I had lunch with an editing client yesterday – yes, I’m still editing, so remember that, reader! – and we started talking about gender and the reporting of conversations. I brought up one of the things that struck me as remarkable about the transcripts released by Ken Starr back in the impeachment days – the way in which Monica Lewinsky’s telephone conversations with Linda Tripp often included, as a helpful stage direction, the sigh. The whole bizarreness of the Starr crusade was summed up for me in the sighs of Monica. Sighs were never included, that I could see, in the Watergate transcripts. Sighs weren’t part of the Iran-Contra controversy. But sighs, for a person like Starr, go with women. Women sigh. Women don’t like sex. Women are forced to have sex when they have sex – unless of course they are really, really in love. And so on.
The sexual subtext of what comes out of D.C. in reporting for the last six years has been quite comic, and quite unremarked. I wrote something a few weeks ago – did I post it? – about Jon Anderson’s New Yorker profile of the American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad . There was a lie in that piece that struck me, since I don’t think it is the usual kind of lying that is pointed to when we criticize the press. Anderson describes Khalilzad as having the lope of a basketball player – or ex basketball player. Now, that is obviously not true. From his description, Khalilzad never played basketball, particularly – and he is described as wearing expensive suits and presumably expensive shoes, and his ecological niche involves much footing over hard marble flooring down many a corridor. And he is in his mid fifties. There is no way he has that lope.
But the lie was part of the lie that the press is partly there to produce and preserve. As we all know, powerful men evoke powerful homoerotic feelings from the people who cover them. The male D.C. reporters are continually trying to get us to feel how powerful the men they are reporting on actually are. Now, LI is a sex friendly site – we are totally happy with homoeroticism. But as is well known, homo-eroticism in a homophobic atmosphere generally turns ugly.
In the U.S., the upper class, Ivy league educated male has one ideal form in which to sublimate his homo-eroticism: fandom. Fans are, as is well known, always on the sexual edge with regard to the heroes they admire, those tough men with the taut pecs. There is a problem, however, with powerful execs, politicians, etc. They aren’t tough at all. How could they be? They might exercise, but generally they don’t’ have time for the sportif. So the lie that the presscorps sets itself is to convey their own infatuation. Thus, the overwhelming reference to sports when one reads profiles of CEOS. One always feels that with a little more prodding we’d get a description of the big fat cocks they possess – they must possess. God forbid that some CEO isn’t ballsy. Doesn’t have a full foot.
The hilarious thing about the lie with the Bush administration is that here, we have a man who we all know was sportif in a certain way. He was a cheerleader. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, if Hillary Clinton had been a cheerleader, there would be a mention of it almost every week. But with GWB, cheerleader is a hole. Nobody credits him with being a good cheerleader, or mentions the word. No, he is bold. He is a cowboy. He is sooooo fit. He is Mr. Mission Accomplished.
The homo-erotic subtext controls the way in which our leaders will be leaders. They will be bold. Even though anybody watching Bush knows that he is spastic, not bold, that is something that has to be suppressed, like cheerleading. Sometimes this is riotously funny. Slate’ Political correspondent, at the moment, is a stooge named John Dickerson. His takedown of Fred Barnes' new bio of Bush -- his ‘love letter” to the President -- is a little scene of homoerotic transformations and rivalries. Dickerson is disturbed that Barnes gushes too much over this manly, this bold, this commanding figure. Dickerson begins by defending the professional sycophants, the White house press corps, from the charge that they have been unfair to the President.
“The White House press corps has flaws: a herd mentality, a fixation on who's ahead politically, and difficulty engaging deeply with policy issues. I know, I was one of them. But Barnes has his boot on the scale, inflating the foolishness of the press to make Bush look better. Perhaps with so many books offering cartoon images of Bush as dumb and evil, the shelves need to be balanced out by one that errs in the opposite direction. But Rebel-in-Chief is such a love note that it fails to counteract the negative myths.”
The love note fails! This is heartbreaking for a guy like Dickerson. Maybe his own love notes will be more successful.
I should note that the homoerotic impulse functions in the lefty discourse too, where much time is spent making up images of fellatio and anal sex as signs of submission -- the press being on its knees, or in some indelicate way bending over, etc., etc. Again, this is also a lie – the lie being that one has overcome our homophobic culture while borrowing homophobic tropes. It is what makes comments so often unpleasant from both sides, as if the struggle, the deeper struggle, were about what male body was the most desirable.
That's a question I want to decide for myself.
“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears
Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann
"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads
"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads