By Anjuli Kolb

The show Toddlers and Tiaras, now in its fourth season on The Learning Channel, has caused some interesting gender and class policing lately, including a humiliating episode for the mothers on Anderson Cooper’s talk show. As the famous toddler Mackenzie Myers has put it, “I can never just be myselffffffffffffffff.” A radical take on the unending project of gender performance? A comment on the fall of monarchial forms of rule? A goblet whose reflection schizzes us even as we occupy the center of our own portrait? 

“A child is a child you might say and if the lense [sic] through which a child is being looked at is not broken, then there’s nothing bad in what is just a huge dress-up game. Unfortunately, this is just a cognitive distortion called rationalization, through which you find a reason that somehow justifies an action, thought or behavior that is actually “not right.” And this beautiful lie gets you just as much as it gets the child.”

–Psychologist Lucia Grosaru on the perils of Child Beauty Pageants,Toddlers and Tiaras, 2011.

“The princess is standing upright in the centre of a St Andrew’s cross, which is revolving around her with its eddies of courtiers, maids of honour, animals, and fools. But this pivoting movement is frozen. Frozen by a spectacle that would be absolutely invisible if those same characters, suddenly motionless, were not offering us, as though in the hollow of a goblet, the possibility of seeing in the depths of a mirror the unforeseen double of what they are observing. In depth, it is the princess who is superimposed on the mirror…”

–Michel Foucault, “Las Meninas,” a reading of Diego Velázquez's painting "Las Meninas" in The Order of Things, 1966.

“She had betrayed no distaste for the game. The other girls crowded to see his defeat, to see his idiot’s composure dissolve, and then rushed to wipe themselves clean of his ejaculation…Every Midsummer morning, Mother woke her before dawn and ordered her to kneel down and bathe her face in the dew; it ensures a year’s worth of loveliness, she explained. As a child, Mother had performed the same ritual. When Madeleine wiped M. Jouy off her hands, she left glistening mollusk trails in the underbrush.”

–Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, Madeleine is Sleeping, National Book Award Finalist, 2004. Bynum based her dream-like novel on an episode in Foucault's History of Sexuality. 

Let Me Recite What History Teaches (LMRWHT) is a weekly column that flashes the lavalamp, gaslight, candlelight, campfire, torch, sometimes even the starlight of the past on something that is happening now. The form of the column strives to recover what might be best about the “wide-eyed presentation of mere facts.” Each week you will find here some citational constellation, offered with astonishment and without comment, that can serve as an end in itself, dinner party fodder, or an occasion for further thought or writing. The title is taken from the last line of Stein’s poem “If I Told Him (A Completed Portrait of Picasso)."

Image: Las Meninas, Diego Velázquez