As recently as five years ago, I counted Ann Coulter and Camille Paglia among my favorite authors, and my guiltiest but most delicious reading pleasures.
In the famous tome Sexual Personae (1991), Camille Paglia drove a fearless bulldozer over the grove of feminist shibboleths, celebrating a street-smart feminism poised against the frigid and increasingly tiresome academic left. For much of the Clinton era, it was refreshing to hear her devilish witticisms. Her main target was the ironic puritanism of leftists who sought to liberate sex yet ended up ruining love with political guilt. Among the feminists Camille pilloried, men were to be lectured about sexism when they found females pretty. The lectures were worse than Catholic sermons against impure thoughts. The antidote was naturally Paglia’s own blend of impishness and erudition.
I must admit, I took the medicine gleefully. Who can resist an enfant terrible who publishes books like Vamps and Tramps (1994)? Paglia was fabulous.
On the other end of the political spectrum, a different Venus crawled out of the swamp of Bill and Hillary’s bimbo eruptions like Botticelli’s deity washing up on the shores of Cyprus. Blonde, leggy, and unapologetic about any perceived contradictions, Ann Coulter was born — like Paglia, a ferocious huntress with her arrows aimed squarely at the liberal elite’s hypocrisy. Just as Camille would spare no scrutiny of feminists’ self-defeating phobias about heterosexuality, so Ann was unflinching about the feminists’ bargain with Bill Clinton, not to mention the rest of the left’s smelly gaggle of womanizing creeps. Blessed with a wit no less sharp than Alexander Pope’s, Coulter delighted self-discovering conservatives with appropriately titled invectives like Slander (2003), Treason (2004), Godless (2007), and Guilty (2008).
There is something about true wit, of the kind one remembers from Pope’s Dunciad or Juvenal’s sixteen satires, which runs roughshod over partisan boundaries. Paglia was irresistible to many conservatives. Coulter was a clandestine addiction for many liberals, who would read her Wednesday columns while never admitting to it at cocktail parties.
But it’s been a bad year for both women. Watching great people fall is excruciating, whether it’s David Petraeus suddenly exposed as a “Pentagon peacock” seeking shameless adulation from a starry-eyed groupie twenty years his junior or Paglia publishing a strange screed in The Hollywood Reporter. The latter got more play than usual because Drudge reposted it.
Paglia feels offended, even disgusted, by young female singers who are “winsome” and the “latest sweetheart.” Gone is the playfulness of Camille’s earlier attacks against people like Andrea Dworkin and Hillary Clinton. Oblivious to the fact that a younger generation of Americans, born in the 1980s, saw how much women actually benefited from acting like a perpetual sex-crazed succubus à la Madonna — they got lots of guilt-ridden abortions, chlamydia, babies without responsible daddies, and still no magical equality to men at the office — and largely decided to opt out of relentless vixenhood, Camille chastises them for monstrous vices such as “modesty.” Here’s a blast from her piece (boldface in original): more