Lindy West, intersectional victim

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.

Lindy West

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.

James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano

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. 

Roseanne, in her own overweight days

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.”

Aziz Ansari

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.

Ricky Gervais

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.”

Mao Zedong

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.

Trumbo crosses the pond

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Bryan Cranston as Trumbo

Last week, we examined reviews of the new movie Trumbo, which purports to tell the story of Dalton Trumbo, the blacklisted screenwriter of films like Spartacus and Roman Holiday. Critic after critic, we noted, failed to challenge Trumbo‘s benign view of what it means to be a Communist.

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John Goodman in Trumbo

Perhaps the most egregrious offender was veteran showbiz scribe Rex Reed, who despite having lived through Stalinism apparently believes that Communism is somehow not incompatible with democracy. On Friday we focused on a couple of prominent reviewers who actually got it right – Godfrey Cheshire, for example, who points out that Communists like Trumbo “were hoping for a revolution to overthrow American democracy.”

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Helen Mirren in Trumbo

As it happens, a postscript is in order. Trumbo, which opened in the U.S. on November 25, didn’t open in the U.K. and Ireland until this past Friday. And several of the notices in major publications on the British isles, gratifyingly, have proven to be far better informed than the reviews in places like Time and the Boston Globe and the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Writing in the Mirror, David Edwards mocked a scene in which Trumbo explains his politics to his young daughter by telling her “that Communism is the same thing as sharing her packed lunch with a classmate who has nothing to eat.” This scene, Edwards charged,

suggests that we, the viewers, are as naive and uncomprehending as a six year old. And in its attempt to make Trumbo a misunderstood hero, any mention of his support for Joseph Stalin and other murderous dictators is deliberately but jarringly avoided. Instead we’re given a portrait of a man of unimpeachable integrity whose biggest fault is boozing in the bathtub and ignoring his family.

Donald Clarke, in the Irish Times, makes the same point. The film, he complains, doesn’t give us “any convincing investigation of Trumbo’s politics,” instead portraying him “as as a democratic socialist in the mode of Bernie Sanders.” All this, says Clarke, reflects a “gutlessness…that suggests the mainstream is still not quite comfortable with the red meat of radical politics.”

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Diane Lane and Cranston in Trumbo

The Economist‘s anonymous critic noted that despite the film’s overblown rhetoric “about the blacklist years being ‘a time of fear’ and ‘evil,’” there’s barely a glimpse of any of this in the picture itself:

Even after being blacklisted, the hero’s main complaint is that he is in such great demand that he is too busy to celebrate his daughter’s birthday….At his lowest ebb, he pockets $12,000 for three days’ script-doctoring, most of which he does in the bath while sipping Scotch. Not much of a martyr. Then comes the farcical moment when Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger bump into each other on his front porch as they beg him to work on Spartacus and Exodus. Trumbo is less an indictment of Hollywood’s cowardice than a jobbing screenwriter’s wildest fantasy.

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Goodman, Mirren, and Cranston at Trumbo premiere

Even Peter Bradshaw of the left-wing Guardian called the film on its Communist apologetics. While Bradshaw felt that Trumbo‘s story “needed to be told,” he still criticized it for failing “to challenge Trumbo’s unrepentant communism, a culpable naivety in the light of the gulags.” (Bradshaw also suggested, interestingly, that a biopic about actor Edward G. Robinson or director Elia Kazan, both of whom “named names” to the House Un-American Activities Committee, would have been more of a challenging choice.)

The readiness of many stateside reviewers of Trumbo to buy into its whitewashing of Communism remains depressing. But it’s heartening to know that at least some film critics know better.