Happy New Everything

December 30, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT

ROGER ROSENBLATT: Everyone knows that New Year’s is a lot more depressing than it is elating. So why are we tooting our horns? I think it’s because New Year’s is because our annual makeover, the celebration of the illusion that from this time forward we can create– indeed were meant to be– better versions of ourselves.

TALK SHOW HOST: There she is and let’s see her now. Martina.

ROGER ROSENBLATT: Makeovers are in these days. On daytime television faces are made over again. So are entire bodies on “Extreme Makeover.” “Trading Spaces” made over rooms. Other rooms are now made over daily on “Surprise by Design.”

Recently, a whole house was made over on TV, signaling a new prime time series. And no program has been greeted with more delight than “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” in which a lovable bunch of gay guys give some straight a new face, a new style…

MAN: Do I look like Ben Affleck?


WOMAN: Oh, my God.

ROGER ROSENBLATT: The reaction of those for whom something is made over is almost always the same: Surprise, wonder, ecstasy. Happy New Year. Happy new you. But we’re aren’t exactly brand new. A makeover is a very special form of rejuvenation.

It is not the creation of a face or a house from scratch; rather someone surveys the bones or the basic structure of the original, and then makes something apparently new of it.

Yet the new contains shadows of the old, and so is presented with two entities at once. The ecstatic reaction seems to say: “This is whom or what I was always meant to be.”

WOMAN: I feel like a princess.

ROGER ROSENBLATT: What makeovers seem then, are searches for one’s true destiny or true identity. You’re not a duck after all; you’re a swan. You’re not a girl at a soda fountain. You’re Lana Turner.

Underneath the actuary or insurance salesman stirs the acrobat, the no-hit pitcher. And there are little gods at work to make you over into what you should have been all along.

WOMAN: All of this, going away.

ROGER ROSENBLATT: The designer, the carpenter.

MAN: Start at the cheekbone.

ROGER ROSENBLATT: The makeup artist.

MAN: I think we’re about done.


MAN: More plaid. My god.

ROGER ROSENBLATT: The guys on “Queer Eye” are wonderfully sure of themselves as agents of providence. And the subjects trust them with all their hearts, gladly give themselves up to the experts on their own lives. Their saviors.

MAN: I totally trust you guys.

ROGER ROSENBLATT: This is touching stuff– a little stupid, but touching nonetheless. The assumption is that others know you better than yourself.

In a way, this idea represents the ultimate form of advertising. What we really need to make us us is this toothpaste, that car, that beer. We need someone to guide us toward the life we were meant to lead.

BILL CLINTON: The American people have voted to make a new beginning.

ROGER ROSENBLATT: Makeovers even suggest the quest of politics. Here is the leader who knows better than we what we should be doing as a city, state, country. We knew that something was not quite right, but we needed a makeover.

Of course, some interesting moments lie ahead. Five months or years down the line when those things or people made over today seem to need a new makeover because of the passage of time. Then the currently ecstatic and assured will then grow weak and call upon new gods to make them over.

GOV. GRAY DAVIS: The voters decided it’s time for someone else to serve.

ROGER ROSENBLATT: This may be what happens when a country, once drunk on newness, finds that it has no new place to go.

SPOKESMAN: I do solemnly swear.

ROGER ROSENBLATT: It calls for continuous makeovers, new deals, which bring about the illusion of renewal that soon fades. Makeovers are thrilling, but underneath whatever is made over lies the same old face, the same old place.

Oh, but there is one day we can giddily deny all this, when we can whoop and yell and pretend that the makeover will take, and that when the hour strikes we will be recreated ourselves, saved from ourselves. Happy New Year. You look amazing.

I’m Roger Rosenblatt.