If you've been listening to Bret Easton Ellis' excellent podcast over the past couple of years, you'll know that an anger, a disbelief, an exhaustion with political correctness and online hive mind mob mentality has been rumbling in the writer for some time.
The podcast is mainly focused on film, and the issue of social media and modern journalistic discourse bleeds into this area as it has had an unquestionable effect on artistic output in the past couple of years. On a previous episode, guest and Bored To Death creator Jonathan Ames confessed to having recently pulled out of writing an article for a publication simply because he feared the often overwhelming online backlash writers now face.
In the latest instalment but one, ahead of a very interesting, not-unrelated, interview with The Invitation director Karyn Kusama which I implore you to listen to, Bret let rip with an opening monologue calling out the "authoritarian language police", with "your strict set of little rules and manufactured outrage, demanding apologies from every sandwich or salad you didn't like".
The American Psycho author would probably be the first to admit that he went a little too far at times, and has previously confessed to delighting in stoking controversy and acting the contrarian on Twitter, but there's some incredibly cogent stuff in there about the paradoxically fascist aspect to the 'this is the only opinion you are allowed to hold' tacit rules of leftist social media.
It starts with a discussion of recent controversy over an LA Weekly profile - I hate to have to do this and the context is really necessary here, but if you're short on time, the main thrust of this 2000-word essay begins where I've added these arrows: >>>
Alternatively, you can listen to the podcast in full here.
"In an appreciation of the hot young singer Sky Ferreira that the LA Weekly posted a week ago, the writer Art Tavana wrote, quote:
"Sky Ferreira has a name that reads like a turbo-charged Italian sports car, or the kindred spirit to second-generation Italian-American pop star Madonna, the most ambitious woman to ever wear a pink cone bra. Both Sky and Madonna have similar breasts in both cup size and ability to cause a shitstorm.
"When Ferreira dropped her debut, Night Time, My Time, three years ago, the bare-breasted album cover nearly broke the internet. Misogynists claimed it was a desperate attempt to sell records; feminists saw it as the calculated move of a defiant young woman. A third unnamed group, that included me, couldn't help but reminisce on the past, on Madonna's defiantly atomic boobs - the two knockers that altered the course of human history.
"In the now-infamous photo, taken by the Argentinian filmmaker Gaspar Noé, Ferreira looks like a dirtier Madonna: square jaw, strong eyebrows, lulled green eyes, crucifix, bleach-blonde hair, translucently pale skin and killer tits. America's already established that Ferreira looks a lot like Madonna, but we almost never have the audacity to admit that her looks offer the most appeal to the American consumer. To pretend looks don't matter in pop music is ridiculous. Looks matter, they always will." Unquote.
Tavana goes on to write how Ferreira has moved past this idea. Quote: "She's too nasty to be anyone's schoolgirl fantasy. She looks like an unvarnished Madonna styled by Maripol, with the vaguely mystical presence of Nico and the faux-punkness of a Sex Pistols groupie. In other words, Sky Ferreira is the most deliberately pimped-out example of a modern pop star. She's not a mindless product like Britney, or a depressed indie pop singer like Lorde, but she's also not bitter or punk, like Meredith Graves, or a feminist superhero like Grimes. She's the pop star who's so personally cool that her record label, Capital, doesn't need to hire a team to mold her." Unquote.
Tavana goes on to praise Ferreira as a fashion icon, an accomplished actress; he talks about how she's hated by the elitist snobs in the indie scene, and decried by feminists when she refused to condemn the notorious and accused misogynist photographer-pornographer Terry Richardson, and most importantly that she will never let her past history of sexual abuse define her. Compare Ferreira's 2014 Facebook post about this to the 12-page letter the recent Stanford rape victim penned, and you will see two very different takes by young women who have suffered sexual abuse and who are the same age.
Tavana goes on to write about how pop stars profit off their beauty and the sexual allure that attracts fans, and I remember clearly many guys in my high school who were not particularly interested in new wave, but when Blondie came around they were all drooling over Deborah Harry, and they started ignoring the Eagles and Foreigner and became fans, and the same with Patty Smyth and Scandal, as well as Suzanna Hoffs and the Bangles...it went on and on.
But this 'looks-ism' goes back to Elvis and the Beatles, with cute mop-tops John and Paul and Ringo and George, sold by their adorableness at first. Throw in Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison and Sting and every single boy band that ever existed and...it's still not the same. Because our gender differences about looking and appropriating is not a narrative about equality and inclusivity. Women get looked at and appropriated a lot more than vica versa, granted, but I think in this era driven by the dreaded idea of 'inclusivity for everyone no matter what', beauty seems threatening - a separator, a divider - instead of just a natural thing, the natural thing being people who are admired and desired for their looks, individuals stepping away from the herd and being worshipped for their physical beauty. For many of us, this is a reminder of our own physical inadequacies in the face of what our culture defines as sexy, beautiful, hot - be it straight or gay - and yes, little snowflakes, boys will be boys.
To pretend that looks or that hotness, whether you're a guy or a girl, shouldn't make you popular, is one of those sad politically correct stances that make you question the validity, the reality, of politically correct thinking, and a few journalistic reactions to the LA Weekly piece. This ode to Sky Ferreira may not have been that well written, but it is clearly written honestly by, yes, most definitely a man, who is, yes, most definitely looking at a woman he desires, and writing about that desire. What's wrong with that? Even if it overshadows what he thinks about her music, so what if he's honest about objectifying her?
Oh, clearly you didn't think the little snowflake justice warriors everywhere, from the LAist to Flavorwire to Jezebel to Teen Vogue to Vulture, were going to let this innocuous piece go unnoticed without having a hissy fit? Oh yes, most deliciously, the little snowflakes got so pissed off and were just sooo unbelievably offended by this piece, that they had to denounce it. Oh, little snowflakes, when did you all become grandmothers and society matrons, clutching your pearls in horror at someone who has an opinion about something, a way of expressing themselves that's not the mirror image of yours, you snivelling little weak-ass narcissists? The high moral tone from social justice warriors is always out of scale with what they are indignant about. When did this hideous and probably nerve-wracking way of living begin transforming you into the authoritarian language police, with your strict set of little rules and manufactured outrage, demanding apologies from every sandwich or salad you didn't like?
Teen Vogue, of course, found the use of "boobs" and "knockers" as yes, "misogynistic", and started a very tired complaint about 'the male gaze' - that's g-a-z-e, listeners. When I hear self-proclaimed feminists complaining about the male gaze yet again and hoping that it will - what, go away? be rerouted, contained? - I'm thinking, are these women so deluded that they are bordering on insanity, or have they just not gotten laid in the last four years? The writer piping up in Teen Vogue about the insensitive misogyny of the Ferreira piece, and how women need to be respected and not judged by their looks - and yes, the irony is delicious coming from Teen Vogue - seemed so childish along with all the idiots tweeting out their hate, that Tavana quote-unquote "reduced a woman's art to whether you want to fuck her or not, you're trash", is indicative of the moment we are in.
And there is the suggestion that maybe Tavana knew exactly what he was doing, inciting feminist hysteria, seeing if SJWs would take the bait - they always do - and I kept thinking, what if all I wanna do is bang Nick Jonas? And I could probably write a 1500 word ode to him, talking about his sexy chest and his ass without really liking his music at all; is that gonna be a diss on Nick? Or, if a woman wants to write about how she really hates Drake's music, but finds him so physically sexy and desirable that she's lusting for it from him? Where would that put her? Would either of those cases raise an eyebrow? No.
Because, in our society, social justice warriors always prefer women to be victims. In all of these cases, from Jezebel to Flavorwire to Teen Vogue, they all succeeded in recasting Ferreira as a victim of something, reinforcing her supposed victimisation. This is the usual hall of mirrors loop they find themselves in when they're looking for anything to get angry with. The reality of the world is that men look at women, and men look at other men, and women look at other men, and women especially look at other women and objectify them. Has anybody been on Tinder lately, and seen how our Darwinian impulses are gratified in a swipe or two? This is the way of the world in order for our species to survive, and I doubt that is ever going to be erased.
Now, I know this fake LA Weekly controversy is going to go away in about two minutes - and yes, everyone can have their deluded social justice warrior opinion about the case, which was actually brought to my attention by my favourite 22-year-old millennial fan who was disgusted by what he saw as a misguided and pompous feminist reaction to the Tavana piece. And we both thought: in a perfect world, Sky would come out in favour of the LA Weekly 'thinkpiece', and wouldn't that be so gratifying? And yes, snowflakes and little wussies, it was a thinkpiece. When did Generation Wuss start becoming outraged over an op-ed? That's the real question.
But because the little Nazis policing language have a new rulebook about how men and women should and should not express themselves about their desires, this allows Jezebel and Flavorwire to write their own childish responses, placing Sky in the delicious position of victim. But the sad ending of this story is that the LA Weekly, which edited and posted the piece, felt like they had to apologise for the piece after so much online complaining, apologise about a piece where someone was clearly writing honestly - sometimes embarrassingly so - about what was on his mind in the moment about a performer, and the way he was looking, and yes, gazing at this performer, and that was it. That is allowable.
The overreaction epidemic that is endemic in the culture, and the implicit calling for censorship by removing the piece, is what should not be allowable, and it should be called out every time SJWs ignore the First Amendment. And I say overreaction because I can't really really imagine Jezebel, who kind of admitted as much, or Flavorwire, giving two shits over this, a thinkpiece on why a man thinks Sky Ferreira is hot, instead of just raging in the vacuum of their own making, and the LA Weekly should have pushed back on this and defended their writer - and by extension freedom of expression - and just walked away. But no, they felt they needed to say 'I'm sowwy' to all the snowflakes who found this innocuous piece so offensive and threatening, and how it crossed some imaginary line of decency, and placating all the crybabies who wanted the post taken down, and kudos to the LA Weekly for not taking it down, because if it had that would have been actual censorship, which is what the left's social justice warriors really want.
Why is it once again that I feel the well-intentioned young liberal self-proclaimed feminist left has become so oversensitive about everything that we have entered into what is really an authoritarian cultural moment? It just seems that it's so regressive and so grim and so unreal, like in some dystopian sci-fi movie: there's only one way to express yourself as some kind of neutered thing, this mound, this clump, turning away from your gender-based responses - towards women, towards men, towards sex. This neutering, this castration, is something no-one really wants or believes in, I hope. But hey, maybe if I go with it and pretend to believe it, it'll fill my column - and I do need to put out some clickbait this week."
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