Time magazine’s Camille Paglia article headlines with “Cyrus’s derivative stunt reveals artistically bankrupt musical culture,” and one hardly needs to read what predictably follows from everyone’s favorite anti-feminist, pro-porn, classical-sweep culture queen: Madonna, with her “daring European art-film eroticism” was artistically ground-breaking and “projected the magic of sexual allure”;  Miley Cyrus should “go back to school.”

So says the professor in her analysis of big production sleeze.

But, wait a minute.

Madonna’s derivative stunt reveals artistically bankrupt musical culture.”

Doesn’t that work, too, professor Paglia?

Paglia: “Young performers will probably never equal or surpass the genuine shocks delivered by the young Madonna.”

How do we judge “genuine shocks?”

If Madonna had to be “shocking” to be effective, what is the point of saying Madonna’s “shocks” were better than Miley’s?

Madonna “sensually rolled around in a lacy wedding dress and thumped her chest with the mike while singing “Like A Virgin” at the first MTV awards in 1984.”

It sounds to us like Ms. Ciccone and Ms. Cyrus were appealing to the same audience, and for the same reason, and only a phoney-baloney professor would attempt to make an important distinction.

Paglia does make some common sense critiques on the music industry, but when you set yourself up as an expert on sex, you’re just another dignified professor covered in mud.

Remember! An expert’s farts are not just farts!

“Sex has been a crucial component of the entertainment industry since the seductive vamps of silent film and the bawdy big mamas of roadhouse blues.”

But what if an audience finds 20 year old Miley Cyrus prancing about sexually sexier than “bawdy big mamas of roadhouse blues?”

Is it about sexiness, or not, professor?  If it’s not about sex, then don’t say, “Sex has been a crucial component…”  And if it is about sex, all bets are off.  Even if one argues that the issue is really about ‘sex-under-the-surface,’ to say that Miley Cyrus ‘crossed a line’ makes no sense, because obviously that “line” has moved a bit since those “bawdy big mamas” entertained us in the 1920s.

Young performers today are “consumed with packaging and attitude,” says professor Paglia—as she defends Madonna.

We can argue like this forever, but here’s the real lesson to all this, and it really applies to art:

Art’s function is really a very small one.

Life is so vast in comparison to art, that art barely occupies a place in it.

Further, art is not really a part of life at all; art is truly art only in that subset of Life called ‘How To Deal With Life.’

By art, we include the Criticism of Art by those like Camille Paglia.

Things like sex overwhelm us, and so to deal with forces like sex, we call on art to protect us, that is, to tell us how much is too much.

Paglia’s finger-wagging at Miley Cyrus is a small example of what art does for us.

It doesn’t matter how sophisticated or amoral the critic or the artist present themselves to us.

The secret reason for art eclipses everything else we might say about it.

Art, despite the common wisdom, is really an act of censorship, not expression.

Art is a police action.


  1. Briggs Seekins said,

    August 29, 2013 at 1:02 am

    Ha! I knew I could at least count on good old Graves to be on Team Miley!

  2. vangiggles said,

    August 29, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    you didn’t actually watch the cyrus performance, did you? my daughter is a fan, and said she was embarrassed by her, felt sorry for her…. no madonna fan has ever felt that way about her…..

    • thomasbrady said,

      August 30, 2013 at 12:49 am

      How old is yr daughter? Madonna did not cast aside a Disney past. I don’t applaud what Miley did. I just think it’s hypocritical to make Madonna this ‘standard’ that Miley did not meet. It’s the climate, not Miley. She’s just a rebellious kid having a blast. Raunch sells. My kids watched Miley on her TV show and she was good on it. Whatever Miley does in public has a private element that none of us are privy to. My 11 year old daughter did not watch the video awards and I’m glad she didn’t.

      • vangiggles said,

        August 30, 2013 at 2:46 pm

        my daughter is 15, and yes, i watched practically every episode of hannah montana with her. and yes, i too thought the show was okay, mildly amusing and entertaining enough….

        the comparison to madonna is apt because of the venue and the history of that venue. when it comes to pop music, generational comparison will always be made. it’s an appropriate method of critical measure. frank sinatra is another standard for many male performers. mick jagger for others. dylan too. people will hold you accountable based upon whom you most resemble in attitude, appearance and talent. i tried to watch the cyrus performance, but could not get through more than 30 seconds or so, thought it was pretty gross. not one gross moment in madonna’s first performance on the vma. titillating, yes, gross, no. what exactly does miley cyrus have to rebell against?

        • thomasbrady said,

          August 30, 2013 at 8:42 pm

          What was Madonna rebelling against? And Madonna couldn’t sing, either. Madonna was an opportunist with props. Once you take the raunchy route, which Madonna did, and you are lauded for it, you spawn musical raunch: imitators and followers of all kinds. The impulse to put Madonna in a museum is premature. To hang Miley with the rope of Morality and Good Taste is fine; but to hang Miley with Madonna’s rope adds more bad taste all around.

          • vangiggles said,

            September 3, 2013 at 2:52 pm

            original/authentic artists are always accused of the imitators they spawn. madonna is an authentic artist compared to miley cyrus, just as i am more authentic in my radical thoughts and behavior than my 18 yr old son, currently in the midst of his own phoney rebellion, whose been running around for the past 2 years with a fake chip on his shoulder….

            • thomasbrady said,

              September 3, 2013 at 10:09 pm

              My son just turned 14. I dread when he gets to be 16, 17, 18.
              I wouldn’t call Madonna an artist.

  3. Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

    August 30, 2013 at 12:58 am

    Tom said:

    “The secret reason for art eclipses everything else we might say about it.

    Art, despite the common wisdom, is really an act of censorship, not expression.

    Art is a police action.”

    Jeez, talk about a complete 180! Are you a Conceptualist now, Tom? From Keats to Goldsmith in sixty seconds.

    • thomasbrady said,

      August 30, 2013 at 12:54 pm


      The most important thing a critic can do is tell you exactly what the art piece is and what it is doing in the widest possible context.

      I love to get down with the flowers and the details of life (and art) but there’s also a time to step back and say, ‘what does this whole thing really mean? What is the nature of this enterprise? What is it doing?”

      As Plato said—and we ignore Plato at our peril—art is a mere reflection in reality’s lake and our ‘faith’ in it does great damage to our understanding of reality—and art.

      Because ‘dealing with reality’ is important, and art does play a role in that, art is important. But the flesh of art is really not art at all, but reality. Those flowers in that picture belong to nature, they are copies. And if we distort those flowers in the name of ‘art’ we are on the slippery slope towards dreaded ‘conceptualism.’ There’s no escape. We either copy or we conceptualize. It’s lose-lose. This is the abyss and the horror that every true artist must confront.

      Art is finally a moral mission of sorts. It is, literally, the answer to ‘how much is too much.’ How can we paint a beautiful nude that is NOT pornographic? That’s what the Old Masters were doing.

      Art is a kind of magic trick. Some are interested in how the magic works. Some are not.


  4. Diane Roberts Powell said,

    September 12, 2013 at 4:35 am

    I guess I’m more disgusted with Paglia’s sycophantic ramblings about Madonna, than I am of either the latter’s or Cyrus’s “stunts.” Madonna was the biggest attention whore ever, and I just hope that Cyrus doesn’t follow in her footsteps.

    Meanwhile, Miley, please stop with the tongue thing. It’s not attractive. I’m not even going to ASK about the dwarves! You have a beautiful voice and all of your on stage antics distract from it.

    Many people were very disgusted with Madonna, in her heyday. I wasn’t, but I wasn’t a fan either. The Catholic church was angry with her for a couple of her videos. And what about that “Sex” book? And wasn’t that at the height of the AIDS epidemic?

    Don’t worry, Camille, maybe when Miley turns 40, she will start writing children’s books, speak with a fake British accent, and ban her kids from watching television, because of all of the “filth” on there.

  5. October 7, 2013 at 9:15 pm

    Miley Cyrus looks good in hot pants and a dinner jacket beyond that she foolishly killed her cash cow Hannah Montana. Hannah was not all she was cracked up to be on the other hand. Have a black serve her as if she was Scarlet O’Harea while her products were made in Asian sweat shops some times ironically children. As for the VMAs it just TV people in TV land are evil like Bill Mahar.

    • thomasbrady said,

      October 8, 2013 at 12:47 pm


      You covered a lot of ground in that comment. Nicely done.


  6. noochinator said,

    September 20, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    Camille Paglia on “The Dark Women of Shakespeare,” from the Stratford Festival Sept. 20, 2014 — link to watch is below. At the 50:30 mark is a hilarious anecdote; at the 56:26 mark she mentioned the famous review of Tallulah Bankhead’s performance as Cleopatra: “Tallulah Bankhead barged down the Nile last night and sank.”

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 21, 2014 at 1:05 am

      Thanks, Nooch, Paglia always delivers. It’s okay to call older women witches. Human nature is not perfectable. Nature trumps post-structuralism. Gender differences are real. Etc.

  7. noochinator said,

    September 21, 2014 at 8:07 am

    Here’s Ms. P. at the Chicago Humanities Festival on the Glittering Images tour — hilarious anecdote at 28:20 on how she preps for an NPR interview:

    Here’s parts 3 and 4 of Paglia’s “Drexel interview,” in which she spoke about poetry and her book Break, Blow, Burn :

  8. thomasbrady said,

    September 21, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    The Dark Women of Shakespeare: she did a marvelous job with her brief readings of four plays: her Shakespeare is exciting and accessible with the occasional surprise that makes perfect sense.

  9. noochinator said,

    September 29, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    Camille on evil and the modern campus, dated 29-Sep-2014:

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 30, 2014 at 12:26 pm

      “Wildly overblown claims about an epidemic of sexual assaults on American campuses are obscuring the true danger to young women, too often distracted by cellphones or iPods in public places: the ancient sex crime of abduction and murder. Despite hysterical propaganda about our “rape culture,” the majority of campus incidents being carelessly described as sexual assault are not felonious rape (involving force or drugs) but oafish hookup melodramas, arising from mixed signals and imprudence on both sides.

      Colleges should stick to academics and stop their infantilizing supervision of students’ dating lives, an authoritarian intrusion that borders on violation of civil liberties.”

      –Camille Paglia

      What would Patricia Lockwood say?

      Paglia seems to support that hybrid ‘wisdom’ of mixing ‘Playboy Libertarianism’ with ‘Hard-core Feminism.’ Women are just like men, so let them get drunk with men and have a good time in private with men at frat parties, etc.

      • Diane Roberts Powell said,

        October 1, 2014 at 3:58 am

        What would possess ANYONE to take ANYTHING that this woman says seriously? She is a bigger attention whore than Madonna. Why would you look for any “feminist thought” from her?
        Why don’t you go ask Limbaugh to pontificate about the civil rights struggle? It would be equally as absurd.
        She is as much of a joke as that moose hunting, “I can see Russia from my kitchen window,” Pallin.
        I mean, honestly, Tom. It’s not like you’re Grandpa Jones who never left the farm. You know that there is not one feminist who takes her seriously.
        Yea, I’m sure she knows a lot about witches, the hateful old sell-out bat!

        This blog isn’t about poetry. It’s a circle jerk!

        • thomasbrady said,

          October 1, 2014 at 1:55 pm


          I am soooo sick of the Leftist cant in this country which you are obviously heavily infected with. Instead of intelligently engaging with what Paglia is saying—you don’t think this is an important issue???— you simply equate her with Limbaugh (Shut my ears! Hear no evil!)and reject everything she has to say in a typical Soviet Party Platform Root Out All Enemies of the State manner. Are you trying to crush all counter-revolutionaries, Diane? Are you simmering in bile? Enjoy that. If you have nothing intelligent to say on the topic, guess what? I’m not interested.

          • Diane Roberts Powell said,

            October 1, 2014 at 10:21 pm

            Tom, “leftist cant?” “Soviet Party Platform Root Out All Enemies of the State manner?”

            I have repeatedly, tried to enlighten you about what is really going down in this country. But your puny little man ears can’t hear anything an intelligent woman does have to say. Man, have been watching too much Glen Beck or something?

            Jerk away, JERK!!

          • Diane Roberts Powell said,

            October 2, 2014 at 5:22 am

            What? Are you BANNING me Tom? Oh, no! The injustice! The hypocricy! You swore you were above all of that. You swore you would NEVER ban ANYONE from the pages of Scarriet. I am the most intelligent commenter who has ever graced your pages. I, a woman. AND IT REALLY PISSES YOU OFF, DOESN’T IT? Tell me it just ain’t so.

            Tom, you wouldn’t know a counter-revolutionary from a tuna sandwich.

            Keep drinking the Kool-Aid. Let me guess. You still think that Jane Fonda was or currently is a revolutionary or communist because she once got a shitty hair-cut, donned a pair of silk pajamas, and hauled ass to Vietnam. No, sorry, she was just another agent provocateur, like your sweet-heart Paglia.

            And besides all of that, what kind of communist marries one of the richest men in the world?

            • thomasbrady said,

              October 2, 2014 at 5:59 am

              I’m not banning you, silly. I would never do that. But what is all this hate for? You have me mindlessly pegged as something I’m not. You are hung up on labels and names and party line politics. Bor-ing. I know you are more interesting than that. That’s all I’m saying. Why this explosion of indignation? You are in ‘razed earth’ mode. I don’t get it. It all started with my Rape Joke poem. You know what? You don’t have a monopoly on the truth. We’re all doing the best we can here, okay? Sheesh.

      • noochinator said,

        October 1, 2014 at 10:28 am

        “Paglia seems to support that hybrid ‘wisdom’ of mixing ‘Playboy Libertarianism’ with ‘Hard-core Feminism.’ Women are just like men, so let them get drunk with men and have a good time in private with men at frat parties, etc.”

        I don’t hear that at all. I hear her telling women to take responsibility for their safety: maintaining situational awareness, not walking around at night drunk and/or gabbing into a cell phone oblivious of their surroundings, never forgetting the evil that is in the hearts of men—which is excellent advice for the XY-chromosomed as well.

        As I once wrote in a classic Scarriet post (linked below for your convenience), “We believe it was Churchill who said something to the effect of stability being the stepchild of terror. Those who are terrified of a danger are more watchful and alert, and thus more able to avert the danger from happening. For example, pedestrians walking at night who are alert to the threats of automobiles and muggers often avoid harm because they pay close attention to their surroundings and take steps to avert danger.” Or as someone else once said, “A paranoiac is someone who realizes what is going on.” (Was there ever a rock band named ‘Paranoid F—ks’?)

        • thomasbrady said,

          October 1, 2014 at 2:28 pm


          Good point. Instead of telling women ‘what to do,’ you make them aware of the ‘dangers’ and they will be wary and ‘protect themselves.’

          But here’s the problem I see.

          If you allow booze-fueled, unsupervised, co-ed parties on campus, what is eventually going to happen?

          I think society has a responsibility to protect women. You can’t just leave it to personal vigilance. Some—most—will be vigilant. But if parties are permitted, people are going to go. And we’re talking young women, just out of HS!

          As Paglia herself points out, the murderous criminal mind is out there, and hidden. The murderous criminal mind will disguise itself in order to escape all ‘vigilance.’

          Her general advice is good: There’s danger out there.

          But how far can general advice go?

          By saying “supervision of dating” is “authoritarian intrusion” (and perhaps it is) and I’m assuming her position includes permitting frat parties, etc, Paglia is essentially bringing us back to a landscape in which the wolves roam free, thus essentially cancelling her intent.

          Her advice seems to be: Get drunk with a guy alone in his room, but just make sure it’s a guy you think you can trust based on your judgment after listening to my general warning.

          I don’t know…has she really solved the problem?

          Can anyone solve the problem?

          • noochinator said,

            October 26, 2016 at 9:09 pm

            That’s why she says universities should not provide housing, meal plans, etc.—it should only be in the business of educating, nothing more. Let students live in off-campus housing, buy their food at supermarkets or restaurants, etc. If any crimes get committed off-campus, call the police. Ban in loco parentis is her solution—and if a young woman just out of high school isn’t mature enough to handle herself, her parents should have her live at home while going to college….

  10. mpv.muthu said,

    October 2, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    What has been stated above is enough. It is well balanced and very practical. Nothing needs to be added. But views will change unless one really gets the fingers burned.

  11. noochinator said,

    July 28, 2015 at 1:24 pm

    Paglia comparing Bills, etc. in a Salon interview:

  12. thomasbrady said,

    July 29, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    Politically, the eating urge is nothing compared to the sex urge. Libertarians discussing urges is always done in the spirit of common sense, but urges being what they are, it ends up going horribly wrong.

    Of course the worst urge is politics itself, the urge of proud half-wits.

  13. noochinator said,

    July 31, 2015 at 7:55 am

    Here’s a 2009 spoof of C.P.’s Salon style from one Susan Wood:

    What a grim and ominous autumn this has been! Obama is at a crossroads, approaching his Rubicon, and in danger of facing his Waterloo if he doesn’t fire his entire staff, who are obviously giving him bad advice, and start listening to wise people like me.

    What a humiliating defeat it was for his health care bill to pass the House with such a small margin! How could he possibly hope to leave any mark in history without getting AT LEAST 75% of the Republican vote on this measure? And to think that he promised bipartisanship, an area in which he has failed dreadfully. This is the most humiliating thing to happen to him since he got the Nobel Prize.

    And what a faux pas for him to say in public that Fox News isn’t a real news station! I’m sure that even Obama’s fellow Democrats like Mark Foley, Larry Craig, David Vitter, John Ensign and Mark Sanford would condemn his thin-skinned, wimpy sensitivity to abuse. Of COURSE Fox News is a real station, why else would someone of my towering intellect watch it every day?

    And I know their information is correct because I hear the same stories on talk radio, which I listen to constantly, thanks to my genuine and earthy working class creds which keep me in touch with the little people. Who says I can’t do fact-checking? I always double check what Rush says against what Glenn Beck and Michael Savage say. That’s how intellectuals do research, you peasants.

    Doesn’t Obama know that he’s acting just like Richard Nixon, who kept a list of political enemies to be harassed with tax audits, wiretaps and secret investigations? Or like Mao, who would not tolerate dissident newspapers, and used to send the Red Brigades to break down their doors, smash their printing presses with sledge hammers, and then send them off to re-education camps or the firing squad? Well, Obama is doing exactly the same thing, except for the part about the tax audits, wiretaps, investigations, Red Brigades, sledge-hammers, re-education camps and firing squads. He’s on a slippery slope to fascism, which we can expect to happen any minute.

    How utterly unprecedented! Can you remember a time in recent history when a President would have presumed to manipulate the news like this, or dared to speak out against a news outlet that expressed its opposition to him?

    Well, now that 2012 is in the bag for the GOP, it’s time to think about candidates, and I’m really excited about a Palin-Bachmann ticket. Unlike Obama, whose speeches, to my practiced English teacher’s eye all look like first drafts, Palin has the poetic daring and imagination to compose her zero-drafts on the fly. She has the eloquence, the mastery of dramatic imagery, and above all the boobs for a Presidential run. And the lovely Michelle Bachmann would make a scrumptious wing-man.

    On a related note, I was at Joe’s Greasy Spoon with my partner Dora Matte, ordering Buffalo wings and a Bud Lite when the shocking news came in through ESPN that Rush Limbaugh had been cruelly and tyrannically deprived of his Constitutional right to own a football team. Don’t these idiots in the NFL know that the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech without consequences?

    And the only reason it doesn’t include a clause also guaranteeing the right to own a football team is that football hadn’t been invented yet. I understand the thinking of the Founding Fathers, and am absolutely certain that they would have wanted that language in the document. I can’t imagine a more flagrant and egregious example of government interference in the right of free speech than the decision of this business consortium to exclude Rush Limbaugh from their group just because all the best talent on the Rams was threatening to go elsewhere.

    This is a downright Communist interference with free enterprise. Rush is an American treasure, a man with the eloquence of a Cicero, the moral passion of a Tacitus, and the earthy yet articulate skill with idiomatic English of a rap star (nudge nudge — see? I did it again, elegantly combining my knowledge of high and pop culture. When I’m not reading the classics bound in leather, I’m out at places like Joe’s, being true to my humble roots by rubbing elbows with the great unwashed). Anyway, Rush was right, Donovan McNabb is a poopyhead, nyah nyah.

    As you notice, I know all about football, which is my favorite sport. I have no patience with wimpy, pasty-faced liberal bleeding-heart types who say it’s like watching 20 bus collisions, and who worry about things like brain injury from repeated concussions. They don’t understand the inborn masculine imperative to fight for dominance, like mighty stags locking horns over a doe while the beta males look on in awe. Of course, every now and then one of those sneaky beta males will quietly sidle up to the doe while the dominant males are fighting and ask her, “Honey, my glade or yours?” But that’s beside the Darwinian point.

    This all reminds me of one of those great classic songs from the golden days of my youth, Donovan’s “Inna gadda da vida, baby,” which seemed to make excellent sense at the time, although I haven’t been partaking of the same herbal substances lately. So long for now, more Big Think next month.

  14. noochinator said,

    July 31, 2015 at 9:17 am

    Since I’m piling on, this 1995 interview with C.P. is a scream, esp. the half-minute beginning at 11:11

  15. thomasbrady said,

    July 31, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    Poor Camille! The liberal elites see right through her!

    • noochinator said,

      August 1, 2015 at 10:40 pm

      Nah, they just think they do — their dislike is primarily based on envy — she’s made a fortune many times over in the humanities, for goodness sake. Here’s a fascinating in-depth interview with her on C-SPAN in 2003:

  16. Eva Unhold said,

    December 19, 2015 at 4:00 am

    Madonna is a vicious predator, and people who swallow her guff are fools. She is out to destroy people’s hearts souls and minds, by the simplest means possible… Music.

  17. Eva Unhold said,

    December 19, 2015 at 4:04 am

    I can’t say enough about what a bully Madonna is. And how she feels entitled to your money. With all she has, she’s also out for a piece of your soul, so don’t give it to her, please don’t give in. There are better, richer and much more subtle than that power loving mind twister

  18. noochinator said,

    March 10, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    Camille Paglia on Lena Dunham (from her ‘Salon’ column of 3/10/16):

    Lena Dunham belongs to the exhibitionistic Andrea Dworkin school of banner-waving neurotic masochism. The body is the enemy, a tainted lump whose limitations and afflictions the public must be forced to contemplate in grisly detail. We must also witness, like hapless medieval bystanders at a procession of flagellants, just how unappetizingly pallid Caucasian flesh can be made to be without cracking the camera lens. The torpid banality of Dunham’s utterances (reverently accorded scriptural status by the New York Times) is yet another matter. I am woman—hear me kvetch!

    I feel so blessed to have grown up in a vastly more stimulating cultural climate. The icons of my adolescence were Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, and Audrey Hepburn. In college and graduate school, I was enraptured by Julie Christie, Jean Seberg, Jeanne Moreau, Catherine Deneuve, and Monica Vitti. What vitality, electricity, personality, and genuine eroticism!

    But perhaps the best example of how far we have fallen was the fabulously whip-smart and stylish Suzanne Pleshette, who grew up in the same affluent, privileged Manhattan art and theater world that Lena Dunham did but who left a legacy, both on-screen and off, of verve, originality, and emotional depth. Please descend, ye Muses, and save us from our plague of self-pitying bores!

  19. noochinator said,

    September 1, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    I find this Dec. 2015 piece quite readable and fun, despite that the author writes for a website that is, alas, unashamedly admiring of Adolf Hitler…. And, to be fair, I’ve never ever heard of Ms. Paglia expressing any regrets whatsoever over her lesbian sexuality…..

    “Nazi Barbie is Sooo Fierce!” by Margot Metroland

    Every time you turn around, someone’s hanging another Hakenkreuz on our Tay Tay. Latest and most famous culprit is Camille Paglia, that shooting star of the 1990s critical firmament. On Thursday this acerbic counter-feminist had a piece in the Hollywood Reporter in which she denounced Taylor Swift as a “Nazi Barbie” for swanning around with equally gorgeous female celebs. Almost immediately the story was picked up by The New Republic and New York magazine, as well as the NY Post, the Daily Mail, US magazine, and lord knows where else.

    Right now the story has started its second lap, with The Daily Beast critiquing the public response to Paglia.

    Now, wherefore this belief-beggaring ferocity, right before Taylor’s big birthday weekend? Paglia sort of explains it in a sidenote: “Writing about Taylor Swift is a horrific ordeal for me because her twinkly persona is such a scary flashback to the fascist blondes who ruled the social scene during my youth,” she says.

    Horrific ordeal! To which the only suitable response is, “Aww! Po’ widdle Camille!”

    The essay itself is a short, throwaway deal. New York magazine describes it as “a Camille Paglia essay that reads like a parody of a Camille Paglia essay.”

    It’s not really much of an attack on Taylor; its real target is the “girl squad,” that media-contrived phenomenon whereby we are served up endless images and stories about gorgeous models and actresses and singers who like to hang out together. Paglia singles out the Swift name apparently because that’s the moniker that will bring in the most eyeballs: “In our wide-open modern era of independent careers, girl squads can help women advance if they avoid presenting a silly, regressive public image — as in the tittering, tongues-out mugging of Swift’s bear-hugging posse. Swift herself should retire that obnoxious Nazi Barbie routine of wheeling out friends and celebrities as performance props . . .”

    (The Daily Mail notes, helpfully: “Taylor Swift has no affiliation with the Nazi party . . .”)

    Paglia’s priggish hatchet job is basically nothing more than trolling par excellence. It’s done to get headlines, provoke feedback and controversy, and maybe refurbish the Paglia brand. That marque was once stratospherically successful, like some $3500 Italian handbag everyone wanted 25 years ago . . . but which now is—let us say—a bit too loud and out-of-style.

    If you haven’t thought much about Camille Paglia lately, here’s a refresher. Once upon a time she wrote this big book (Sexual Personae, 1990) that read like, and began as, a PhD dissertion formulated under the tutelage of Harold Bloom. Somehow the big book got a little attention, and in early 1991 got Camille a New York magazine cover story (written by onetime Yale fashion-plate and Bloom student, Francesca Stanfill). For the next few years, Paglia was lit-crit’s most visible talking head.

    She had a good run and gave good value. Whatever subject you threw at her, Camille Paglia would field it with a tart, quotable sound-bite. Her critical insights weren’t so much original as outrageous; but she did have a very good line in contrarian poses and Chestertonian paradoxes.

    The fact that her slim, chiseled figura was that of a 40ish lipstick-lesbian dreamboat didn’t hurt any, either—not back in those days (pre-Ellen, pre-Jane Lynch) when most public sapphists appeared to be ugly Jewesses or failed men.

    A quick study and smart cookie, Paglia figured out the neat trick of buttering her bread on all sides. She won the hearts of men by saying things males couldn’t say, such as that women didn’t appreciate them enough and that most feminists were off their rockers. She particularly loved Oscar Wilde and the whole gay-male sensibility; anything, in fact, that was outré and transgressive.

    She endeared herself to women by declaring herself a failed lesbian—she’d tried to be lez but didn’t really make the cut. Lesbians didn’t like her, she’d say, because of her contrary views. Conveniently enough this is what many lesbians like to think about themselves. And Paglia made purring sounds in favor of classical education, Christianity, family values.

    In the words of Groucho Marx—”I think that covers everyone!”

    Her first book got a cool reception when it came out in mid-1990. Reviewing it in the New York Times, Terry Teachout wrote, “[T]here is nothing intentionally funny about Sexual Personae, which is all too clearly the work of a humorless, lapel-grabbing fanatic with a universal theory to hawk.” But the author’s eccentric bombast brought her attention, and she knew how to deploy it.

    Her most famous, least credible pose was her gushing endorsement of the entertainer Madonna Ciccone as a great artist and thinker. This was the critical equivalent of George H. W. Bush’s vaunted addiction to fried pork rinds, and just as unforgettable. It defined Paglia’s public persona for years to come.

    One of her first mainstream essays, just before she hit the Big Time, was a New York Times Op-Ed piece called “Madonna—Finally a Real Feminist” (December 14, 1990), wherein she praised Madonna’s risqué music video, “Justify My Love”: “The video is pornographic. It’s decadent. And it’s fabulous . . . ‘Justify My Love’ is truly avant-garde, at a time when that word has lost its meaning in the flabby art world. It represents a sophisticated European sexuality of a kind we have not seen since the great foreign films of the 1950’s and 1960’s.”

    That over-the-top bonbon has all the earmarks of her style: it’s got porno (S/M actually—a Paglia fave), it’s got Low Art compared to High Art, it’s got elitism (“avant-garde”), it’s got that cultural cringe toward Europe (where they do sex better, because they’re grown-up about it).

    Speaking of High vs. Low, you don’t have to think too hard to figure out why Paglia liked Madonna then and now doesn’t like Taylor Swift. There’s that ethnic thing, and the fact that Madonna used the same kind of provocative style as Paglia (yawp-jawed sexual talk, sacrilegious treatment of Christian icons and paraphernalia) to build her celebrity.

    And then of course they are near-contemporaries—well, just a decade apart. Madonna arose in the ’80s and peaked in the ’90s. Camille was hot in the ’90s and faded in the oughts. They both imagine themselves to be still at cruising altitude, although their careers began their descent a long time ago, and the bulk of their audiences are the same old Boomers they had a quarter-century ago. Madonna’s current Rebel Heart Tour has reportedly had trouble selling tickets. (The gross audience for her two 2015 shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden was 28,371; Taylor Swift’s single show at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands had 110,105.)

    Meanwhile, Camille Paglia keeps thrusting and feinting at being outrageous, but people aren’t that interested. At one point, a year or two ago, she was claiming to be a “transgender being,” which seems a rather odd play for fresh ink—I mean considering you’re already Camille Paglia! If you look hard, you will see that she was using that “umbrella” T-term correctly—strictly speaking, it could include anybody—but this looked like grandstanding, because in popular understanding transgender has come to mean transsexual. Anyhow, when this didn’t excite the mobs, Paglia tacked the other way and told people how she hated “transgenderism” and how it was a symptom of Western “cultural collapse.” Alas, a hundred other people were already saying the same thing on this tiresome subject, so chalk up another colossal fail for our Camille.

    If Paglia wants to get back in the spotlight, I suggest a far more honorable path. Why not bring out the second volume of Sexual Personae, which she assured us she had already written when she published volume one 25 years ago?

    Which brings us back to our Taylor . . .

    Young Taylor Swift turns 26 today. (Go tweet her Happy Birthday @taylorswift13). Clean, wholesome, the Strength of America. Born in rural Pennsylvania and raised on a Christmas tree farm—seriously! No cone-shaped bras or other Mediterranean slut-gear for our Tay; she does like to bare her midriff (good abs from those classes at the ModelFIT studio) but never-ever does she show her navel. A very odd entry indeed in the female pop-star tourney.

    Her family moves to Nashville when she’s 14 to help enable her singing/songwriting career. (I don’t know about you, but my family wouldn’t cross the street to help my career, and I doubt Paglia’s was much nicer.) The Pennsylvania girl was quickly embraced as a teenage country star, and treated as the embodiment of healthy Southern values. Nice old Presbyterian ladies in Buckhead, sorority girls at SMU, UDC chapters in Richmond and Spartanburg—they all found out who Taylor was in jig time, and bought her records, followed her love life, learned the names of her cats. People of all ages who would never be fans of Lady Gaga or Madonna—let alone Amy Winehouse or Miley Cyrus—knew they could be Swifties and still be clean and decent folks.

    That whole storyline must be so alien and off-putting to Camille Paglia—second-generation Italian from Upstate New York, fan of the Marquis de Sade, lesbian-in-recovery (or denial)—I imagine her in a state of steam-from-ears seething every time she sees a picture of Taylor Swift.

    And there’s yet another aspect to Paglia’s animosity most people don’t want to get near, but of course I will. I’m talking about the whole issue of lesbianism, and how it has long been used as a default setting for women who doubt they can fully compete in the social arena.

    Let’s say you’re 13, you’re a little tubby or odd-looking or bookish, and/or you’re not interested in clothes and makeup, and you can’t or won’t join up with the Popular Girls your age because all they want to talk about is makeup and boys . . . Well, you have several alternatives to choose from while keeping your self-respect (e.g., be a girl-jock; be a gymnast; be a ballerina if it’s not too late).

    But the easiest, most obvious path is to become a tomboyish proto-lesbian. That’s the opt-out choice in the social and mating games.

    I don’t know how many women will honestly identify with this story, but in my observation it’s a fairly common pattern. (And forget the cover-all excuse of inborn sexual orientation; female sex drive is very plastic in adolescence, and girls have girl-crushes all the time without turning out gay.) From what Camille Paglia tells us, this is pretty much the road she took. And being self-aware, she tells us again and again it was possibly not the right road for her.

    But the essential point here is that it still galls Paglia that there were pretty, Popular Girls in her pubescence, and somehow she was not one of them. “Fascist blondes” she now calls them, still rationalizing the choices she made in her youth by claiming the Popular Girls who hung out together were shallow, unambitious conformists. (Those grapes were sour anyway.) That’s what she sees when she looks at the Girl Squads, and the Squaddiest of the girls is Taylor.

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 1, 2016 at 8:17 pm

      This essay gets Paglia pretty good. I’ve never liked Swift, but this essay makes me a little sympathetic. Sorry, Camille.

      • noochinator said,

        September 2, 2016 at 8:04 am

        Ms. Metroland (surely a pseudonym?) writes like a dream — I just wish she wasn’t writing for a pro-Hitler website. I guess it’s a sign of where we’re at today: the most talented are being drawn to the most extreme camps….

        • noochinator said,

          September 2, 2016 at 2:13 pm

          Margot Metroland is a character in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Put Out More Flags…..

  20. noochinator said,

    October 26, 2016 at 8:58 pm

    “The Catholic Pagan: 10 Questions for Camille Paglia”
    by Sean Salai, S.J. | Feb 25 2015 – 8:45am

    Camille Paglia is an American cultural critic who serves as the University Professor of Humanities and Media Studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where she has taught since 1984. She received her B.A. from the State University of New York at Binghamton in 1968 and her M.Phil and Ph.D degrees from Yale University in 1971 and 1974, respectively.

    Her six books are ‘Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson’ (1990); ‘Sex, Art, and American Culture’ (1992); ‘Vamps & Tramps: New Essays’ (1994); ‘The Birds’, a study of Alfred Hitchcock published in 1998 by the British Film Institute in its Film Classics Series; ‘Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-Three of the World’s Best Poems’ (2005), and ‘Glittering Images: A Journey through Art from Egypt to Star Wars’ (2012). Her third essay collection is currently under contract to Pantheon Books.

    Professor Paglia was a co-founding contributor and columnist for, beginning with its debut issue in 1995. She has written numerous articles on art, literature, popular culture, feminism, politics, and religion for publications around the world—most recently including TIME and the ‘Sunday Times of London’. Her essay, “Theater of Gender: David Bowie at the Climax of the Sexual Revolution”, was commissioned by the Victoria & Albert Museum for the catalog of its major exhibit of Bowie costumes, which opened in London in 2013 and is currently touring internationally.

    Although raised Catholic in an Italian-American family, Professor Paglia left Catholicism in her youth and embraced the sexual revolution. Nevertheless, she still cites Italian Catholicism as the strongest influence on her personal identity. On Feb. 22, I conducted the following email interview with Professor Paglia about her secular work and its Catholic influences.

    You’ve been teaching at University of the Arts since 1984. What do you love most about your job?

    There is no doubt that my commitment to the vocation of teaching is part of my Catholic heritage. I view classroom teaching as a discipline and duty, a responsibility to convey the legacy of the past to the next generation. As I strictly monitor attendance and enforce order, I sometimes ruefully feel like a teaching nun from the over-regulated era of my upstate New York youth! I have a powerful sense of the descent of modern education from the medieval monasteries and cathedrals, whose Gothic architecture has been imitated on so many college campuses here and abroad. My faith in that nurturing continuity is certainly diametrically opposed to the cynically subversive approach of today’s postmodernist theorists, who see history as a false or repressive narrative operating on disconnected fragments.

    Despite your teaching schedule, you’ve found time to speak and write a great deal, including your last book in 2012. What’s your next big project?

    For the past five years, I have been researching Paleo-Indian culture of Northeastern America at the end of the Ice Age, as the glaciers withdrew. I am particularly interested in Neolithic religion, which was focused on elemental nature, a persistent theme in my work. I have been studying Native American tribal history and doing surface collecting of small stone artifacts. Professional archaeologists and anthropologists have tended to gravitate toward Indian lifestyle issues like kinship patterns, governance, hunting strategies, food preparation and fabrication of tools, clothing, and shelter. I have found surprisingly few attempts to approach Native American culture from the perspective of world art and world religion. There is a puzzling gap in the record, and I hope to be able to make a contribution. However, this challenging project will be long in the making. In the meantime, I am preparing for my third essay collection, which is under contract to Pantheon Books.

    Identifying yourself as a “dissident feminist,” you often seem more at home with classical Greek and Roman paganism than with postmodern academia. How has this reality affected your public and professional relationships?

    I feel lucky to have taught primarily at art schools, where the faculty are active practitioners of the arts and crafts. I have very little contact with American academics, who are pitifully trapped in a sterile career system that has become paralyzed by political correctness. University faculties nationwide have lost power to an ever-expanding bureaucracy of administrators, whose primary concern is the institution’s contractual relationship with tuition-paying parents. You can cut the demoralized faculty atmosphere with a knife when you step foot on any elite campus. With a few stellar exceptions, the only substantive discourse that I ever have these days is with academics, intellectuals, and journalists abroad.

    In your view, what’s wrong with American feminism today, and what can it do to improve?

    After the great victory won by my insurgent, pro-sex, pro-fashion wing of feminism in the 1990s, American and British feminism has amazingly collapsed backward again into whining, narcissistic victimology. As in the hoary old days of Gloria Steinem and her Stalinist cohorts, we are endlessly subjected to the hackneyed scenario of history as a toxic wasteland of vicious male oppression and gruesome female suffering. College campuses are hysterically portrayed as rape extravaganzas where women are helpless fluffs with no control over their own choices and behavior. I am an equal opportunity feminist: that is, I call for the removal of all barriers to women’s advance in the professional and political realms. However, I oppose special protections for women, which I reject as demeaning and infantilizing. My principal demand (as I have been repeating for nearly 25 years) is for colleges to confine themselves to education and to cease their tyrannical surveillance of students’ social lives. If a real crime is committed, it must be reported to the police. College officials and committees have neither the expertise nor the legal right to be conducting investigations into he said/she said campus dating fiascos. Too many of today’s young feminists seem to want hovering, paternalistic authority figures to protect and soothe them, an attitude I regard as servile, reactionary and glaringly bourgeois. The world can never be made totally safe for anyone, male or female: there will always be sociopaths and psychotics impervious to social controls. I call my system “street-smart feminism”: there is no substitute for wary vigilance and personal responsibility.

    Briefly put, what is post-structuralism and what is your opinion of it?

    Post-structuralism is a system of literary and social analysis that flared up and vanished in France in the 1960s but that became anachronistically entrenched in British and American academe from the 1970s on. Based on the outmoded linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and promoted by the idolized Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and Michel Foucault, it absurdly asserts that we experience or process reality only through language and that, because language is inherently unstable, nothing can be known. By undermining meaning, history and personal will, post-structuralism has done incalculable damage to education and contemporary thought. It is a laborious, circuitously self-referential gimmick that always ends up with the same monotonous result. I spent six months writing a long attack on academic post-structuralism for the classics journal Arion in 1991, “Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders: Academe in the Hour of the Wolf” (reprinted in my first essay collection, Sex, Art, and American Culture). Post-structuralism has destroyed two generations of graduate students, who were forced to mouth its ugly jargon and empty platitudes for their foolish faculty elders. And the end result is that humanities departments everywhere, having abandoned their proper mission of defending and celebrating art, have become humiliatingly marginalized in both reputation and impact.

    What audience do you write for?

    I have always written for a general audience interested in ideas. I believe culture critics should address the reader in a lucid, vivid and engaging manner. In college, I was very drawn to the lively, transparent writing style of early 20th-century British classicists like Gilbert Murray and C.M. Bowra. Academic writing needs to purge itself of its present provincialism, insularity and pseudo-French preciocity and recover the colloquial robustness and earthy rhythms of natural English.

    In your view as a classicist, what can the ancient Romans and Greeks teach us as human beings?

    Following my culture-hero, Oscar Wilde, I do not subscribe to the implicitly moralistic assumption that literature or art “teaches” us anything. It simply opens up our vision to a larger world—or allows us to see that world through a different lens. Greco-Roman culture, which is fast receding in American higher education, is one of the two foundational traditions of Western civilization, the other being the Judeo-Christian. These traditions twined about and influenced each other for centuries and produced the titanic complexity of the West, for good and ill. To ignore or minimize the Greco-Roman past is to put intellectual blinders on—but that is exactly what has been happening as colleges are gradually abandoning the big, chronological, two-semester freshman survey courses that once heavily emphasized classical antiquity. The trajectory is toward “presentism,” a myopic concentration on society since the Renaissance—a noble, humanistic term, by the way, that is being ruthlessly discarded for the blobby new Marxist entity, “Early Modern.”

    You grew up as an Italian-American Catholic, but seemed to identify more strongly with the pagan elements of Catholic art and culture than with the church’s doctrines. What caused you to fall away from the Catholic Church?

    Italian Catholicism remains my deepest identity—in the same way that many secular Jews feel a strong cultural bond with Judaism. Over time I realized—and this became a main premise of my first book, Sexual Personae (based on my doctoral dissertation at Yale)—that what had always fascinated me in Italian Catholicism was its pagan residue. I loved the cult of saints, the bejeweled ceremonialism, the eerie litanies of Mary—all the things, in other words, that Martin Luther and the other Protestant reformers rightly condemned as medieval Romanist intrusions into primitive Christianity. It’s no coincidence that my Halloween costume in first grade was a Roman soldier, modeled on the legionnaires’ uniforms I admired in the Stations of the Cross on the church walls. Christ’s story had very little interest for me—except for the Magi, whose opulent Babylonian costumes I adored! My baptismal church, St. Anthony of Padua in Endicott, New York, was a dazzling yellow-brick, Italian-style building with gorgeous stained-glass windows and life-size polychrome statues, which were the first works of art I ever saw.

    After my parents moved to Syracuse, however, I was progressively stuck with far blander churches and less ethnic congregations. Irish Catholicism began to dominate—a completely different brand, with its lesser visual sense and its tendency toward brooding guilt and ranting fanaticism. I suspect that the nun who finally alienated me from the church must have been Irish! It was in religious education class (for which Catholic students were released from public school on Thursday afternoons), held on that occasion in the back pews of the church. I asked the nun what still seems to me a perfectly reasonable and intriguing question: if God is all-forgiving, will he ever forgive Satan? The nun’s reaction was stunning: she turned beet red and began screaming at me in front of everyone. That was when I concluded there was no room in the Catholic Church of that time for an inquiring mind.

    You’ve certainly written a lot about your early experiences of Catholic art, iconography and saints. Who were the Catholic artists and personalities who most inspired you as you grew up in the America of Doris Day?

    It’s no coincidence that the first women intellectuals who impressed me in adolescence had been raised Catholic and wrote eloquently about it: Simone de Beauvoir (Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter) and Mary McCarthy (Memories of a Catholic Girlhood). Later, Germaine Greer, another rebellious Catholic girl, became and remains my favorite feminist. Catholic doctrine, however personally limiting, trains the mind with its luminous categories and rigorous discipline. Medieval theology is far more complex and challenging than anything offered by the pretentious post-structuralist hucksters. For most of his career, my father taught Romance Languages at a Jesuit school, LeMoyne College, where I took a course in logic from a Jesuit professor one college summer. For centuries, the Jesuits have been world-famous for their keen and penetrating minds and their agile argumentation. My familiarity with Jesuit analysis must surely have helped produce my later instant scorn for the confused and pointless morass that is post-structuralism.

    What is your impression of Pope Francis so far?

    Francis seems like an affable gust of fresh energy after the near-sepulchral persona of the prior pope, who seemed strangely stiff and reserved for a Bavarian. So that’s a big positive, in terms of captivating young people around the world and inspiring them toward charitable social action. However, I am somewhat baffled by the cat-and-mouse game that Francis seems to be playing with the media. Is he or is he not signaling his support of revolutionary reforms in Catholic doctrine?—particularly as it applies to sexuality. As a veteran of the 1960s, I of course strongly support the sexual revolution. But as a student of comparative religion, I have to say that when the Catholic Church trims its doctrine for politically correct convenience, it will no longer be Catholic.

    Sean Salai, S.J., is a contributing writer at ‘America’.

  21. noochinator said,

    March 8, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    Paglia profile in New York mag, dateline 3/7/2017:

  22. noochinator said,

    June 6, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    Camille must love this to pieces:

  23. noochinator said,

    May 4, 2018 at 12:59 pm

    Kay Hymowitz piece on the bio of Jann Wenner, and the trajectory from the 1960s sexual revolution to #metoo:

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