Watch What Happens Live’s mix of high and low culture may have just hit its zenith. Camille Paglia and Ana Quincones discussing the no-need-to-feel-guilty pleasure of the Real Housewives? Sublime.
When Paglia wrote Sexual Personae in the early 1990s, it was an interesting moment in culture. A hard core academic treatment of feminism, art, and sexuality was inexplicably a best-seller. As a personality, they don’t come a whole lot more irritating than Camille Paglia. But I love what she makes us think about. She legitimizes popular culture (which I love) and she’s really, really smart!
One thing that really intrigued me was her answer to a viewer questioning if showing women bickering – and sometimes full-on fighting – was bad for women and encouraged misogynistic views. This is a question that’s dogged me, too. I consider myself an unapologetic feminist and I sometimes have a hard time articulating why I don’t think these shows are “bad for women.” Paglia’s response was that it is a “display of honest emotion in a time when emotion is so repressed.” That feels so true to me. When women display strong emotion that isn’t just about how much they love their kids, people freak the f**k out. It’s the same reason why the Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray series are trivialized, right? Twilight is “for girls” and 50 Shades is “mommy porn.” Although I haven’t read any of those books, I gather they’re not outstanding works of literature. But that’s hardly the point. They are denigrated in a way that other works are not because they deal with specifically female longings. And I guess it’s a lot easier to giggle at “mommy porn” than it is to confront the terrifying realization that millions of suburban women have extremely dark desires. Anyhoo. Moving on.
Paglia thinks the power of the Housewives is that they are an allegory about the power of female sexuality. I’m pretty sure that since that’s the lens through which CP sees everything, so that’s not surprising. But she makes some interesting points. I agree with her that where Gloria Steinem and her contemporaries went wrong was “sanitizing the sexuality right out of the female persona.”
The generation of feminists I grew up watching were trying to make inroads into the traditionally male workplace and had to suppress sexuality to be taken seriously. Paglia thinks the women on these shows are living the dream of being successful in the real world while also being sexually powerful. She sees the women, particularly the NJ bunch, as being these “florid” “orchid-like” sexual creatures, with their exaggerated hair and makeup, and calls the men on the show “marginalized, shriveled.” Hmm. She’s right about the men being “shriveled”. (That’s just the ‘roids, though. Right, Joe Giudice?) However, I don’t think that just because someone is successful and also exaggerates their sexuality that it means that person is sexually powerful. Sometimes exaggerating the markers of archetypal sexual power is not about owning your powerful sexuality; sometimes it really is just trying to get men to like you. Jacqueline Laurita is an example that comes to mind. She has the implants, the tight dresses, the high heels, the shiny hair, and the glossy lips. But she is so meek and eager to please that it doesn’t project as “powerful” to me the way it does in some of the others. I guess it’s all how you work it.
Paglia talked about the “electric energy” that all of the Housewives exude. I’m thinking that A. she forgot about Vicki Gunvalson and B. she’s never watched the DC franchise.
This has gone on way too long so I’ll wrap it up. Although Camille Paglia was the big name on the show, Ana was also a great guest. (I could go on and on about how similar her divorce situation is to mine.) And I loved how Andy used his “we are being serious now” voice so much during this episode.
KQED has an interview with Paglia online in which she discusses the Housewives, her belief that the left unfairly persecuted Sarah Palin, and why we still tolerate Madonna. Listen here.
What do you think? Is Camille Paglia a total crackpot? Or a total crackpot who makes some excellent points? Would you stand with Gloria Steinem in a boycott of this show?