Friday, May 16, 2008

You have to read it to believe it. This is a major metropolitan daily’s idea of hard-hitting social commentary? This is insight? Incisiveness? Small wonder Internet websites like the one you’re reading are sounding the death knell for old media like television and newspapers. Detroit Free Press columnist Susan Ager’s recent take on disgraced former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s fling with a pricey Manhattan call girl reads like a high school journalism student’s P.C. hit piece. You want feminist fables? Whiny, cliché-ridden drivel? Pabulum, propaganda and identity politics? Go ahead and click on the link. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

A good writer observes the world as it is, and only then cites or formulates a theory to make sense of it. The territory should precede the map, in other words. Susan Ager stands the process on its head. We all approach reality with preconceptions and pet theories, of course; but Ager aggressively shoehorns “sensory-sensual space-time data” (to borrow the late Robert Anton Wilson’s terminology) to fit her foregone ideological conclusions. Anyone with even the most tenuous hold on reality will see in Spitzer’s fall from grace a story as old as sex and sin themselves: an alpha male betrays his wife and family to do the cha-cha-cha with another woman. But our enlightened columnist isn’t falling for that obscurantist claptrap.

She knows better. She took Women’s Studies classes as a college student. She pursued a lifelong course of independent study afterwards. She became a thrall to the buzzwords, which had a life all their own. She followed the Senate Judiciary Committee’s 1991 confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, fixing rapt attention on Anita Hill’s lurid allegations against him. Even back then she knew “men just don’t get it.” Immersed in elite media’s psittacine chatter, she knows men still don’t get it. Ager gets it. She gets that l’affaire Spitzer is not about sex and sin and betrayal. It’s about men victimizing women.

She adduces no evidence to buttress her cherished myth—only bromides, canards, fluff, half-truths, innuendo and out-and-out fallacies. You hate everything she stands for. You can’t help but be embarrassed for her nonetheless.

Her column starts inauspiciously and goes downhill from there:

"Women elected to high political office do not have sex scandals."

Didn’t feminism claim once to seek the elimination of this kind of blatant stereotyping? Or did it always depend on whose ox was getting gored? Of course, as far as sweeping generalizations go, this one seems plausible enough: women elected to high political office probably don’t have sex scandals in the same proportion as men. But so what? In her 54 years on the planet, Ager must have noticed that men put a premium on looks and youth in the opposite sex, whereas women are drawn to wealth and status. It takes years of education and experience to develop the skills, connections and name recognition necessary to land a high profile job. It stands to reason women elected to high office are older women—elles ont une certaine age, as the French say. The bloom is off their rose. (Unless they’re French, in which case even the battle-axes are hot and slender and equally adept in the kitchen or bedroom—no wonder the neocons hate the French!) What likely sexual temptations do they face?

Then there’s this:

"A woman governor would not pay what amounts to weeks of day care for one hour of sexual stimulation. Women know how to take care of themselves."

Does Ager really believe any governor, man or woman, worries about day care fees? Does she believe men don’t know “how to take care of themselves?” Whether or not men or women know how to take care of themselves, does she believe men and women don’t prefer to be taken care of by somebody else?

"We’re more civilized now, but men still use power to get sex. Power is an aphrodisiac for some women. For other women, a powerful man is an easy target: Men will pay big bucks, as Spitzer did, for the illusion of power over a woman they hardly know.

"His one-hour playmate, Kristen, was quoted as saying to her boss: “I’m here for a purpose. I know what my purpose is.” Her purpose was to submit."

Ager couches mating strategies in terms that advance her Myth of the Monstrous Male, without regard to the actual dynamic at work. Rather than say, “Men use power to get sex,” isn’t it just as fair to say, “Men seek power for many reasons, including to make themselves more attractive to women”? Does Ager deny that women find powerful men more attractive? Is it men’s fault that women find powerful men attractive? Don’t women use their own charms and wiles “to get sex”? Don’t men succumb to those charms and wiles? Who’s the victim in these transactions? Who’s the oppressor?

Who’s submitting to whom? If Kristen’s purpose is to submit, why is Spitzer paying her? Isn’t he at least submitting to her fee schedule? Why does Ager call Spitzer Kristen’s “boss”? Kristen’s boss is her pimp or the madam of her escort service. She may even be her own boss. Spitzer is Kristen’s customer, not her boss. He wields the same power over her that any consumer wields over an entity plying a good or service in a market economy: the ability to take his business elsewhere.

Ager’s train wreck ends with this howler:

"Perhaps that’s the main reason women in high political office don’t have time for sex or scandal: The trash needs to be taken out. The dishes need to be done. The children need to be kissed good night. The bills need to be paid. The house needs to be set in order because tomorrow will arrive sooner than we think, and we must be ready for whatever it brings."

What women in high political office can she possibly have in mind? Does she see a driven careerist like Hillary Rodham Clinton concerning herself with such mundane matters as taking out the garbage, washing the dishes and tidying up the house? What planet is she living on?

Susan Ager shows some semblance of wit, insight and wisdom in her “slice of life” columns for the Detroit Free Press. Her demonstrated abilities suggest she could have contributed something worthwhile to the Spitzer controversy as well. She might have examined real sex-based differences, something quite apart from the Victim-Victimizer chimera to which she clings. The comedian Gallagher’s hilarious contrast between the male and female sex drives comes to mind: “Guys are microwaves; women are woks.” She might have addressed the absurdity of consensual crime in a free society. Victimless crimes like prostitution victimize men and women alike. Though she forsook the faith long ago, she might have even conceded the Church’s wisdom in insisting spouses remain faithful to each other under pain of sin. She might have pursued any of these avenues, all within her ability and ken. Instead, she let her ideology make an idiot of her.



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