THUS SPAKE CAMILLE PAGLIA
How do you feel about the fact that Silicon Valley dominates our
economy and culture? Is there any tech guru you’re interested
Well, no. My last big tech guru was probably Marshall McLuhan.
Had a prophetic insight into what was about to happen. He’s
kind of the patron saint of my working on the web from the very
first issue of Salon in 1995. It’s hard to believe that
the web wasn’t taken seriously by already-established journalists.
was a major political reporter at the Boston Globe, for
example, who tried to pressure me not to write for the web. He
said, “Oh, no one takes the web seriously.” It’s
an enormous thing that’s happened. Which, of course, has
also sucked in a whole generation of young people, alas. That’s
all they know. I think we’re kind of on the downside of
that right now.
Glittering Images, and your other work, emphasized the
role of the iconic in Western and Eastern culture, the role of
the spectacular. Now here we have people, they look, they listen
on very small smartphones. Is this culture dead? But if the culture
was so splendid, why did people give it up so quickly?
The reason I wrote Glittering Images is because I felt
that there’s an avalanche of fragmented visual impressions
-- disconnected, glaring, tacky, badly designed -- that young
people are growing up in. I think it really is true that children’s
brains are being reshaped. The standard forms for logic and for
sequential information and for reasoning, everything’s kind
of disappearing. I tried to write a book where people would just
stare at an image for a certain length of time.
it’s getting worse and worse. Web design, which my school,
University of the Arts, teaches -- I think web design is in the
pits. I thought web design was moving into becoming a major genre
of the arts. I think we’re in a kind of swirling vortex
-- and yes, what you mentioned about the miniaturization of image
raised in a time, 1950s, when Hollywood was competing with television
by doing something which television couldn’t do, with those
gigantic screens. Like in The Ten Commandments, there’s
a giant thing of Pharaoh, a giant sculpture. It starts at one
end of the screen and you watch it go to the other end of the
screen. Phenomenal. Lawrence of Arabia, oh my God, the dunes of
Lawrence of Arabia with that music.
no sense of the large. Young people have no sense whatever of
the expansive, of the big gesture.
But do we maybe overrate the large? If the large gave through
so quickly, so readily, to what you’re describing as this
kind of mediocrity, what was wrong with that culture of the ’50s,
’60s, and ’70s to begin with?
I would say that a culture always moves in cycles. You have periods
that esteem the colossal, like the Bernini Renaissance and Baroque
periods. Then you get the small, the art of the small. The Rococo
is a kind of evanescence, evaporation of the big Baroque swirls.
All of a sudden it’s little tiny things like on a Valentine’s
we go back and forth. I just feel lucky, I think, that I have
a kind of epic imagination, because I was raised watching The
Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur, which I could watch that 300 times.
It’s one of your 10 favourite movies, right?
It’s the one on the list that’s surprising.
Torment. And the music composed for those things. It directly
inspired my writing of Sexual Personae, absolutely. I’m
directly inspired by music. I think for women it’s good
to have something that’s going to make you assert and trample
and conquer. It animates me. These are my maxims.
Given what you’re saying, do you today consider yourself
a cultural conservative?
No, not at all.
Why not? Everything used to be better. Isn’t that?
No, we’re in a period of decadence, a falling off, you see.
No, conservative would mean that I would be cleaving to something
past, which was great, and no longer is, and I would be saying,
“We need to return to that.” Usually I’m not
saying we need to return to anything. I do believe we’re
moving inexorably into the future. There’s a momentum to
that. I’m a libertarian. That’s why I’m always
freely offending both sides.
Liberal, conservative. I’m a Democrat, even though I’m
constantly criticizing -- I think a true intellectual should be
always beyond partisanship.
And always criticizing.
Yes, and always critiquing the premises of your own friends and
Brazil. You mentioned you’ve been there nine times?
Yes. Nine or ten.
What does Brazilian culture have which North American culture
lacks? What’s the draw?
It’s such a polyglot of cultures and ethnicities. But beyond
that, Brazilians understood my work from the first moment I began
to publish. Because what they understood was artifice, art --
because of Carnival for them, and costuming, masquerade, and that
baroque exuberance, and the syncretism of Christianity with the
Yoruba cults of West Africa in Salvador de Bahia.
understood my vision of art and beauty -- and beauty as an incredibly
important human principle, rather than the way it was being trashed
by my fellow feminists at that time.
also understand nature, the grandeur of nature, the power of nature.
It’s much larger.
Yes, instead of these silly little arguments that, “Oh,
climate change is causing the end of the world.” Oh my God.
Anyone who talks like that does not understand the grandeur and
the power of nature. To imagine that we can make a change in it
is so absolutely absurd.
What’s your theory of modernity that puts them on one part
of the curve, and we’re on another, more decadent part of
the curve? What’s the difference? What’s what we would
call the structural equilibrium as economists, if I dare invoke
such a thing?
Brazil, it’s in its own world. It’s not been part
of the world wars. It doesn’t have this huge militaristic
superstructure. It doesn’t have a messianic view of itself
politically. The politics are always chaos and drama. It’s
like in grand opera. It’s like another planet, really, Brazil.
You’ve spoken very highly of the prequels, which many people
don’t like at all.
What is it that people don’t get about the prequels? They
say Jar Jar Binks, and they scream, and they run away.
I can’t tell you.
Clutching their head.
I know exactly what they’re talking about.
Tell us what’s good about the prequels?
It was Revenge of the Sith -- after the great volcano planet climax
of Revenge of the Sith. I think it’s one of the greatest
sequences in all of modern art. The thing is once I had written
about it, I realized, as I went out in the world, how few people
had actually seen the movie, because people had given up on the
prequels long before.
I think anyone who dismisses what I say about the sublime quality,
the vision, the execution, the emotions, and the passions of that
scene, they don’t know what I’m talking about, because
they haven’t exposed themselves to it.
You wrote about the Rolling Stones some time ago, but if I look
at the career of the Stones — they have a new album coming
out this year?—?I find it striking that they’ve kept
on going. And I actually count that as a mark against them.
think they’re good, but when I go back and listen, I never
hear new things in their music. Now that some time has passed,
what would you say about the Rolling Stones, and do you agree
that you’re a little disappointed with them?
I haven’t been following them for many, many years. To me,
the Rolling Stones were a revolution when they happened, in that
period when the Beatles were all upbeat. Then, here come these
surly guys sneering, and spitting, and so on.
But the Beatles were dark and subtle, too, right?
Not like the Stones. Here’s the difference. The Rolling
Stones are inspired by, animated by, to this day, by the blues
tradition. The Beatles really were more almost Broadway and musical
British music hall.
Yes, British music hall and Tin Pan Alley, and so on. They were
tremendous songsmiths, but there’s nothing dark about them.
In other words, Paul McCartney is a wonderful bass player, but
you’re not getting the big, roaring sounds of Bill Wyman’s
bass at the beginning of the Stones’ career.
have not been following the Stones. Ever since Bill Wyman left
the Stones, I have not felt that this was the Stones I knew. I’m
delighted that they go on, and that they perform, and so on, but
I have absolutely no interest in exposing myself to those horrible
arena conditions for music. Oh my goodness, just the light shows
and the this and the that. They’re not musical experiences.
They’re social experiences now.
What’s the music from classic rock that when you listen
to it today, every single time you hear more in it? I would say
Brian Wilson and Jimi Hendrix. Every time I hear them, it sounds
different and fresher for me. What are your picks?
Jimi Hendrix is one of the great geniuses of any instrument in
the last a hundred years. Obviously, his music has lasted and
is still fresh. For me, there’s a whole period there I teach
in my Art of Song Lyrics course. I just was doing Crosby, Stills
& Nash, “Wooden Ships,” and it still has this
that entire period of the 1960s, the music. It was a magic moment.
Still in the ’70s, Led Zeppelin, “When the Levee Breaks.”
It still has enormous power. A lot of that music that Jimmy Page
was doing. A lot of it working in the studio, actually. It wasn’t
just live music.
Fast-forward back to the present. Who would be a musical artist
today? i know you’ve written Taylor Swift is a pestilence,
so it’s probably not her.
Taylor Swift is like a nightmare.
Who would be the musical artist today who stands up to the giants
of the past?
Stands up working today?
Working today or close to today. The last 10 years.
I was really very hopeful about Rihanna for a while there. Unfortunately,
she’s not really working with the top producers any longer.
The new album is an atrocity. It’s really terrible. It’s
sad, because there are so many people with talents who are not
because our music industry is now very formulaic. Young people
can’t really move along studying their instruments and getting
their chops over a period of time. There’s nothing to draw
on in the way that the musicians of my generation could draw on
the folk tradition, the folk music.
You’re sounding like a cultural conservative.
I’m just saying there’s certain moments, certain magic
moments, of fertility or creativity that happened in many of the
arts. You can find certain key moments where there’s a confluence
of influences and a certain richness. In that very moment, it’s
a great time to be alive, to be young.
Shakespeare would not be Shakespeare if he were alive today. As
it happens, he left Stratford -- for whatever reason -- went to
London at a magic moment when theater was flourishing, which was
only for a few decades, and then it was out again. There’s
a certain kind of luck. If you’re the right person at the
right time in any one of the artistic genres.
Kanye West. Every album is different. He draws upon a lot of sources
from the past.
Oh my God. The bloat.
Inspired by rap, rhythm and blues, no?
What can I say?
On education, there’s a new model school called Minerva,
where you take four years, you spend each of the four years in
a foreign country. One year in Buenos Aires, one in Istanbul,
one in Bangalore.
in small classes, but the classes are all online. There’s
no library. There’s no formal campus, per se. It’s
been around for about two years. What do you think? What’s
I think the idea of sending young people abroad is great. I think
that is a proper use of the money that’s going down the
tubes at the major universities right now. For parents to think
-- it would profit young people a lot to be exposed to the world.
Right now, our primary school education is absolutely appalling
in its lack of world history and world geography.
because I get everyone in my classroom. I’m lucky I teach
at a kind of school where I’m getting students from a wide
range of preparation. There might be a couple private school people,
but people from the inner city, from good schools, from bad schools.
I really have a very clear sense, after 40 years of teaching,
what’s going on at the primary school level.
unbelievable how little they know. It is absolutely shocking how
little they know. This is a recipe for a disaster. I say yes,
send them abroad. Fantastic idea.
other thing of the online thing, I don’t believe this online
thing at all. I think that you need a live person, and you need
a live person who can talk extemporaneously and respond to the
moment. Not just people who are reading the same old damn lecture
over and over again.
the kind of teaching that goes on in the Ivy League where there’s
a flattering. There’s these small seminar things.
The A-minus seminar?
There’s all this practice and learning how to talk in a
slightly pretentious way about things and impressing each other.
So what? They’re all packaging them for the bourgeoisie.
Send them to Brazil, right?
They’re so proud of themselves as they produce all these
clones, these polished, bourgeois clones, witless, knowing nothing.
Speaking of inspiring teachers, what’s your favourite Harold
Bloom story -- that you can tell?
I never took a course with Harold Bloom. I was in graduate school
at Yale, and I just never took a course with him, so I didn’t
know him at all. And then he heard -- one time I encountered him
-- I shouldn’t say this. OK, maybe. Let’s say he would
come a-courting with a famous poet, who was a friend of his.
see him turning up at a doorway. “Hello, hello, hello,”
OK, that’s all. I just knew him to say hello to him. Then,
he heard what I was going to be working on and that I was having
trouble finding a dissertation director for a study of androgyny
in literature and art.
a time when nobody was doing -- it’s hard to believe now
because everything is sex and gender everywhere -- but at the
time, no one was doing a dissertation on sex at the Yale Graduate
School. It’s hard to believe. He summoned me to his office.
That’s really how we met. He said, “My dear, I am
the only one who can direct that dissertation,” and I said,
“OK.” That was it.
everything. He understood everything I wanted to do with the book,
and he understood my ideas. He was a fantastic resource for me
in so far as he also supported me or gave me confidence throughout
all those decades when I couldn’t get it published. Sexual
Personae was rejected by seven publishers and five agents.
time it was published, I was 43 years old. I’m a great role
model, it seems to me, for people to just soldier through adversity
and rejection and just continue to develop the craft. Eventually,
hopefully, one will see one’s work in print.
What did he think of you and Sexual Personae?
Of course, he always said I gave him great naches, which is sort
of like of a father to a daughter. He and I agree about Freud.
We have a Freudian psychohistory and so on.
There’s a segment of all of these conversations in the middle.
It’s called underrated or overrated. I mention something,
and you tell me if you think it’s underrated or overrated
by our society.
By our society or by me?
Your opinion relative to the society opinion. Now, don’t
hold back on these. Tell us what you think.
First one, economics.
Economics as a field?
As a field. Overrated or underrated?
I don’t know. I just think that economists are figures of
fun sometimes in cartoons. I’m just judging by what I sense.
He’s totally gone, poor man. Actually, I’ve been commenting
on this recently to my friends. I said, “You remember that
period when Faulkner was everywhere, and everyone read him? He
was just a baseline figure.”
to Kate Millett and all these philistine feminist types in the
early ’70s, there was a great sweeping away of many, many
major male figures in the history of literature including Ernest
Hemingway, D. H. Lawrence, who had a huge influence on me.
are a resident of Mississippi, Faulkner still lives and is vivid.
I think, outside of that, it’s been years since I’ve
heard Faulkner mentioned.
You’re saying underrated?
I think he should be on the reading list. I don’t know.
Perhaps he was overrated in our time, but he certainly was a major
author and a major influence on American literature, for heaven’s
sake. Young people aren’t reading him, and they aren’t
reading many of the great authors.
Yoko Ono, overrated or underrated?
Yoko Ono, don’t start me on Yoko Ono. One of my least favourite
people in the universe. Yes, I blame her for the breakup of the
Beatles. All that screechy yodeling that went on. Oh my God, she’s
a horror. But, I gave her her due in Glittering Images, because
she was a very important figure in the development of conceptual
art. She really was very innovative in the 1960s, but what a dreary,
When I think of a lot of your books, especially if I contrast
you to Marxist criticism, I think of your emphasis as being a
lot of metaphysics in a very exciting, big-picture way. Let’s
say we take a writer, very high quality, but she moves very far
from metaphysics. She writes about small numbers of people in
rural Ontario, Alice Munro.
Oh, I don’t read fiction. I don’t read contemporary
fiction. I have absolutely zero interest in contemporary fiction.
The last contemporary fiction I had any interest in is Auntie
Mame, and I’m not kidding. I like plays like Tennessee Williams.
writers are off in another world. They don’t see the world
as it exists now. They don’t use the language of the contemporary
world. Their English is utterly stale and cloistered. I cannot
read a page of contemporary fiction, I’m sorry. Anything
that’s pre–contemporary fiction, I’m a great
admirer of. Believe me, these are the kind of books I’ll
open like this and like that. .
You’re going to pass on Harry Potter, too?
Harry Potter, no, I don’t. In fact, I refused to write on
Harry Potter for the Wall Street Journal once. They said,
“Who should we ask next?” and they asked Harold Bloom.
Harold Bloom became known for it. He got that because of me. Just
like Norman Mailer got to interview Madonna for the cover of Esquire
because Madonna said no to me.
kept trying to bring us together. HBO wanted to do a My Dinner
with Andre type of thing with Madonna and me, and she was afraid.
I don’t know. I think she thought I was going to be some
big intellectual, but it’s not true.
Parenthood, underrated or overrated?
Parenthood? Obviously, we’re in a time now where parenting
is in crisis, I would think. The reason we have all these whiny,
super sensitive girls on campus that’ll run shrieking at
the slightest thing that offends their ears or drag mattresses
onto the stage at commencement exercises, the reason we have that
is because the parents have not prepared them for real life.
words, they’ve been raised in this bourgeois, pampered cocoon,
so I think there’s been a tremendous failure of parenting,
certainly, in terms of young people being ready to take on the
real world in their late teens.
What’s the most underrated play by William Shakespeare?
The most underrated play?
I don’t know. I really can’t answer that. I’m
teaching my Shakespeare course this semester. I simply focus on
the really major plays. Perhaps Antony and Cleopatra
is starting to recede. I don’t know why.
Antony and Cleopatra was a great favourite of my generation,
of the ’60s generation, but, for some reason, it’s
becoming marginal. I’m not sure. Maybe because it’s
May I ask a few questions about sex?
Which country comes closest to your vision of having healthy relations
between the sexes? Or among the sexes, which may be a better way
to put it.
I would say that Brazil has the healthiest view of sexuality,
but I wouldn’t say that the sexes are particularly getting
along in the upper middle class in Brazil, as I meet professional
women, journalists and so on, there.
that the women are magnificent. They’re incredible, the
way they look and dress. They have such style, and assertiveness,
and so on, but I’m not sure the communications with men
are particularly successful right now. There’s a lot of
static there. The men are like gnomes. It’s strange. They
don’t have this thing. In the United States, usually the
upper middle class, successful careers and so on, you have the
women doing their Pilates, and then the men will be going to the
gym also. Not in Brazil. The men just seem to sag and get plumper
and plumper, and duller and duller, and lose their hair and nobody
because they assume that woman rules. Woman is the cock of the
walk down there. I’m still trying to figure it out. Anyway,
I love it. I adore it. I love Brazilian women. They’re so
We’ve now had gay men in the military for some time out
openly, legally, permissible. How that has run, has it surprised
you? Earlier you wrote you expected it could be quite disruptive,
and it hasn’t been. In a sense, has male gay culture turned
out to be tamer than what you expected in the early ’90s?
Tamer. More domestic. More people adopting children, more people
It’s changed. There’s no doubt about it. I think that
AIDS was like a Holocaust. The number of interesting, fascinating,
talented men and artists and people in fashion and every level.
I think that, in many ways, gay culture is still recovering from
that. We’re at a kind of holding pattern.
was an enormous flamboyance and assertiveness to gay male culture
once. It had a distinct style and voice of its own. What you’re
saying, things are turning out better. Yes, there’s an assimilation
going on, but also, to me, a disappearance of that gay aesthetic.
Wilde is one of the major influences on my thinking and remains
that. I teach a whole course on Oscar Wilde. Now, what can you
say? Is there anything distinctly gay right now, except there
are certainly gay activists who are extremely successful in terms
of pushing their agenda. Probably these little cadres of gay activists
are the only thing that’s left.
know. Assimilation is always a loss. Certainly, my culture experienced
it. Italian-American culture has kind of vanished, too.
For America, what should an ideal of masculinity look like now?
What should it look like? I don’t know.
An older generation, you would have a Cary Grant or a Rock Hudson.
You would see the movie Philadelphia Story, one of your favourites.
There was some ideal of masculinity on the screen, maybe not your
ideal. Today, what is it that’s out there which comes closest
to your ideal?
Well you know many of those images on the screen which would seem
to be masculine, often the actual actors were gay, like Rock Hudson
-- and Cary Grant’s sexuality remains one of the great mysteries.
I adore Cary Grant, oh my God, but he’s like a hallucination.
All of the great images on the screen are hallucinations. Kim
Novak in Vertigo is literally a hallucination.
right now is that the masculine has no honour whatever in our
culture. We’re in a period now where young people are being
processed for the universities, and the gender norms are said
to be that gender is a construct. It is simply the product of
environmental pressures on people. There’s no nothing in
the body -- .
We have a big culture. Not everyone goes to university, thank
goodness. You can go to a NASCAR race and a few of the people
there have not been to the Ivy Leagues.
Working class culture retains an idea of the masculine. There’s
absolutely no doubt about that. But, with that, comes static.
So you have to have strong women in order to deal with masculine
is why masculinity is constantly being eroded, diminished, and
dissolved on university campuses because it allows women to be
weak. If you have weak men, then you can have weak women. That’s
what we have. Our university system, anything that is remotely
masculine is identified as toxic, as intrinsic to rape culture.
A utopian future is imagined where there are no men. We’re
all genderless mannequins.
The Time Machine is like one. We’re moving toward that,
the Eloi. That’s how I see the upper middle class graduates
of the Ivy League. They’re the Eloi. They’re completely
bland. They have no ideas. They all get along very well with each
other because they’re nothing. They’re eating their
fruits which are given to them by the Morlocks, or the industrial
class. That’s how I see the future? -- ?unfortunately. I
began my career talking about androgyny and talking about the
imaginative complexity of androgyny and how the artist and the
shaman and the prophet have this androgynous component. But today’s
androgyny, it’s just boring.
Bowie, at his height, was absolutely brilliant, electrifying,
kabuki -- on and on and so on. Now, all these pallid androgynes
of today, there’s nothing creative about them whatever.
But to try to cheer you up a bit, what then is the healthiest
segment of American society? Because, again, you’ve lived
most of your life in the northeast, mostly in colleges and universities,
Think outside the box. Where do you see vitality, both culturally,
sexually in terms of aesthetics?
No, I don’t. I think it’s been a tremendous flattening.
There’s very little culturally right now. There’s
very little of substance or interest being produced in art and
in culture. We’re in a retro period. We’re chopping
up everything, putting everything from the past through the grinder
How about Canada? Overrated or underrated? Or, do they have all
the same problems?
Canada, they have this ideal of the consensus. That’s why
when I go up there, people have said to me actually quietly, “Oh,
I love having you here, because everyone’s always forcing
us to have consensus in Canada.”
been told that also when I go to Norway. People say, “Oh,
we can’t stand it. We are not allowed to have an opinion
in Norway. We all have to have a consensus.” Everyone is
very civilized in Canada, but it’s impossible to rise above
the herd, also. You can’t make any big gestures; you’re
thought to be antisocial. I wouldn’t glorify Canada.
Let me ask you a few questions about yourself. There’s a
wonderful four-page essay you wrote called “The Artistic
Dynamics of ‘Revival’,” where you talked about
how creators have early, middle and late periods.
is maybe the most obvious example, but there are many, many others.
When you think of your own career, how do you see it as fitting
together in terms of a time arc, what you’ve done and what
you want to do? What are your early, middle, and late periods?
Where are you in it now?
My early period was total failure, flop, and in the middle to
get published. There was that. Then, all of a sudden, I started
to burst out, like a jack-in-the-box. It’s been like blabber,
blabber, blabber ever since. Like that. I really don’t see
phases. I see like nothingness, then everything. It’s like
What will the late period look like?
The late period?
We haven’t gotten to it, yet. The everything is the middle
Right now, I’m working on something that no one has any
interest in, whatever. I’ve been working for eight years
on this, my Native American explorations. I’m very interested
in Native American culture at the end of the ice age as the glacier
around and I find little tiny artifacts. I read. Absolutely no
one, especially anyone in Manhattan, has the slightest interest
in what I’m doing. Everything has been prepared for in my
life. I’ve always been interested in archeology. I feel
like I make a contribution, even though no one’s interested
at all. What I’m trying to do is show how the politicization
of ethnic studies, of racial studies, and so on has actually been
very objectionable this eternal projection of genocide and disaster
and so on onto Native American studies. I’d like to show
the actual vision of Native American culture which is a religious
vision, a metaphysical vision, and -- .
Relevance of nature.
It’s almost like an early animism. That’s why I’m
interested in Salvador de Bahia, also, because of the Yoruba cults
of West Africa that were absorbed into Salvador de Bahia in Brazil.
It’s the same, where all of the forces of nature are perceived
as spirit entities that can bring you energy or vision.
Of the Native America cultures which have come down to us, which
is different, of course, from what you had at the Ice Age, which
of those do you relate to the most and why?
All I’m doing is exploring the Native American cultures
of the northeast. Because when the settlers came from Europe,
the Indians were pushed out, the hunting grounds were limited,
then there was general destruction of Native American culture
for many reasons during that period.
more actually about the Plains Indians and, obviously, Northwestern
Indians, and the Navaho than we do about the Northeastern Indians.
I believe that there are remnants everywhere -- I stumbled on
this. I’m very sorry I didn’t notice this when I was
living all those years in Upstate New York, where the Onondagas
still have their reservation. Probably the remnants of these glacial
era cultures were still there as well.
find it’s absolutely staggering. It is staggering the actual
signs and remnants that are everywhere in the Northeast. I could
go out right now, find some dirt, and I’ll find you a broken
tool. It’s absolutely incredible. I feel that’s what
I should be doing something like this, which no one is interested
in. But I feel it’s substantive, and I hope can help to
show what was here before.
In Vamps & Tramps, you once wrote that as early as
1981, the second volume of Sexual Personae was more --
finished is a tricky word we know as writers. But some version
is finished, and do you think we will . . . ?.
It was finished. Yale Press didn’t want to publish those
I’ll publish it.
Yale Press ended with the end of the 19th century with Emily Dickinson
and it was already a 700-page book. Yes, I put in there the next
book was coming. Then what happened, of course, is throughout
the ’90s, and since the last 25 years, I’ve been essentially
writing in articles everything that I would have written in that
writing on popular culture, I’ve continued to do. Like on
football, I had a chapter, “Baseball versus Football,”
and football is the ultimate pagan sport, etc.
I wrote for Wall Street Journal, my football feminism.
I have a whole concept and philosophy of that. Now, football is
getting more and more boring. It’s gotten more and more
technocratic. It’s not in a period right now that I would
was celebrating that tremendous period when there were still hard
hits and there was still defense. There wasn’t all this
throwing, flinging the ball down the field, people catching it
like ballerinas. Please, that’s not football. Football is
wham, like that. The TV won’t show the great defensive plays.
The whole art of defense, the great offensive, defensive lines,
and that tussle, it’s gone. I feel lucky that I saw football
on TV at its high point.
You also wrote that when you were in high school, you either wrote
or just started a book on Amelia Earhart. What was the appeal
of her to you?
Oh my God. Amelia Earhart, I stumbled on. It was an article in
1961 in the Syracuse Herald Journal. There was always some article
about Amelia Earhart. Someone finds a fragment or something.
very interested in her. At that point, I was, I guess, 14. I began
researching her in the bowels of the Syracuse Library, the things
were still not on microfilm yet. All the newspapers were still
there from the 1930s.
that for three years on this research project. That’s how
I became a feminist before feminism had revived, because I suddenly
discovered this period just after women had won the right to vote.
In the 1920s and ’30s, we had all these career women, like
Amelia Earhart, Dorothy Parker, Dorothy Thompson, Clare Boothe
Luce. There’s so many women, Margaret Bourke-White.
time second-wave feminism revived, which was with Betty Friedan’s
cofounding of NOW in 1967, I was out of sync with them. When suddenly
they revived, began complaining about men, and all that stuff,
so on and so forth, I hated it. It was early clashes that I had
with those feminists from the start. I tried to join second-wave
feminism. They wouldn’t have me because I would not bad
women, like Amelia Earhart, they did not bad mouth men. They admired
men. They admired what men had done. What they said was, “We
demand equal opportunity for women,” which gave us the opportunity
to show that we can achieve at the same level as men who did all
these great things.
was not the tone of second-wave feminism from the start. It’s
almost like, “Patriarchy?. ” [makes sounds] like this.
These women were insane. I found out from the start. I went to
this feminist conference at the Yale Law School when I was in
graduate school. It was 1971. Kate Millett was there. Rita Mae
Brown who later became a lesbian novelist and lives on a horse
farm in Virginia came around.
Maybe she’s here.
Maybe she’s here. She’s very rich. At any rate, Rita
Mae Brown said to me, she said, “The difference between
you and me, Camille, is that you want to save the universities,
and I want to burn them down.” What can you say? What a
conversation stopper. I had the knock down argument of the Rolling
Stones with the New Haven Women’s Liberation Rock Band.
I adore the Stones. They hated the Stones. We had this huge screaming
argument. My back was to the wall. They were screaming in my face.
I said, “Yes, the Rolling Stones are sexist, but they made
great music.” They go, “Oh, no, no, no!”
“All right, let’s take “Under My Thumb,”
yes, it’s sexist, but it’s a great song. It’s
a work of art.” These women, they said to me, they said,
“Art! Art! Nothing that demeans women can be art!”
Now that is a Stalinist view of art!
More about you. Less about them.
Wait a minute. Then there was the argument that I had. This is
about Amelia Earhart. Then I had my first job at Bennington College
in 1972. People said, “There’s this new women’s
studies department. One of the first ever at the State University
of New York at Albany. Oh, you’ll be one of them.”
“Well, they’re feminist. I’m feminist. OK. All
right.” We had a dinner. We were going to go to a lecture,
and so on. We didn’t get through to dessert. Let me tell
you about that dinner. Because we had this screaming argument
deny that hormones have the slightest impact on human life. They
said hormones don’t even exist. They told me I had been
brainwashed by male scientists to believe -- these are women who
are in the English department. Wonderful education they had in
biology. At any rate, Amelia Earhart —.
was like this with men. This is the point. In fact, my next book,
my next essay collection, I’m going to reproduce the page
from Newsweek magazine, 1963, I wrote in a letter to the editor.
It was their number one letter. I was 16 years old, at that point.
was it? They put a picture of Amelia Earhart there. It was Valentina
Tereshkova had become the first women in space. The Soviet Union
had sent her up. I wrote a protest letter into Newsweek and I
said, “That Valentina Tereshkova, the cosmonaut, has became
the first woman to be? -- ?on the anniversary that Amelia Earhart
flew the ocean,” whatever it was. It was some big anniversary.
“Obviously, Amelia Earhart’s lifelong fight for equal
opportunity for American women remains to be won.” That’s
1963. Gloria Steinem can lick dirt, as far as I’m concerned.
When I was doing that, Gloria Steinem was running around New York
in a plastic skirt, I’m telling you. She’s a fraud,
that woman. A fraud.