Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Beauty and the Old Way of Seeing

All the Crunchy Con discussion has led me to think back about beauty and the Arts and Crafts movement that emphasized how beauty and functionality are not opposites, but both spring from the same root. This reminded me of how one of the most beautiful things created in the modern world are military jets.

As a 9-12 year old, I built scores of model jets and bought lots of books on the topic. Looking back I think what attracted me was the sheer beauty of so many of our military-industrial complex's finest creations. Perhaps it was the time when I was growing up, but it was the 70s generation, F-15s and F-14s, that exemplified that gangly yet strangely elegant grace of the modern warplane. Of course, you could also feel that beauty in the classics, like the Spitfire, and the wonderfully modernist SR-71. Not surprisingly, however, most of the 50s and 60s jets were somehow bland -- scarcely visible canopies, stubby wings , tiny air intakes -- the whole thing just bespeaks the idea that airplanes were just a defective missile. Even swing wings couldn't save the fundamental tedium of the FB-111.

And now, ugliness has been brought back in spades by: stealth technology. As someone once said about certain new brands of electric guitar, as compared to the Les Paul or the Stratocaster: they sound like they've been designed in a machine tool shop. (Well, wait, all of these fighters were designed in such a shop -- strike that.) Anyway, I don't think kids today will have the same sense of beauty in fighter jets that I had when these beautiful new things were coming out regularly, and you had the feeling that even cooler birds -- weirder, more original, more unexpected -- were just around the corner. Maybe in retrospect they'll have some beauty, but I doubt it: the whole idea of stealth, of being un-"seeable" by radar militates against it.

I'm going to be busy for a while, so I'll leave these for you to enjoy! And of course, check out the new Lutheran Carnival -- I have it on good authority that some of these guys are "a bit to the right of Attila the Hun".