I have a confession to make.
I read Camille Paglia.
Of course, being a grad student in the early ’90s, it was impossible to avoid Paglia in the Cultural Studies circles. Most of us regarded Paglia’s work the way one later considers a case of chicken pox: it’s something you suffer through and appreciate never again having to endure. With chicken pox, you can’t contract the virus a second time, even if you tried. With Paglia, all you need do is avert your eyes if you stumble upon something she has written. And I certainly have not purchased, much less read, anything she has printed since my Feminist Literature seminar in ’93.
However, as an avid reader of Salon.com, I can’t help but notice she (somehow, inexplicably) remains a contributor to the site, weighing in once a month with her invariably repetitious, insipid pronouncements. And like the tortured narrator unable to overcome his perverse compulsions in the Edgar Allen Poe story, I am incapable of resisting. Each time I click on that link I know I am, to quote Poe’s narrator, “committing…a deadly sin that would so jeopardize my immortal soul as to place it–if such a thing were possible–even beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God.”
But here’s the thing: despite the platitudes, the incessant self-referencing aggrandizement, the myopic appraisals of modern society, the deliriously cockeyed political discourse, the ravenous appetite for Cliche, I return. Once a month some folks see the moon and turn into werewolves; others are drawn inexorably toward salon.com. Not to worry, there will be no defense of Paglia’s prose or even an ironic attempt to pass this off as an awkward case of slumming, kind of the way Patrick Bateman cleverly tries to rehabilitate Phil Collins and Huey Lewis in American Psycho. No, I read the monthly articles for one simple reason: they are a delivery device for the letters. Each time out, one suffers through (with several laugh-out-loud moments guaranteed) the relatively short piece and is rewarded with pages upon pages of responses which are amusing, vitriolic and often unassailably accurate. And the really hilarious ones come from those who try to defend Camille. Check it out some time.
Give Paglia credit for this much: she seems to comprehend what is at stake and subsequently lowers the bar each month. Each time you think, “Wow, did she really just defend Rush Limbaugh while invoking, for the tenth time in a row, Vamps and Tramps?” Or, “no way she just raved about Sarah Palin while bashing, for the tenth time in a row, the feminist establishment?” But she did. Yes, she did. This month’s installment is another beauty, wherein Paglia (shockingly) defends Limbaugh (and not just the man himself or the clownish concept of his fame, but Limbaugh’s disgusting deployment of the “Barack the Magic Negro” song), and she reiterates her bizarre and inexplicable lionization of the laughable Sarah Palin.
Month in, month out, the pattern is predictable: Paglia remains a solipsistic hyena who believes she is shaking things up by obsessing about the worst tendencies of liberals and holding them up as the standard. She then doubles down by being audacious enough to rationalize some of the more insidious aspects of the right wing which she valorizes as salt of the earth Americana. In other words, she manages to embrace cliches, not comprehend the cliches she espouses, and in the process manages to be something worse than a caricature.
The result? A ceaselessly chattering champion of intellectual refuse like Rush Limbaugh, Madonna and The Titanic who is myopic enough to think she’s operating outside the system. It amounts to speaking loudly from inside a comfortable box and Paglia continues to make a career out of it. Not unlike Fox News, she thinks her view is balanced because…she says it is balanced. Unlike Fox News, one wonders if she really does believe the shit she shovels onto the screen.
Not much has changed since 1991, when the inimitable Molly Ivins bludgeoned Paglia with this hysterically funny demolition. The piece was an instant classic: it is worth reading, and retaining. Any part of it is quotable, but here is the spot where Ivins sticks in the stiletto:
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 decadence, 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?
I concur. So do many other people. (Read the letters!) So why would Salon keep such a polarizing blowhard employed? Um, I am not an expert in the business side of these types of matters, but I suspect it is precisely because…she is a polarizing blowhard. She opens her mouth (figuratively speaking) and that stuff comes out (figuratively speaking) and it draws the flies (figuratively speaking). That is good business.
In sum, Camille Paglia is so full of shit she needs an enema. And yet, while our world would not be less full, it would be less funny without her. Rave on, say I.