Thursday, February 20, 2003

Tina Brown is a Tiny Moron

Don't believe me? Read her latest column, full of lamentation for how the poor fashion industry is suffering, struggling to regain its footing after its self-absorbed hedonism was so cruelly stopped by those insensitive jihadis. But that's not the really annoying part. This is:

IS IT JUST THE RESIDUE of fashion week that makes me wish there were more, or should I say any, gay men in the Bush Administration? At The Sunday Times in the Seventies one top editor used to shake his head when the paper became too humourlessly high-testosterone and say that what it needed that week was “more pooftah power”.

Behold the power of the gay! I know that in matters of dire national emergency, the best way to ensure the success of our nation is not to find qualified folks to lead, but to randomly select people on the basis of their sexuality! Because it's all about offsetting that deadly testosterone! Although, I do want to bitchslap Tina Brown. Could that be due to the Power of the Gay, or is it just that she's a twit?

In lieu of outright womanhood — except for Condoleezza Rice, who crosses the gender barriers by becoming the most zealous enabler — perhaps an injection of androgyny could be brought to bear on diplomatic relations in this moment of crisis. The Bush crowd’s only management style, like that of many who subscribe to the outmoded cult of America’s Toughest Bosses, is to unzip and thwack it on the table. As Senator Robert Byrd put it in his speech last week, they deal in “crude insensitivities”.

Yeah, gotta get in the gratuitious "slap Condi" moment. So now, not only is she inauthentically black, she's inauthentically female. And while we're flailing that broad brush of stereotyping around, let's do mention the whole BSD trope. It's all about the penis, people. Power to the penis! Wait a minute--there's a knock at the door....oh, look! It's our good friend Irony. Hi, I! What's up? Oh, yeah, I noticed she's talking about insensitivity by using a former Klansman as a mouthpiece--I was trying to ignore that. Hey, Irony, you look a little down. Beer? Help yourself. I'll be with you in a moment.

The offence of it is enhanced by the fact that we know how unauthentic Bush is in this role of macho man. Unlike the war vet Powell, who never swaggers, he has no credentials for talking the tough talk.

Is it just me, or is anyone else having Village People flashbacks about now? Macho man, pooftah power...once our Tina gets her tiny pointed teeth into an extended metaphor, she just doesn't let go, does she? Like a tiny, rabid chihuahua, she's just worrying this column to death. Really slowly. And not very effectively, either. But, like the aforesaid diminutive doggie, she's managing to be very annoying, all the same.

Bush never said that the trouble with the French is that they have no word for “entrepreneur” — that turned out to be an urban legend. But I wish we had a leader who did not believe that “nuance” was strictly for cheese eaters.

Behold the mighty TB! Clairvoyant, y'all! Able to see through the urban legend and into the very heart and soul of our leader! Down with the bi-lingual shizzy! Oh, hold on a sec--Irony? Why are you crying? Well, yes, I know you've been poorly utilized of late. I'm sorry. No, we do appreciate you, Irony. And we don't judge you based on crap like this. You don't have control over every hack columnist on the planet. Shh, shh. It's okay. Have another beer. Go to your happy place. Focus on the happy place.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

We'll Be Back After this Brief Word from Our Sponsors

Sorry for the non-posting this week. I discovered today that the nagging, piercing pain in my ears was not, as I had previously thought, caused by the Toddler's new penchant for tantrums (helloooo, 18 months!), but by a double ear infection on top of a sinus infection and bronchitis. Given how short my fuse has been lately, a couple of days off with drugs and The Two Towers video game (woo-hoo! Go Gimli!) have been good for the soul.

I'll return to my regularly scheduled ranting and raving tomorrow.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Bugs in Amber

In undergrad, there was a running joke at my school that you could tell in which year a professor received his or her PhD by the way he or she dressed. It was particularly true in the Psych Department: the two professors who matriculated in the seventies--one male, one female--still wore lime green leisure suits and peasant blouses and skirts (with knee socks!), respectively. And the newest addition to the faculty (this was in the late 80s) was all about the Capezios shoes and parachute pants. At the time, I chalked it up to "absent minded professor syndrome"--they were so busy thinking deep thoughts that they never looked around and noticed that things change.

Fast forward a decade plus three, after more schooling and a university job, and I realize that my first analysis was at least half right. Those professors and a lot of the ones I ran into subsequently didn't notice that things change, but it wasn't because they were thinking deep thoughts, it was because they were repeating the same thoughts that they had in grad school (or earlier) over and over until the thinkers became completely paralyzed--trapped in one mindset and preserved like bugs in amber, unable to recognize or react to the outside world.

How else can you explain the disproportionate number of academicians who cling to the rhetoric of class warfare and who still believe that Marx holds the answers when human nature and real world regimes have proven this false? How else do you come to terms with ideologies that are all about "shades of gray" until someone offers an opposing viewpoint, and right and wrong suddenly solidify into darkest black and starkest white? And how else can you begin to understand a worldview in which the academic alone holds the key to correct knowlege and the greatest sin is hypocrisy, not the consequences of actions undertaken in the real world, where those shades of gray are much more apparent than in a classroom?

The "explosion" of critical theory in the last couple of decades is simply the application of popular late-nineteenth and early twentieth century philosophies and causes--Marxism, Existentialism, Nihilism, Feminism--to literature. The ideas are recycled, the concepts are nominally "freshened up" by adding a dash of race or sex, and voila! Post-Colonial theory, Queer theory, and New Historicism magically appear. Yes, part of the joy of literature is finding universally relevant themes. But turning the themes that you find into courses of study all their own just leads to an overabundance of specious research and poor writing, as each little critical theory sub-group fights for a piece of the pie. And for all of their writing and research and scholarly production, these folks are still basically talking about Marxism, the academic cause du jour when they were up and comers.

This watered down Marxism pervades academia to such an extent that it is every bit as unquestioned as the old-fashioned reader-response approach to literature used to be. Incoming students are fed it, learn to regurgitate it back, and even if they don't necessarily buy into it, they learn how to play the game if they want a career in academia. Until recently, no one bothered to question the politicization of literature courses--it was simply accepted that your english professor was probably going to make a snide comment about Reagan, and no one batted an eye when he or she did. What was that old chestnut? The battles are so fierce because the stakes are so low--that about summed up the student attitude toward politics in the classroom.

But the world has a stubborn tendency to change, and so for whatever reasons--the end of the cold war, the rise of the internet, 9-11--students, scholars, and those outside the academy are a little less apt to swallow the old line. This is a healthy thing, I think, for the university, provided there is energetic debate about the issues involved. However, I am not encouraged by what I've seen thus far. CampusWatch and NoIndoctrination.org are being held up as the new McCarthyism, as though anyone with the temerity to question a professor's tactics or beliefs must automatically be an imperialist troglodyte and tool of the man. We have professors writing course descriptions in which those students who aren't "right thinking individuals" aren't encouraged to attend. And we have universities implementing draconian speech codes, to protect the young from the consequences of speaking their minds, one would assume.

These responses are ridiculous and out of touch, and expose the universities and scholars who hold them as fearful, inflexible relics, unable to fulfill the basic definition of a university: unity from diversity. The folks in charge of academia today are, by and large, the youthful rebels of the sixties, who wanted to get rid of the old strictures in the name of freedom. I submit that they have become what they once beheld: rigid rule-makers, or to put it metaphorically, bugs in amber.