WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN
YOU CAN CERTAINLY SAY that’s the way it is today, The world seems turned upside down compared to the way it was in the 60s, 50s, the 18 or 1690s, even—you pick your preferred extinct paradise. But it’s not the first time life watchers felt this way, an astute painter almost four centuries ago thought so, too.
That would be Jan Steen; his1663 painting The World Turned Upside Down (Beware of Luxury) shows a Dutch household doing everything that Dutch households of the time didn’t do or at least felt they shouldn’t do. Or wouldn’t admit they did and only felt guilty when they were found out. Guilty pleasuring is not new, nor is schadenfreuding as displaying this work in your house would have been back then. Today, we just watch the “news.”
There are some non–visual references that reinforce the ironic prescience of his title: An old (1640-ish) English ballad decrying the Puritan banning of the secular celebration of Xmas was called that. Hasn’t it been said that that holiday’s religiosity is now safe with Trump in office?
And it was said that ballad possibly being played when Lord Cornwallis surrendered to Gen. Washington in 1781 inspired “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” from “Hamilton,” the most anti-Trump musical ever. Check out “Hurricane” there too, for more on poor immigrants vs. disasters, natural and man-made.
In my update, I keep the composition similar to the Steen—people sitting around a table—but expand the household to include the whole upside down world. Here are shown things that just aren’t happening these days. First, Ms. & Mr. Powerful (Rich & Beautiful) are shown redistributing wealth towards Ms. & Mr. Everybody-Else. Second, “Kids These Days” are also shown reading, helping around the house and ignoring their devices.
Remember the old Russian proverb “Trust But Verify” co-opted by St. Ron during his reign in the ‘80s to use against those very Russians? It is again in play in our current state of disunion. The Powerfuls—the real Evil Empire, IMHO—got what they have by betraying trust and preventing verification, so they want the Everybody-Elses to keep on trusting but not verifying. The upside down of that is shown here: The Everybody-Elses are not trusting and are doubly verifying.
Within the Steen there are other ironies—ones that are only known in his times and are lost to us centuries on. There are such fictions shown in my homage, too: Stuffed animals somehow becoming human enough to realize that cooperation can be good and, of course, twin toddlers who can play peacefully with their toys.
Sources gathered 9/9-10/2017: