August 21, 2013

"When have I ever criticized anyone’s fetish? I am a libertarian."

"Go right ahead — set up plastic figurines of 1950s-era moppets to bow down to in the privacy of your boudoir. No one will scold! Then whip down to the kitchen to heat up those foil-wrapped TV dinners. I still gaze back fondly at Swanson’s fried-chicken entree. The twinkly green peas! The moist apple fritter! Meg Ryan — the spitting image of all those perky counselors at my Girl Scout camp in the Adirondacks. Gwyneth Paltrow — a simpering sorority queen with field-hockey-stick legs. I will leave you to your retro pursuits while I dash off to moon over multiracial Brazilian divas."

Says Camille Paglia, reacting to the Salon interviewer's question "Why do you come down so hard on skinny white girls? Your views on sexuality leave so much room for individuality, so why is it so bad if I am attracted to Meg Ryan or Gwyneth Paltrow?"

My first thought was: Who can talk like that — spontaneously spluttering alliteration like "simpering sorority" and "moon over multiracial" and sumptuously sprinkling images like field-hockey-stick legs and foil-wrapped peas and fried chicken? But then I saw that this was all done in writing: "I spoke with Paglia by email." Spoke, yeah. I get it.

All these words are well-chosen. So: "moppet." Was Paglia professing acceptance of sexualizing children? What "1950s-era moppets" could she be referring to? Just the girls she happens to remember from Girl Scout camp and college? The (unlinkable) OED defines moppet as "A baby; a young child, esp. a girl; a darling, a favourite (freq. as a term of endearment). Also (depreciative): a frivolous or gaudily dressed woman." Here are some historical examples:
?1608   S. Lennard tr. P. Charron Of Wisdome iii. xiv. 482   A simple instinct..according to which parents loue..their children, though deformed..and vse them like moppets, or little apes....
1746   P. Francis & W. Dunkin tr. Horace Satires i. iii. 64   Is he of dwarfish and abortive size? ‘Sweet little moppet’, the fond father cries....
1801   C. Smith Lett. Solitary Wanderer II. 10   While the most insipid moppet that ever looked in a glass is preferred to one of those reasoning damsels.
I'll assume she's referring to women — not children — but disparaging women who are thought cute because of their girl-like gestures and get-ups. Feel free to fetishize them, she says, claiming not to be criticizing and flattering herself for dashing and mooning and fetishizing the racial other, which she implies is not retro.

"No one will scold!" Oh, no? But she does scold, doesn't she? She claims superiority. Finding Gwyneth Paltrow sexy is like finding an old TV dinner tasty. But she's not criticizing! Far be it from her, a libertarian, to knock anybody's sexuality.

***

This topic of the difference between speaking and writing happened to come up twice on this blog yesterday. First, in "Like I said...," I quoted Janet Malcolm about the difference between the written word and the transcribed spoken word, which she calls "tape-recorderese." She says novelists and journalists continue to write dialogue in a form that we might receive as the equivalent of speech, but that has been changed and adapted into something more like the written word.

Second, I noted what some linguists had said about Elmore Leonard, that he used the "tough guy" writing style of telling the story through the dialogue of the characters. The criticism was that it forced him to restrict his characters to the kind of people who talk a lot and to miss out on more thoughtful, quiet types. If you look at what Janet Malcolm said, you can see a problem with this criticism, which assumes that the novelist renders speech the way it would occur in real life. In fact, there are all sorts of approaches you could use, within the "tough guy" style, to include non-chatterbox characters. The reader doesn't expect to read what a tape recorder would have picked up in real life. The reader will reject fakeness at some point, but written dialogue routinely departs from reality. It's expected, and — when it's done well — desirable.

And now we encounter Camille Paglia, writing her side of a spoken-word like dialogue, but veering way into the realm of the obviously written. She wants — I believe — to present herself as fast-talking, free-wheeling, sexy, wise and witty. But she went too far this time. It's just too neat. Too tidy. It had to be planned. It was the peas. The peas that gave her away. The twinkly green peas. Green wasn't enough. No! Had to be twinkly. Just couldn't resist. See, that's what I'm thinking. Twinkly green peas? Who says twinkly green peas? Who says simpering sorority queen with field-hockey-stick legs? She'd like you to think she says simpering "sorority queen with field-hockey-stick legs." Once you start to notice that kind of thing, it's nothing but.

22 comments:

Matthew Sablan said...

Is calling it a fetish inherently criticizing it? I mean, is the connotation of the word fetish so inherently negative to make using it automatically derogatory?

Crunchy Frog said...

What has libertarianism have to do with not criticizing people and the stupid choices they make? Libertarian does not equal libertine.

I criticize people and their idiotic pastimes regularly. Yet, I don't think those pastimes should be illegal (or even governmentally discouraged, a la Cass Sunstein) as long as a) everyone is over the legal age of consent, and b) nobody other than the willing participants is hurt. (If two guys in a bar want to throw down, let them. Just don't trash the bar in the process, and don't sue the bar owner because you lost a bar fight.)

Wanna do drugs? Fine. Just don't drive under the influence. Visit prostitutes? Be one yourself? Go for it. Don't beat up your john/hooker, or bring home a social disease in the process. Gamble? Don't bet more than you can afford to lose. Your spouse/SO and the rest of your family (or your employer) might have a problem with your behavior, but that's between you guys to figure out. Don't make government an enforcer of your morality.

Terry said...

I saw Paglia on television. She speaks in a way that probably makes undergrads think that she is genius. All rapid fire and gestures.

FleetUSA said...

Camille Paglia is always an interesting read. She's articulate and a free thinker.

Drudge (citing Salon) has link right now to her comments noting Hillary hasn't done much.

jaed said...

Does the OED really say that???

A moppet is a doll. (Literal or figurative, in the case of a child, or a vain and/or cute woman.) "Mop doll" or rag doll, probably related to or influenced by "poppet". The Online Etymology Dictionary says: "...from Middle English moppe "little child, baby doll" (mid-15c.) + -et, diminutive suffix."

From Inwood said...

My take? This sounds like she’s channeling her inner MoDo.

You ask

"Who says twinkly green peas"

Not even Sam I am.

Ann Althouse said...

"Does the OED really say that??? A moppet is a doll. (Literal or figurative, in the case of a child, or a vain and/or cute woman.) "Mop doll" or rag doll, probably related to or influenced by "poppet". The Online Etymology Dictionary says: "...from Middle English moppe "little child, baby doll" (mid-15c.) + -et, diminutive suffix.""

According to the OED, the oldest use for "moppet" is the one I've quoted. The "doll" meaning goes back to 1682, so that's old too.

The etymology is "< mop n.1 (compare sense 2 s.v.) + -et suffix1. Compare mops n.1, mopsy n. With use as a term of endearment compare also mop n.2 With sense 3 compare earlier mopsy n. 3 and perhaps also later mops n.2 Compare earlier moppet n.1(Show Less)"

The sense n.1 referred to there is for a definition of mop as " 1. A fool, a simpleton. Cf. mope n. 1." That goes back to c1330. "c1330 Seven Sages (Auch.) 1280 Þer was a burgeis..Þat wolde spouse no nehebours schild, But wente fram hom as a moppe wild."

The n2 meaning of "mop," which goes back to 1466, is "A young fish; esp. a young whiting or gurnard (more fully whiting-mop, gurnard-mop). Also used as a term of endearment for a girl or young woman."

The n3 meaning of "mop" is "A grotesque grimace or grin, as made by a monkey. Chiefly in mops and mows," which goes back to 1475.

Our familiar household implement, which you're connecting to rag dolls, is n4, going back to 1496.

The OED does not connect "moppet" to "poppet," and the etymology for "poppet" is "Origin uncertain; perhaps < one or more of the following, all ultimately < an unattested post-classical Latin form *puppa , variant (with consonant gemination) of classical Latin pūpa girl, doll (see pupa n.):"

The oldest meaning for "poppet" is " 1. A small or dainty person. In later use freq. as a term of endearment, esp. for a child or young woman: darling, pet.," going back to 1390.

"Puppet" is a later word: "Variant of poppet n.; now the usual form in sense 2. With sense 9, which is not paralleled at poppet n., compare puppy n. and discussion at that entry." That begins in the 1500s.

Interesting to see "puppy" is related to "puppet." I'd never thought of that.

Ann Althouse said...

This got me wondering whether "doll" has always meant the toy as well as a young girl, and I was surprised to see that the etymology of "doll" is pet name for Dorothy.

This led to the oldest use which is a name "given generically to a female pet, a mistress. Also, the smallest or pet pig in a litter." That goes back to 1560.

"Doll" meaning the toy oes back to 1699.

"Doll" as applied to a woman, to mean "A pretty, but unintelligent or empty person, esp. when dressed up; a pretty, but silly or frivolous woman," goes back to 1778:

1778 F. Burney Evelina I. xxiii. 197 As to the women, why they are mere dolls.
1841 R. W. Emerson Self-reliance in Ess. 1st Ser. 76 A sturdy lad..is worth a hundred of these city dolls....
1931 D. Runyon (title) Guys and dolls....

David said...

Many guys would find women like Ryan and Paltrow sexy by imagining them as something else after they took off the mask. Simpering sorority girls have private desires too.

whswhs said...

Libertarian is not about approving of what other people do. It's about not stopping them from doing things you disapprove of, so long as all the participants have given informed consent. If I, as a libertarian, disapprove of what other people do, on grounds of morality or taste—well, that's freedom to, isn't it?

A free society needs people who can cope with being disapproved of.

Oso Negro said...

Her over-the-top style must guaranteed that she gets laid regularly by foreigners of her choice. Otherwise, it's just flash.

gadfly said...

Paglia is very good at putting down the enemies of conservatism and even declares; "I am a libertarian."

But I fear that she is really a libertarian socialist because she begins a discussion of Hillary Clinton as a 2016 presidential candidate with: "As a registered Democrat . . . "

Big-government Democrats and "big L" Libertarians simply make for a volatile cocktail, so some writer clarity (which is unlikely in Salon) is required here.

traditionalguy said...

If Paglia thinks fast and talks fast, then why is that a tell that she she re-wrote her written response.

Words are words. "Twinkly green peas" are very descriptive words that convey the visual on opening up your Swanson Frozen TV Dinner of yore. I would say that before I would write it.

It is a useful silly talk humor that annoys people you want to annoy, and thatt cuts down on the crowds that surround you.

In the 1960s large frozen peas had to be twinkling in the small section next to the white mash potatoes. It was a color layout.

Moppet could also be a new term coming from Blogging Heads that describes the female intellectual's hair .

Lydia said...

"Doll" as applied to a woman, to mean "A pretty, but unintelligent or empty person, esp. when dressed up; a pretty, but silly or frivolous woman," goes back to 1778

This made me wonder if that played into first lady Dolly Madison's reputation as a rather frivolous person.

By the way, I always thought her name was spelled "Dolly" but I see historians have now decided it should be "Dolley". Yet her grand-niece, in her memoirs, used "Dolly." Odd.

Sam L. said...

Camille--talks like she writes, I guess. I find most of it impenetrable. Could be me; could be both of us.

Xmas said...

Ouch, you've hurt my head with this thing about the word doll.

Now I've got a good comeback for the accusation that playing with G.I. Joes is playing with dolls.

urpower said...

I think Paglia's actual voice is silence. Every 'spoken' word is stylized & formed by whatever character she's playing. In these comments for Salon she is taking up the alliterative voice of her former column, which I suspect has nods to Gerard Manley Hopkins, Whitman & many others. I've 'interviewed' her by email (about Lenny Bruce who also converts the written & the spoken word) and pulling that up note as not before how minutely she scrutinizes each change in effect. I'll paste here an unpublished section.
--
In terms of influence on me (which you ask about), there’s no doubt that from the moment I began working with a mike (after I burst on the national scene in the early 1990s), I used what I had learned from listening to Lenny Bruce as well as to other comedians (such as Joan Rivers, Joy Behar, and Ellen DeGeneres, all of whom I had seen only on TV). I used Bruce’s improvisation, digression, alternating humor/attack, and unpredictability. I tried to work the mike the way he did.

My greatest improvised lecture was undoubtedly “The M.I.T. Lecture” in 1991, a transcript of which appears in my first essay collection, Sex, Art, and American Culture. It was the height of the culture wars, and I attacked poststructuralism and the feminist establishment mercilessly. Thousands of people turned up (the police were there to control it), and many had to watch on TV from other rooms.

It was true tightrope-walking Bruce-style improvisation—I was dealing with a crowd that was half hostile, half supportive, and I just went at them with everything I had. I made up metaphors on the spot (like poststructuralism as a house of zebra naugahyde furniture) that surprised and amused even me! (This was of course Bruce’s free-association goal.)

In recent years, when I’ve been doing more standard scholarly lectures, my improvisations have been confined to the question and answer period, but that is where my real self comes out. I always answer long and follow spontaneously impromptu digressions. Those q&a’s can go on forever—at Haverford College in the late ‘90s, for instance, I was onstage answering questions for six hours (until 2 AM).

An example was broadcast on C-SPAN’s American Perspectives just last weekend—the q&a following my February lecture (on religion and art) at Colorado College. Because of the seriousness of the occasion (it was the 2007 Cornerstone Arts Lecture), I tried to remain more decorous than usual in the q&a, but the change in persona and style from the lecture itself is really obvious.

As the q&a goes on, I start doing improv “bits”—for example, when I caustically flash, “Who made Naomi Wolf the pope of feminism?” or mutter about Susan Faludi, “Dull...dull...dull as dishwater.”

Terry said...

Instapundit chats with Paglia:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=HBaahsD9qIA

Luke Lea said...

Call it what you like, Paglia is both interesting and verbally arresting. Twinkly green peas and all.

wildswan said...

What about Doll Tearsheet, the prostitute in Henry IV part 2. Granted in this case "Doll" is a name but all the other comic characters' names referred to character traits - like Justice Shallow, Fang and Snare, Feeble. So I always thought the word "doll" meant prostitute or maybe good-time-girl in those days.
Moppet is also interesting; I hear people using it all time: where I would say "kids", they say "moppets." It means stranger's children who are misbehaving in an understandable way - as in "I saw the moppets going into school for the first time, trying to line up." I thought there was a TV show that used the word.

Ann Althouse said...

" "Twinkly green peas" are very descriptive words that convey the visual on opening up your Swanson Frozen TV Dinner of yore"

Actually, you heat it in the oven before you peel back the foil, so you don't see those ice crystals.

Ann Althouse said...

"What about Doll Tearsheet, the prostitute in Henry IV part 2. Granted in this case "Doll" is a name but all the other comic characters' names referred to character traits - like Justice Shallow, Fang and Snare, Feeble. So I always thought the word "doll" meant prostitute or maybe good-time-girl in those days."

That would fit the early definition of generic pet name, mistress, and small pig.