Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Sobriety of Class Warfare--in the US




But the double-page centerfold that he prepared for Thanksgiving Day 1860 is about as subtle as the slash of a cavalry saber. “THANKSGIVING DAY, 1860 – THE TWO GREAT CLASSES OF SOCIETY,” Homer titled the engraving. The spread is divided into two halves: on the left, “Those who have more Dinners than appetite,” and on the right, “Those who have more appetite than Dinners.”

There is precious little celebration in Homer’s tribute to the national holiday, let alone flattery of well-heeled Harper’s readers. His portrayal of the rich is eviscerating. On the left-hand page, two overdressed, supercilious socialites peer through opera glasses from an ornate theater box. Above them, a self-absorbed young woman reads a magazine as a maid fusses over her hair. In the adjoining frame – least appealing of all – a lounging wastrel smokes his pipe by the fire, thrusting his fashionably pantalooned crotch into the viewer’s face. Lest anyone miss the point, the words “HARPER’S WEEKLY” are visible on the periodical at his feet.


Published in NYTimes 11/24/2010

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