Sexism and Critique

One of the hazards of web-logging is that it induces a fair number of needless, though not necessarily uninteresting, distractions. After posting “Irrelevancy” yesterday, a few people sent me links to various blogs discussing critic Edward Champion’s attack on blogger Emily Gould and others Champion deems “middling millennials.” One friend in particular thought I was giving Champion’s takedown too much credit and, more importantly, that I had missed the sexist (if not misogynistic) nature of the piece. That’s not entirely true, but I am not sure why it matters. The accuracy of Champion’s criticism doesn’t rise or fall with the nature of his personal prejudices. Champion could be the most sexist, petty, jealous-driven man on earth and it wouldn’t necessarily undermine his identification of certain problems found Gould’s work and attitude, not to mention the larger pathologies infecting certain segments of the contemporary “literary scene.” If one wants to knock my take on Champion’s take of Gould, knock me for being out of touch with contemporary culture and, thus, prone to let someone like Champion do my analytical lifting for me. I am not saying I would agree with such a knock wholeheartedly; I did, after all, read some of Gould’s work following the Champion piece, along with her recent interview in New York Magazine. I won’t defend Champion coming unglued in his Gould takedown, but I don’t think he is off his rocker either. (Well, maybe he is a little bit: he threatened to commit suicide on Twitter following a wave of negative feedback for attacking Gould.)

As for the larger discussion of Champion contra Gould, I am disappointed, but not surprised, to see it being framed almost entirely in sexual terms. Take, for instance, Emily Walker’s attack on Champion over at the feminist blog PDXX Collective. The post is actually a demonstration of what Champion is most upset about: confessional, unimaginative, and prone to personal attacks rather than intellectual engagement. Walker starts from the premise that Champion must be sexist (and thus crazy) and works out from there, ignoring the substance of his criticisms and instead reworking them into proofs that he is, at the end of the day, a sad and a pathetic human being with a psychological disorder. That’s too bad, because Walker does have some real complaints to level against Champion, particularly his tendency to let hyperbole get the better of him. That happens to a lot of folks, though, so I am not sure that is a good enough reason to throw out Champion’s diatribe. In fact, by lacing her critique of Champion with a pointless sex story, Walker has given me another reason to think Champion is on to something.

Over at Bustle, Emma Cueto goes after Champion on the sexism premise, too. Cueto, without any irony intended, blasts Champion’s gross generalization about young female writers with…a gross generalization about male writers who don’t happen to care for the work being produced by some, not all, young female writers. To her credit, Cueto does recognize some truth in Champion’s words concerning the “whiteness” of the literary scene, but even that is a secondary point. What nobody wants to come to grips with, for fear of being called sexist, is that there is apparently a significant number of young female writers whose work just isn’t very good and yet, for a variety of reasons that have little-to-nothing to do with artistic prowess, they are finding success (or at least relative success compared to their more talented counterparts — male and female alike). Is that a surprise? Success and accolades in the realm of popular culture — even its “elevated” parts — has perennially been under the charge of having little-to-nothing to do with talent. At various times, and under certain social conditions, penning an article or book, or producing a film or play, about the “right topics,” be it race, homosexuality, or how Republicans eat babies, is a far surer pathway to fame (if not fortune) than putting out a masterwork that is unmistakably religious or moral. Nobody is supposed to bring that up of course, at least not in public. And certainly a polite, well-bred, and thoroughly ideologized gentleman would never ever consider suggesting that certain classes of individuals might, by virtue of falling into a particularly favored class or sub-class, have an easier go of it on the road to success than others. The only class one is really allowed to blast are white males, like Edward Champion. (If the white males in question come from money or graduated from an Ivy League school, the vitriol can be dialed up to another level of righteous rage.)

I confess that a lot of this “stuff” is beyond the intents and purposes of this blog, hence the “Meta” tag. I don’t see how either the problems Champion identifies or the troubling nature of the attacks being made on him are going to change anytime soon in a society dominated by ideological half-thinking. And to a certain extent these debates are really about which piece of trash is the least smelly. Emily Gould’s new book might not be very good, but neither is most of the stuff she is competing against. The best writing in Slate is more akin the worst writing on Gawker than it is to anything which appeared in any major newspaper before, say, 1950. When Pitchfork Media selects the “Album of the Year,” all it’s really telling me is what is the least bad thing being recorded by minimally talented musicians since January 1. Embracing cultural irrelevancy has its privileges.