She’s a symbol of everything that has
gone wrong with America in the last half-century. There’s no reason
to go over every detail of Angela Davis’s criminal history here: we
already did that in a couple
of pieces in 2016.
But here’s a brief summary: Communist Party and Black Panthers
member; secretly married to a gangster; supplied guns for a courtroom
hostage-taking that ended in several deaths; took it on the lam, was
finally arrested and tried, and – thanks to the radical sympathies
of at least some of the jurors – was found not guilty.
She was plainly a criminal. But the
times being what they were, she was seen as a political prisoner, a
warrior for civil rights. A covert campaign by the USSR played a key
role in shaping this image. Musicians like John Lennon and the
Rolling Stones wrote songs about her; writers like Maya Angelou and
Toni Morrison sung her praises.
After her release, she was awarded
prizes in Communist countries; supported the Soviet invasion of
Czechoslovakia and hung around in Cuba with Fidel Castro himself; in
the US, she twice ran for vice president on the Communist Party line
and became a professor at a California state university. And, thanks
to a leftist media and academy, her name shone ever more brightly in
the pantheon of supposed cultural heroes. Our 2016 pieces on her were
occasioned by the news that she was about to win a major prize from
the Brooklyn Museum for being a role model for women; we revisited
her story in 2017 when she was scheduled to be awarded a human-rights
accolade by an Alabama civil-rights group. Earlier this year, we
Davis’s participation in a rally to support Ilhan Omar, the
blatantly anti-Semitic Congresswoman from Minnesota.
Well, here we go again. In July, Ron
Radosh, an expert on the history of American Communism, reported
that the National Museum of African-American History and Culture at
the Smithsonian Institution – the Smithsonian! – was planning to
honor Davis this September by showing an old “documentary”
entitled Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners. In
fact, according to reliable accounts, this documentary is a whitewash
of Davis’s career as a Communist thug. After the screening, one
Rhea Combs “will interview and question Ms. Davis.”
Radosh quoted from a press release
issued by the museum: “we all recognize that Prof. Davis is a
figure for the ages, as fascinating to us now as she was at the
height of her incarceration and trial.” The release called Davis’s
life “a quintessential American story of activism” and claimed
that she had been “criminalized and named on the FBI’s 10 most
wanted list” not because she had supplied guns for a crime but
“because of her activism in support of social justice.”
As Radosh writes,
this is an outright lie. And it’s a lie being told by one of
America’s premier cultural institutions about one of America’s
most despicable public figures.
Code Pink’s occupation of the
Venezuela Embassy in Washington, D.C., about which we’ve written a
couple of times, naturally drew our attention to the group’s
co-founder, Medea Benjamin, who had somehow managed to fly under our
radar until this current escapade. Who, we wondered, is this woman?
And did her parents name her for Medea – a Greek mythological
figure who, in the play Medea by Euripides, kills her children
in revenge – or did she take the name herself?
The answer to the name question was
easy enough to find out. Medea Benjamin’s birth name is Susan. She
has described herself as a “nice Jewish girl from Long Island.”
She took the name Medea while in college, which was also when she
joined the radical group Students for a Democratic Society. During
the Vietnam War she supported the Viet Cong. Later she lived in Cuba,
where she felt, she said, “like I died and went to heaven.” Alas,
she was expelled from Eden after she wrote an article criticizing
Cuban censorship. As much as she cottoned to Communism, she
apparently didn’t fully grasp the concept at the time.
In 1983 she moved to San Francisco,
where she worked for an leftist group that is believed to have sent
aid to the Sandinistas. (Her daughter is named after a Sandinista
rebel.) She co-founded the radical group Global Exchange in 1988,
co-founded Code Pink, a feminist response to the War in Iraq, in
2002, and co-founded Iraq Occupation Watch in 2004. Over the years,
often in cahoots with out-and-out Communist groups such as the
Workers World Party or with funders of jihadist terror, she’s
engaged in a great deal of disruptive behavior around the world,
racking up an impressive number of arrests on several continents.
She’s also disrupted speeches by both Obama and Trump. Global
Exchange organized riots against the 1999 World Trade Organization
meeting in Seattle, and Benjamin was a leader of protests that
resulted in Starbucks introducing “Fair Trade Certified” coffee.
Naturally, she’s an Israel hater,
having taken part in the 2008 protests against Israel’s invasion of
Gaza and in the 2011 Gaza flotilla. She’s also a longtime fan of
the Castro regime in Cuba and of the chavistas in Venezuela –
hence her occupation of the embassy. Under Hugo Chavez, she has said,
Venezuela was “the center of a new, progressive model of
socioeconomic development that is shaping Latin America’s future.”
She’s also had at least one friendly meeting with Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad and collaborated on one of her initiatives with agents of
the North Korean government. In 2014 she took part in an anti-Israeli
conference in Tehran that was organized by the Iranian Foreign
Ministry and that featured panels on “Mossad’s Role in the 9/11
Coup d’Etat, “Zionist Fingerprints on the 9/11 Cover-up,” “9/11
Truth Movement Strategies and the Zionism Issue,” “9/11 and the
Holocaust as pro-Zionist ‘Public Myths,’” and “Islam as
Authentic Universal Religion vs. Zionist Memes of Islam.”
How, you may wonder, has Benjamin managed financially to spend her life traveling the globe denouncing capitalism and waving homemade signs in the faces of politicians and diplomats? Answer: family money. She’s funded her one-woman war on capitalism with the proceeds of her father’s capitalist endeavors.
Back to Christine Fair, a professor at Georgetown University who makes a habit of harassing ideological opponents and calling them Nazis. On Tuesday we revisited two incidents from last year that showed her in her characteristic attack mode. Here’s #3: this past January, at Frankfurt International Airport on her way to India, security officers refused to let her take a Speed Stick deoderant onboard because they classified it as a liquid, she argued with them, accused them of sexism, became “increasingly uncooperative,” and ultimately referred to them as “fucking bastards” and “fucking German Nazi police.” Eventually she was arrested for defamation and fined $260.
Which brings us to her latest brush with fame. Tweeting about the Senate hearings on Brett Kavanaugh, she described the GOP senators as a “chorus of entitled white men,” identified Kavanaugh as a “serial rapist,” and wrote that they all “deserve miserable deaths while feminists laugh as they take their last gasps. Bonus: we castrate their corpses and feed them to swine? Yes.”
When Abigail Marone of Campus Reform wrote to Fair to ask her to elaborate on the tweet – and especially on the apparent call for violence – Fair replied by accusing her of harassment and, addressing her (for some reason) as “Aunt Lydia,” added:
I will not be silenced. I will continue to Tweet things that make you uncomfortable and I will do this by choice. I will select words and phrases that will make you and your fellow-travelers furious.
My choice of words is intended to make you uncomfortable. Because I—and tens of millions of women in this country—are uncomfortable with the ongoing war on our lives, our bodies, our fundamental freedoms, and our access to social and economic justice. Women—whether we are white, women of color, rich or poor—are potential victims of this war. And some of us have been victimized repeatedly….
And you, Aunt Lydia, are a potential victim of this war as well even though you shill for those persons and institutions who sustain it and seek to perpetuate it. Do you think your potential assailant will care that you enable the patriarchal structures that devalue our lives and the work we do and construct legal structures that privilege the attacker? Do you think complicit women and lousy men will be less likely to slut shame you because you are one of their paid-keyboards? No, Aunt Lydia.
As it happens, Professor Fair posted this e-mail in toto on her personal blog, which is called (we’re not kidding) “Tenacious Hellpussy: A Nasty Woman Posting from the Frontlines of Fuckery.” Let’s just say that the blog fully lives up to its name. To browse through it is to experience the repellent, hateful workings of a deeply disturbed mind. For example, in a recent entry entitled “On the Politics of Language and Women’s Rage and Why My Profanity is Sacred,” Fair dismissed media criticism of her notorious “castrate their corpses” tweet as an attempt “to scare, intimidate, and ultimately shut up those of us who see through conservative lies, ruses, and efforts to disenfranchise women, people of color, LGBTQI, non-Christians and anyone else who destabilizes their infantile Leave It To Beaver fantasy.” Noting that a colleague had suggested she “demur from using naughty words in expressing my rage over this administration’s unending assault upon our lives,” she declared that only obscene words could properly capture her fury over the fact that
[w]e [women] are less likely to be hired, promoted or compensated because of our god-damned tits and snatches. These conservative jackasses want to treat our cunts like a public good, yet we pay tens of thousands of dollars to maintain and sustain our civilization-giving pussies and civilization-nurturing wombs and civilization-feeding breasts.
Yet these motherfuckers have the temerity to deny us health care coverage. They have the audacity to force us to carry children….
And you want me to circumlocute my furor in floridity?
Oh, one last thing: as of 2018-19, annual undergraduate tuition and fees at Georgetown University come to $54,104.
Everyone in the United States of America, it seemed, had a take on the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. One observer’s comment was more memorable than most. Referring to the Republican senators on the Justice Committee who were expressing support for President Trump’s nominee, this observer tweeted: “Look at this chorus of entitled white men justifying a serial rapist’s arrogated entitlement. All of them deserve miserable deaths while feminists laugh as they take their last gasps. Bonus: we castrate their corpses and feed them to swine? Yes.”
Who was this observer? None other than Christine Fair, an associate professor of Security Studies Program at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.
We might say that Professor Fair has gotten her fifteen minutes of fame, except that it turns out this isn’t the first time she’s made headlines. In January of last year, the Washington Post published an op-ed by journalist Asra Q. Nomani entitled “I’m a Muslim, a woman and an immigrant. I voted for Trump.” Nomani explained her vote: for one thing, she couldn’t afford Obamacare; for another, she – a self-identified “liberal Muslim” – had “experienced, firsthand, Islamic extremism in this world,” and thus opposed President Obama’s tendency to “tap dance around the ‘Islam’ in Islamic State.”
This was too much for Fair, who tweeted that Nomani’s vote for Trump had “helped normalize Nazis in D.C.,” and called her a “clueless dolt,” a “fraud,” a “fame-mongering clown show,” and more. Nomani, in response to this barrage of insults, complained to Georgetown University, where she, too, had once been on the faculty. After Nomani made her complaint, Fair doubled down on the insults, adding a few obscenities and accusing Nomani of trying to strip her of her First Amendment rights. Nomani denied this charge. “I honor the First Amendment, I believe in the First Amendment,” Nomani said. “With all rights come serious responsibilities. Civil discourse is one of those responsibilities, especially for educators. We are models.”
That was episode #1. Four months later came #2. Fair was working out at a gym in Washington, D.C., when she noticed Richard Spencer, head of the National Policy Institute, exercising in the same room. Walking over to him, she asked if he was Richard Spencer. He said he wasn’t. (He later explained that he had denied his identity in an effort to avoid conflict.) “Of course you are,” she replied, “so not only are you a Nazi – you are a cowardly Nazi.” She added: “I just want to say to you, I’m sick of your crap….As a woman, I find your statements to be particularly odious; moreover, I find your presence in this gym to be unacceptable, your presence in this town to be unacceptable.”
She went on in that vein, until Spencer, according to the Washington Post, “asked for a trainer – a black woman – to help get him out of the confrontation.” A fellow gym member also stepped in to help him, managing to earn her own share of Fair’s wrath: “Right now you’re being ignorant,” Fair instructed her, “and you’re actually enabling a real-life Nazi.” Eventually, the gym’s general manager got involved, chiding Fair for creating a “hostile environment,” in response to which Fair accused Spencer of creating a “hostile environment” for women and blacks.
The upshot of the incident? Spencer got his gym membership revoked.
Think what you wish of Richard Spencer. But this isn’t about him. It’s about Fair. He didn’t start that fracas in the gym – she did. And she didn’t just provoke him – she insulted an innocent bystander who, not knowing who either of them was, intervened for a purely admirable reason. It would be one thing for Fair to argue with Spencer at a public debate; but when she told him that his views made his presence in a gym – and even in the city of Washington, D.C. – “unacceptable” to her, it was she, not he, who sounded like a Nazi.
We haven’t gotten around yet to Professor Fair’s tweet about killing and castrating senators. Tune in again on Thursday.
Camille Paglia has neatly summed up the positive side of Gloria Steinem: “I hugely admired the early role that Steinem played in second-wave feminism because she was very good as a spokesperson in the 1970s. She had a very soothing manner that made it seem perfectly reasonable for people to adopt feminist principles…Also, I credit her for co-founding Ms. magazine and thereby contributing that very useful word, Ms., to the English language, which allows us to refer to a woman without signaling her marital status.”
But as it happens, it’s Paglia, too, who has best summed up what’s wrong with Steinem. For one thing, “that animus of hers against men.” For another, her lifelong fixation on the supposed oppression of upper-middle-class white American women such as herself, who in fact were, and are, among the most privileged people the world has ever seen.
Then there’s “the simplistic level of Steinem’s thinking,” as exemplified by her comment that “women reading Playboy feels a little like a Jew reading a Nazi manual.” (Or her attack on Paglia, about whom Steinem once actually said: “Her calling herself a feminist is sort of like a Nazi saying he’s not anti-Semitic.”) Then there’s Steinem’s “having turned feminism into a covert adjunct of the Democratic party,” one consequence of which was that she hypocritically kept her mouth shut during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
In 2015, we reported on Steinem’s latest stratagem: a “walk for peace” from North Korea to South Korea, the point being, as she explained beforehand, “to call attention to this unresolved conflict that I suspect most people or many people have forgotten.” Or perhaps the point was to get her own name back in the headlines again, since she feared many people had forgotten her?
Steinem quickly made it clear that she understood nothing whatsoever about North Korea. She planned, she said, to meet with North Korean women so they could compare their “experiences” as women in different societies. As if women in North Korea could speak honestly about their experiences without risking execution! TheDaily Beast ran an article by Lizzie Crocker headlined: “Is Gloria Steinem a Propaganda Tool For North Korea?” Indeed, it was interesting to note that Steinem, who had made a career out of savaging postwar America’s supposed mistreatment of the female sex, said nothing in her Korea remarks about the nightmarish abuse of both men and women in the Hermit Kingdom.
It was even more interesting to note that Steinem’s partner in this inane enterprise was Christine Ahn, head of something called the Korea Solidarity Committee and a shameless apologist for the Kim regime. To judge by Steinem’s remarks about Korea, she had swallowed wholesale everything Ahn had told her about the topic. Why is Korea divided? Not because the northern part is a totalitarian dictatorship governed by a bloodthirsty tyrant, but because of the “Cold War mentality,” Steinem pronounced.
After years of such pathetic stunts, Steinem should be an object of ridicule. Paglia’s view of her should be the world’s view of her. But no, she’s remained a darling of the cultural elite. She’s the subject of an upcoming Off-Broadway play, Gloria: A Life, in which she’ll be played by Christine Lahti. A New York Times article took us into “the cool tranquillity of Ms. Steinem’s Upper East Side duplex,” where Lahti and Steinem fielded softball questions about the production. (Presumably the obvious title for the play, Oppressed in an Upper East Side Duplex, was too long for the marquee.) The Times noted that Steinem is also the subject of not one but two forthcoming movies: My Life on the Road, starring Julianne Moore as Steinem, and AnUncivilWar, with Carey Mulligan as Steinem.
In 2018, does the American playgoing and moviegoing public really want to see dramas about the purported heroism of Gloria Steinem? This is, after all, a woman who, in the Times piece, is actually quoted as saying “it isn’t just that we live in a patriarchy. The patriarchy lives in us.” Isn’t it clear by now that, as an intellectual, she’s a lightweight? That, as an activist, she’s as domesticated a creature as you could imagine? And that, as a so-called oppressed person, she’s the very model of privilege?
We first wrote about Linda Sarsour on April 13 of last year. A few weeks earlier, on the day after President Trump’s inauguration, the Women’s March on Washington had turned Linda Sarsour, one of the event’s organizers and lead speakers, into a household name. She was the one in hijab, the one who began her speech with the words “as-salāmu ʿalaykum,” the one who told the crowd that she was “unapologetically Muslim-American,” and the one who vowed: “I will respect the presidency, but I will not respect this President of the United States of America.” Why? Because Trump had “won the election on the backs of Muslims,” a group that had been “suffering in silence for the past fifteen years.”
And what had happened fifteen years earlier? 9/11. “For her,” we noted, “the history of the last fifteen years has been a history not of one barbaric mass murder after another performed in the name of Islam, but of a silent epidemic of cruel, soul-crushing Islamophobia.”
Sarsour, of course, presented herself as a feminist. Soon, however, it emerged that she was a zealous supporter of sharia law. She was also fiercely hostile to women, such as Brigitte Gabriel and the former Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who are critical of the unequal and often brutal treatment of women under sharia. Unable to answer their charges, Sarsour attacked them personally, tweeting that they were “asking 4 an a$$ whippin’” and that “they don’t deserve to be women.”
Reprehensible. Nonetheless, Sarsour enjoys the support of Bernie Sanders, Keith Ellison, Van Jones, Amnesty International, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and a number of other left-wing individuals and institutions. When we caught up with her in November, Time and Glamour had joined the list. We also discovered that in addition to playing a role in the decision of Brandeis University to decide against giving an honorary degree to Hirsi Ali, Sarsour had also influenced New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to stop monitoring mosques – a move that made it possible for at least one jihadist, Saypullo Saipov, to take eight lives.
Yet her star continues to climb. Earlier this summer it was reported that Abdul El-Sayed, one of the Democratic candidates for governor of Michigan (he lost the August 7 primary, thank goodness), is close to Sarsour. This didn’t come as a huge surprise. El-Sayed, a Muslim, received the endorsements of two prominent self-identified socialists, Senator Sanders and media darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Still, as former prosecutor Ari Lieberman wrote, El-Sayed’s “association with Sarsour should raise alarm bells.”
For one thing, there’s her enthusiasm for sharia law. For another, she’s “an anti-Semite to her core and is on record making a number of disparaging comments about the ‘Jewish media,’ Zionism and Israel.” Then there’s her “support for Assata Shakur, a murderer who killed a New Jersey state trooper in a 1973 shootout.” (When CNN’s Jake Tapper, a card-carrying liberal, questioned her defense of Shakur, Sarsour “bizarrely accused Tapper of being a member of the ‘alt-right.’”) And let’s not forget “her unabashed support for the unrepentant Judeophobe, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.” Once upon a time Farrakhan was the third rail of American politics; no more, apparently.
“Aspiring Democratic politicians like El-Sayed,” lamented Lieberman, “no longer shy away from toxic bigots like Sarsour. Sadly, they embrace them.” No sooner had El-Sayed lost the primary, however, than another connection to Sarsour made the news. We’ll get to that next time.
We saw on Tuesday that New York Times contributor Lindy West is preoccupied with her status as a woman – and thus a member of a certified victim group. We’ve seen her beat up on male comics for daring to tell jokes that (she claims) hurt her feelings as a woman.
But she also belongs to another victim group. In a May 2016 piece for the Guardian she writes about being fat. Just as she doesn’t like the way men treat women, she doesn’t like the way non-fat people treat fat folks. Fat people are “infantilise[d]” and “desexualise[d].” They are viewed as “helpless babies enslaved by their most capricious cravings.” They “don’t know what’s best for them.” They “need to be guided and scolded like children.”
But of course fat women have it worse than fat men. Intersectionality, you see. Society, she argues, has a “monomaniacal fixation on female thinness.” Having started off talking about being fat, she takes a detour into the topic of being female:
Women matter. Women are half of us. When you raise women to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you pit women against one another, keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsessing over our flaws, rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time – that moves the rudder of the world. It steers humanity toward conservatism and walls and the narrow interests of men….
And so on. This sort of thing, of course, writes itself. There is nothing new here. West seems to think she is some kind of oracle, but in fact she is nothing more than a fount of cliches on the subject of group victimhood.
Anyway, she then returns to the subject of being fat. She’s been fat all her life. She doesn’t see it as a health issue, or a matter of self-control. No, it’s all about prejudice and the male gaze.
“The ‘perfect body’ is a lie,” she writes. “As a kid,” she complains, “I never saw anyone remotely like myself on TV….There simply were no young, funny, capable, strong, good fat girls. A fat man can be Tony Soprano, he can be Dan from Roseanne [a character played by John Goodman]….But fat women were sexless mothers, pathetic punch lines or gruesome villains.”
What? What about Roseanne herself? She’s not all that heavy now, but back when her sitcom was first on TV, she was at least as big as Dan. And her character was the very definition of funny, capable, strong, and good.
West proceeds to carry out a rather jejune survey of fat females in popular culture. It’s not worth going into here. The point is that when West writes about being fat, it’s entirely about being a victim.
As one reader comment on her piece put it: “We need to find ways of curing the obesity epidemic…instead of going on about fat being beautiful and obesity not being an issue at all.”
Lindy West writes a lot, but pretty much everything she’s written is a version of the couple of pieces we’ve discussed here. For example, we’ve already seen West slam male comics for sexism; on January 1 of this year, the New York Times ran an item by West in which she called out stand-up comedian Aziz Ansari for a recently reported date-gone-wrong episode in which he had behaved in a tasteless, immature manner, although his conduct fell far short of rape. We’ve seen her go on about being fat; well, in July 2015, the Guardian ran a piece by her headlined “My wedding was perfect – and I was fat as hell the whole time.” Subhead: “As a fat woman, you are told to disguise, shrink or flatter your body. But I wasn’t going to hide at my wedding – the older I get, the harder it is to depoliticise simple acts.” Like most of her work, that essay went on forever, even though everything she had to say was in the headline and subhead.
It goes on. Want more about sexism? Writing in the Times this year on the day before the Academy Awards ceremony, West complained about the depiction of women in Hollywood films and cheered the #metoo movement. Want more about how nasty male comics are? On March 28 she resumed whining about members of that profession, this time singling out Ricky Gervais. Headline: “The World Is Evolving and Ricky Gervais Isn’t.” Evolving in what way? Well, in the sense that more and more white men are taking orders from scolds like Lindy West. West sneered at those who worry about politically correct censorship on campus, who use the word “snowflake” to label people like herself who are constantly calling out supposed acts of verbal oppression, and who claim to be defending free speech. “What they’re actually reacting to,” West insisted, “is the message deep at the heart of the March for Our Lives, of Black Lives Matter, of the Women’s March: The world is bigger than you, and it belongs to us too.”
Needless to say, this is stupid stuff – pure ideological claptrap. Empty calories. But its stupidity doesn’t keep it from also being scary stuff. Idiots like Lindy West, who are incapable of thinking past these trendy categories, slogans, and buzzwords, are little more than would-be Thought Police, the contemporary heirs of the engineers of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Thanks to people like West, more and more first-class comedians are deciding not to perform at colleges, because they know that any joke that isn’t tame and PC will be greeted with groans, protests, or much worse. Thanks to people like West, more and more high-school boys are deciding against going on to college, because the atmosphere at American colleges has become toxically anti-male. And the poison that has already infected campuses is quickly spreading, thanks to the likes of West, into the general culture – making the free exchange of ideas very difficult indeed, and turning real humor into a crime.
It’s a mark of how far the New York Times has fallen that one of its “contributing opinion writers” – since July of last year – is a silly gal named Lindy West. She’s the author of a 2016 essay collection entitled Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman. The title, of course, places the book in a genre, or subgenre, that one might call “proudly obnoxious feminist” books, such as Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women (1998) and Laurie Penny’s Bitch Doctrine: Essays for Dissenting Adults (2017). For many third-wave feminists, being proud of being obnoxious is, shall we say, a thing.
For a proudly obnoxious feminist, West’s career path has been pretty standard: a stint at Seattle’s alternative weekly The Stranger, a staff job at the feminist site Jezebel. And so on. Her Wikipedia page claims that she “has changed more minds…than you could count” using her humor, and lists several pieces of hers that have supposedly “helped shift mainstream attitudes about body image, comedy and online harassment over the past several years.” Not to question the veracity of Wikipedia, but we don’t know anyone whose opinions have been changed by her, and after reading her purported “greatest” works we not only can’t imagine any intelligent person being persuaded by them – we also can’t see why they’re considered humorous. West is not remotely funny, unless you think it’s funny to be, as she puts it, shrill. (And to use the F word in nearly every sentence.)
One of her supposed classics is a 2013 piece for Jezebel entitled “An Open Letter to White Male Comedians.” Her argument is that “comedy has a serious gender problem, and I really can’t stop complaining about it until it’s f***ing fixed. Comedy clubs are an overtly hostile space for women. Even just presuming we can talk about comedy gets women ripped to shreds by territorial dudes desperate to defend their authority over what’s funny.” Note how she uses the word “authority.” The fact here, as West goes on to make clear, is that she doesn’t like certain jokes about women, and she thinks women should have the right to tell men which jokes are out of bounds and to be listened to. In other words, she thinks female comics should be granted the authority to censor male comics.
Male comics, quite reasonably, reject this audacious proposal. And by doing so, in her cockeyed view, they’re the ones exercising authority. No, they’re exercising freedom. But in this “Open Letter,” as elsewhere, West makes it clear that she doesn’t have much respect for the concept of freedom – in particular, for freedom of speech.
Because speech, she claims, hurts.
In her “Open Letter,” she claims that “being a woman is a bitch,” that it “can be scary,” that “there’s always a small awareness that we are vulnerable simply because we are women,” that jokes “about domestic violence and rape…feed that aura of feeling unsafe and unwelcome.”
West doesn’t seem to realize that not just being a woman, but being human, can be scary, that we’re all vulnerable in certain ways, that life is tough for virtually all of us for a wide range of reasons, and is ultimately tragic for every last one of us, and that the whole point of truly great humor is to try to grapple with that. So it is that some of the very greatest humor goes into the very darkest of places. Just ask Mel Brooks.
But no, scratch that. West doesn’t want to hear from people like Mel Brooks – because he’s a straight white male, and is thus incapable of understanding any of this unless, perhaps, he reads West’s “Open Letter.” As she explains: “If you’re an able-bodied straight white male, you are by definition a member of the least number of systemically oppressed groups. It takes an entire blog post for me to make you feel diminished and misunderstood (my bad)—but you could do that to me or a gay person or a trans person or a person of color or a disabled person with just a word.”
This is what it comes down to with West – the claim that, because she is a member of an allegedly oppressed group, a single word can make her “feel diminished,” and that it’s therefore a noble act for her to hector and harass – at 3000 words’ length! – members of what she sees as non-oppressed groups about their use of words. Simply put, she’s the Zeitgeist personified.
Who is Cathy Areu? “From debating Bill O’Reilly about the ‘war on women’ to discussing border issues with Anderson Cooper,” her website trumpets, “Cathy has been analyzing the hottest topics of the day, on the best cable TV news shows in the U.S. and beyond, for over a decade.” In other words, she’s a cable-TV talking head, who for years now has appeared frequently on the Big Three: CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. She’s also the editor of Catalina Magazine, founded in 2001 “to break the stereotypes of Hispanics in the US media and entertainment.”
She’s celebrated the misbegotten, indefensible Diversity Visa Program, which allows immigrants into the U.S. essentially at random. Opposition to the program, she has charged, is “anti-American.” She’s also argued that 77-year-old Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi should stay on as Democratic leader in the House for no other reason than that Pelosi is a woman.
In recent months Areu has been a staple on the Tucker Carlson Show. In one exchange with Carlson, she held forth on “toxic masculinity,” for which she blamed mass shootings. “Women are better,” she stated flatly. “We are not the murderers in our society…Men are not as good as women.” Women are “the better gender.” As for men, “maybe we’re just not raising them right.” Asked whether there is such a thing as toxic femininity, she said no: “Women can do no wrong….We’re just the smarter gender.” In other words, she feels the same way about her sex as Hitler felt about his ethnic group.
On another episode, Carlson took on a professor’s accusation in a magazine article that when Westerners practice yoga, they are being racists. Areu agreed that they were. In the West, she stated, yoga is practiced mainly by white women (“not Latinos, not immigrants”) who have appropriated an activity with a rich cultural history that they don’t know about or care to understand. It’s “white supremacy,” she explained. When Carlson asked whether, by the same token, it would be wrong for people outside the West to use the Internet, a product of Western civilization. No, she said, because the Internet lacks the long, rich history that yoga has.
What, Carlson asked, about another product of Western civilization – namely, democracy, which does have a long, rich history? Areu dismissed his argument, contending that “yoga was a way for the Indians to show their colonizers that they were intelligent.” Carlson laughed: “Where do you get your history? Yoga predates the British by quite a bit.”
But the whole point of Areu’s ideology is that real history is irrelevant. As Carlson himself has explained to viewers, he is presenting Areu on his show as a guide to the Brave New World in which we now live. It’s a world in which all kinds of actions or statements that a few years ago would have been considered innocuous are now virulently condemned as racist or sexist; a world in which all men are potential rapists and women, by definition, “can do no wrong”; a world, in short, in which the rules of the road have changed entirely and in which history can be rewritten at will to conform to the new rules. Areu’s entire schtick is that she’s internalized those new rules to a remarkable extent, and can defend even the most ridiculous of them without the slightest sign of intellectual embarrassment. It’s quite an accomplishment.
On Tuesday we discusses the politically engaged actress Tessa Thompson and her definitive movie project, Dear White People (2014), a story about black students at an Ivy League college that Time Out hailed for its “rage.”
Needless to say, Dear White People was a story of oppression. The only real difference between 12 Years a Slave and Dear White People, you see, is that college takes only four years.
The Chicago Tribune prettymuchagreedwith Time Out‘s praise for the movie’s rage,butput it more simply: “Dear White People isn’t perfect. And yet the flaws really don’t matter.” Of course not – not when you’re dealing with racial rage! Toss out the critics’ notepads, bring on the awards! Neatly skirting the question of aesthetic merit, A.O. Scott of the New York Times took a similar line, instructing his readers: “You want to see this movie, and you will want to talk about it afterward, even if the conversation feels a little awkward. If it doesn’t, you’re doing it wrong.” (Scott didn’t promise – note well – that readers would actually enjoy the movie.) Not to be outdone by these other outlets, Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post gave a thumbs-up to the film’s celebration of dormitory segregation, an arrangement that, Hornaday maintained, provides “solidarity and protection.”
As noted, Tessa Thompson loved Dear White People. In 2016, she told The Cut that it was “an indictment of Hollywood,” where young black actresses often get cast as “the sassy black friend.” Never mind that the film was distributed by Lionsgate, a major Hollywood player. In any event, while Thompson felt she was rebelling against Hollywood, she wasn’t interested in rebelling against Hollywood-style PR: for the article in The Cut, she posed in a $3,200 Marc Jacobs sweater, a $2,208 Marc Jacobs skirt, an $11,500 Michael Kors dress, a $3,590 Ralph Lauren dress, and a $12,500 Gucci dress. Talk about overcoming!
Thompson has continued to fight the intrepid fight against The Man – not only in the name of blacks but in the name of women. In October 2017, she told the New York Daily News that she’d pitched “an all-female Marvel movie” to the head of Marvel Movies. In January, she celebrated the Time’s Up campaign against sexual abuse by posting on social media a picture of herself with such female stars as Laura Dern and Brie Larson.
And that’s where the trouble started. Also in the picture, as it happened, was Lena Dunham, who until recently was the very personification of young American women’s empowerment. But in these Reign of Terror-like times, when today’s feminist heroine can tomorrow be sent to the gallows, Dunham had become persona non grata in the Time’s Up crowd after she defended a writer of her TV series, Girls, from rape accusations. When Dunham, too, shared the picture on social media, it was Thompson who called her out, telling the world that while she and the other women in the photo had spent two months working on the Time’s Up campaign, Dunham had played no part in their activities. The plain implication was that Dunham was trying to take credit for other women’s feminist labors.
After receiving some backlash for her assault on the previously untouchable Dunham, Thompson apologized. Then, after a number of women spoke up on Thompson’s behalf, many of them complaining that the women’s movement still privileges white women, Thompson revisited her apology, saying that she hadn’t really meant to apologize for calling out Dunham but had intended rather “to re-center the conversation” around the fact that many women of color “don’t feel safe and seen.”
The Dunham dustup made a lot of news, but it wasn’t even Tessa’s biggest event in January. Also in that month, Variety featured this spectacular headline: “Jane Fonda, Gloria Allred, Tessa Thompson Slam Trump at Sundance Women’s Rally.”
Forget her acting career: Thompson has made it into the Holy Trinity of Twenty-first Century Feminism, along with Hollywood’s favorite multiple Oscar-winning socialist billionaire (Fonda) and California’s leading anti-patriarchy shakedown artist (Allred). Eat her dust, Dunham! Tessa’s the new reigning princess of Hollywood feminism. Why, after all, should the face of feminism be white?
This, of course, is what happens when group identity takes center stage: as sure as night follows day, the white woman shaking her fist on the anti-male barricades is destined to be knocked off her perch by a woman of color. But after that, how long will it take before she, in turn, is dethroned by a black lesbian or a disabled Muslim grandmother? Stay tuned.