Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Diner en Blanc: Tradition or...?

A little over a year ago, the recently opened Barnes Museum held a gala for the city's elite. For $1500, the city's wealthy art appreciators dined on lamb and drank champagne outside an institution that holds some of the world's most valuable artwork.

While attendees feasted and canoodled amid the landscaped Parkway in ball gowns and tuxedos, Occupy Philly staged a protest of sorts across the street, feeding the city's homeless in plain sight of the rich who were mixing and mingling.

Whatever you think of the Barnes Museum, their extravagant gala, or Occupy Philly, the one thing that all of those involved share was a message and a cause they believe in. 

No one paid $1500 for a meal. Those privileged enough to attend the Barnes Gala did so out of a civic sense of pride, celebrating the end of a long fought battle to bring the museum to the city.

Likewise, Occupy Philly wasn't serving bologna sandwiches, but sending a message to those with means that a very real problem exists in the city beyond the hallowed halls adorning their artwork.

Both events took place side by side, as uneventfully as planned.

While the Barnes Museum made a handsome chunk of change to help maintain its priceless collection, wealthy philanthropists figuratively shook hands with the city's less fortunate.

Both had a cause, and in that, both succeeded.

Often these events are mundane on the surface, but the fulfillment comes from knowing that you participated in a cause you strongly believe in. Anyone on 20th Street that night walked away knowing they did something good.

I'm certainly not suggesting that everyone, rich or poor, spend all of their time advocating for a better world. It's exhausting, and too much can even contribute to a sense of self righteousness. 

Treat yourself.

The city hosts plenty of public events like Welcome America! and our annual New Years Parade. They cost the city money, profit their sponsors, and they make the city an exciting place to live.

Whether you're at the Barnes Gala, an Occupy protest, or Welcome America!, no one can really ask, "why?" Charitable events fund organizations that need it, or at the very least support a cause that attendees believe in, and public celebrations drive tourism and are a good time for everyone. 

But occasionally an event comes along that culminates in nothing more than the indignant end result of too much charity, without actually providing any.

I'm talking of course, about the BYO everything Diner en Blanc


Well, you can ask that simple word until the end of time and no one will give you an answer. 

With an inside invite, you too can pretend like you're one of those philanthropists outside the Barnes Museum without actually doing anything...except for bringing your own dinner, wine, and adhering to the most tedious dress code this side of a fetish party. 

Remember when Barbara Streisand brought her own white microphone to the Opera show? Imagine that microphone personified as 2500 Philadelphians who desperately want to feel special.

What is Diner En Blanc? Well it's a flash mob with a cover charge. Invitees show up in white with picnic baskets and chairs and dine amid our city's historic landmarks. Organized by Diner En Blanc International, it's an event that takes place yearly in many cities around the world.

But it doesn't exist for any reason other than that it exists. What's most deplorable about Diner en Blanc is that it specifically excuses its complete lack of philanthropy as part of its tradition. It clearly states, "There are no sponsors, no political or ideological agendas."

Of course that statement is immediately false in that Diner en Blanc International is a profitable organization that is itself, the sponsor. For the privilege of shelling out roughly $30 a head (or $60 for two, since couples are required), you too can throw money at an organization that straps the resources of your local municipality to profit a collection of event planners.

When a city as broke as Philadelphia is asked to close Logan Square for a bunch of invite-only d-bags and their sense of self righteousness, it's kind of a slap in the face.

Ironically Diner en Blanc touts itself as a collection of "friends" who enjoy good food without actually providing any. Yep, Diner En Blanc is entirely BYO.

The whole premise is to feel exclusive. Of course exclusivity for its own sake means nothing, something the attendees don't seem to get. Or maybe they do. Maybe they're just bad people. Maybe they're the kind of people who walked away from the The Great Gatsby thinking, "wow, what an awesome party."

While those charitably connected routinely attend events knowing exactly what attire is appropriate, Diner en Blanc specifies a laundry list of adjectives and seems predominantly focused on the phrase, "astonished looks from passersby." 

In that regard it is a flash mob, but stripped of its fun and spontaneity...and freeness. The tediously laughable dress code only proves that people who use the words "classy" and "elegant" aren't.

"...the greatest decorum, elegance, and etiquette...a mass 'chic picnic'..."

"...a love of beauty and good taste."

"...the elegance and glamour of court society..."

"...a picnic basket comprised of quality menu items and china dinner dressed elegantly....stylish and denotes taste."

" disruptions...except for the occasional amazed and astonished looks from passersby at the scene unfolding before them. And we, as they, wonder whether it's all not a dream..."

In other words:

"Do you like steak? Try eating it, under a chandelier." 

Attending galas can be a good time, and sure a part of that is self satisfying. When someone walks up to an event and asks, "What is this for?" you can plead your cause or ask them to join you.

What do these people say?

Well, most will tell you its a standing tradition dating from France that has spread around the globe. While that's true, what most likely don't know is that it's a tradition dating from 1988.
Sometime between gym class, blasting Depeche Mode from my '82 Volvo, and bagging groceries at Food Lion, Fran├žois Pasquier was looking for his friends in Bois de Boulogne.

How he found them? He told them to wear white.

Sure, that's cute. But it's not quite as romantic knowing that the tradition dates no earlier than the year Critters 2 came out.

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