Making Ignorance Chic

Reply Fri 22 Oct, 2010 08:21 am
October 19, 2010
Making Ignorance Chic

Casanova’s rule for seduction was to tell a beautiful woman she was intelligent and an intelligent woman she was beautiful.

The false choice between intellectualism and sexuality in women has persisted through the ages. There was no more poignant victim of it than Marilyn Monroe.

She was smart enough to become the most famous Dumb Blonde in history. Photographers loved to get her to pose in tight shorts, a silk robe or a swimsuit with a come-hither look and a weighty book — a history of Goya or James Joyce’s “Ulysses” or Heinrich Heine’s poems. A high-brow bunny picture, a variation on the sexy librarian trope. Men who were nervous about her erotic intensity could feel superior by making fun of her intellectually.

Marilyn was not completely in on the joke. Scarred by her schizophrenic mother and dislocated upbringing, she was happy to have the classics put in her hand. What’s more, she read some of them, from Proust to Dostoyevsky to Freud to Carl Sandburg’s six-volume biography of Lincoln (given to her by husband Arthur Miller), collecting a library of 400 books.

Miller once called Marilyn “a poet on a street corner trying to recite to a crowd pulling at her clothes.”

“Fragments,” a new book of her poems, letters and musings, some written in her childlike hand with misspellings in leather books and others on stationery from the Waldorf-Astoria and the Beverly Hills Hotel, is affecting. The world’s most coveted woman, a picture of luminescence, was lonely and dark. Thinking herself happily married, she was crushed to discover an open journal in which Miller had written that she disappointed him and embarrassed him in front of his intellectual peers.

“I guess I have always been deeply terrified to really be someone’s wife since I know from life one cannot love another, ever, really.”

Her friend Saul Bellow wrote in a letter that Marilyn “conducts herself like a philosopher.” He observed: “She was connected with a very powerful current but she couldn’t disconnect herself from it,” adding: “She had a kind of curious incandescence under the skin.”

The sad sex symbol is still a candle in the wind. There’s a hit novel in Britain narrated by the Maltese terrier Frank Sinatra gave her, which she named “Maf,” for Mafia, and three movies in the works about her. Naomi Watts is planning to star in a biopic based on the novel, “Blonde,” by Joyce Carol Oates; Michelle Williams is shooting “My Week With Marilyn,” and another movie is planned based on an account by Lionel Grandison, a former deputy Los Angeles coroner who claims he was forced to change the star’s death certificate to read suicide instead of murder.

At least, unlike Paris Hilton and her ilk, the Dumb Blonde of ’50s cinema had a firm grasp on one thing: It was cool to be smart. She aspired to read good books and be friends with intellectuals, even going so far as to marry one. But now another famous beauty with glowing skin and a powerful current, Sarah Palin, has made ignorance fashionable.

You struggle to name Supreme Court cases, newspapers you read and even founding fathers you admire? No problem. You endorse a candidate for the Pennsylvania Senate seat who is the nominee in West Virginia? Oh, well.

At least you’re not one of those “spineless” elites with an Ivy League education, like President Obama, who can’t feel anything. It’s news to Christine O’Donnell that the Constitution guarantees separation of church and state. It’s news to Joe Miller, whose guards handcuffed a journalist, and to Carl Paladino, who threatened The New York Post’s Fred Dicker, that the First Amendment exists, even in Tea Party Land. Michele Bachmann calls Smoot-Hawley Hoot-Smalley.

Sharron Angle sank to new lows of obliviousness when she told a classroom of Hispanic kids in Las Vegas: “Some of you look a little more Asian to me.”

As Palin tweeted in July about her own special language adding examples from W. and Obama: “ ‘Refudiate,’ ‘misunderestimate,’ ‘wee-wee’d up.’ English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!”

On Saturday, at a G.O.P. rally in Anaheim, Calif., Palin mockingly noted that you won’t find her invoking Mao or Saul Alinsky. She says she believes in American exceptionalism. But when it comes to the people running the country, exceptionalism is suspect; leaders should be — as Palin, O’Donnell and Angle keep saying — just like you.

In Marilyn’s America, there were aspirations. The studios tackled literary novels rather than one-liners like “He’s Just Not That Into You” and navel-gazing drivel like “Eat Pray Love.” Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” paired cartoon characters with famous composers. Even Bugs Bunny did Wagner.

But in Sarah’s America, we’ve refudiated all that.

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Reply Fri 22 Oct, 2010 08:31 am
I think Ms. Dowd fails to give proper credit to Bush 2 for this phenomenon.
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Reply Fri 22 Oct, 2010 08:37 am
Along similar lines

To recap, last Sunday McCain appeared on Christiane Amanpour's show on ABC, where she challenged Christine O'Donnell's fitness to be a U.S. senator. And it wasn't just because of the TV ad where O'Donnell unwittingly proved the point McCain was making by declaring: I am not a witch...I am you. Or her bizarre views on masturbation and abstinence. McCain said that many in her generation see the 41-year-old Sarah Palin wannabe as a nutjob.

She then added:

I speak as a 26-year-old woman. And my problem is that, no matter what, Christine O'Donnell is making a mockery of running for public office. She has no real history, no real success in any kind of business. And what that sends to my generation is, one day, you can just wake up and run for Senate, no matter how [much] experience you have.

Never mind that McCain is a moderate Republican. Never mind that what she said was entirely reasonable compared to a Senate candidate who believes that teaching creationism in the public schools is perfectly legal. Faster than you can shout "we want our government back!" the new conservative boys' club started trashing her. ...

Which brings me back to Christine O'Donnell, and McCain's doubts about her ability to be a U.S. senator. I think she might have a point. For example, during the second debate, O'Donnell challenged Democrat Chris Coons when he asserted that the First Amendment dictates the separation of church and state. Really? O'Donnell kept repeating incredulously. At which point the audience started laughing. But rather than realize that they were laughing at her, the clueless O'Donnell just kept talking. And boy can she talk a blue streak!

I'm all for more women running for office. God knows, we need more women in Congress. But when did it become acceptable for female candidates not to be smart? Or accomplished? Or able to think? When did ignorance and failure and a penchant for being glib and talking nonsense not only become OK, but admirable?

This is what Meghan McCain was getting at. And I applaud her for speaking out about it, and then for taking the heat. Not even Karl Rove, after initially trashing O'Donnell, had the courage to stand up to the tea partiers and the GOP. The reason the right-wing hates Nancy Pelosi so much is not because she's an unapologetic San Francisco liberal and Speaker of the House. That's just their excuse. The reason they hate her is because she's fearless, savvy and smart. And if there's anything conservative men find threatening, it's a smart woman in charge. Especially one like Pelosi, who doesn't care a whit what right-wingers think of her.
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Reply Fri 22 Oct, 2010 08:58 am
Still, "Women have to work twice as hard to be considered half as worthy."

Male politicians have pulled gaffs, Joe Biden for one. And it's not front page news.

Blame voters for falling for a pretty face -male and female.

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Reply Fri 22 Oct, 2010 09:00 am
so wait, it's no longer hip to be square, damn you Huey Lewis, why didn't you tell me things had changed
Reply Sat 23 Oct, 2010 04:29 pm
djjd62 wrote:

so wait, it's no longer hip to be square

True, but "cool" people are also "hot". Go figure...
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Reply Sun 24 Oct, 2010 11:50 am
At a time when reality TV, and amateur talent competitions, are the main "culture" that is fed into American homes via broadcast networks, these dumbed down political candidates seem to fit right in. Unfortunately, by demanding so little from our political candidates, "The Biggest Loser" may turn out to be those people who expect intelligent, informed, capable people at the helm of government.

Another year of the woman? Not so fast
October 22, 2010

Maybe Ginni Thomas was inadvertently doing women a favor with her creepy telephone plea to Anita Hill.

The wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas left a voice-mail message inviting Hill to apologize for the damage done to her husband's reputation during his 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Hill notified the FBI, and Thomas apologized, sort of.

Despite herself, Mrs. Thomas has reminded us all of the so-called Year of the Woman - as the 1992 elections were dubbed - when women reacted strongly to a political culture determined to keep them in their place. It was the demeaning attitudes U.S. senators displayed toward Hill as she testified in the confirmation hearings that sparked the indignation of female voters and candidates in the following election cycle. As a result, the U.S. Senate gained four new female members. Twenty-four new women were elected to the House of Representatives.

We could use another such onslaught of feminine political mystique in our politics right now, if only to counter the female quackery set loose this season. Thomas is by no means the only lady of the right out there stirring the pot with lunatic behavior. We've got one woman running for Senate who is now celebrated for her televised reassurances to voters that she is not a witch. Another female Senate hopeful has warned darkly of "militant terrorist situations" and Sharia law taking hold in U.S. municipalities, and recently told a group of Latino students they looked Asian to her.

Can you name these candidates? Of course you can: Christine O'Donnell and Sharron Angle. Of all the Senate challengers - perhaps of all the candidates - they're the most visible this year. Because they're punch lines.

This is not what women suffragists envisioned a century ago. Frankly, we women haven't come far enough politically to have flakes soaking up our share of the political limelight. Don't believe me? Let's test your knowledge. The U.S. Congress currently has 535 members, and 90 of them are women. Quick: Name more than 10 without Googling.

Apparently the seduction power of a daffy female remains stronger than that of a woman who can intelligently state her political position. Each replayed segment of foolishness takes focus from the more serious campaigns of Blanche Lincoln, Meg Whitman, Zoe Lofgren, Nikki Haley or Carly Fiorina.

Sure, a handful of women have risen to the highest reaches of political power: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the line of women who have served as secretary of state (Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton), not to mention the other women who have served as congressional committee chairs and in Cabinet posts.

But, overall, women are still so few in politics that everyone is tarnished a bit by the antics of a few. These women are candy for columnists and comedians. It's all fun and games until some fruitcake female actually gets elected. And that fruitcake might be Angle. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hasn't been doing his campaign any favors lately with lackluster debates.

Most galling is that these high-profile women are taking a cue from Sarah Palin, campaigning with a message that amounts to, "Elect me because I'm ordinary." They are pandering to voters as everyday gals, no smarty-pants Ivy League education to intimidate. Shouldn't we be electing our best and brightest minds to Congress? It's offensive that women are leading the charge to dumb down Congress - as if that would make it function more effectively.

We women will know we've arrived when enough of us are serving in Congress and as governors that we, too, can appreciate the few daisy-pickers in the outfield just for fun. We're not there yet.

Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star.
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Reply Sun 24 Oct, 2010 06:54 pm
So, would you prefer to have Nancy Pelosi run, or Hillary Clinton try again?
The two are intelligent women. Would you vote for them for president of these U.A.? Some people don't think they are smart and intelligent either.
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Reply Sun 24 Oct, 2010 09:14 pm
taking a cue from Sarah Palin, campaigning with a message that amounts to, "Elect me because I'm ordinary."

Ordinary? Please recall Obama's view of Sonia Sotomayor when he appointed her to the Supreme Court:

Calling Sotomayor "an inspiring woman," Obama said that he looked not only at intellect and the ability to be impartial, but at life experience and the ability to relate to ordinary Americans in choosing Sotomayor as his nominee.

So it looks like Pallin isn't the only ordinary female out there...The only way that Sotomayor can relate to ordinary folks is if she herself is an ordinary person, which she is.
Reply Mon 25 Oct, 2010 06:14 am
Having the ability to relate to "ordinary people" does not necessarily mean you are ordinary, only that you have empathy and an appropriate experience base. Justice Sotomayor's accomplishments are far beyond ordinary.
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