Culture Wars Feature

 Culture of Death Watch

If Napoleon had escaped to America after his defeat at Waterloo, he would have been lionized as a champion of liberty, favored with the affections of a Polish supermodel, and invited to invade South America. Having unearthed this jeu d'esprit from a slumming scholar from the 1930s, the New York Times gathered all its authoritative bulk to assure readers that yesterday's frivolity is today's profundity, an apt, though unintended statement of cultural decline. Truly, yesterday's perversion and swinishness is today's entitlement and presidential style, but never mind that, for now. The Times insists that a fashionable new discipline known as counterfactual history is sweeping all before it. There has been a profusion of scholarly [sic] books and articles on the subject, with titles like, Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals and Counterfactual Thought Experiments in World Politics.

One could write a book, nay, an encyclopedia under the latter rubric. To wit, the man with his finger on the button of the world's largest (though quickly shrinking) nuclear arsenal engages in a tender dalliance with a gold digger from the White House mailroom. There is nothing improper about the relationship because, in 1998, no relationship, save a natural marital one, is improper. Gender, history, marriage, and fact all are social constructions in the era of Cultural Bauhaus, and sexual relations just a series of parallelepipeds jammed unpleasantly together, as Philip Johnson said of his Edifice Rex, a queer theorem put into praxis. Thus, in return for Princess Monica's handfelt affection and refusal to inhale, our President gave her stained skirts, copies of Leaves of Grass and other sundries. When these were returned, by way of a refund, he arranged for her to work at the Department of Defense. A position also was held open at the United Nations, but she demanded something truly prestigious, Burston Marsteller. From Beverly Hills and Bel Air High to the Oral Office, Pentagon, UN, Revlon and thence onward into the inner sanctums of lawless law. Counterfactual Thought Experiments in World Politics, Part 243: the Sequel. Read it and weep.

Gender, history, marriage, and fact all are social constructions in the era of Cultural Bauhaus, and sexual relations just a series of parallelepipeds jammed unpleasantly together, as Philip Johnson said of his Edifice Rex, a queer theorem put into praxis. Weep? President Cllinton told his security detail that he has researched the Scripture and determined that his preferred brand of sodomy is neither adulterous nor even sexual, legalistically speaking. In addition to his other merits, he turns out to be a Bible scholar, his moniker, laughing gas. Virtual History strikes again.

Precisely because counterfactual history is the epistemology of the day, a sort of pseudo-philosophic anti-matter like chaos over creation, uncreating, institutions like the Times cannot decide which trend is mushrooming fastest. In an interminable article in its November 30 Sunday edition, the regime's paper of record declared that Queer Theory and Porn Scholarship were last year's [big] college news, yesterday's papers, so to say. The latest academic trend, announced cogitatress Margaret Talbot, is "whiteness studies" whose goal, unnaturally, is to problematize whiteness.

What exactly does it mean to problematize whiteness? It doesn't mean anything exactly, but it does have a certain brio for Marxist Professor Noel Ignatiev, who sees studying whiteness as merely a necessary stage to the abolition of whiteness, a mass renunciation of all the perks that come with being white. These perks include being the target of urban ethnic cleansing and of quotas that enforce white unemployment. But Dr. Ignatiev accepts no such facetiae; he is dead serious. "Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity" is the motto of his journal, the kind of ready-made fossil for which today's publishers pant. There is youth culture and drug culture and gay culture, he declaimed at Berkeley last year, but there is no such thing as white culture. Perhaps he is correct, not only perfectly correct, but correct.

Datum: Jennifer Reeder, "White Trash Girl" and performing artists as fauna like her are identified by taxonomists at the NEA, NEH and so on. The better to attract corporate and government sponsors, Reeder advertises herself as an inbred biological disaster, and produces White Trash Trading Cards and videos. Trash girl is a natural unnatural adaptation to the free market in depravity. Perhaps she seeks employment as head of a Federal Day Care Center (State College) as a Professor of Diversity. A petty but characteristic player in the vending of spiritual and political slavery, Trash Girl already has been featured in an anthology titled, White Trash, a career-burnishing stroke by a Female Professor at Northwestern. It describes a certain aesthetic, a socioeconomic situation, she offers from her place in the clouds of attitudinizing mockery, the very smog that enshrouds Johnson's Hancock Tower in Boston. These same clouds belch from the stacks of University Presses: Critical White Studies (Temple, 1997), Displacing Whiteness (Duke, 1997), Making Whiteness (Hale, 1998). They cannot consume forests fast enough to feed this lust. But the whale humpers at Green Peace are unperturbed by these ecological depredations; so long as the target of cultural harpooning is the late great white male, the green with envy are at peace with the slaughter.

Christ & WomenSome dissenting voices take a predictable slant. Eric Michael Dyson, Professor of African-American Studies at Columbia University, has sniffed at whiteness studies, discerning therein a sneaky form of narcissism. Be that as it may, Dyson, publicist for lesbian rap artist, Queen Pen, is himself writing a book on whiteness so it will serve the turn of black narcissus, too. He wastes no time making clear the suspicion among African-Americans that whiteness studies are shifting resources back to white people and their perspective. Whether white people are truly represented by Trash Girl or whether they have a collective perspective is unclear (though intellectuals like Dyson have taught us that blacks do), but Dyson's keen scent for the throbbing vein of entitlements amply informs his scholarship.

The determinists of race are again surging forward with economic materialists like Ignatiev. Without the privileges attached to it, says the Marxist; the white race would not exist. Whites are not a fact of nature because there are no facts, only social constructions and political projects pursued through virtual history. But Bolsheviks, cultural and material, neednt worry about whites surviving or even restoring what they built, not even though Madonna studies are past their prime. Phenomena like Trash Girl should re-assure them of white decrepitude. But concerned (and bored) liberals like Talbot and her middlebrow publisher use trends like whiteness studies to work themselves into high dudgeon (well, middling dudgeon) over the possibility that Western culture might somehow regain its dignity and health. What social good does it serve, Talbot wrote, to heighten Caucasian awareness if in doing so you run the risk of swelling Caucasian pride? Those who see Trash Girl as an exemplum of Caucasian pride may be expected to urge their (nearly all white) readers to worry over such hypotheses. As therapy, perhaps more shaming is in order from the neo-Victorians.

Despite the worries of Talbot and hype of the Times, Queer theory cannot yet be denied the laurels as the hottest and fastest metastasizing field of graduate study. Its styles and topics dominated the 1998 conference of the MLA (Modern Language Association) in Toronto. Ivy League English Departments are still recruiting Queer Theorists (as well as queer theorists). Such debris floats in the wake of ground breaking studies like Epistemology of the Closet, Queer Planet and English Literature and Male Homosexual Desire by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, who may or may not stand up at the conclusion of This is Your Life in the gay 90's. Subject of an interminable hagiography in the Times (01/17/98), Sedgwick grew up in a family in which the indeterminacy of sex and gender were discussed at the kitchen table. "It was not assumed we were all straight," she told the reporter. Perhaps that is why Sedgwick now describes herself as a straight woman who feels queer. If the meaning of this statement seems elusive, such nebulae are to be expected in a culture in which academic disciplines have devolved into fields and finally and inexorably into trends with the half-life of an erotic frisson.

hobofireSedgwick's stardom and lifestyle epitomize the institutional decay of American higher education. For many years she taught at Duke University where she held the Newman Ivey White Chair in the Humanities. White was a distinguished and courtly scholar of the old school with a small fondness for left politics. He is inherited by a polemicist for sexual confusion and disease whose writings underpin an academy-based movement called Sex Panic whose goal is to demonstrate that gender (one can say it in one's sleep) is a social construct. The Newman I. White Chair in the Humanities is married. Her husband lives and works in New York City while she cohabits in North Carolina with one of her homosexual colleagues. Who you are domestic with and who you are sexual with doesnt matter, she notes, leaving unclear which male served her for which purpose, or in fact, what meaning, if any, domestic carries for her illumined intellect. Speaking of exaltation, Sedgwick has written extensively about her own sexual fantasies, which feature spanking and other diverse activities.

Sedgwick, 48, is childless (she and her husband never considered children or a traditional family to be a meaningful option, he told the reporter), but she is represented by many intellectual progeny. Though each of them may be as sterile as the monsters of Dr. Moreau, they swarm from the disordered, half-lit thoughts of today's cutting edge institutions. The University of Minnesota is establishing a Center for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies. A Professor of Sexuality Today at the University of Virginia has her students sculpt genitals in play-doh. Some may consider this the terminus of the Sesame Street approach to learning, but Ms. Professor Susan Tate sets her students a goal which, given her methodology, is daunting indeed. "I want them to be able to talk about penises, vaginas, and clitorises without laughing" she told the Sunday Times (12/28/97). "I want them to understand that sex can be fantastic." It remains a mystery to today's cultural powers that the joyousness and beauty of sex might have been achievable before college students began sculpting genitals in play-doh. Whether the innate sense that sex rightly is joyous and beautiful will survive such curricula will soon appear.

The answer to this question is being studied willy nilly at Brown University where students can major in Sexuality (a recent graduate of the program now works in a gay health [sic] center in Boston). One of the four core prerequisites is Queers and Culture, though the course is not listed that way on transcripts for fear that potential employers might be put off by the real name. The pioneers of sexual constructionism sense that some petty bourgeois kulaks still harbor prejudice against sadomasochism and prostitution, two other subjects in Browns core. Some bigots even question whether it is better to spend time learning to use dildos or reading Kant, or to turn sex into an activity like jogging. These questions already have been answered by our cultural commissars as may be gleaned from the response of what the Times identified as a conservative but iconoclastic legal scholar.

The Chief Judge of the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals (Chicago) told the Times his reading of Plato's Symposium has convinced him that American law should be re-written to provide complete acceptance of sexual diversity. Pederasty was defined as a way station to the good by Judge Richard Posner who evoked some great names to buttress his case. Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, T.E. Lawrence and Ludwig Wittgenstein were homosexuals, Posner commented. Thus, homosexuality is not merely a ghastly blight. Maybe not merely, after all, it also generates and transmits deadly diseases, violent crime and lots of profit. But the list of great men adduced by the Judge indicates what the decay of Academia has helped do to American law. Oscar Wilde was a serial pedophile who specialized in preying on impoverished boys. Gertrude Stein was a nasty lesbian and Jew-hating Jew who nominated Adolf Hitler for a Noble Peace Prize in 1938. Keynes was a socialist who panted for a global state of enlightened controllers. T. E. Lawrence was a ferocious anti-Semite and Wittgenstein an on-again off-again fan of Nazism. The theme of The Pink Swastika fairly shouts from Posners own list, but the message of the authors seems to have been missed. Since Queer Theory ensconced in the intellectual apparatus and moral judgments of the U.S. Courts of Appeal, one should hesitate before consigning it to the morgue of history. On March 3, as if echoing Posner's tolerance, the State Appeals Court of New Jersey ruled it is discrimination to ban homosexuals from being counselors in the Boy Scouts. As has truth by lies and memory by forgetting, so have fact been trumped by counter-fact and health by disease. Professor Dyson need not worry about a resurgence of white culture.

There's no news but the old news, punned Shakespeare, and as America wheezes and blows toward the millennium, Modernist ideologies show no signs of dying before they have killed everything in their path. Professor Dyson's ouevre helps illustrate the point. Before getting into whiteness studies, he authored, Between God and Gangsta Rap: Bearing Witness to Black Culture. One defers to exponents of black culture in taking issue with Dyson's use of the term, bearing witness, but the issue at hand is Queen Pen, whose rap milestone, Girlfriend is a paean to aggressive lesbianism. Ms. Pen is a former welfare client and self-described hustler whose two sons, aged 8 and 9, no doubt manage very well without a father since family is just a social construct. The Times (January 18) was eager to explore the details of Queenie's proclivities, but media savvy, she declined unless it was to be a front-page story. Her producer says he respects her for it (her bent) noting, she is teaching women to be what they want to be. It sounds like an ad for todays Army, or Air Force, or University, or the Oval Office.

As disciplines have devolved into trends and feminism has become the ideology of State, virtue has been disappearing. At its core, virtue is manliness and respect for and encouragement of manliness, and nothing is more despised or discouraged by those who shape and inarticulate culture today. Social policy and law are constructed so as to all but prevent children growing up with a father or seeing that men are and can be good, kind, strong and faithful. That is a fact the counter factualists must suppress.

A Professor at MIT explained in the Times last November that newborn humans are little different than mice. Lacking cognitive abilities enabling them to determine and defend individualism as adults (like him) do, it is difficult, he wrote, to construe killing them as murder. Amid mainstream applause for feisty females breaking Hip Hop taboos and other customs encumbering their impulses, nagging little data continue to seethe at the margins of the news. A newborn is found dead in a sewer in a nice neighborhood in Queens. A 23-month-old boy is beaten to death by his foster mother in Brooklyn. Another woman wraps her newborn in plastic bags and stuffs him in a drawer. A 28-year-old woman is caught on tape sodomizing the two-year old in her care. A Santerian on Long Island smothers her daughter for religious reasons. These events are not necessarily criminal. A Professor at MIT explained in the Times last November that newborn humans are little different than mice. Lacking cognitive abilities enabling them to determine and defend individualism as adults (like him) do, it is difficult, he wrote, to construe killing them as murder. A mother should take a week or so to coolly assess whether she wants the infant or prefers a total birth abortion. The father, of course, has nothing to say about the matter for his part was played out nine months before. This follows from the counter fact that people are nothing more than animals. Anything else is a social construct from the hinterlands of ancient history, just one virtual idea among many.

So what is one to make of our president and his multifaceted relationships, proper, improper and other? Is it all a vast right-wing conspiracy? According to the Rodham-Clintonites there is no possibility of knowing, anything. Power comes out of the barrel of a gun, and law is what they say it is. Only 15 percent of Americans may support abortions after the first trimester of pregnancy, but to papers like the Times that means the public remains "deeply divided on the issue" (01/16/98). Counter Factual Thought Experiments have all but carried the day. Ethics are situational. We've dealt with the moral issues, as one virtual yuppie famously put it (John Converse in Robert Stone's, Dog Soldiers [1975]). White Trash seems to have carried the day, so don't mess with Bill.

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