The Flâneur's Archives

Archives from The Flâneur's Arcade (2007-2017)

Tag: camille paglia

Reversal of Fortune

Hillary Clinton campaigned on the appeal of being the first woman to run for the highest office in the United States, banking on the same identity politics that buoyed Barack Obama to power in 2008. But while it was true that many Americans were misty-eyed with the image of a first African-American president, Obama had many other gifts that Clinton sorely lacked. There was an ease about the Senator from Illinois, a nimbleness in speech, and the keenness to tap into the zeitgeist. He knew Americans wanted hope and change.

So it was with the confidence of repeating this feat of firsts, boosted by the favorable augury of the polls, that Clinton supporters gathered at the Javits Convention Center in New York. But the party soon turned into scenes of inconsolable wailing, as they watched blue state after blue state turn red.

While Clinton failed to make the case for electing the first woman president, Donald Trump is by no means a conventional choice. A Washington outsider, with no political experience, besting 16 other Republican candidates in the primaries, then going head to head against an establishment candidate backed by mainstream media and Wall Street money, and finally, pulling-off a stunning reversal of fortune on election night. He was outspent by Clinton 2:1, running a lean campaign by criss-crossing tirelessly around battleground states, and by his provocative use of social media, presenting his case directly to the people. (Let us not now forget who Citizens United and lobby money helped the most in this election.)

In some way, Trump’s win is also a first. He is the first reality TV candidate–raw and unfiltered, and prickly at the edges. He is also the first social media candidate, with an uncanny command of the medium. Marshall McLuhan said that radio created Hitler and television created JFK; this time, YouTube, Twitter, and the comment section created Donald Trump. The comment section, which Camille Paglia observes has become “a whole new genre” (Reason TV interview), is the anarchic countervailing medium to the composed article. In McLuhan’s terms, it is cool, participatory, and auditory, as opposed to the hot, linear, visual form of the article. Twitter has that same low-res, audile quality. This is where you hear the voices of dissent against the imposed narrative. Professional Internet troll Chuck Johnson gloats: “The trolls won,” and called this election, “the comment section against the article.” Surprising it was a candidate in his 70’s who seized upon the medium of the moment and understood its message.

Mainstream media’s inability to grasp the meaning of Trump’s victory is a signal of their decline and irrelevance. They continue to explain it in terms of absurd identity politics: those white working class voters in the Rust Belt must be racist, so it goes. But Wisconsin and Pennsylvania had not voted Republican since the 1980s. Did they just turn Aryan supremacist overnight? Even liberal filmmaker Michael Moore (who hails from Michigan) is incredulous of this narrative.

You have to accept that millions of people who voted for Barack Obama, some of them once, some of them twice, changed their minds this time. They’re not racist. They twice voted for a man whose middle name is Hussein. That’s the America you live in.

from The Daily Caller

Trump’s message “Make America Great Again” succinctly captured the thirst for upliftment in blighted manufacturing towns of the Midwest, while Clinton’s clunky slogan “Stronger Together” plastered on her jet plane never really took off. In her vision of inclusion, those who Trump addressed as the “forgotten man and woman” felt excluded. In a feat of firsts, it is the billionaire playboy and real estate mogul that put the traditionally Democrat base of working class Americans on the side of Republicans. It remains to be seen whether he can effect a reversal of their fortunes.

David Bowie (1947-2016)

Bowie as Aladdin Sane

Ziggy Stardust was not a drag act—he was a shamanistic daydream, half kabuki, half Weimar cabaret. With the Thin White Duke, Bowie did a rigorous, self-purging exercise in minimalism… As the Thin White Duke, Bowie shifted into Byron-in-exile mode; he was now a haughty, self-shielding arbiter of elegance in the Baudelaire manner… Ziggy Stardust had become too vampiric and had to be assassinated for Bowie to live.

(from Camille Paglia’s tribute at Salon)

Camille Paglia, whose book Sexual Personae was one of Bowie’s top 100 reads, gives tribute to her gender-bending rock-and-roll idol.

David Bowie And The Story Of Ziggy Stardust
(BBC Documentary)

Hard Glamour

Maquillage as Mask

When I judge Lady Gaga, I judge what I feel is the miming of sexuality without the real sexual magic coming from beneath the surface… Marlene Dietrich [is] one of the great pioneers of modern sexuality, coming from her own roots as a live singer in cabaret[s] in Weimar Berlin, as an enormous explosive breakout performer as the femme fatale in the Blue Angel in 1930, then a very sophisticated woman playing with transvestism in Morocco, wearing a tuxedo, and then inventing the whole style of hard glamour that is used in all the major fashion magazines world wide, a certain look [in] fashion… the maquillage as a mask–Baudelaire actually prophesied that–but she’s the one who created that look. It was a look that gay men love. [What] gay men understood from the start was transvestism. They understood. They saw Marlene Dietrich as a drag star. In fact she was a participant in the great drag balls in Weimar Berlin at the height of Weimar decadence. I think yes, there always is this transvestism lingering, a masquerade, behind the most glamorous of female looks of the last century.

(from Camille Paglia, Fliporto interview, 2011)

Blonde Venus (1932)

Woman performs a kind of duty when she endeavors to appear magical and supernatural; she should dazzle men and charm them; she is an idol who should be covered with gold in order to be worshipped.

(Charles Baudlaire, Éloge du maquillage)

Helmut Newton, Woman into Man, Paris, 1979

“Let me tell you what comedy is about…”

From the documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (IFC Films)

Oh, you stupid ass, let me tell you what comedy is about… Comedy is to make everybody laugh at everything, and deal with things, you idiot.

~Joan Rivers

With Johnny Carson in 1986 before their famous falling out

…Joan demonstrates her scathing rejection of humanitarian pieties and political platitudes. Unlike virtually all American comedians these days, she never preaches to the liberal choir for easy laughs. On the contrary, she goes against the grain and overtly offends and repels… She cracks jokes about Nazis, mass murderers, the handicapped, the homeless, the elderly, starving children, racial minorities, stroke victims and even suicides…

(from Camille Paglia, The Hollywood Reporter, 12 Jun 2013)

Vintage Joan Rivers in top form on “The Ed Sullivan Show”:

What Joan represents is power of voice… Jewish-American women already had a startling candor and audacity, producing the shrill ethnic stereotype of the “Jewish seagull.” Joan turned the seagull into a lioness. Although her self-deprecating acceptance of the iron law of female beauty initially put her at odds with the women’s movement, Joan must be recognized as an iconic feminist role model. Everything she says or does, even when following her killer instinct for marketing and publicity, is about personal empowerment and ferocious independence.

(from Camille Paglia, The Hollywood Reporter, 12 Jun 2013)

Very snappy, lightning-speed wit–much like the late Robin Williams. I’d like to see Sarah Silverman do that.p

Culture on the Edge

Marlene Dietrich as Lola Lola in The Blue Angel, 1930

[Sadomasochism] is an archaic ritual form that descends from prehistoric nature cults and that erupts in sophisticated “late” phases of culture, when a civilization has become too large and diffuse and is starting to weaken or decline. I state in Sexual Personae that “sex is a far darker power than feminism has admitted,” and that its “primitive urges” have never been fully tamed: “My theory is that whenever sexual freedom is sought or achieved, sadomasochism will not be far behind.”

Sadomasochism’s punitive hierarchical structure is ultimately a religious longing for order, marked by ceremonies of penance and absolution. Its rhythmic abuse of the body, which can indeed become pathological if pushed to excess, is paradoxically a reinvigoration, a trancelike magical realignment with natural energies. Hence the symbolic use of leather—primitive animal hide—for whips and fetish clothing. By redefining the boundaries of the body, SM limits and disciplines the overexpanded consciousness of “late” phases, which are plagued by free-floating doubts and anxieties.

(from Scholars in Bondage, Camille Paglia)

It’s interesting how Paglia relates a culture’s decadent phase with the rise therein of sadomasochism. When religious repressions have finally been done away with, they return with vengeance in the form of ritual discipline in BDSM.

Cruelty in decadent culture is elevated to a form of aesthetic experience–in the fetish costumes, elaborate paraphernalia, and theatrical staging. In this sense, Tinto Brass’ pornographic biography of Caligula (1979), universally panned by critics, is perhaps the best evocation of decadent Rome, just as Pier Paolo Passolini’s Salò (1975) was for fascist Italy.

Cover art for White Women

Dressed to ride and to be ridden

Ritual discipline of the body

Monica Bellucci: S&M as decadent theater.

Not a welt on that smooth skin. Helmut Newton brings Weimar Berlin decadence to fashion photography. It is not surprising that fashion–the most whimsical of the applied arts–is a cultural vanguard when it comes to S&M fantasy, a signal for Paglia of a culture in its late phase. The drama of aggression and humiliation is presented in beautiful, sheen surfaces–desirable and pleasing to the eye.

Not only when what was once transgressive has been aestheticized and intellectualized–absorbed into so-called “high culture”–but also when the masses have become blasé to it that you know the culture has began to ebb.

S&M-lite for soccer moms: Trailer for the upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey

Billed as “the world’s largest pansexual BDSM event of the year,” the Black Rose conference was to include a 24-hour dungeon, a “slave auction,” a “kinky clown” carnival, a “Free to be Bound” banquet and show, burlesque acts and more than 100 workshops on a variety of bondage, domination and sadomasochism, or BDSM, topics, according to local news reports…

Spokeswoman Susan Wright of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom told the newspaper Black Rose is an educational group.

“It’s going to be a lot of sitting in chairs and people lecturing on how to better your relationship,” she explained. “… We’re teaching people how to engage in alternative sexual expression safely. We teach how to communicate what you want and spice up your sex life.” She estimated the event would have generated at least $250,000 for hotels and other beach businesses.

(from S&M-Event Organizers Whipped in Maryland, 17 Oct 2003)

When a BDSM outfit has become an “educational group” on how to inflict and receive sexual abuse “safely,” and when such endeavors are deemed welcome in otherwise suburban, middle-class neighborhoods (to drum up business!), it’s time for a reactionary backlash.

Good Friday penitents in San Fernando, Pampanga, Philippines:
We take our ritual penance seriously.

Paglia is correct in grounding sadomasochism in religious “ceremonies of penance and absolution” as opposed to being symptomatic of that vague, catch-all (i.e., meaningless) blame-term “late capitalism” in critical theory.

[Margot Weiss, author of Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality] is lured by the reflex Marxism of current academe into reducing everything to economics: “With its endless paraphernalia, BDSM is a prime example of late-capitalist sexuality”; BDSM is “a paradigmatic consumer sexuality.” Or this mind-boggling assertion: “Late capitalism itself produces the transgressiveness of sex­—its fantasized location as outside of or compensatory for alienated labor.” Sex was never transgressive before capitalism? Tell that to the Hebrew captives in Babylon or to Roman moralists during the early Empire!

(from Scholars in Bondage, Camille Paglia)

This Medieval Catholic practice of self-flagellation is played out every year in San Fernando, Pampanga in the Philippines. It culminates in the actual crucifixion of penitents on Good Friday. Both men and women submit themselves to absolution on the cross. (Hey, we are equal opportunity feminists!) It’s a way, as Paglia observes, to re-equilibrate the relationship with God or the cosmos. I can see this self-inflicted punishment as form of taming carnal nature extending to the idea of limiting the body in BDSM in decadent culture. There’s certainly nothing “late-capitalist” about it.

This shows how insular gender studies and academic feminism have become–a result of hallow theorizing without the rigor of fieldwork. It is easy to get seduced by the pseudo-technical lingo of critical theory, especially if it comes with the imprimatur of Ivy League schools. But Paglia blows through their cobweb of sophistry and clunky diction.