When the Hollywood agent OJ Berman first meets Paul Varjack at Holly Golightly’s wild party in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, OJ asks the handsome young writer, “Is she or isn’t she?” Paul doesn’t know what he’s talking about at first, and Berman has to clarify: is Holly a phony? They then talk as men will, trying to discern the true nature of this charming woman who has endeared herself to them both. Yes, she is, Berman informs Paul, but she’s not just any old phony— she’s a real phony, a cunning chameleon who moves on once she has what she wants.
We’ve all known real phonies in our lives, and their airs can be enticing . . . for a while, and as long as we remember what they are. Their siren songs can be beautiful and alluring, but as our hero knew in the Odyssey, we must strap ourselves to the mast so we don’t follow their music to grave consequences. The temptations of the real phony litter classic literature because they’re as old as human history – the Tartuffes and Falstaffs – and Holly Golightly herself even articulates one of the dangers to poor old Doc as he boards the bus to return alone to Tulip, Texas: falling in love with a wild thing will not end well.
Alabama is well-known for its wild things, the eccentrics and characters – the author of the novel Breakfast at Tiffany’s Truman Capote was one of them – but unfortunately, we also have our real phonies. Sometimes we see them coming, tipped off by their strange packaging, but other times their finery fools us . . . and we trust them, enable them, and even vote for them. Unlike Holly Golightly, whose elegant speech and grace of manners tease the rats and super-rats into giving her $50 for the powder room, ours grease the bearings with aw-shucks populism and promises to keep the political boogeymen at bay.
Meanwhile, the real problems persist, in part because the siren song says that the real problems are things like the Common Core standards and people who oppose plastic bags. We need to strap ourselves to the mast. Or, if we don’t, we’ll find ourselves once again like one of Holly’s suitors: duped, confused, and pleading through the door, while our prize escapes out the window once again.
“Dirty Boots: A Column of Critical Thinking, Border Crossing, and Noblesse Oblige” posts will be published regularly on Tuesday afternoons.
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