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O Magazine
2015-2017

by Óscar del Pozo

Over-the-top and politically incorrect pop pundit wanted

Illustration by
Tiago Majuelos

The last time we heard of her was a few months ago, when she called Taylor Swift “an elitist Nazi Barbie” on the pages of The Hollywood Reporter. Camille Paglia, a rough, very cultured, grumpy and politically incorrect lady and trouble maker, assured that the singer reminded her of the “fascist blonds who ruled the social scene” during her youth. Anyone unaware of who Paglia is might think she’s an arriviste taking advantage of the singer of Blank Space‘s fame to get some attention. Big mistake! If we go back to Vamps & Tramps, her collection of essays published in 1994, we’ll find a similar declaration: “Being a little girl in America in the fifties, I was asked to identify with bride dolls and the like. It was the age of Debbie Reynolds and Doris Day and fraternity blond queens. Girls were meant to be feminine and all that.” You see what I mean: this dialectic trouble maker has been accused of exhibitionist, anti-feminist, fascist, extremist, anti-gay lesbian, arrogant, vain and a few more ugly things, but no one doubts her consistency.

The Italian-American writer and Humanities professor doesn’t appear too much in American media these days. Her last book, Glittering Images, from 2012, a thorough interpretation of Western world works of art, went unnoticed and wasn’t even published in Spain. Her glory years were the nineties and the first decade of the millennium, when she became the heiress of the first Susan Sontag, who had brought a fresh view on pop culture with essays such as Notes on camp or Against Interpretation. Paglia appeared on that scene by publishing her PhD thesis, Sexual Personae, a monumental overview of History from the point of view of pagan art, which for her is still alive in modern media and pop idols. In the nearly one thousand pages of the book, that David Bowie included among his favourite in a list published months before his death, Paglia set herself apart from the Rousseaunian thesis of American feminists (women are good by nature, society is to blame for everything) and defended that cruelty and aggressiveness are innate in human beings. From her conviction that the female brain works in a very different way than the male’s and her, in general, not very complacent opinion of all of us came many controversial declarations on rape, prostitution, abuse, sexual harassment, lesbians and, of course, the feminist élite, to which she has violently opposed herself her whole life. The question of whether Camille is or not a feminist (she is to me) would need twenty articles, but it’s not what interests us here.

This text tries to defend her as pop culture pundit and, since we’re at it, shout out loud that we need a replacement for her NOW. And we don’t mean any jerk that talks about what’s on in her Facebook or Twitter account: she must have an encyclopaedic culture and the belligerent attitude of a collaborator of Sálvame. That’s just the way Camille is. “Go buy a book. Where’s a bookshop? Send this woman to a bookshop! Go look at a painting! Go look at a Caravaggio, a Michelangelo! This is so fucking puritan. You suck!” she screamed at an anti-porn feminist in the midst of a demonstration of the WAP (Women Against Pornography) as can be seen in documentary short-film Glennda and Camille Go Downtown. Although she has always been linked to academia, her style is clear, simple and direct. She hates elitism and semiotic and pseudo-technical jargon. For instance, regarding some high-brow university studies devoted to Madonna which were produced in the nineties, she wrote: “The material produced by these academics who desperately try to be in is full of clumsy and pretentious terminology such as ‘inter-textual’, ‘diegesis’, ‘significations’, ‘transgressive’, ‘subversive’, ‘self-representation’, ‘subject position’, ‘narrative stratum’ and ‘discursive practices’. This could be funny, except for its damaging effects on students and on a professional system more corrupt each day.”

Madonna was always an obsession for Camille. Even during her most controversial years, from Like a Prayer to Erotica, she considered her a twin soul. “Half of us is a nice suburban girl; the other half is a raving pornographic maniac,” she assured. Since at the time there were no prestigious intellectuals that dared defend the singer, Paglia was invited to all of the talk shows, appeared in all reports, wrote all the articles. Her role as defender of the most famous woman in the world made her famous too. However, she was never an arriviste. Along her life she has defended pop stars that exploit their sexuality, who understand their erotic mystique and the power they exercise over men. And today she still does it on the same terms: “With a few exceptions, like Rihanna, very few women in popular culture have any sense of glamour,” she affirmed last year. “The situation is different with Latin actresses, who have a sense of sensuality. The US, with its egalitarian ethos, has produced a generation of actresses without any sensuality. This is because young women have been taught that there are no gender differences, that they can be like men in any situation.”

Obviously, Lady Gaga couldn’t be saved from her criticism. She devoted an apocalyptic article to her in 2010 entitled Lady Gaga and the Death of Sex. And the main thing she accused her of was not being sexy at all. “She’s like a plastic android. How could such a calculated and artificial figure, so clinically and strangely aseptic, devoid of true eroticism, become an icon of her generation?” she lamented. Camille, you see, likes a woman-woman, with curves and sexual exuberance. She’s convinced that orthodox feminism has de-sexualized American women and she fights against it. She’s a fan of Liz Taylor, Jeanne Moreau, Barbra Streisand… And hates Meryl Streep. “She was good in Silkwood, but she started taking herself far too seriously. She’s a calculated actress, a victim of her own WASP culture. I find her a total fake. She has no passion. She hasn’t got a single elementary vibration of depth.”

In an ideal world, Camille Paglia would have her own reality show, like Las Campos. We’d see her at home with her girlfriend and her son, gossiping about the university world, remembering her fight with Susan Sontag, giving her opinion on absolutely everything… But American TV got tired of her a long time ago and there seems to be no one good enough to replace her (Virginia Despentes? Rebecca Solnit?, Caitlin Moran? Kathleen Hanna? Diana López Varela? Barbijaputa? Amelia Valcárcel?). We’ll keep on looking. Any professor in the room with Mila Ximénez’s character, Diana Aller’s lack of prejudices and Madonna’s ability to shock?