arts 07.21.08

Flashback: Harold Roth

The fifth in our Flashback series is the late photographer Harold Roth, represented by the Howard Greenberg Gallery. Roth got his first camera when he was 12 years old—Kodak gave a half million cameras to kids in 1930, celebrating the 50th anniversary of George Eastman's first patent. While Roth held a regular job all his life, he and his wife, Ida, would scour the city on weekends. Best known are his images from the 1940s and '50s; a few examples from those weekend jaunts:

In the Flashback Series:
Irwin Klein
Louis Stettner
Robert Otter
Clemens Kalischer

Get Serious
Most of us would agree that having a sense of humor is a fine thing. The mainstream media, however, is gnawing on its latest obsessive trope: that we need a sense of humor in our presidential candidates, by which they mean Barack Obama isn't as much fun as John McCain.

This variation on that idiotic presidential litmus test—who would you rather have a beer with—is just one more scrap of received wisdom that we wish were dispatched once and for all. None of our Founding Fathers, arguably excepting Franklin, was a barrel of laughs. Yet there they were this past week, the 24/7 gasbags, anatomizing Barack Obama's sense of humor about himself and the world. Howard Kurtz was asking the humor question yesterday on CNN's Reliable Sources. David Gregory was asking the same thing a few days ago on MSNBC's Race for the White House. And Maureen Dowd, in her Times column on July 16th, wrote, "If Obama offers only eat-your-arugula chiding and chilly earnestness, he becomes an unotherworldly type, not the regular guy he needs to be."

Could we just pause here for a tiny moment of reflection? After the crimes, calamities, and callousness (see, we can alliterate, too!) of the Bush/Cheney years, which Americans, exactly, are looking for a regular guy to lead the nation? Have we not been humored enough? After the fratboy nicknames of that hilarious hail fellow currently occupying the White House, we're up for some chilly earnestness, if it will help the economy, deal with our enemies more effectively without violating international law, restore our esteem in the the world community and respect for our own Constitution, save our wilting planet, bolster our crumbling infrastructure, and address health care.

Being a cutup on the campaign bus, mouthing off bon mots such as 'Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran' (Oscar Wilde lives!), not taking the job of running the country seriously—we've tried that. A sense of humor in our daily lives may be a distinct plus. For Toastmaster General? Indispensable. For governing the country? Not so much.

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