Sunday, October 24, 2010


Virginia Heffernan, who writes about online culture for The New York Times Magazine, thinks we have an unhealthy interest in shaming female celebities -- Lindsay Lohan, Michaele Salahi -- who really aren't doing anyone any harm except themselves:

...In all the analysis, no one seems to zero in on what Michaele Salahi plainly is: a pretty lady who wants to dress up and have fun at fancy parties. Even after the story of her party-crashing broke, Salahi still wanted to talk to Bravo's camera chiefly about her dress and what an impressive figure she had cut in it.

Maybe that's not very noble. But in itself it's not against the law. For that matter, alcoholism is not against the law, and neither is sleeping around or lying about how many drinks you've had or even seeming very, very skanky. For those who maturely skipped the party phase of life, gaming the guest list ... is part and parcel of the night-life spirit -- and also not in itself a jailable offense.

Right after 9/11, Muslim regimes were depicted as tyrannical in part because they demonized Western fun-loving culture in the name of a misogynistic ideology. Slowly but surely we've been doing the same thing with our most visible good-time girls, making villains of women who are dangerous almost exclusively to themselves. We point cameras into their darkened cars and literally up their skirts to find cellulite or evidence of immodesty that wouldn't exist without the cameras.... If these women are bad examples to our daughters, we who take a hang-'em-high attitude to party girls have officially become bad examples to their parents.

Do we really fixate on women? I'm not sure (Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix come to mind), but I can see that the men who get this treatment may be the exceptions.

But to me the point seems to be that we do this to celebrities. I think we do this because -- beyond the fact that we really do find some of this behavior unacceptable -- we don't have the success and money these people have, and we don't have the success and money a lot of people have, many of whom really do have power over our lives and abuse it, but we're just not in the habit of going after those people, because we don't really recognize this society's class lines. So we take our class anger out on celebrities.

People do this across the political spectrum. In addition, right-wingers take their class anger out on politicians they've been told are "elitist," and on liberals in general, whom they've also been told are elitist (see, e.g., this elitist-bashing Washington Post op-ed by elitist Charles Murray).

You'll notice that it's especially easy to get right-wingers to bash liberal blacks (Barack Obama) and women (Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton until recently) for elitism. Non-whites, women, gays -- bashing them is always more fun than bashing white men, isn't it? And maybe the apolitical version is what Heffernan is talking about. But it's all a diversion from the real class anger we're absolutely entitled to, but which is never, ever encouraged, so we never, ever express it.

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