Every time I see someone unilaterally criticizing liberals, I always check it out, hoping for either a good chuckle or some quality raging, so when I saw the title for Camille Paglia’s second Salon interview, “Camille Paglia takes on Jon Stewart, Trump, Sanders: ‘Liberals think of themselves as very open-minded, but that’s simply not true!’” I knew I had to check it out. Then I had to read the entire three part series, which you can read here, here, and here. And let me tell you, it is a doozy.
Prior to these interviews, I didn’t know anything about Camille Paglia, but I can now confidently say that I have no desire to learn more. A quick Wikipedia search shows that she’s a cultural and political commentator that’s been active since the 1960s. She enjoys speaking off the cuff with provocative and polarizing statements and generally seems to laugh at others being serious. She’s loud but generally well-educated and is either loved or hated. And, as the interview demonstrated, she has a great deal of opinions.
The interview itself is a mess, and Ms. Paglia jumps from topic to topic with all the enthusiasm of a freshman writing her first essay. She is eager to plug her own books and position herself as the forerunner of several modern issues such as public atheism, feminism, and the support of the working class. She is dismissive of approximately the last twenty years and yearns for a return to the 1960s in all things – politics, social activism, and comedy among others. She is disconnected from the rising generation and seems to regard them as snarky nonentities. If you’d like an oversimplification, she’s basically the stereotypical Baby Boomer carping against Millennials.
That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have intelligent and even insightful things to say. In her third interview, “’Ted Cruz gives me the willies’: Camille Paglia analyzes the GOP field – and takes on Hillary Clinton,” she spares a few minutes to discuss why Hillary isn’t a viable candidate, pointing out flaws in her presentation and media handling that I’d glossed over before. Her breadth of experience seems to serve her well in Presidential candidate analysis, even if she’s ultimately offering us nothing in return.
“Offering us nothing in return” is a common problem with Ms. Paglia’s analyses. She’s quick to point out flaws, to bemoan the sad fate of everything, to hype up her own personality, and to look longingly backwards, but none of that has any real substance. She’s “happy with what Trump has done, because he’s totally blown up the media!” but has little understanding about what harm he’s actually doing. She stops her analysis of feminism at the second wave, which dealt with becoming a career woman, and seems to blame women for not wanting to mother men through their anxieties. She focuses on Western civilization, blaming our divergence from it for our downfall and ignores women of color, completely glossing over their role in their family’s lives and the #BlackLivesMatter movement entirely. She comes across as a glib know-it-all utterly removed from modern society trying to inflate her own self-worth. It’s disturbing and problematic and so utterly bewildering that it would take me days to tease out all of her logical inconsistencies and fallacies.
Before writing this WTF, I hesitated. My knee-jerk reaction had been to dismiss her because of her age, but I’ve been trying to resist that tendency. I interact with Baby Boomers and the elderly on a daily basis, and I’ve become more aware of the detrimental effects of ageism recently. However, I honestly believe that a generational divide is the root of the problem I have with many of Ms. Paglia’s assertions. While it seems possible that I can reach back and see her points, looking up Dianne Feinstein, Sexual Personae, and Mort Sahl, I feel confident that she will never look up Roxane Gay, the founders of #BlackLivesMatter, or How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, which is the root of our disagreement. She is too confident in her own infallibility and in my generation’s failings to want to bridge that gap, which is why she comes off as pompous and self-serving. And while I wouldn’t necessarily say that Salon shouldn’t have published her interview, I do have to admit to being disappointed in them for giving her such a wide and visible platform, especially given how popular Salon is with my generation. But I guess it’s just another one of those if you have the age, you get the spotlight, even if you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about half the time.