So, for those of you of my generation—that would be the Boomers—can you remember Horizon Magazine’s illustrative puzzles, where you had to find the iron hidden amongst the birch leaves of a giant tree? The dove nestled amongst the bookshelves? Find it! Better yet, find it before your older sister does! So, here we are in 2012, sifting through Vanity Fair or Vogue or any number of high-end glossies—WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PHOTO? Well, the Gentle Diva protests, practically everything. Let’s start with our sponsor, Louis Vuitton, dead these many decades. Why on earth is the Louis Vuitton company promoting Muhammad Ali as the mentor to “a rising star”? Is this the company which has been plagued by anti-Semitic allegations for the past sixty years? According to a review of a biography on Louis Vuitton, by Stephanie Bonvicini, she was given full access by the firm (Louis Vuitton Moet-Hennessy) when she proposed writing the book but when she asked about the wartime files, she was told that company documents for the years 1930-1945 had been destroyed by a fire.
What possible connection might there be, between Louis Vuitton and Muhammad Ali? Are their advertising folks on drugs?
My only experience of Louis Vuitton is a present I once received, a round, lip-stick red leather make-up case, perfect for Grace Kelly on a bad day. I was kind of shocked by it because it meant that this friend really had no clue about what mattered to me. Not to be churlish, I wrote a fawning thank-you note and returned it within days. I bought several wallets for needy relatives, whew, and still had two hundred bucks leftover. What to do with two hundred dollars in a mid-town Manhattan Louis Vuitton store, where there was more security than customer service? The Gentle Diva bought the ONLY thing available for two hundred bucks: an outsized t-shirt, still unworn to this day. There is something deeply, morbidly repellent about this store—I mean, why would anyone ever think that a $200 T-shirt was a fine, okay idea, especially if there’s this murky Vichy history nagging its legacy?
But, wow, quite the digression, I know. Back to the photo. This photo HAUNTS me. We’ve got this bucolic setting, with Muhammad Ali sitting on a poolside ottoman, biceps straining his short-sleeved shirt. There’s a kid standing to Ali’s right, not a day over five, impossibly cute, just darling, readied for a fight, wearing his boxing gloves. Of course, the horrid Vuitton case rests near Ali, that’s the whole point, to push those miserable initials, right? But what haunts me about this ad is Muhammad Ali’s expression (or lack thereof): there is absolutely NO connection between Ali’s gaze and this hopeful little pre-K boxer. If you follow Ali’s gaze, you’ll notice that he can’t even focus on the boy. The general vacancy of Muhammad Ali’s expression is complete. Indeed, even the way Ali’s legs and feet are arranged, looks posed, like a bit of propped furniture. Ali shows no signs of being present anywhere in this photo. Am I the only person alive who doesn’t realize the profound connection between having your head bashed in, multiple times, and Parkinson’s? Ali’s “Parkinson’s” is probably more credibly Dementia pugilistica (DP), or perhaps Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), or punch-drunk syndrome. The condition is thought to affect as many as one in five professional boxers. Where, the Gentle Diva wonders, is the role model of career choice here? Isn’t experience worth anything these days? If you spend a lifetime sustaining severe head trauma, you have a vastly increased chance of entering a near-vegetative state—is this the Louis Vuitton message, for this adorable little kid standing in this ad?
Recently, there was a wonderful letter quoted from Kurt Vonnegut, dated 1967, wherein he wrote in support of his son, Mark’s decision to request conscientious-objector status. I found this letter so moving, partly because I greatly admire Vonnegut-the-author of SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE and CAT’S CRADLE. But mostly because, Vonnegut-the-father, having experienced war, was basing his desperate appeal upon his own intimate knowledge of war, of violence. He writes, “I was a volunteer in the Second World War. I was an infantry scout, saw plenty of action, was finally captured and served about six months as a prisoner of war in Germany. I have a Purple Heart. I was honorably discharged. I am entitled, it seems to me, to pass on to my son my opinion of killing. I don’t even hunt or fish any more. I have some guns which I inherited, but they are covered in dust.”
Vonnegut’s letter appeals to a noble effort to resist the rabid militarism of this country. Here’s a father who has taught his son about the folly of killing. I look now at this photo of our little kid and wonder what sort of role model Muhammad Ali is meant to be: the only text offered in this ad is, “Some stars show you the way.” What way? When will it all end?