Friday, December 31, 2004

What A Swell Party It Was

From Frank Rich:

“The Kennedy Center Honors” is no ratings powerhouse; this year more adults under 50 elected to watch “The Real Gilligan’s Island” on cable instead. But I tuned in, curious to see how this gathering of the capital’s finest might be affected by the war. The honors had actually been staged and taped earlier in the month, on Dec. 5. That day the morning newspapers told of more deadly strikes by suicide bombers in Mosul and Baghdad, killing at least 26 Iraqi security officers, including 8 in a police station near the capital’s protected Green Zone. There were also reports of at least four American casualties in other firefights.

But if anyone at the Kennedy Center so much as acknowledged this reality unfolding beyond the opera house, it was not to be found in the show presented on television. The only wars evoked were those scored by another honoree, John Williams, whose soundtrack music for “Saving Private Ryan” and “Star Wars” was merrily belted out by a military band. (Our delicate sensibilities were spared the sight of an actual “Private Ryan” battle scene, however, lest the broadcast risk being shut down for “indecency.”) The razzle-dazzle Hollywood martial music, the what-me-worry Washington establishment, the glow of money and red plush: everything about the tableau reeked of the disconnect between the war in Iraq and the comfort of all of us at home, starting with those in government who had conceived, planned, rubber-stamped and managed our excellent adventure in spreading democracy.


Washington’s next celebration will be the inauguration. Roosevelt decreed that the usual gaiety be set aside at his wartime inaugural in January 1945. There will be no such restraint in the $40 million, four-day extravaganza planned this time, with its top ticket package priced at $250,000. The official theme of the show is “Celebrating Freedom, Honoring Service.” That’s no guarantee that the troops in Iraq will get armor, but Washington will, at least, give home-front military personnel free admission to one of the nine inaugural balls and let them eat cake.