Welcome to my world
Why we need to cut taxes deeper, reexamine American education and tune out
"The Sopranos."

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By Camille Paglia


March 21, 2001 | Since my last column three weeks ago, the stock market has
plunged, high-tech Seattle was rocked by an earthquake, two high school
students were shot to death and 13 others wounded by a cherubic
classmate in San Diego, pestilent livestock were slaughtered by the hundreds
of thousands in Europe and a rogue Islamic regime ordered the violent destruction
of ancient colossi of Buddha in Afghanistan.

In short, welcome to my world! Whether it's by chance or by the cold
operations of the planets, recent news has vividly illustrated both the
fragility of social institutions and the barbarism of nature -- the central
themes of my work. The privileged, professional class in the West, as I have
constantly warned, is sitting on the edge of a volcano. Its humanitarian
liberalism is a sentimental dogma, rejecting traditional religion but then
blindly blocking out nature's cruelty and indifference.

Back in Washington, the 2-month-old administration of George W. Bush is
still getting its bearings. For every advance in order and dignity (compared
to the vulgar antics of the money-grubbing Clintons) there's been an
unsettling false note -- like the weirdly muted handling of Vice President
Richard Cheney's cardiac episodes, which certainly look like emergencies and
threaten to have a destabilizing effect abroad.

Cheney's intelligence, experience and political aptitude are unquestioned.
But Bush showed poor judgment and lack of independence in selecting him for
vice president in the first place. Cheney should properly have been a
Cabinet secretary or principal White House advisor. His weary, phlegmatic,
public manner gives a dispirited aura to what should be a vigorous new

As for Bush himself, I continue to lament his lack of communication skills,
which has let Democratic aspersions about his intelligence and preparation
gain steam. When news first came of the Seattle quake, it was embarrassing
to witness Bush's stark inability to address the nation in a simple, natural
way. At a podium hastily set up on the tarmac before he boarded Air Force
One, Bush bowed his head like a desperate schoolboy as he read off generic
expressions of sympathy and concern from a small square of white paper. "Oh,
for heaven's sake, just wing it!" I sputtered at my TV set at home.

On the other hand, criticisms of Bush's "light" work schedule are
misconceived. A leader should have the long view. Chief executives who drown
themselves in detail (like the wonkish Bill Clinton or Al Gore) lose
perspective and make dumb, insular decisions. Bush's announced plan for
regular family weekends at Camp David and his Texas ranch gives one much
more confidence that this guy has his head on straight. Both nature and home
rhythms restore the mind.

Meanwhile, I'm baffled by the demagogic rhetoric of my own Democratic Party
about Bush's proposed tax cut, which is rather minimal. It may be my
libertarianism talking, but surely the people who create the income should
have the benefit of the doubt when it comes to disposition of their wealth.
Government has become a fat, lazy behemoth, spawning parasitic bureaucracies
resistant to reform. Democrats seem addicted to the dole.

We need a more radical reduction in taxation as well as a stripping down of
government agencies to essential social services. Funding is imperative for
public education, public transportation, repair of roads and bridges and
free medical clinics for the poor. But hundreds of millions of dollars are
being wasted on boondoggle projects (like p.c. "gender equity" surveillance)
and on unnecessary foreign-aid allotments that get diverted to middlemen and
corrupt politicos overseas.

If the rich pay most of the taxes, isn't it logical that they would get a
bigger share of any across-the-board tax cut? When more money is available
to private individuals, investment increases in businesses large and small,
the number of jobs multiplies, and employers must compete for workers. The
wider the range of job opportunities, the greater the quantity of social
happiness at every income level. When jobs are scarce, people are forced to
work in companies they dislike and in locations and at times that eat up
downtime and crimp and sour family life. And when there is severe
competition for working-class jobs, racial and ethnic animosities
dangerously flare -- a fact of history illustrated in the American South
during Reconstruction after the Civil War and in inflation-ridden Germany
after World War I, when Hitler rose to power.

On another matter, a good illustration of the biases of the liberal major
media was the New York Times' failure to question or critique Sen. Hillary
Clinton's claim in her Feb. 22 press conference that her brother, Hugh
Rodham, had already paid back the money he had accepted to pitch two
successful pardon applications to President Bill Clinton in his waning weeks
of power.

The political reporters of the Times, whether out of amateurish naiveté or
partisan guile, went right on repeating in print that the money had been
fully paid back for weeks after everyone else knew from Web news sites that
this was not the case. (As of this date, a month later, $100,000 of the
original $400,000 paid to Rodham remains to be reimbursed.) Too much of the
affluent, white, upper-middle class of the Northeast (representing finance,
media, publishing and academe) still gullibly thinks of the Times as
America's newspaper of record -- a reputation regrettably 20 years out of

Anyone who gets his or her political news primarily from the New York Times
(which made the ethically challenged carpetbagger Hillary a senator) is a
fool. The Web today is a vital tool for self-education. Current events need
to be filtered through comparatist lenses -- yes, the New York Times but
also the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post as
well as anti-establishment sites like the Drudge Report and,
with its hot-off-the-skillet reader postings from periodicals all over the

Education has returned to the front pages: In the wake of the most recent
school shootings, state legislatures are debating bills outlawing bullying,
while the president of the University of California, concerned about low
academic performance by minorities, has called for dropping the SAT exam as
a criterion for college admission -- as if that would solve the problem
instead of merely masking it. Authoritarian intrusion and social engineering
seem to be the order of the day.

The entire American school system needs to be stringently reexamined from
primary grades through college. If high school has turned into a seething
arena of boredom and competitive tension erupting in mayhem, it's partly (as
I told Interview magazine after the Columbine massacre two years ago)
because modern schools have become dungeons for active young men at their
most hormonally driven period of life.

Forcing restless teens of both sexes to sit like robots in regimented rows
in crowded classrooms for the better part of each day is a pointless,
sadistic exercise except for those with their sights on office jobs. This
school system is not even 200 years old, yet most people treat it as if the
burning bush floated it down from Mount Sinai. Too often, school has become
a form of mental and physical oppression.

Exactly what is being taught? Certainly not wisdom or perspective on life.
Can anyone honestly claim that current high school students know more about
history, science, language and the arts than students 40 years ago? As for
college students, the shallowness of their training in the humanities has
become all too evident as graduates of the elite schools have entered the
professions and the media over the past 20 years.

A gigantic, self-perpetuating school system is forcing students along a
pre-professional track whether they want it or not. Perhaps as many as half
the college students currently enrolled in the elite schools may not really
want to be there but have just numbly followed along in the track of their
parents' and peers' social expectations. They have no other options. If our
pampered students have the best of all possible worlds, why are so many of
them binge-drinking and anesthetizing themselves with brain-wrecking
designer drugs?

As I've argued in the past, there's no way that the daughter of prosperous,
successful, white upper-middle-class parents could decide to drop out of an
Ivy League school in her sophomore year to get married and be a stay-at-home
mom. She would be upbraided and shamed, accused of "wasting" her education
and betraying her "real" talents -- and embarrassing her status-conscious

Similarly, it's scarcely imaginable that the son of such a family could opt
for the career of auto mechanic or trucker instead of physician, lawyer or
businessman. There was a time when most high schools offered shop classes
and when technical institutions gave practical preparation in the trades to
non-college bound students. As the service sector expanded in the U.S.
economy after World War II, such choices became fewer.

The boys who are collecting guns and fantasizing about shooting up their
schools need a more constructive outlet for their energy -- which working
with their hands would partly satisfy. As for the misfits who are being
"bullied" into homicidal rampages, those who find school life unbearable or
useless should be permitted to leave at age 14 (as was legal during the
immigrant era) to try to live life on their own. Let them return to school
when and if they so desire; the presence in the classroom of adult students
would infinitely improve both primary and secondary education, since it's
grade segregation by age that perpetuates and aggravates the tyranny of
social cliques.

You say the young are far too immature to survive at 14? Well, that's proof
positive that they've been infantilized by their parents in this unctuously
caretaking yet flagrantly permissive culture that denies middle-class
students adulthood until they are in their 20s and later -- long after their
bodies are ready to mate and reproduce. The Western career system is
institutionalized neurosis, elevating professional training over spiritual
development and forcing the young to put emotional and physical satisfaction
on painful hold.

The trades need to be revalorized. Young men and women should be encouraged
to consider careers outside the effete, word-obsessed, office-bound
professions. Construction, plumbing, electrical wiring, forestry,
landscaping, horticulture: Such pursuits allow free movement and require a
training of the body as well as the mind.

The intellectual repressiveness of the current college environment in the
elite schools has been recently exposed by Salon columnist David Horowitz,
whose Web base is FrontPage magazine. Controversy continues to escalate over
the ad opposing reparations for slavery that Horowitz tried to place in some
50 campus newspapers. The most recent episode is the organized theft of an
entire edition of the newspaper containing the ad at ultra-p.c. Brown
University -- a fascist tactic that every free-speech proponent should

Of course I'm not surprised, since the most viciously intolerant campus I
ever visited as a lecturer was Brown, where the humanities program has been
gutted by a jejune brand of feminist theory and cultural and media studies.
(There's a description of my tumultuous 1992 visit in my book "Vamps &
Tramps"; see the entries for Brown University in the index.) Horowitz has
conclusively demonstrated how limited the campus discourse has been on major
issues since the mid-1980s. His courage in confronting personal abuse and
unjust vilification must be admired. He is doing important work for
authentic democracy.

As for the substance of Horowitz's claims, I agree with most of it. The
campaign for apologies or reparations for slavery in the remote past is
impractical and will only sharpen racial differences and tensions in the
U.S. I argued this point in Salon in a 1997 column that was reprinted in
"When Sorry Isn't Enough: The Controversy over Apologies and Reparations for
Human Injustice," edited by Roy C. Brooks and published in 1999 by New York
University Press. Too many college students are unaware of the world history
of slavery as well as of the medieval African origins of the modern slave
trade. Neither do they fully grasp that the noble concept of human rights
and indeed the abolitionist movement itself were creations of white
Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries.

On another campus issue, I was pleased by the positive reader response
to my remarks on Eve Ensler's "Vagina Monologues," which is indoctrinating
students with the hoary, victim-obsessed delusion that there is a world
epidemic of violence against women (male victims of violence are
conveniently ignored). Only crabbed ideologues could fail to be impressed
with Christina Hoff Sommers' clarity of expression and force of mind in her
Salon cover story interview with Amy Benfer about Jane Fonda's daffy
gift of $12 million to another p.c. morass, Harvard University, to perpetuate the
slippery gender-studies methodology of that sentimentalist, Carol Gilligan.
(Couldn't Fonda's money be put to better use funding the arts?)

Over the past 20 years, thousands of women students have been fed a chaffy
diet of feminist writing that wasted their time with third-rate critics,
muddled theory and blatant propaganda. But feminism is institutionalized in
American higher education in ways that would startle foreign observers. It
began with an abuse of affirmative action and has ended with the elevation
of an extraordinary number of laughable lightweights and scam artists to
overpaid prominence on elite campuses from coast to coast.

This week on the pop front, I was saddened to hear of the death at age
65 of John Phillips, brilliant founder of the Mamas and the Papas, the folk-rock
group whose arrival on the scene in 1966 was one of the major cultural
events of my college years. The persistence in radio play of their debut hit
single, "California Dreamin,'" inspired me 20 years later to design my
course, HU 417 "The Art of Song Lyrics," for the student musicians at the
University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

Why exactly, in technical terms, has that song remained amazingly fresh for
so many decades? This is the first question posed in my course, where the
lyrics, melody, harmony, rhythms and performance of "California Dreamin'"
have been analyzed and dissected over the past 15 years by composition
majors, instrumentalists and vocalists with choral expertise. Even now,
played around the clock after Phillips' death (I caught it crackling at
midnight from a French-language station in Quebec), that 35-year-old song
has amazing vitality. By studying what lasts, we can seek the secrets of all
great art.

Several of my favorite Phillips songs are rarely if ever played on the
radio: for example, "Got a Feelin'" (with its hypnotic, tick-tock beat) and
"Strange Young Girls" (an eerie, psychedelic saga of debauched teens on the
Sunset Strip) from the first two albums, both released in 1966. And the
Mamas and the Papas also gave us the spirited, opinionated, stylish actress
Michelle Phillips, who (like Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane) was a
cardinal example of the New Woman of the 1960s -- ballsy, bawdy, in your
face and untouched by feminism. These sassy rock chicks liked men and knew
how to handle them.

Continuing with music: It was such a relief to listen to the Metropolitan
Opera's live broadcast last weekend of its superb production of Giacomo
Puccini's "La Bohème," starring Miriam Gauci and Frank Lopardo. Here is the
best of Italian culture -- as opposed to the worst, currently
promulgated by HBO's vile series, "The Sopranos," no episode of which I've been able to
watch for more than a minute. (What ham acting! What crude stereotypes! The
critics deliriously praising this factitious tripe are presumably the same
urban elitists who thought the crappy, condescending 1999 film "American
Beauty" told the bold truth about suburban American culture.)

"La Bohème" was so passionately performed that the entr'acte breaks seemed
especially unbearable -- all that smarmy nattering by opera experts whose
wordiness contradicts the emotional intensities of Italian opera. To escape
the guest quizzes and jokes between the third and fourth acts (particularly
after the galvanic power of the four lovers' interwoven, overlapping duets,
which inspired my polyphonic argumentation in key passages of "Sexual
Personae"), I turned on the TV and was rewarded with a beautiful segue.

At that moment "Thank God It's Friday," a kitschy disco romp from 1978, was
being broadcast by the Black Entertainment Television channel, and Donna
Summer, playing an aspiring singer, was shyly paying her entrance fee as the
gorgeous opening notes of "With Your Love," composed by Giorgio Moroder,
were being piped into the club. "Heart to heart ... .heart to heart": The
lyric sheen of Summers' high range, shrewdly displayed by the gifted
Moroder, was a melancholy reminder of how popular music, the supreme art
form of my '60s generation, has failed to reach full potential as a
challenger to the magisterial classical music tradition.

Outstanding movie event of the past weeks was the Independent Film Channel's
broadcast of Roman Polanski's "Repulsion" (1965), another of those defining
works of the decade. I feel so lucky to have been educated at a time when
art films of such quality were common coin. In this case, it was ideal to
have seen Catherine Deneuve as a psychotic manicurist adrift in London when
her blond-mane style was absolutely au courant and not a historical

Polanski's distortions of space and manipulation of time, his precise
lighting and deft variation in range, angle and movement of the camera --
all of it is so impressive compared to today's shoddy, hackneyed movie work.
"Repulsion" is chic expressionism, part Jean Cocteau, part Alfred Hitchcock,
dreamy, witty, erotic and horrifying.

I immensely enjoyed A&E's ebullient, fast-moving documentary, "It's
Burlesque," which was one of the most well-crafted, historically rich,
limits-testing and fun shows about sex that has yet appeared on mainstream
American television. Executive producer Angie Brown deserves enormous credit
for her deft treatment of this controversial material. I am happy to have
been a part (as an interview subject) of this wonderful program, which is
sure to be enduringly popular in rerun.

Other notable recent shows were the profiles of Shelley Winters and Maureen
O'Hara on A&E's "Biography" and those of Joan Rivers and Diane Keaton on
Lifetime's "Intimate Portrait." The fact-based profile format, with its
family photos, emotional depth and compelling narrative line, is a stellar
feature of current popular culture, where quality has otherwise disastrously
slid. Case in point: next Sunday's Academy Awards telecast, once the
glorious high point of the show-biz year. But these days, who cares?


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About the writer
Camille Paglia is professor of humanities and media studies at the
University of the Arts in Philadelphia