We’re all a bit sick of this…I know…the news showed these costumes after every station break…but, I gotta say, it’s an interesting train wreck.

I am not buying the spin that the skaters at this Olympics for ice dancing were being irresponsible in their depiction of aboriginal people – because, let’s face it, it was not politically insensitive, it was two pampered people who thought they were being cute – and their handlers and coaches thought the cuteness would cover up the racism.

But, let’s put their stupidity aside for a moment, the real issue is the costumes.

Dar-Ling!!! These are just awful.  And, is he trying to look like Bono? And, why, since these two have the longest legs on the planet did they have a designer wrap rope on their calves and then put red bandanas on their butts. I ask you why?

We will never have the answer. Not about the really dumb choreography, or about the truly stupid idea to take on this Flintstones approach to an entire culture, and we’ll never get the costumes either.  But, I gotta admit it, I can’t stop looking at it.

Human beings have been painting themselves, and wrapping themselves up as icons, and pleasing each other in costumes forever. It’s a kind of Faustian bargain that with a bit of face paint we can pretend to be immortal.

Take every fair on the street – the kids line up for butterflies and stars to be grafted in non-toxic, washable paint. And, right behind them are the parents lining up to get their paint on. Why? It’s lovely to be identified. It’s exciting to not be invisible. It’s a way to be a canvas in an age where we are slick, ripping off our wrinkles, and, the circus (the ones we still we would like to join) charge $350 bucks for an hour of cosmic flight in Vegas. Now, it seems, we are left to our own carny ways.

Why do we love to have icons on us? Not tattoos, I am not an expert in this…but, I mean the glitter of makeup is back, and the face painters are at every party (even for grownups), and costume stores are now Mega stores selling Pirate outfits to adults?  What’s happening here? Even my dad got into it:

He asked the face painter at our kids party – the face painter who is a painter and makes his money putting paint on faces so he can buy canvas to paint – to make him a Matisse.

Dad was really happy having it done. He was quiet and leaned forward with respect and talked to the painter about painting. He then wore it all day and talked to the kids about it – about who the artist was – and how he was now a walking painting. He did seem a bit different too…like he was in his own show, some kind of traveling painting – he seemed to have a gas.

I was glad he was happy.

Look at his eyes…he’s someone else, and he’s somewhere else.

And, it’s all around us now: people are wearing more paint and masks and styles of markings…perhaps it’s because we are a culture in search of the last tribe…in search of something that makes some sense. We thought we were going to have more hope, and that this hope would be the catalyst for a stronger, new tribe.

From the film Avatar, to this season’s fashion line from Paris, to pop stars, to those misguided boneheads in the Olympics: the expression of tribe is everywhere we look. As the corporate tribes collapse, and tribal warfare flourishes here in the US and abroad, and tribes of people are gathering in tent cities without jobs, the images of ancient paint, carnival outrage and fierce expression seems to be on the rise. I suspect we will see more extreme tribal fashion, not the loose and open look of the 1960’s (when revolution was present), but a mashup, a crushing together of warpaint, ancient garb: gaudy, “Warlike Harry” theatrical expression.

And, here it is: it was this picture that made me take the pop singer Lady GaGa just a bit seriously – she has hundreds of (I assume faux) pearls glued to her body, and marched a red carpet like an alien – a pop princess, embalmed in fame.

It’s ridiculous.

It’s somehow sick – like glittering, cultured scabs.

She looks vacant and also defiant as a thing: a pearl of pop culture – choking in her military version of a jewel.

For me, this is the true picture of a culture in search of new markings.