Read some gossip once about a former TV star, an actress who starred in a goofy detective series and whose main claim to fame was that she was "the sexy one." A poster of her in a bathing suit was one of the hottest selling bits of 70s kitsch and adorned every other teenage boy's bedroom around the world.
You know who I'm talking about, right?
This actress never had much of a career after she left the TV show, but she remained beautiful and kept herself in shape and at 50 she was still gorgeous, with a figure maybe even sexier than her younger pin-up girl self's. She felt confident enough that she insisted on doing her own nude scene in a movie our best movie director had the inspriration to cast her in---he's always been good at oddball casting that turns out to have been perfect casting---no body double. It wasn't an intimate bedroom scene. Her character was to go nuts and strip and frolic naked in a fountain in a shopping mall.
The splashing water hid a lot, but not enough that it wasn't clear that her body, altough touched by age---perhaps even because it was touched by age and therefore not movie star plastic perfect---was stunning.
You might think, then, that this actress was one middle-aged woman who didn't have to fear sexual rivals.
The actress had a younger boyfriend at the time, a guy in his thirties. One day she found an envelope full of photograph's of his ex-girlfriend in a bikini in the closet. As I remember it, the boyfriend was a photographer, the girlfriend was a model, the photos were leftovers from a portfolio shoot.
The actress went through the roof.
She took a pair of scissors and cut up all the photos into confetti. Then she got mad.
I don't recall all the details now of her temper tantrum, the rag I read this story in may not have had them, but my impression was that she tore the house apart and physically attacked her boyfriend.
There could be all sorts of backstory here that the gossip columnist didn't know and I shouldn't try to read minds, but I can't help it.
On the surface this seems to be an old story.
A very old story.
"Mirror, mirror, on the wall, tell me, who is the fairest one of all..."
Snow White is the story about the sexual threat a younger woman poses to an older one and the challenge the older woman's jealousy then poses to the younger woman. But more universally, it's about how although it's the most natural progression that an aging generation must give way to the next younger one, the older generation isn't going to like it and may not give way gracefully.
The elders may not give way at all. The fairy tale is a warning. The older generation, some members of it anyway, will do all they can to keep the younger generation from its natural inheritance and place in life.
The story of the actress taking the scissors to the young model's picture is about as close as real life can come to recapitulating a fairy tale---it's the Queen snatching up and throwing the nearest heavy object at the mirror when it answers her question with the image of Snow White and says the girl is now the fairest of them all.
Think I didn't have Snow White, and Farrah Fawcett, in mind when I wrote yesterday's post?
The dustup over Ann Althouse's petulant and creepy attack on Jennifer Valenti might seem to be the blog world equivalent of a food fight between Delta and Omega. Its seriousness lies in whether and to what degree you think Althouse and her bully boy readership meant to humiliate Jessica into silencing herself (or at least second-guessing herself when she posts)* or you think it was just a cheap way for that gang to enjoy some more Clinton porn together, a blogging circle jerk presided over by a leering Ann Althouse.
*I've come to see the post as an attempt to turn Jessica into a mere bimbo in the eyes of new readers of her blog and the men and women she has to deal with in her work as an activist in the analog world.
Ezra Klein wrote a very sane post---does he write any other kind?---in which he argued that Althouse's post is most pernicious because it represents a habitual debating trick of the Right: Make it personal.
When you can't win on the merits or the facts, attack your opponent's character.
The Right has been doing this nationally at least since 1980. "Family values," "character," "morality," "out of the mainstream," "Hollywood Liberals," "the Culture of Death." Knowing that polls show that the majority of voters do not in fact support the Right Wing's agenda, the Wingers, from Reagan down to that nut running for school board in your town, have turned every debate into a case of Liberals being asked to say when they stopped beating their wives, husbands, children, dogs, or puds.
Ann Althouse puts on her little pornographic puppet show, dressing up her Jessica puppet as Monica and Paula Jones so that she can then make her Clinton puppet drop his pants and drool, and then someone like Scott Lemieux steps up and in the course of making a good case against Althouse's pseudo-feminism has to waste time explaining that Clinton did not do what the Right fantasizes he did and the debate is suddenly about whether or not Bill Clinton is a rapist or a mere cad.
(I think Scott falls a little deeper into the trap by introducing on his own the moot question of whether or not what Clinton did do with Monica deserves condemnation and further scolding from good feminists.)
But Ezra's post is a little too sane.
He gives Althouse more credit as a conscious if mean-minded debator than she deserves.
As Scott and Lindsay Beyerstein make plain, Althouse did attempt to make a substantive argument---or at least she attempted to appear as if she was making one.
It may be that she knew herself to be so full of shit on this that she saw no option but to distract her readers by crying, "Look, boys! Tits!"
But her readers don't need to be distracted from her swiss cheese logic. They eat it up like starved mice.
She could have written, "A real feminist would never go near Bill Clinton," and left it at that, and her readers would have nodded and said, That's right. We're the real feminists!
She didn't though.
There are five other women in that picture. Althouse could have attacked their "hypocrisy" too.
This wasn't just a case of Althouse being a typical Right Wing bully.
It was a case of her being the Queen looking in the mirror.
How do I know this?
I know it because I know Althouse.
No, we've never met.
I know her type.
This is my problem.
This is why Ezra is far and away a better political writer than I am.
One of the reasons why.
I don't write about politics as an analyst or even as a journalist.
I write about it as a fiction writer, notebook keeper, would-be sketch artist, moviegoer, biography reader, general spy upon my fellow passengers to the grave, and enthusiastic fan of the human comedy.
I don't analyze. I interpret.
I don't write journalism. I write literary criticism and movie criticism. I tell stories.
Regular readers of this page know this about me and I hope make allowances.
But I feel bad about it.
I've criticized the likes of Maureen Dowd, Joe Klein, David Maraniss, and other Media Elite types for writing novels instead of reporting the facts. Even though I'm not in their ballpark, I feel I shouldn't do it. But I give myself some license just because I'm not in their ballpark, and I'm not trying to play in their league. I'm not trying to play the same sport.
When I write about Joe Lieberman as if he were a character in a short story that I wrote or George Bush were one in a novel I read, Senators, Congressmen, editors of important newspapers, producers of TV news, and journalists up and down the totem poll don't follow my lead.
Yesterday's post was kind of a throwaway. What I wrote was window dressing for the links to Scott's and Lindsay's posts, which I hope you read because they're very good and not fiction or literary criticism at all.
But I meant what I said about Althouse. She's a type and it's a type people need to be on their guard against becoming.
Once upon a time, I drove one of my writing classes into fits because I insisted that people do indeed fall into types, that all of us are to a great degee typical. I went on to say that there are in fact a very limited number of human types and I made a list that didn't come close to filling one side of the blackboard.
My students did not want to hear this.
They believed that each and every one of us, and particularly one they happened to be themselves, is an original. God threw away the mold.
But I believed, and still believe, that our uniquness as individuals comes from the multitude of variations we can play upon ourselves within the type we happen to be. Types overlap too, so we can pick and choose what type we want to conform most closely too. We can recognize ourselves as types, see how our behavior is typical, and adjust. We can decide to act against type.
And although it usually means turning ourselves into just another type, we can decide to give up being they type we are.
I'm not sure, by the way, that we are born to be specific types. Circumstances play upon our innate temperaments and the bumps and blows mold us into types. But that's another post.
Ann Althouse appears to have been one type of person when she was young. She's become another type now, an all too familiar type, the former rebel turned old fuddy duddy whose vanity won't let her admit she's a fuddy duddy. With her post the other day she worked a familiar variation on the type she already is, so that the former pretty young rebel is now attacking what a more generous and gracious person might see as a version of her younger self.
She is not, by the way, a type that only Right Wingers and women conform to.
Don't you agree, Lee Siegel?
But she is a type.
This is true.
But I should have put it in a short story.