July 10, 2004

Rank ambivalence.

The Saturday NYT, which maybe thinks nobody's reading, always runs a couple of articles that dip into the thoughts of the world of scholarship. Today, one topic is "rankism." (The other topic is radical traditionalism, and it's the better article, but I'm only going to talk about rankism here.) "Rankism" is a word coined by Robert W. Fuller to signify "the bullying behavior of people who think they are superior."
"I wanted a nasty word for the crime, an unpleasant word, a stinky word," he said, referring to his choice of the word rankism. "Language is incredibly important in making political change. I always go back to that word sexism and how it became the catalyst for a movement."

Hmmm... well, I believe in the power of language too. For example, when a grown man uses the expression "a stinky word," I pick up a whiff of childhood pain. And when a man tries to start a movement using a word, I hear the prudish teacher/nanny/mommy chiding "use words." And when the movement is about quashing "bullying," I sense the presence of a man intensely in touch with his sensitive inner child. So, that's the material whining for attention in the nerdy Saturday paper.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times, the one everyone reads, is running this article, which is up now online, jumping off the screen with candy-colored cartoons of luscious women. A woman named Coco Hanson Scales writes "The Hostess Diary: My Year at a Hot Spot," detailing how she wielded the ego-swelling power to exclude people from a popular restaurant.
[The owner] is fanatical about making the lounge an oasis of rail-thin, beautiful women. He drills me about the kind of clientele he wants and doesn't want. If people are unattractive, I must seat them in corners or turn down the lights so as not to draw attention to them. I make sure the servers know to bring their orders quickly so they are not tempted to walk around.

To Ms. Scales's credit, as she tells the story, she got tired of it all within a year--tired of hearing the cooks mutter "diablo" as she scampered by in skirts so short she could never bend over, tired of seeing the staff mock the President's daughter for loving Guns n' Roses, tired of shuffling Monica Lewinsky out the back door. She's thinking of going back to school. Maybe she's reading the Saturday Times. (Seriously, I think we all know what Scales is doing: writing a catty book about all the celebs that passed through Hue.)

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