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.

Lindy West: the Zeitgeist personified

Lindy West

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.) 

Dave Attell, one of the comedians who would doubtless disappear in Lindy West’s perfect world

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.

Mel Brooks

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. 

More on Thursday.