Sunday, November 30, 2014

Vic and Sade and Oscar Wilde — Simpatico

It may seem funny to us that so much energy and emotion is invested in wallpaper on “Vic and Sade” — but Wilde would disagree:
“Why, Mr. Wilde, do you think America is such a violent country?”
“I can tell you why,” he said. “It’s susceptible readily of an explanation. America is such a violent country because your wallpaper is so ugly.”
Wilde wasn’t being capricious or cute — he was making a serious point in a funny way. I can’t say it any better than Fry said it himself:
[H]e could see that we were harmful to our planet in terms of its aesthetics. That we were making the earth uglier. Uglier with bad architecture, uglier with badly designed factories, uglier with badly stamped out tin trays and cheap ornaments, ugly with appalling wallpaper. And if you’re someone who grows up in such an environment, who is surrounded by badly made ugly things, then you think ugly thoughts of yourself and world. You think ugly thoughts of your whole species.
So when Sade campaigns for attractive upstairs wallpaper, when she battles with Mr. Erickson and wears herself down mentally over wallpaper, she’s not just being womanish and superficial. There is a lot at stake: for her mental health, for her family’s, for society’s. And, in fact, Vic makes this very same point, in fewer words, right in that episode:
VIC: Uh-huh. Say, talk about your poisonous greens…this baby on top here takes the cake.
SADE: Could you imagine livin’ in a room with wallpaper like that?
VIC: I’m afraid I’d grow morbid and homicidal.
Other conversation in this episode recalls another famous Wilde zinger, often paraphrased and mischaracterized as his final words: “This wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. Either it goes or I do” (also quoted in another source as “One of us has got to go”). Wilde was in a bad way when he said this, broke, exiled, and dying painfully in a cheap hotel. On one hand, it was a funny remark to make in that situation — you’re on the verge of death, and all you care about is the wallpaper? On the other hand, it is terribly sad to think that a man who cared so much about beauty was forced to lay dying in agony while staring at a wallpaper pattern that distressed him. Vic, once again, understands:
RUSH: “For those who love a rich, restful emerald color, this lovely pattern should be a perfect joy.”
SADE: Oh, my, my, my, my, my.
VIC: “Rich, restful emerald color,” huh? If I was entertainin’ somebody I despised for the weekend I’d expose them to this “rich, restful emerald color.” And I’d guarantee by Monday morning he’d feel vaguely ill and be affected with spots before the eyes and a tendency toward involuntary shakes and shudderin’s.
I don’t know how familiar Paul Rhymer would have been with Wilde and the aesthetic movement, or if he would have ever heard either of these quotes (though it’s certainly likely — Wilde being one of the great comedy writers, I’m sure Rhymer read plenty of him), but great minds think alike. Attributing violent behavior and illness to wallpaper is funny. It is also profound. These two things need not contradict one another.  -- Lydia Crowe

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