The Latest Unfashions

Last Saturday’s New York Times profile of literary critic/professional curmudgeon George Steiner characterized Steiner’s career as “a celebration of the virtues of being utterly out of fashion.” (Steiner modestly concurred: “I know an embarrassing lot. Terrible.”) Once again, the Times has spotted a trend. Although background research is out of fashion these days, we boldly did a Nexis search. Hard to believe how many people have been courageously bucking fashion in the past 30 days alone! Here are just 55 out of the 214 things deemed “unfashionable” in the American, British, and Australian press between March 21 and today:

1. Being loyal to one’s mentors
2. Personal sacrifice on behalf of one’s children
3. The piano accordion
4. Good speechwriting
5. Good screenwriting (in Los Angeles Times movie critic Kenneth Turan’s piece attacking Titanic)
6. The music of Andrew Lloyd Webber
7. The belief that keeping one’s job rather than changing it frequently makes one’s life and work more rewarding
8. Disliking television
9. Difficult poetry
10. Going to church
11. Being middle class
12. The literary essay
13. Folk music
14. Artistic virtuosity
15. Wine
16. Reticence
17. Caucasians and Catholics
18. Duty and obligation
19. National pride and glory
20. Making sure that nuclear energy is safe
21. Employing the jobless and providing lasting benefits for the community as a whole
22. Landscape painting
23. Fat
24. Sincerity and directness
25. Integrity
26. Love
27. A feeling of irritation at men who wear open-necked shirts and no jackets when their female companions are more elegantly attired
28. The ideal of knowledge for its own sake
29. West Denver
30. The attempt to construct a total work of art
31. Hootie and the Blowfish
32. Passion about one’s family
33. James Taylor
34. Political commitment
35. England, as Mike Leigh depicts it
36. The Australian bush ballad
37. Believing that Rembrandt is a great painter
38. Women’s issues
39. Religion
40. Whites of modest means and fundamentalist Christians
41. E.O. Wilson
42. South Los Angeles
43. Values and family
44. Poverty and need
45. Cacti
46. Political comedy
47. Corporal punishment
48. Bob Kerrey’s proposal to cut the payroll tax
49. Riesling
50. Journalism
51. The view that the market is getting set for a boom-bust cycle
52. Refusing to get trapped in sterile quarrels over issues like borders and the treatment of minorities in such countries as Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and Germany
53. Learning for learning’s sake
54. George Steiner’s essay “Humane Literacy,” and its assertion, “Who would be a critic if he could be a writer?” (In a review of Steiner’s book by Michael Dirda of the Washington Post)
55. Gilbert and Sullivan

By contrast, Renzo Piano, winner of this year’s Pritzker Prize in architecture, “likes to think of himself as unconventional” (italics ours), according to The New Yorker. Culturebox has no doubt that he does. After all, being unconventional is fashionable. Almost as fashionable as being unfashionable.

–Judith Shulevitz