“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

Friday, January 20, 2006

the press corps on the couch

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.


Patrick J. Mullins said...

I also thought some of the 'sexual encounter' episodes of the Starr Referral were very retro--had whiffs of Harold Robbins in them, like when Rina Marlowe says to her brother 'I saw you in the bathroom the other day, you were exercising your muscle.' from 'The Carpetbaggers,' that Carroll Baker masterpiece. (May not be direct vermin quote, but you get the drift.)

Patrick J. Mullins said...

I think I didn't get my first comment about Bruce Wagner and Al Gore to go on here, so please delete if it goes on twice. Mentioned that Wagner, several novels back, said that politics was 'show business for the unattractive.' Gore too pretty for the American bland taste, used to look princely although he's put on weight. Betrayed by Clinton and didn't have enough White Trash Cunning--he would have been a great president. Kerry too elegant, has slightly world-weary tones in speech. Brits and French don't mind this, as with Blair and Villepin. Never even had a single secret thought of George W. being at all sexy, he doesn't exist in that realm, so then his wife has to make up jokes about horsedick. I didn't know anybody thought he was sexy till now, just talk about how he rides bike in Crawford all the time. He has no character, no scent, no flavour.

roger said...

Patrick, alas, it looks like I accidentally stumbled into a trend. On Digby, they have been having a nice time reporting the reporting that went on when Bush landed in his jumpsuit on that ship back in the time of Never Mind. It is quite funny.

But actually, my point isn't about the sexual allure of Bush, or Gore, or Clinton, but of the need among the press corps and in the media to put a particular masculine face on power. Which is why the disappearance of Bush as Cheerleader is interesting -- I mean, Rumsfeld wrestled at Princeton back in the days of the dinosaurs, yet any profile of Rumsfeld duly brings that fact up.

This particular latent level is, as I say, complicated. One of the things that made the Monica scandals worth it was the way the D.C. clique of commentators reacted to it -- their disgusting emissions of disgust, looking into Clinton's sex life, told us a lot about theirs -- that psychotic tangle of desires that needs ersatz masculinity of a certain type under which to operate. Interestingly, though, that masculinity operates best through other men. And George Bush is nothing if not a man who knows the whole keyboard of reactions that come with the fraternity set.

Patrick J. Mullins said...

Yes, I know I usually get a little oblique, that's normal not to always have to do 'whole structure', but have definitely been getting wonderful picture beaten into my brain now of W in little white skirt. He didn't wear one, but he should have known that being a male cheerleader was considered sissy in the South way back in the 60's. I wouldn't have thought his mama and daddy would have let him be one. What he does remind me of is the 70's clone, when gays, like here in the Village, started walking butch, using mustaches and jeans and keys to show whether they were S or M and doing caricatures of macho types at bars like the Anvil and the Toilet. He walks like that all the time.

Yes, there have also been cartoons in VVoice when McCain is seen to have been selling out, so they show him licking Bush's ass as the humiliated one. Sure, paternalism is far from as dead as some people want it to be. Also, it would have helped if Bush hadn't actually thrown that baseball well right after 9/11, because, unfortunately, that particular gesture wasn't fake like the Top Gun jumpsuit which inaugurated a whole new line of 'armed services swimwear' in International Male's escort services line.

(Forgive occasional silliness, not trying to be disrespectful, probably is quiet hysterical reaction to all the big names talking right now--easily more intense than ever, so that frat boys doing NSA calls get relief by new Bin Laden tapes. Also, stock markets are misbehaving. Ward Harkavy says Cheney is talking the most and his BushBeat this morning is very funny. http://villagevoice.com/blogs/bushbeat/archive/002349.php I mean I said something about this the other day, when there were fewer loud things going on at the same time, so I still don't know who's winning the games they care about; and since then it's gotten more dizzying. It's become interesting in a terrible way--more a matter of which stories will cancel the others out even more than usual, so that some of the events themselves will be put on back burners. Never have seen a moment like this, and it ought to accelerate.

Schanberg’s thing on how Bush doesn’t know what is happening the way the other cabal members do is good too. You probably saw it.

Anyway, homos definitely like a real macho, as do most people. Bush is fake macho, and that has long been apparent to me. That's why I thoroughly enjoyed when he couldn't get out that Chinese door a few months back. He and his daddy don't do to well with some of their attitudes in the Orient, e.g., vomiting in laps.

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