Reading through Camille Paglia’s criticisms of the culture, one cannot help but think that most other social critics of our generation either feed a confirmation bias or speak about things for which most of us have no interest. As evidence of their lack of confidence, they scratch and claw their way through the competition to achieve an unprecedented depth in the sewer. On those occasions when Ms. Paglia does use overly provocative words, she backs it up with objectivity and a display of knowledge that is so vast that the adjective “informed” seems incomplete.
Camille Paglia is not a conservative, or liberal, and her politics have been described as “radical libertarian”, but she is a life-long Democrat. The “difficult to define” nature of her politics is something that most partisans pine for, but few of these “all over the map” thinkers could finish one paragraph of Camille Paglia’s thoughts without acknowledging that there is a comparative consistency to the overview of their thinking that could only be called limited to a certain ideology. Most diverse thinkers would also shrink at the evidence of inconsistencies in their beliefs system that suggests that they’ve either never been challenged, or that they’ve never truly given opposing views any consideration. From what I’ve read of Ms. Paglia’s work, when she is confronted by inconsistencies she confronts them head-on, and in a manner that contains no obfuscation or spin.
She is in favor of pornography, abortion, prostitution, drug-use, and assisted suicide. She is a proud lesbian, an atheist that respects religion, and a self-described dissident feminist, or as some feminist critics have called her an “anti-feminist feminist”.
If you have strong views on a specific topic, she’ll probably offend you in some manner, but her methodology does not consist of the quick to the throat one-liners that one has come expect from a provocateur. Those that worship at the altar of provocateurs may not even recognize what Camille’s methodology for what it is, as her criticisms dig deep and leave a lasting wound.
The average and ubiquitous provocateur will say something along the line of: “I don’t want some guy (Ted Cruz) that purportedly memorized the constitution at twelve years-old to be my president. If I would’ve been in his grade, at twelve years old, I would’ve put my knee into his throat until he changed … I want the guy I vote for to smoke pot, have premarital and post-marital affairs … and yes … I’m talking about in the White House, and I want my guy to snort coke off their partner’s backside. I want my politician to be a real man or woman that has lived a real life.”
Those of us that worship at the altar of provocateurs are temporarily put in a jam by such comments, because they’re directed at “our guys”, but it’s not that, and we find ourselves in a sand hole trying to defend our disinterest. It’s that that type of ridicule is lacking in ingenuity and depth, and originality. It’s something George Carlin was saying forty years ago, it’s Lenny Bruce, it’s retread. Those of us that pine for something different want that cutting-the-edge-of-the-throat type of originality from our social critics that is informed and appears to have no influence, and we also want the kind of critiques that have staying power in the manner Camille Paglia’s criticism does:
“(Ted) Cruz gives me the willies. The guy is a fanatic! He’s very smart, clever and strategic, and he has a fine education from Princeton, so people have to watch out for him. But I think he is self-absorbed and narcissistic to a maniacal degree. I will never forgive him for his insulting arrogance to Dianne Feinstein when the Judiciary Committee was debating gun control two years ago. There’s a two-minute clip on YouTube which I urge people to look at it. Cruz is smirkily condescending and ultimately juvenile. He peppers Feinstein with a long list of rat-a-tat questions, as if he’s playing Perry Mason grilling a witness on the stand. He was trying to embarrass her but only embarrassed himself. A president must be a statesman, not a smart-alecky horse’s ass.”
There is no substance to the insight of most provocateurs. Listen to the most caustic crowd long enough, usually found on satellite radio, or on podcasts, and you’ll hear that their analysis of even the most important subjects devolve to 5th grade potty humor and fart jokes. Provocative jokes like those have their place, but they don’t have the kind of staying power that a Camille Paglia statement does, as her most recent interview with Salon.com, part II, and part III proves.
On Bill Clinton:
“Bill Clinton was a serial abuser of working-class women –he had exploited that power differential even in Arkansas. And then in the case of Monica Lewinsky– I mean, the failure on the part of (iconic feminist leader) Gloria Steinem and company to protect her was an absolute disgrace in feminist history! What bigger power differential could there be than between the president of the United States and this poor innocent girl? Not only an intern but clearly a girl who had a kind of pleading, open look to her–somebody who was looking for a father figure.
“I was enraged! My publicly stated opinion at the time was that I don’t care what public figures do in their private life. It’s a very sophisticated style among the French, and generally in Europe, where the heads of state tend to have mistresses on the side. So what? That doesn’t bother me at all! But the point is, they are sophisticated affairs that the European politicians have, while the Clinton episode was a disgrace.”
Camille preceded this observation with a slight correlation between Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton:
“Right from the start, when the Bill Cosby scandal surfaced, I knew it was not going to bode well for Hillary’s campaign, because young women today have a much lower threshold for tolerance of these matters. The horrible truth is that the feminist establishment in the U.S., led by Gloria Steinem, did in fact apply a double standard to Bill Clinton’s behavior because he was a Democrat. The Democrat president and administration supported abortion rights, and therefore it didn’t matter what his personal behavior was.
“But we’re living in a different time right now, and young women have absolutely no memory of Bill Clinton. It’s like ancient history for them; there’s no reservoir of accumulated good will.”
Salon.com Interviewer David Daley: “A cigar and the intern is certainly the opposite of sophisticated.”
“Absolutely! It was frat house stuff! And Monica got nothing out of it. Bill Clinton used her. Hillary was away or inattentive, and he used Monica in the White House–and in the suite of the Oval Office, of all places. He couldn’t have taken her on some fancy trip? She never got the perks of being a mistress; she was there solely to service him. And her life was completely destroyed by the publicity that followed. The Clinton’s are responsible for the destruction of Monica Lewinsky! They probably hoped that she would just go on and have a job, get married, have children, and disappear, but instead she’s like this walking ghoul.”
Salon.com Interviewer David Daley: “Fifteen years later, that’s still the sad role left for her to play.”
“Yes, it’s like something out of “Wuthering Heights” or “Great Expectations”–some Victorian novel, where a woman turns into this mourning widow who mopes on and on over a man who abused or abandoned her. Hillary has a lot to answer for, because she took an antagonistic and demeaning position toward her husband’s accusers. So it’s hard for me to understand how the generation of Lena Dunham would or could tolerate the actual facts of Hillary’s history.”
Salon.com Interviewer David Daley: “So have the times and standards changed enough that Clinton would be seen as Cosby, if he was president today.”
“Oh, yes! There’s absolutely no doubt, especially in this age of instant social media. In most of these cases, like the Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby stories, there’s been a complete neglect of psychology. We’re in a period right now where nobody asks any questions about psychology. No one has any feeling for human motivation. No one talks about sexuality in terms of emotional needs and symbolism and the legacy of childhood. Sexuality has been politicized–“Don’t ask any questions!” “No discussion!” “Gay is exactly equivalent to straight!” And thus in this period of psychological blindness or inertness, our art has become dull. There’s nothing interesting being written–in fiction or plays or movies.Everything is boring because of our failure to ask psychological questions.
“So I say there is a big parallel between Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton–aside from their initials! Young feminists need to understand that this abusive behavior by powerful men signifies their sense that female power is much bigger than they are! These two people, Clinton and Cosby, are emotionally infantile–they’re engaged in a war with female power. It has something to do with their early sense of being smothered by female power–and this pathetic, abusive and criminal behavior is the result of their sense of inadequacy.
“Now, in order to understand that, people would have to read my first book, “Sexual Personae”–which of course is far too complex for the ordinary feminist or academic mind! It’s too complex because it requires a sense of the ambivalence of human life. Everything is not black and white, for heaven’s sake! We are formed by all kinds of strange or vague memories from childhood. That kind of understanding is needed to see that Cosby was involved in a symbiotic, push-pull thing with his wife, where he went out and did these awful things to assert his own independence. But for that, he required the women to be inert. He needed them to be dead! Cosby is actually a necrophiliac–a style that was popular in the late Victorian period in the nineteenth-century.
“It’s hard to believe now, but you had men digging up corpses from graveyards, stealing the bodies, hiding them under their beds, and then having sex with them. So that’s exactly what’s happening here: to give a woman a drug, to make her inert, to make her dead is the man saying that I need her to be dead for me to function. She’s too powerful for me as a living woman. And this is what is also going on in those barbaric fraternity orgies, where women are sexually assaulted while lying unconscious. And women don’t understand this! They have no idea why any men would find it arousing to have sex with a young woman who’s passed out at a fraternity house. But it’s necrophilia–this fear and envy of a woman’s power.
“And it’s the same thing with Bill Clinton: to find the answer, you have to look at his relationship to his flamboyant mother. He felt smothered by her in some way. But let’s be clear–I’m not trying to blame the mother! What I’m saying is that male sexuality is extremely complicated, and the formation of male identity is very tentative and sensitive–but feminist rhetoric doesn’t allow for it. This is why women are having so much trouble dealing with men in the feminist era. They don’t understand men, and they demonize men. They accord to men far more power than men actually have in sex. Women control the sexual world in ways that most feminists simply don’t understand.
“My explanation is that second-wave feminism dispensed with motherhood. The ideal woman was the career woman–and I do support that. To me, the mission of feminism is to remove all barriers to women’s advancement in the social and political realm–to give women equal opportunities with men. However, what I kept saying in “Sexual Personae” is that equality in the workplace is not going to solve the problems between men and women which are occurring in the private, emotional realm, where every man is subordinate to women, because he emerged as a tiny helpless thing from a woman’s body. Professional women today don’t want to think about this or deal with it.
“The erasure of motherhood from feminist rhetoric has led us to this current politicization of sex talk, which doesn’t allow women to recognize their immense power vis-à-vis men. When motherhood was more at the center of culture, you had mothers who understood the fragility of boys and the boy’s need for nurturance and for confidence to overcome his weaknesses. The old-style country women–the Italian matriarchs and Jewish mothers–they all understood the fragility of men. The mothers ruled their own world and didn’t take men that seriously. They understood how to nurture men and encourage them to be strong–whereas current feminism simply doesn’t perceive the power of women vis-a-vis men. But when you talk like this with most men, it really resonates with them, and they say “Yes, yes! That’s it!”
“Currently, feminists lack sympathy and compassion for men and for the difficulties that men face in the formation of their identities. I’m not talking in terms of the men’s rights movement, which got infected by p.c. The heterosexual professional woman, emerging with her shiny Ivy League degree, wants to communicate with her husband exactly the way she communicates with her friends–as in “Sex and the City.” That show really caught the animated way that women actually talk with each other. But that’s not a style that straight men can do! Gay men can do it, sure–but not straight men! Guess what–women are different than men! When will feminism wake up to this basic reality? Women relate differently to each other than they do to men. And straight men do not have the same communication skills or values as women–their brains are different!”
On Atheists that sneer at Religion:
“I regard (those that sneer at religion) as adolescents. I say in the introduction to my last book, “Glittering Images”, that “Sneering at religion is juvenile, symptomatic of a stunted imagination.” It exposes a state of perpetual adolescence that has something to do with their parents– they’re still sneering at dad in some way. Richard Dawkins was the only high-profile atheist out there when I began publicly saying “I am an atheist,” on my book tours in the early 1990s. I started the fad for it in the U.S, because all of a sudden people, including leftist journalists, started coming out of the closet to publicly claim their atheist identities, which they weren’t bold enough to do before. But the point is that I felt it was perfectly legitimate for me to do that because of my great respect for religion in general–from the iconography to the sacred architecture and so forth. I was arguing that religion should be put at the center of any kind of multicultural curriculum.
“I’m speaking here as an atheist. I don’t believe there is a God, but I respect every religion deeply. All the great world religions contain a complex system of beliefs regarding the nature of the universe and human life that is far more profound than anything that liberalism has produced. We have a whole generation of young people who are clinging to politics and to politicized visions of sexuality for their belief system. They see nothing but politics, but politics is tiny. Politics applies only to society. There is a huge metaphysical realm out there that involves the eternal principles of life and death. The great tragic texts, including the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles, no longer have the central status they once had in education, because we have steadily moved away from the heritage of western civilization.
“The real problem is a lack of knowledge of religion as well as a lack of respect for religion. I find it completely hypocritical for people in academe or the media to demand understanding of Muslim beliefs and yet be so derisive and dismissive of the devout Christian beliefs of Southern conservatives.
“But yes, the sneering is ridiculous! Exactly what are these people offering in place of religion? In my system, I offer art–and the whole history of spiritual commentary on the universe. There’s a tremendous body of nondenominational insight into human life that used to be called cosmic consciousness. It has to be remembered that my generation in college during the 1960s was suffused with Buddhism, which came from the 1950s beatniks. Hinduism was in the air from every direction–you had the Beatles and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Ravi Shankar at Monterey, and there were sitars everywhere in rock music. So I really thought we were entering this great period of religious syncretism, where the religions of the world were going to merge. But all of a sudden, it disappeared! The Asian religions vanished–and I really feel sorry for young people growing up in this very shallow environment where they’re peppered with images from mass media at a particularly debased stage.
“There are no truly major stars left, and I don’t think there’s much profound work being done in pop culture right now. Young people have nothing to enlighten them, which is why they’re clinging so much to politicized concepts, which give them a sense of meaning and direction.
“But this sneering thing! I despise snark. Snark is a disease that started with David Letterman and jumped to Jon Stewart and has proliferated since. I think it’s horrible for young people! And this kind of snark atheism–let’s just invent that term right now–is stupid, and people who act like that are stupid. Christopher Hitchens’ book “God is Not Great” was a travesty. He sold that book on the basis of the brilliant chapter titles. If he had actually done the research and the work, where each chapter had the substance of those wonderful chapter titles, then that would have been a permanent book. Instead, he sold the book and then didn’t write one–he talked it. It was an appalling performance, demonstrating that that man was an absolute fraud to be talking about religion. He appears to have done very little scholarly study. Hitchens didn’t even know Judeo-Christianity well, much less the other world religions. He had that glib Oxbridge debater style in person, but you’re remembered by your written work, and Hitchens’ written work was weak and won’t last.
“Dawkins also seems to be an obsessive on some sort of personal vendetta, and again, he’s someone who has never taken the time to do the necessary research into religion. Now my entire career has been based on the pre-Christian religions. My first book, “Sexual Personae,” was about the pagan cults that still influence us, and it began with the earliest religious artifacts, like the Venus of Willendorf in 35,000 B.C. In the last few years, I’ve been studying Native American culture, in particular the Paleo-Indian period at the close of the Ice Age. In the early 1990s, when I first arrived on the scene, I got several letters from Native Americans saying my view of religion, women, and sexuality resembled the traditional Native American view. I’m not surprised, because my orientation is so fixed in the pre-Christian era.”
On Jon Stewart, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the liberal media:
“I think Stewart’s show demonstrated the decline and vacuity of contemporary comedy. I cannot stand that smug, snarky, superior tone. I hated the fact that young people were getting their news through that filter of sophomoric snark. Comedy, to me, is one of the major modern genres, and the big influences on my generation were Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl. Then Joan Rivers had an enormous impact on me–she’s one of my major role models. It’s the old caustic, confrontational style of Jewish comedy. It was Jewish comedians who turned stand-up from the old gag-meister shtick of vaudeville into a biting analysis of current social issues, and they really pushed the envelope. Lenny Bruce used stand-up to produce gasps and silence from the audience. And that’s my standard–a comedy of personal risk. And by that standard, I’m sorry, but Jon Stewart is not a major figure. He’s certainly a highly successful T.V. personality, but I think he has debased political discourse. I find nothing incisive in his work. As for his influence, if he helped produce the hackneyed polarization of moral liberals versus evil conservatives, then he’s partly at fault for the political stalemate in the United States.
“I don’t demonize Fox News. At what point will liberals wake up to realize the stranglehold that they had on the media for so long? They controlled the major newspapers and weekly newsmagazines and T.V. networks. It’s no coincidence that all of the great liberal forums have been slowly fading. They once had such incredible power. Since the rise of the Web, the nightly network newscasts have become peripheral, and the New York Times and the Washington Post have been slowly fading and are struggling to survive.
“Historically, talk radio arose via Rush Limbaugh in the early 1990s precisely because of this stranglehold by liberal discourse. For heaven’s sake, I was a Democrat who had just voted for Jesse Jackson in the 1988 primary, but I had to fight like mad in the early 1990s to get my views heard. The resistance of liberals in the media to new ideas was enormous. Liberals think of themselves as very open-minded, but that’s simply not true! Liberalism has sadly become a knee-jerk ideology, with people barricaded in their comfortable little cells. They think that their views are the only rational ones, and everyone else is not only evil but financed by the Koch brothers. It’s so simplistic!
“Now let me give you a recent example of the persisting insularity of liberal thought in the media. When the first secret Planned Parenthood video was released in mid-July, anyone who looks only at liberal media was kept totally in the dark about it, even after the second video was released. But the videos were being run nonstop all over conservative talk shows on radio and television. It was a huge and disturbing story, but there was total silence in the liberal media. That kind of censorship was shockingly unprofessional. The liberal major media were trying to bury the story by ignoring it. Now I am a former member of Planned Parenthood and a strong supporter of unconstrained reproductive rights. But I was horrified and disgusted by those videos and immediately felt there were serious breaches of medical ethics in the conduct of Planned Parenthood officials. But here’s my point: it is everyone’s obligation, whatever your political views, to look at both liberal and conservative news sources every single day. You need a full range of viewpoints to understand what is going on in the world.”