WASHINGTON – I went to see the Al Pacino Merchant of Venice movie the other day.
It was funny to watch the climactic courtroom scene in which the cross-dressing Portia sets a dazzling legal trap for the cross Shylock.
The vengeful loan shark can take his pound of flesh from Antonio, she tells him, but it has to be exactly a pound. And if Antonio bleeds, the laws of Venice dictate that all of Shylock’s lands and goods will be confiscated.
The 16th-century Shylock skulks off. A 21st-century Shylock would have had a solution: liposuction.
Shylock could have extracted his precise pound of flesh, and the fashionably epicene Antonio could have come out of it looking even sleeker.
Shakespeare wrote a lot about the power of beauty and the withering of beauty. As one pre-Botox sonnet went: “When forty winters shall besiege thy brow/And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,/Thy youth’s proud livery, so gazed on now,/Will be a tattered weed of small worth held.”
Shakespeare also wrote about narcissistic personalities and the treacheries of time. So I’m sure he would have been fascinated by the obsession of our modern culture with freezing the clock — and the face — with lifestyle drugs and medical treatments.
Cosmetic enhancements have become so common that you can now get “frequent flier” cards for wrinkles — racking up rewards every time a dermatologist or plastic surgeon sticks a needle in your face.
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that, following up on Pfizer’s success with Viagra “value cards,” which offer repeat customers discounts, Medicis Pharmaceuticals, the maker of Restylane, an anti-wrinkle skin filler, is offering a rewards program “to encourage injections every six months by offering gifts that escalate in value with each subsequent appointment – adding up to $375 after the fourth follow-up visit.”
A Restylane treatment is about $500 to $750 and lasts about six months, according to the article. So Medicis says it aims to keep customers on track to maintain their “corrected look.”
You just get the Restylane syringe box top from your doctor and send it in, as you used to do with cereal boxes to get toys. And you can keep your “corrected look” going until you hit that “Alas, poor Yorick” phase.
What Shakespeare could have done with this material. And wouldn’t you love to hear the Bard on the Oscars?
Others found the Oscars boring; I found the show slightly alarming.
I used to worry that women were heading toward one face. Sometimes in affluent settings, like the Oscars or the shoe department at Bergdorf’s, you see a bunch of eerily similar women with oddly off-track features – Botox-smoothed Formica foreheads, collagen-protruding lips, surgically narrowed noses, taut jaws – who look like sisters from another planet.
It’s like that futuristic Sylvester Stallone movie Demolition Man, set in 2032, with Arnold Schwarzenegger as president and Taco Bell as the sole survivor of the Franchise Wars.
In the future, there will be only one face. And if the Oscars are predictive, there will be only one body — big chest, skinny body — and one style. It was bizarre how actress after actress came out in the same mermaid silhouette: a strapless sheath with a trumpet-flared or ruffled skirt.
Where are the good old wardrobe malfunctions of Cher and Barbra?
In decades past, each top glamour girl aimed for a signature face and measurements, a trademark voice, a unique walk. You never saw Katherine Hepburn and Ava Gardner showing up in the same dress, or Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe looking like a pair of matching candles.
In some wacky, self-defeating conspiracy, stylists have joined forces with surgeons to homogenize today’s actresses so it’s hard to tell one from another; the Oscars had a safe, boring, generic look. Top female stars who have had a lot of work done start looking like one another on magazine covers, and being confused for one another at publicity events.
Chris Rock was right: star power is in short supply in a town where women would rather be conventional than individual. It’s the same problem Hollywood has making movies: too much cloning, not enough originality.
As Shakespeare wrote of the ultimate glamour girl, Cleopatra: “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.”Women have become so fixated on not withering, they’ve forgotten that there are infinite ways to be beautiful.