vastly misunderstood. A friend pointed out to me that his latest collections were becoming increasingly disturbing and that they were characteristic of someone who had "lost faith in the world". Some of his creations as of late were downright disturbing. For Fall 2009, the runway was staged as a garbage dump, where models wore pieces of metal (hubcaps and such) as headwear. Models wore grossly large wax lips, perhaps fixed in a sneer or mockery of what is considered fashion in a world so focused on money and status; that anything goes, as long as it sells. McQueen, by some personal inkling, never struck me as someone who lived in his world, but someone who created his world to make a statement- after each show, he would appear to his audience of eager department store buyers in plain jeans and a white button-down, hardly matching the extravagance of his own creation. To me, his statement was "what have we become"? His death especially bothered me because I thought of him as a casualty to our society. He struggled to make sense of the world we live in, and ultimately was consumed by its confusion and its superficiality.

    Is there no room left in the world for the romantic?

  3. Is there no room left in the world for the romantic?

    Good question, Andrew.

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  5. I think Phillip's point is a good one and one that we see often repeated in some of these works.

    It actually reminded me a little of "The Yellow Wallpaper." Going along with the theme of alienation that we find in so many of these works is also a theme of misunderstanding. Just like the people on the street didn't understand Cory, people didn't understand mental illness. I think society is always trying to place their own views on people without truly knowing what's going on inside their mind.

    With "The Yellow Wallpaper," everyone was trying to tell the woman that she just needed rest and that she should do absolutely nothing, including write. Little did they know that writing was what she actually needed to do. In the same way that Charlotte Perkins Gilman changed the way society views mental disorders, Arlington also kind of changes the way we look at each other.