Facebook has destroyed many things in its short little life: our children, our children's chastity, our children's humility, friendship, IRL bullying, moral seriousness, MySpace. What will the dastardly website defile next? The Louvre. And pretty much all great Western art in general, fumes The New Republic's Rochelle Gurstein.Like many art lovers before her, Gurstein is aghast at the proles who dare appreciate art in an unserious way. Gerstein and her husband trekked all the way to the Louvre only to be assaulted by the throng of unfashionable, clueless tourists taking pictures--with flash!--of the Mona Lisa. But worse was to come.
We had just entered the gallery that is home to some of Ingres's most fully realized visions of ideal beauty and as we approached with anticipation one of his most magnificent canvasses, The Bather, we found our path blocked by a young Japanese woman who thought nothing of positioning herself just to the side of the painting and then aping the elegant, sinuous pose of the nude figure while turning her head and covering her eyes in a pantomime of faux though obscene modesty as her friends, giggling and gesticulating, immortalized the moment using flash. It was then—and again later that evening when we witnessed further enactments of this same kind of warped prurient modesty/prudery in front of imposing ancient sculptures of male nude gods and mythic heroes—that I asked my husband, as much in disbelief as in indignation, how do the guards allow this?
As we waited, dumbfounded, for the little troop of perverted innocents to move on, I recalled Henry James's disgust with the tourists of his day. When he wrote about his travels in Venice in 1881, he could already complain that 'the barbarians are in full possession and you tremble for what they may do. You are reminded from the moment of your arrival that Venice scarcely exists any more as a city at all; that she exists only as a battered peep-show and bazaar.' And then my husband whispered to me that all this intrusive posing and picture-taking was a kind of graffitti in reverse: instead of the old barbarians carving 'Kilroy was here' on a marble sculpture or Corinthian column, the new narcissistic ones 'send' all their "friends" in their 'Facebook' photos of themselves obliviously ruining a long-admired masterpiece by their very presence.