Letters to the Editor

Camille Paglia misfires on Hillary, McCain and the Romantics! Plus: Mary Kay backers are pink, positive and pissed off; Stereolab as spiritual experience.

By Letters to the Editor
September 29, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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Real superpower in a godless universe

Camille Paglia's belief that the conservative's hatred for Hillary Rodham Clinton is due to her cosseting by the mainstream media is off the mark. The conservative right's hatred for Clinton is largely due to her being a symbol for the cultural changes that have occurred since the 1940s and 1950s -- women moving back into the workplace, women campaigning for reproductive freedom and minority rights, and the toppling of Protestant Christianity's wink-wink nudge-nudge status as the unofficial state religion. Clinton is rightly seen not only as a symbol of the changes, but as someone who helped bring them about.


If Paglia would go back and carefully examine the sources of the right-wing anti-Clinton effluent, she would soon find herself surrounded by reactionaries who still firmly believe that women should be subordinate to men, and that a woman's role is still "barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen." Paglia needn't take my word for it; she can check the fundamentalist/evangelical Christian right's broadcasts and publications.

I don't doubt that Clinton has her flaws. She lacks a great leader's ability to envision and compromise. Some of her financial dealings may be questionable. But to my mind, her cosseting by the Eastern media doesn't begin to explain the abuse directed and abetted at her by the radical right's slime machine.

-- E. Lee DeGolyer

Austin, Texas


Camille Paglia praised the 19th century Romantic movement just before criticizing Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., as a "seething nest of proto-fascist impulses."

What cheek! Fascism might as well be the political arm of the Romantic movement, like republicanism and the Enlightenment. Yes, Paglia is correct that the Romantics gave nature its due. Nature is amoral. Nature is the force of pure action, free from motivation or concern for consequence; resistance to nature is futile. And so Romanticism encourages us to see human affairs as well, valuing action and determined will above all else. For the Romantics, the only true expression was action, free of motivation or care for the consequences. Romantics embraced the ideal of writing human affairs in the language of nature: powerful, wild and terrible. Fascism is the truest political expression of the ethic of amoral action; to the fascist, action justifies itself.

If Paglia really finds Romanticism to be superior to all those other pesky modern intellectual movements that pretend that the world can be understood, rather than merely submitted to, then the "proto-fascist" McCain might be the candidate for her. Or perhaps she should take another look at Pat Buchanan. There's nothing proto- about his fascist impulses, and no truer Romantic seeks the presidency today.


-- R. Scott Rogers

Camille Paglia never wrote a truer word than she did when she criticized the major media's appalling lack of coverage of the catastrophe in eastern North Carolina. I live in Maine now, but I come from eastern North Carolina and my family lives there still. The whole Eastern seaboard was watchful of Floyd's approach and coverage was comprehensive and in-depth. Once the storm had moved through, however, while my father and others reported on a daily basis that "eastern North Carolina is sunk" there was nothing on national television or radio about the misery there. The arrogance behind this neglect is infuriating: If the prime vacation spots are spared, there isn't really any there there. The people of eastern North Carolina will need months, even years, to recover from this disaster -- the least that the rest of the country can do is bear witness to the event through media coverage.


I am immensely grateful that the president went to see Tarboro and similarly affected communities. I trace the media's change of perspective on the situation to his visit; otherwise, I think eastern North Carolina's plight would yet be invisible.

-- Lisa D. Coble

Portland, Maine

Camille Paglia, who'd probably never heard of John McCain until his book tour, says he has "weirdly wary and over-intense eyes" and a "clenched, humorless jaw line." In response, I can add little to this description of a brief period in McCain's Vietnam imprisonment from Robert Timberg's book "The Nightingale's Song":


Amid laughter and muttered oaths, he was slammed from one guard to another, bounced from wall to wall, knocked down, kicked, dragged to his feet, knocked back down, punched again and again in the face. When the beating was over, he lay on the floor, bloody, arms and legs throbbing, ribs cracked, several teeth broken off at the gumline ... He was moved to another cell where his arms, battered, broken, and bruised in one way or another since the day he was shot down, were lashed behind his back, then cinched tightly together to intensify the pain. He was left on a stool ... [For] the next several days ... beatings were administered throughout the day ... At night, the ropes were reapplied.

Gee, after five years of this, I think even Catherine Deneuve or Madonna would have wary and over-intense eyes and a clenched jaw line.

-- Steve Messina

New York

The power of positive pinking


Here's what's always been wrong with feminism: elitist
jerks like Kristina Robbins. Oh, sure, I can give her
some slack because she's only 25 and hasn't truly
experienced life in the real world yet. I'm a
stay-at-home mom and it pretty much doesn't get
"realer" than that.


But I digress: I'm a feminist and as such I would
never in a million years make fun of, or relay stories
to "great comic effect" about hard-working
genuine women like the Mary Kay sellers in Robbins'
"exposi." Why would women like Mary Kay Ash want to call
themselves "feminists" when they're so looked down
upon by gals like Robbins? Sorry, you can only be a
part of our club if you don't wear make-up (much less
sell it!), don't use air-conditioning and
don't drive Cadillacs. Also, you have to have gone to
college and use words like "patriarchy."

Reality check: It's really boring and tired to get all
worked up about whether women should wear lipstick or
not. The Mary Kay women are just
trying to improve their circumstances -- and their skin-care regimen -- in a positive, productive way. And they are doing it in a way that benefits other women. Isn't that what feminism is all about?

-- Amy Brickell

Yakima, Wash.

At about the same age -- 25 -- I, too, went underground to write about Mary
Kay for a regional women's magazine in the Midwest. I didn't pretend to
become a potential recruit, but I did pretend that I was interested in
saying something nice about what the organization supposedly was doing for
women. My raging feminism was also at its height, and was as yet untempered by
experience. (I'm now 47.)


It was great fun to read about Kristina Robbins'
experience in Dallas and realize how little has changed since I went to one
of those crazy, pink conventions. (Mary Kay's son was president of the board
at the time; he, along with all the other -- male -- vice presidents of the
company, paraded around town daring to wear his pink suit in
cowboy bars, flaunting the amount of money he was making off mom.) What
I particularly enjoyed was Robbins' insights about how Mary
Kay has changed, piecing together the bits of evolving culture to try to
attract new recruits -- much like any other business.

I had reluctantly reached the same conclusions about whether Mary Kay was a good thing or not
having met a woman whose only "career" after her husband dumped her and her
two little kids was packing shotgun shells in a factory. Better that self-esteem and sense of belonging she achieved, not to mention the stability to
raise her kids on her own terms, than the life to which she had been
relegated. So what if Mary Kay made it a policy to not discuss her oil
wells in front of her husband so as to not damage his fragile ego?

-- Deborah Fisher

I am a Mary Kay consultant who has seen what this wonderful company can do
for people. I really took offense to the line "I see Mary Kay ... as being
warped by materialistic ideals, patriarchal images of female beauty and half-baked nauseating self-esteem tricks." There are no "tricks" in Mary Kay. I
suggest that Kristina watch the video "Lessons and Legends." She would have a better understanding of who Mary Kay Ash is, why she
started this company and what it really has done for women.


-- Gigi Finkelstein

Salinas, Calif.

Robbins illustrates perfectly how complex real life actually is. For those of us
who carry abstract ideas in our heads, seeing things as they are and not as
we expect them to be is important.
The core function of feminism is to help women, not criticize them for poor
political choices. Robbins sees this and questions her expectations about
the evil empire she thought she'd encounter. If a group raises a
working-class woman's self-esteem when other employment options available
to that woman do not, is she not better off?

-- Ralph Hummel

Surrealist manifesto



Stereolab's Tim Gane says, "To be unique was more important than to be good."
It's impossible to be good without being unique, but it's very easy to
be unique while sucking wildly.

-- Travis Hartnett

My passion for Stereolab continues to wax long after it should have maybe
waned. And that, of course, is because they continue to wax: Each of their albums is
a new, different world.

I first heard Stereolab in 1993, in Grand Rapids, Mich. I got dragged there by a
friend and expected the usual banal fare. What I got instead was a
transfusion of sorely needed vitality, in the form of alien-seeming
creatures, at the head of whom was a striking chanteuse with a page-boy haircut and an other-worldly voice -- and all of them illuminated by a single
column of lavender light from overhead, shot through with smoke. They must
have played for two hours and in that time, all I could do was stand there and stare -- and listen -- transfixed. What I heard -- and what I hear today -- was a creative interplay of voice and fresh
instrumentation, a pointedly European air (in contrast
to the usual American pap that passes for pop), a sheer intelligence and an exciting
newness that gives the lie to the utterly obvious fact that God is dead.
Now how's that for enthusiasm?

Today, when I listen to them outside on my Walkman, the whole
landscape of sight -- buses, cars, animals, people, the scenes of daily life
here in Honolulu -- is given a soundtrack, and pulses to the beat. Then, as sometimes happens, the reality of the world falls away, becoming a fictional accompanist to the realer world of
the music. What kind of music is it that can do that? Stereolab is underrated and underpaid. But who isn't?

-- Doug Thacker


Hog hell in North Carolina


After reading about the potential diseases that might arise from the
thousands of dead pigs in North Carolina (killed by Hurricane Floyd), I have
this to say: This is poetic justice. Factory farming of pigs is cruel and inhumane; by now it is well-known that pigs are more intelligent than dogs, and though people would not allow dogs to suffer in awful factory-farm conditions, they are happy to turn a blind eye toward
the maltreatment of pigs (the taste of bacon apparently being more important
than silly notions of compassion and mercy).

So, for the North Carolinians who get sick as a result of the decomposing
bodies of pigs they happily brutalized just a few weeks ago -- as far as I'm
concerned, it serves them right.

-- Michael Gurwitz

Silver Spring, Md.

Faster, pussycat ... save me the aisle seat?

Amy Reiter suggests that in researching his new book, aspiring author
Donald Trump "should listen to cockney-punk-folkie
Billy Bragg, who dedicated a song to GOP/Reform Party
straddler Pat Buchanan ... at a D.C. gig
Wednesday night. The title? 'The Fascists Are Bound to

It seems that the irony of the evening escaped the
usually perspicacious Reiter, as well most of her
fellow concert-goers. After having taken a timeout
from singing to inveigh against Buchanan,
unimaginatively branding him a "fascist" for the
umpteenth time, Bragg proceeded to launch into an
anti-World Trade Organization diatribe that would have brought a smile to
"fair trader" Pat's otherwise dour complexion.

Bragg is a fine singer-songwriter. And his resurrection of lost Woody
Guthrie lyrics (with alt.country mainstays Wilco)
on the recent "Mermaid Avenue" album registers among the
finest American musical achievements of the decade.
But as a political pundit, Bragg makes one pine
for the incessant drone of those hacks on the Fox News Channel.

-- J.V. LaBeaume


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Camille Paglia Hillary Rodham Clinton John Mccain