Politics and culture: the right stuff

If we must have trends in the first place, we like our trends neat. That's why our passion for symmetry, at least, has been satisfied by what we regard as a very neoconservative November.

We might have guessed that Ronald Reagan was going to win by the way everything but English traffic swung to the right just before election day.

Reading the fashion news with our usual diligence, we learned that white and navy and black were the coming big colors, if colors is the word. The Paris shows signaled, according to our favorite design- watcher, "a return to the military."

When we flipped to the sports pages, the trend stayed consistent. The new Red Sox manager was Ralph Houk, a former Yankee and a former Marine. You can't get much more neoconservative than that.

The literary news of the month is, of course, the publication of "The Official Preppy Handbook" with its trend-setting phrase: "Understatement is the key."

If even more scholarly documentation is wanted, our newsmagazine sampling of automobile ads came up with the following proportions: four silver cars, one bronze, and one black.

Meanwhile, in the world of art, New Yorkers line up in the rain to see the retrospective show of Edward Hopper, a superb painter but, well, sort of neoconservative as painters go.

Still, the bulletin that put a very sober chocolate frosting on the cake was the announcement of a new Betty Crocker. Students of the history of General Mills will recall that there have been six different Betty Crockers through the years, decorating all those baking-mix packages. The first Betty Crocker appeared in 1936, and we must say, she has in retrospect the face of a fearless reformer -- firm mouth, unblinkable blue eyes.

Perhaps in those days you had to look this way to convince other American women that their character wouldn't fall apart if they used a prepared mix. Nevertheless, the fact is that during the reign of Franklin Delano Roosevelt we had a Betty Crocker who was obviously a New Dealer.

The second Betty Crocker appeared in 1955, during the Eisenhower years, and she has a friendly, easy- going manner. One can imagine her sneaking out of the General Mills test kitchen on slack afternoons to play golf. Need we say more?

The third Betty Crocker, making her appearance in 1965, was the youngest of them all, in the youth-cult spirit of the '60s. If her eyes do not quite say, "Up against the kitchen wall," they certainly suggest: "Never trust a cook over 30."

The Betty Crocker of 1972 wears the hesitant, puzzled, slightly unfocused expression of her decade. She seems to be saying: "What am I to make of Vietnam? What am I to make of Watergate? What am I to make of my unraised consciousness and my unraised bread?"

Studying her portrait, anyone can understand why the National Organization for Women filed a class-action suit against General Mills, charging race and sex discrimination in perpetuating the model of Betty Crocker as upper-middle-class housewife. Still, there is honest confusion and even pain to those unpraised eyebrows.

She was, as they used to say, far out in comparison with the new 1980 model. The Reagan Betty Crocker, as we think of her, is "very conservative" by the admission of General Mills executives. It is, in fact, possible to see a touch of Phyllis Schlafly to her face.At any rate, we would not count heavily on her support of ERA.

We haven't yet had the time to scrutinize the male models for evidence of neoconservatism.

Will the face of the mannequin wearing a Brooks Brothers suit begin to say subliminally, "I'm for pinstripes -- and the MX missile"?

Will the silver-haired figure in the Rolex watch ad suddenly appear to suggest, "I'll give you the correct time if you'll cut my taxes"?

We'll keep you posted. In the meantime, our neoconservative advice is: Don't bet against the law of cultural coordinates.

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