That Viper, Katie Couric:
I ran across Camille Paglia’s column today in Salon and was astounded by what she’d written. On TBogg, a poster known as TheRealityBasedDave had posted this little gem with the comment that it was “…great satire… right? right?”
“The mountain of rubbish poured out about Palin over the past month would rival Everest. What a disgrace for our jabbering army of liberal journalists and commentators, too many of whom behaved like snippy jackasses. The bourgeois conventionalism and rank snobbery of these alleged humanitarians stank up the place. As for Palin’s brutally edited interviews with Charlie Gibson and that viper, Katie Couric, don’t we all know that the best bits ended up on the cutting-room floor? Something has gone seriously wrong with Democratic ideology, which seems to have become a candied set of holier-than-thou bromides attached like tutti-frutti to a quivering green Jell-O mold of adolescent “sentimentality.
It continues in similar vein, and I have to ask, after I recover from the image of quivering green Jell-O mold of adolescent sentimentality, (and just what the hell does that phrase mean?) what interviews did Paglia see? If the best bits of the interview with Charlie Gibson ended up on the cutting-room floor, I’m at a loss to imagine what we missed. Was Palin’s Cicero-esque oration chopped up to leave only the chaff for us to pick over? I want, no I demand that Mr Gibson make those lost jewels, those brilliant improvised verbal essays, available to us.
And that Katie Couric, how dare she politely ask that Palin answer the question.
“What do you read?”
And what kind of question is that to ask someone? Really, the nerve.
I have to ask, why is Camille Paglia given space in a serious journal like Salon to parade her many, many purple-prose paragraphs that are filled with overheated drivel that could be boiled down to two short sentences? Something like: “The press should stop wasting its precious time writing about trivialities. It embarrasses itself, especially in light of the way it…… Sarah Palin.”
There hasn’t been enough serious reporting about Palin, this is correct. The MSM still hasn’t done a serious report about her involvement in that Alaskan Secessionist party; they have instead taken her word that she was not an official member of the group (but Todd is) and let it lie without also reporting that she gave a speech at their convention this year.
After reading 5 pages of Paglia that went on in this vein, proclaiming the Palins to be:
“powerful new symbols of a revived contemporary feminism. That the macho Todd, with his champion athleticism and working-class cred, can so amiably cradle babies and care for children is a huge step forward in American sexual symbolism. “
I swear, the woman just wears me out. The things she does not know, does not understand about women and men, people, could fill ten books. Seriously, she needs to find out how people function by being one, rather than thinking she could know about people by reading about them. Theory is fine but mostly useless without practical experience. She seems to have no knowledge of the practical world and, in reading what she has written, seems to love no one and no thing.
And she is so very jealous of her standing, so very worried that there is someone else standing at or above her level on those lofty peaks she pretends to inhabit, someone who just might be better, that she wrote this about Judith Butler:
“She was a student when I was at my first job at Bennington in the 70s, and I saw her up close. And I know what she knows. I mean, she transferred from there, to Yale, and her background in anything is absolutely minimal. She started a career in philosophy, abandoned that, and has been taken as this sort of major philosophical thinker by people in literary criticism. But has she ever made any exploration of science? For her to be dismissing biology, and to say gender is totally socially constructed — where are her readings, her studies? It’s all gameplay, wordplay, and her work is utterly pernicious, a total dead-end.”
– Paglia, on poststructuralist feminist Judith Butler
I haven’t read Judith Butler, but this is such a vile, petty paragraph, written about a person who was a young girl when Paglia knew her and who is now threatening her claim on one of those pinnacles.
Truly, the people who pretend they are dazzled by her writing must be too intimidated by her disdain to admit they think she’s full of shit. And she is full of shit.
Back to the Palins, I don’t see The Toddster as being a champion athlete because he can mush a bunch of dogs or a snowmobile across the frozen tundra and not fall down, and he’s certainly not my type, but to each his own. A step forward in American Sexual Symoblism, however? Please, the woman has a dirty mind of mythical proportions.
Later she delivers this choice tidbit:
“The value of Ivy League degrees, like sub-prime mortgages, has certainly been plummeting. As a Yale Ph.D., I have a perfect right to my scorn.”
As the aunt of a Yale student who got there on a full scholarship because of her dedication and hard work, I resent this devaluation of a degree from this institute. Paglia is saying, in essence that all degrees issued after hers are of less value, because when she graduated that was the ne plus ultra of Yale’s existence and they should have just closed the damned school.
Which brings us to this:
Why I Love Molly Ivins:
From _Mother Jones_, September/October 1991, pp 8-10
(Italics are indicated like _this_.)
Impolitic, by Molly Ivins.
I Am the Cosmos
Austin, Texas — “So write about Camille Paglia,” suggested the
editor. Like any normal person, I replied, “And who the hell might
Big cheese in New York intellectual circles. The latest rage. Hot
But I’m not good on New York intellectual controversies, I explained.
Could never bring myself to give a rat’s ass about Jerzy Kosinski.
Never read Andy Warhol’s diaries. Can never remember the name of the
editor of this _New Whatsit_, the neo-con critical rag. I’m a no-hoper
on this stuff, practically a professional provincial.
Read Paglia, says he, you’ll have an opinion. So I did; and I do.
Christ! Get this woman a Valium!
Hand her a gin. Try meditation. Camille, honey, calm down!
The noise is about her _oeuvre_, as we always say in Lubbock: _Sexual
Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson_. In
very brief, for those of you who have been playing hooky from the _New
York Review of Books_, Ms. Paglia’s contention is that “the history
of western civilization has been a constant struggle between … two
impulses, an unending tennis match between cold, Apollonian
categorization and Dionysian lust and chaos.” Jeez, me too. I always
thought the world was divided into only two kinds of people — those
who think the world is divided into only two kinds of people, and
those who don’t.
You think perhaps this is a cheap shot, that I have searched her work
and caught Ms. Paglia in a rare moment of sweeping generalization,
easy to make fun of? _Au contraire_, as we always say in Amarillo; the
sweeping generalization is her signature. In fact, her work consists
of damn little else. She is the queen of the categorical statement.
Never one to dodge a simple dichotomy when she can set one up, Ms.
Paglia holds that the entire error of western civilization stems from
denying that nature is a kind of nasty, funky, violent, wet dream, and
that Judeo-Christianity has been one long effort to ignore this. She
pegs poor old Rousseau, that fathead, as the initiator of the silly
notion that nature is benign and glorious and that only civilization
Right away, I got a problem. Happens I have spent a lot of my life in
the wilderness, and also a lot of my life in bars. When I want sex and
violence, I go to a Texas honky-tonk. When I want peace and quiet, I
head for the woods. Just as a minor historical correction to Ms.
Paglia, Rousseau did not invent the concept of benign Nature. Among
the first writers to hold that nature was a more salubrious
environment fro man than the corruptions of civilization were the
Roman Stoics — rather a clear-eyed lot, I always thought.
Now why, you naturally ask, would anyone care about whether a reviewer
has ever done any serious camping? Ah, but you do not yet know the
Camille Paglia school of I-am-the-cosmos argument. Ms. Paglia believes
that all her personal experiences are Seminal. Indeed, Definitive.
She credits a large part of her supposed wisdom to having been born
post-World War II and thus having been raised on television. Damn me,
so was I.
In addition to the intrinsic cultural superiority Ms. Paglia
attributes to herself from having grown up watching television (“It’s
Howdy-Doody Time” obviously made us all smarter), she also considers
her own taste in music to be of enormous significance. “From the
moment the feminist movement was born, it descended into dogma,” she
told an interviewer for _New York_ magazine. “They stifled any kind
of debate, any kind of dissent. Okay, it’s Yale, it’s New Haven in
’69, I am a rock fanatic, okay …. So I was talking about taste to
these female rock musicians, and I said the Rolling Stones were the
greatest rock band, and that just set them off. They said, `The
Rolling Stones are sexist, and it’s bad music because it’s sexist.’ I
said: `Wait a minute. You can’t make a judgements about art on the
basis of whether it fits into some dogma.’ And now they’re yelling,
screaming, saying that nothing that demeans women can be art.
“You see, right from the start it was impossible for me to be taken
into the feminist movement, okay? The only art they will permit is art
that gives a positive image of women. I said, `That’s like the Soviet
Union; that is the demagogic, propagandistic view of art.’ ”
Well, by George, as a First Amendment absolutist, you’ll find me
willing to spring to the defense of Camille Paglia’s right to be a
feminist Rolling Stones fan any hour, day or night. Come to think of
it, who the hell was the Stalin who wouldn’t let her do that? I went
back and researched the ’69 politburo, and all I could find was Betty
Friedan, Bella Abzug, and Gloria Steinem, none of whom ever seems to
have come out against rock music.
I have myself quite cheerfully been both a country-music fan and a
feminist for years — if Camille Paglia is the cosmos, so am I. When
some fellow feminist doesn’t like my music (How could you not like
“You are just another sticky wheel on the grocery cart of life”?), I
have always felt free to say, in my politically correct feminist
fashion, “Fuck off.”
In a conversation printed in _Harper’s_ magazine, Paglia held forth on
on of her favorite themes — Madonna, the pop singer: “The latest
atavistic discoverer of the pagan heart of Catholicism is Madonna.
This is what she’s up to. She doesn’t completely understand it
herself. When she goes on _Nightline_ and makes speeches about
celebrating the body, as if she’s some sort of Woodstock hippie, she’s
way off. She needs _me_ to tell her.” I doubt that.
Bram Dijkstra, author of a much-praised book, _Idols of Perversity_,
which is a sort of mirror image of _Sexual Personae_, said that Paglia
“literally drags the whole nineteenth-century ideological structure
back into the late-eighteenth century, really completely unchanged.
What’s so amazing is that she takes all that nineteenth-century stuff,
Darwinism and social Darwinism, and she re-asserts it and reaffirms it
in this incredibly dualistic fashion. In any situation, she
establishes the lowest common denominator of a point. She says,
`This is the feminist point of view,’ and overturns it by standing it
on its head. She doesn’t go outside what she critiques; she simply
puts out the opposite of it.”
“For example,” Dijkstra continues, “she claims, `Feminism blames
rape on pornography,’ which is truly the reductio ad absurdum of the
feminist point of view. Of course, there are very many feminist points
of view, but then she blows away this extremely simplified opposite,
and we are supposed to consider this erudition. She writes aphorisms
and then throws them out, one after the other, so rapid-fire the
reader is exhausted.”
Tracing Paglia’s intellectual ancestry is a telling exercise; she’s
the lineal descendant of Ayn Rand, who in turn was a student of
William Graham Sumner, one of the early American sociologists and an
enormously successful popularzier of social Darwinism. Sumner was in
turn a disciple of Herbert Spencer, that splendid nineteenth-century
kook. Because Paglia reasserts ideas so ingrained in our thinking, she
has become popular by reaffirming common prejudices.
Paglia’s obsession with de Sade is beyond my competence, although the
glorification of sadomasochism can easily be read as a rationalization
of bondage into imagined power, a characteristic process of
masochistic transfer. Dijkstra suggests that the Sadean notion of the
executioner’s assistant is critical to her thinking, though one
wonders if there is not also some identification with de Sade the
Paglia’s view of sex — that it is irrational, violent, immoral, and
wounding — is so glum that one hesitates to suggest that it might be
instead, well, a lot of fun, and maybe even affectionate and loving.
Far less forgivable is Paglia’s consistent confusion of feminism with
yuppies. What _does_ she think she’s doing? Paglia holds feminists
responsible for the bizarre blight created by John T. Molloy, author of
_Dress for Success_, which caused a blessedly brief crop of young
women, all apparently aspiring to be executive vice-presidents, to
appear in the corporate halls wearing those awful sand-colored baggy
suits with little floppy bow ties around their necks.
Why Paglia lays the blame for this at the feet of feminism is beyond
me. Whatever our other aims may have been, no one in the feminist
movement ever thought you are what you wear. The only coherent fashion
statement I can recall from the entire movement was the suggestion
that Mrs. Cleaver, Beaver’s mom, would on the whole have been a
happier woman had she not persisted in vacuuming while wearing high
heels. This, I still believe.
In an even more hilarious leap, Paglia contends that feminism is
responsible for the aerobics craze and concern over thin thighs.
Speaking as a beer-drinking feminist whose idea of watching her diet
is to choose either the baked potato with sour cream or with butter,
but not with both, I find this loony beyond all hope — and I am the
What we have here, fellow citizens, is a crassly egocentric, raving
twit. The Norman Podhoretz of our gender. That this woman is actually
taken seriously as a thinker in New York intellectual circles is a
clear sign of decandence, decay, and hopeless pinheadedness. Has no
one in the nation’s intellectual capital the background and ability to
see through a web of categorical assertions? One fashionable line of
response to Paglia is to claim that even though she may be
fundamentally off-base, she has “flashes of brilliance.” If so, I
missed them in her oceans of swill.
One of her latest efforts at playing enfant terrible in intellectual
circles was a peppy essay for _Newsday_, claiming that either there is
no such thing as date rape or, if there is, it’s women’s fault because
we dress so provocatively. Thanks, Camille, I’ve got some Texas
fraternity boys I want you to meet.
There is one area in which I think Paglia and I would agree that
politically correct feminism has produced a noticeable inequity.
Nowadays, when a woman behaves in a hysterical and disagreeable
fashion, we say, “Poor dear, it’s probably PMS.” Whereas, if a man
behaves in a hysterical and disagreeable fashion, we say, “What an
asshole.” Let me leap to correct this unfairness by saying of Paglia,
Sheesh, what an asshole.