IMAGES

Did you ever feel on the back of your neck the fixed gaze of a store-window model? I never did either, until I listened to Jean Shepard late one night during a hypnotic turnpike drive. Jean Shepard is a radio tragedian who keeps asking religious questions under a thin disguise of banter, nostalgia, and zany boisterousness. “I mean, what’s bugging us? What’s really bugging us? All of us?” he asks, and waits for an answer. Casual shock is one of his specialties, and this program meandered backwards to the point with the planned indirection of a circus clown about to sit on a tack.

Mr. Shepard, it seems, had read about department store dummies in The New York Times. Did you know that there are fashions in these models as well as on them? Each metropolitan store has its type, and the sophisticated restraint common to all Manhattan models contrasts with the exuberance of models in other cities. What is more, these ageless plastic figures go out of date after a few years. It won’t do to dress a 1948 model in 1961 clothing. The fit may be perfect, but the face still wears wide lapels.

Since window models are patterned on real people, presumably people go out of date too. What is your type? Late Renaissance? Mid-Victorian?

But the punch line was still to come. What do they do with out-dated figures? The signature music heralding midnight had begun when Mr. Shepard gave the answer from the Times. They sell them to the military for use in target practice. The show came to a raucous conclusion as Mr. Shephard shouted firing orders for the execution of the images.

Our image-conscious society feels the impact of those bullets. We may not worship images with pagan directness, but the cult is real. We make images in our likeness, and ...

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