At The Fortunate Isles you (whether loser or winner, rich or poor, wise or foolish, envious or admiring, Master or Servant, Milady or Ms. Nobody) can find The Good Life, eight video vignettes, produced by Kathryn Davison. These short films dramatize what life is like when married to, or a child of, or a grandchild of a Master of the Universe. We see marriage, children, friends, trust officers, lawyers, heirs, playing each other in a world of silences, privileges embraced, and duties shirked. We see a Diamond as Big as The Ritz, and I found myself scanning for literary antecedents: Petronius? Flaubert? Fitzgerald? Edith Wharton? Henry James? The Robert Lowell of "Life Studies"? How can we as a nation make democratic sense of what these videos depict? (An enervated, narcissistic culture of wealth without humane competence, open communication, or social conscience.) Well, once again, I noted in the advisory roles a bow-tie wearing machiavel, serving as trust officer, and a soft spoken and sinister Iago type in the attorney role, both male, of course. What I did not see was a Falstaff, a Hermes, a Trickster, a Jeeves, a Holy Fool, a Pippi Longstocking - unless, as I suspect, that is the implicit trouble-maker, boundary breaking, role played by Kathryn herself.
Horace, a bit of a courtier in his own right, in the court of Augustus, famously said that "Art holds the mirror up to nature." Human nature? Making life-like portraits of the ruling class is a dangerous game, as Goya understood. The portraits if true to life may be hideous and then you get accused of being satirical, impertinent, insubordinate, or ungrateful, or disloyal, or a traitor to your class, or a teller of tales out of school, or the bad child who never learned good manners. If as an insider you do not keep your mouth shut about how things are in the family circle and its closed world you might just get yourself ostracized, shunned, or disinherited. So, maybe, it is wise to not go too far. Let the portraits speak for themselves, and hold the camera steady.
The Good Life, if you trace that title back, comes from Aristotle's Ethics. In that work he suggests that we only find happiness by exemplifying excellence as part of a well-ordered polis, or community, founded on civic friendship among the leading citizens, the cultivation of civic virtues, and the largeness of mind that characterizes a vigorous, productive and responsible aristocracy. Yup. Our Aristocracy, by contrast, sort of sucks. That is the explosive, subversive, charge these videos discreetly deliver, from inside the firewall. If the explosion is muffled, that may be because the firewall is very thick, and built to sustain even tactical nuclear weapons, should revolutionaries ever get their hands on any.