Gazing out upon my Internet landscape, it's difficult not to despair: Even two days later, there's still no escaping news of the Jay Z, Solange, Beyoncé beef, and with it, a pervading sense that something is rotten in the state of Knowlesdom. From the initial Met Gala encounter to Solange's alleged Instagram deletion spree, it's hard not to fear that our favorite famous pair may be poised for collapse, if not already well on their way from grandeur to ruin ... just like the Holy Roman Empire in its doomed latter days.
Let's dive in, shall we?
"The Romans, like others, as soon as they grew rich, grew corrupt; and in their corruption sold the lives and freedoms of themselves, and of one another."
Or, to quote the illustrious and Notorious B.I.G., "Mo' money, mo' problems." It's certainly true that with great wealth comes great and constant intrusion — stampedes of paparazzi, a sense of accountability to one's public, one's fans. That little privacy has got to put some strain on a family; who wouldn't ultimately snap a bit, especially at a fancy and media-heavy event? Maybe it was just a necessary de-stressing on Solange's part; a momentary boiling point. Right?
"But it was not the mere accident of Caesar’s existence that destroyed the Republic – it was Necessity. All the tendencies of the Roman principle were to sovereignty and military force: it contained in it no spiritual centre which it could make the object, occupation, and enjoyment of its Spirit. The aim of patriotism — that of preserving the State — ceases when the lust of personal dominion becomes the impelling passion."
— Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The Philosophy of History
So, wait, if we're to give Hegel his Dr. Phil moment here, he's saying that Solange or no, we were heading for some serious collapse in the Carter-Knowles clan — that the joining of two such powerful individual brands as Jay and Bey was essentially bound to implode. Or, to look at it through a macro lens, perhaps it's the one-upsmanship of our present Cult of the Twitter Feed that makes happiness impossible for anyone in the public eye — our desire to snark first and best greater than our desire to kumbayah in their Spirit. Is it possible that, through some collective impulse toward TMZ-fueled schadenfreude, we unconsciously willed this to happen?
"If all the barbarian conquerors had been annihilated in the same hour, their total destruction would not have restored the empire of the West: and if Rome still survived, she survived the loss of freedom, of virtue, and of honour."
— Edward Gibbons, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Unfortunately, Hegel and Gibbons seem pretty much on the same page about the inevitability of this rift, the ultimately inconsequential role of our elevator aggressor — but Gibbons's doomsday perspective provides an especially bleak outlook going forward. Now that we've seen this infighting, can we really go back to what was? Can Jay Z and Solange jewelry shopping or Beyoncé's sisterly Instagram salvo restore their virtue in our eyes? Will we ever reclaim our innocence as regards celeb-couple bliss? Gibbons seems to think not.
"This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire."
— Voltaire, Essai sur l’histoire generale et sur les moeurs et l’espirit des nations
I mean, God, maybe Voltaire's right: In this trumped-up media climate, can we even believe what we read? PR teams and spin doctors and clickbait make it impossible to tell up from down some days — truth from hype, authenticity from paparazzi performance. Are they really happy again? Were they ever? Are they even married? Are we living in the Matrix?
"At the sight of the city utterly perishing amidst the flames Scipio burst into tears, and stood long reflecting on the inevitable change which awaits cities, nations, and dynasties, one and all, as it does every one of us men. [...] And on my asking him boldly (for I had been his tutor) what he meant by these words, he did not name Rome distinctly, but was evidently fearing for her, from this sight of the mutability of human affairs."
Because yes, ultimately, in the wise words of Polybius, all cities decay, all loves dissolve, minds and seasons and stock prices change. Pluto's long stopped being a planet, and even the Oxford comma is on the outs. Curse us humans and our mutable affairs! I say we throw on some Nelly Furtado and join Scipio in a good ol' cathartic weep session.
"Fantastic grow the evening gowns."
—W.H. Auden, The Fall of Rome
Aha! Okay sure, Auden is a more contemporary poet, but no less a student of history — and, evidently, fashion. Though the remainder of his poem goes on to diagnose some greater social ills that link our current state to that of Rome mid-fall, it's clear to me that this second-stanza starter is where the wisdom lies. I mean, what is the Met Gala if not the height of gown-ery? Mystery, solved.
So, if there's one concrete takeaway from all of the brouhaha, it's this: Minimalism is in, kids. Stock up on shift dresses, lest we watch every great celebrity partnership crumble before our eyes.