The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Saturday, November 22, 2003  

She Keeps on Spewing and Spewing and Spewing

Apparently Camille Paglia really is back. Not in the sense that Tina Brown is back. Sure, they’re both contemptible, predictable, and insufferable, but while Brown, for reasons unknown, has parlayed her decidedly uneven past into a regular -- for now, we can only hope -- perch at the Washington Post, Paglia, as befits the schizoid personality disorder she happily has adopted for public consumption, suddenly is being published here, there, and, seemingly, anywhere, and about anything.

I’ll give her this: Paglia’s on a roll. A very little tiny roll, but a roll, nonetheless. Unfortunately, you know how these things go. She gets a gig here, a notice there, a spot somewhere else, and before you know it, she’s being taken seriously again. It’s a chapter pulled from the Gloria Allred book on self-promotion, only it takes a helluva lot more chutzpah -- and effort -- when you’re Camille Paglia, if only because Paglia’s an academic and a writer, tough professions both, and not a rich California trial lawyer with more money -- and jewelry -- than God.

Not only did the web site invite Paglia back for more (abuse), her latest appearance there taking the form of a widely mocked and belittled interview, but now Philadelphia magazine has hired Paglia to write intermittent (as best I can gather) features in its pages going forward. Good for them! Hell, at least she won’t be writing restaurant reviews, which is what, like, half the staff there does, I think.

Paglia’s first piece for Philadelphia is in the December issue. [Ed.: See “Vera Wang’s Fumble,” p. 187, not published on line. That’s just their thing there.] It’s a 600-word sidebar about the new uniforms designed for the Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders by vastly overrated New York fashion designer Vera Wang. (On this, at least, Paglia and I agree.)

Though Paglia spews, spews, and spews, and makes reference to Nancy Sinatra, Raquel Welch, the Ziegfeld Follies, the Radio City Rockettes, and Las Vegas show girls, she avoids, remarkably, I think, or had edited out of her text, any mention of ancient Greek dancers on the island of Naxos, Romanian Renaissance troubadours, and “my 1960s generation” -- though I’ll bet you dinner at the next restaurant Philadelphia favorably reviews that has spent at least 25 percent more than its peer-group average on advertising in the magazine’s pages over the past six months that Paglia’s `60s cliché, the most tired of an arsenal of many, was in her final manuscript -- it all comes down to this: Paglia doesn’t like the cheerleaders’ outfits.

Paglia writes, in barely relevant part:

[I]t sure doesn’t look like Wang is a fan of this beefcake, blood-and-guts, proletarian sport, or did much looking around into the visual history of the flirtatious, effervescent cheerleader as an American archetype.

Proletarian. I mean, you just know Paglia pops a boner when she writes that word, don’t you? (And, I promise, I’m not going to say one word about her friend and star-struck fan, Andrew Sullivan, here.)

And then there’s this:

Since when do Philly girls lack pizzazz and va-va-voom? And Wang’s prim and nip-and-tuck outfits don’t “read” well on TV, where her retro, streamlined detail comes across as timid, fussy[,] and uptight, a fantasy of gentility that would tickle taste at an upscale aerobics studio for Ladies Who Lunch.

Now, all in all, that’s a pretty good pair of sentences. Even I’ll say that.

Unfortunately, Paglia, before writing them or submitting them to her editor at Philadelphia, had neither the opportunity to read the accompanying (and misguidedly punctuated) feature story, “Let Them Eat. Hoagies,” by Amy Donohue, about Christina Lurie, wife of Eagles owner Jeff Lurie. [Ed.: Also not on line. That’s just their thing there. See p. 185.]

Nor, I suppose, did Paglia read anything else published almost anywhere else in Philadelphia in the past six months wherein experienced and reputable sportswriters, and the man and woman on the street writing letters to editors, and even savvy cultural observers, took notice of the strange and sudden de-proletarianization of Eagles football (and that’s just gotta’ be deflating somewhere), a trend that, as we learn from Donohue’s article, among many others, is not an accident but a deliberate corporate strategy, and a poorly conceived one in my opinion, but also a strategy in which Wang played an important, if oblivious or unwitting, part, one over which Paglia is now fighting.

Paglia likes to present herself as “with it,” “in the scene,” and “getting it,” when it comes to Philadelphia culture generally, and sports and Philadelphia specifically, but it’s plain as day that in her piece in Philadelphia she proved exactly the opposite. And that’s something, the kind of thing, longtime critics of Paglia just plain take for granted.

[Post-publication addendum (November 26): I don’t know him, but I like this guy, Massachusetts writer Michael McInnis. He’s fairly new to the blogosphere, writing since June at Grouchland, and more recently throwing around all the right compliments, at least as far as I’m concerned. Don’t worry about the “grouchy” part, McInnis. I’ve been called “surly,” “churlish,” “vain,” “pompous,” “self-referential,” “the Paul Lynde of blogging” (a term that typically includes a sneering allusion to, or outright and ignorant mockery of, my sexual orientation), and, perhaps most ridiculous of all, “a link whore from way back.” (And that’s just a small sampling of the stuff I consider printable.) Your grouchiness will serve you well, McInnis. Wear it as a badge of honor. It’s all part of the fun, anyway, particularly when there are so very many bloggers who still don’t get it, who don’t appreciate the great human comedy that marks this collective endeavor of thousands of great and feeble minds worldwide.]

[Post-publication addendum (December 1): Hey! Someone else gets it too! In her latest column in Philadelphia Weekly, “Pressler’s Miscellany,” Jessica Pressler writes, under the sub-heading, “Here’s What’s Crap”: “Just when you think you can forget about University of the Arts professor Camille Paglia, she comes back to haunt you, jangling her academic histrionics like the ghost of zeitgeist past. There she is in Philadelphia magazine, jawing pointlessly about Eagles cheerleading uniforms. And there she is again in the New York Observer: ‘Britney has adopted Madonna as a surrogate mother. But Madonna is actually the archetypal witch queen of the Snow White fairy tale and what Madonna is giving Britney is a poison apple that is putting Britney to sleep and making her go into hibernation and trapping her in the regalia of Madonna past.’ Please, someone, make her stop.” (Emphasis added, though probably not really necessary.)]

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