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....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.
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.
"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.