First of all, if you want to know, it’s manqué and it’s pronounced “mahnnn-kay”!
And it means not exactly that you’re a flop, but “short of or frustrated in the fulfillment of one’s aspirations or talents.” Which means chalk up one for most of the human population. It’s particularly true, or at least self-assigned, among writers and “creative people.” So, back in the 50’s, writers became “Ernest Hemingway manqué,” method actors became “Marlon Brando manqué,” witty women became “Dorothy Parker manqué.”
After this had gone on for a while, the mandarins of culture started getting worried. How could the younger generation be churning out such a load of crap? Where were the giants? Flannery O’Connor famously responded: “So many people can now write competent stories that the short story as a medium is in danger of dying of competence.”
Today, big actors, writers, painters, baseball players, politicians are notable by their palpable absence. What remains are yearning echoes of greatness, a generation of Manqués, very good, very close … no cigar! Some have devoted their lives to getting there, beautiful and sleek engines of imitation. But the Manqués are just short of that—pardon our Franglais—“je ne sais quoi.”
For instance, when you hear Clark Gable deliver the line, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” It’s so hammy! And so good. Is anyone today man enough to deliver that line? The great remake of Gone With the Wind will never happen because no actor today will deliver a line like that. And if he did, he’d be hooted out of the theater.
Yet we still need leading men, swagger and that crooked grin. George Clooney is not Clark Gable, but he’s sure listened to him.
Often the quality of the Manqué becomes its own thing. Starbucks is coffee manqué, but as bad, or good, as it can be, it has become the Thing.
Taken together, the greatest in this generation may become just like Starbucks, triumphantly successful Manqués who finally become the Thing. Check them out on page C12, and feel free to browse. You might want to try imitating one of them someday.
To see a larger version of the Observatory click on the image below. To read a text version click here.