Talk about how the mighty have fallen. Time magazine was for the better part of the 20th century the model for American newsweeklies. Its style of epigrammatic terseness and punchy prose became known as ‘Timespeak’, the compact format an invention of its founder, Henry Luce. Luce (‘Harry’ to friends and family) was the son of a missionary and was born in China. He was devout, brainy, single-minded and convinced that America was a miracle conceived by the Almighty. In a British boarding school in Shandong, Harry was mercilessly flogged for his insistence, at times, on speaking to God directly, but he also became proficient in French, Latin, Greek, history and maths. He then went to Hotchkiss and Yale. He was voted the most brilliant member of the class of 1920.
Three years later, he founded Time having raised $86,000 from Yale classmates. Six years later, he was a multimillionaire and had also founded Fortune — and eventually Life. He married one of the most beautiful women of the time, Clare Boothe Brokaw — it was the second marriage for both — and they became the most powerful couple of the age. Clare was no shrinking violet. She had beauty and a ferocious intelligence and her dry wit had jealous rivals fleeing in droves. While editing Vanity Fair, she wrote The Women, a Broadway hit that ran and ran and was made into a film. A real vamp, Clare had the best pair of legs around, wrote three successful plays, was a roving war correspondent, a screenwriter and grande dame of the Republican party after serving in Congress and becoming an ambassador.
When the couple travelled, they dropped in on people like Winston Churchill, Somerset Maugham, John F. Kennedy, Chiang Kai-shek, even Zhou Enlai. Evelyn Waugh went weak at the knees whenever he met Clare, as did Salvador Dalí. She was a flirt who had been Bernard Baruch’s mistress before marrying one of the richest men in America, the alcoholic George Brokaw. She was fearless covering the fall of Belgium as the Panzers roared in leaving minutes before the Belgians threw in the towel. Ditto in China, flying over Japanese lines in a small plane and reporting on China’s collapse for Time-Life.
By the time I met her, she was a very old lady, but still flirtatious and very outspoken. My father bought her apartment on 993 5th Avenue and gave it to my older brother. (He lost it to his first wife.) Playing gin with the Buckleys once, Clare said that she was getting tired of reading about the Holocaust. Bill Buckley’s TV producer, a nice man who was Jewish, didn’t flinch at all, but said to her with a smile, ‘You’re right, Clare, but I’m getting sort of tired of this Crucifixion business.’ It was one of those very rare moments when Clare came out second best.
This, then, was the couple that made Time a great magazine, and, in a way, America a great country. Both Harry and Clare were registered Republicans, but both urged FDR, who frequently had them to stay in the White House, to enter the European and Far East wars long before Pearl Harbor. FDR pulled out all the stops for Clare, but she saw right through that charming phoney. Harry died in 1967, Clare in 1987. Time magazine has been ailing for some years now, and finally expired last week. Mind you, it still publishes, but it’s a living, rotting corpse whose flesh stinks of vulgarity, celebrity ass-wiping and opportunism.
The eyewitness to great world events when Henry Luce ran the shop has been replaced by ‘the 100 most influential people’, the malodorous cesspit of A-listers headed by a smirking rapper called Kanye West, husband of the grotesque Kim Kardashian. Once upon a time, to be on the cover of Time was as great an honour as America could bestow. Last week, cover boy Kanye sang in front of such great and good as Padma Lakshmi, Mia Farrow, Martha Stewart, Barry Diller and Amy Schumer, ‘I’d rather be a dick than a swallower …Fuck you and your Hamptons house.’ Charming and extremely talented, and enough to make both Harry and Clare rise up from their graves.
How have we come to this, you may well ask. How can Time sink so low as to put such an obscenity as Kanye West on its cover and even have him rap his obscenities during the gala dinner? I suppose it’s because we live in a world in which lies trump the truth, ugliness beauty and evil goodness. West is a black man and he can do no wrong. By putting him on the cover as the most influential man in America, Time wants to show its coolness and anti-racist credentials. Pop culture is what counts, not culture, and the Luces and their original creation are products of a white racist society that no longer has any say in America. Well, if you think the Time people got it wrong, what about one Sarah Blake. She’s written a book about the attention-grabbing rapper and has compared him to — yes, I ain’t kidding — Jesus Christ. ‘Kanye is 33. If he were Jesus, he would die this year, and be resurrected.’ Nurse, help. Rap is the equivalent of projectile vomiting, only worse because of the hatred in its lyrics. Hatred against women and white people, against morality and justice, against everything that Luce believed in when he announced that the 20th century was to be known as America’s century. Time mag, RIP.
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