gall and gumption

Friday, May 22, 2009

...and then your face will freeze that way.

Laura Shapiro, a writer at Slate, had 1400 words to write about Helen Gurley Brown. Here are, roughly, the first 100.

Sprawled across the cover of Jennifer Scanlon's new biography of Helen Gurley Brown is Brown herself, leaning back awkwardly on a heap of pillows in a tight, leopard-skin blouse and gold chains. Her blond hair is slightly tousled, and her face is immobile behind a pink-and-white mask of makeup. Brown is 87 now but looks ageless. Or, rather, she looks determined to look ageless. Or, rather—oh, never mind, the truth is she looks like Geriatric Barbie, and somebody should have told her so. But truth has never been Brown's favorite accessory, and, as this book makes clear, she chooses her accessories with great care.

Tell me something: Are there editors at Slate?

This is going to sound very nitpicky but it speaks to a larger point so bear with me. That lede is an absolute disaster. Helen Gurley Brown herself is not sprawled across the cover of the book. For that to happen it would have to be a very large book, or Brown would have to be considerably smaller than she is. But the author of the piece has taken some pains, even risked accuracy of language, to achieve a rhetorical point. When you read that first sentence you are being introduced to the first of many judgments about Helen Gurley Brown and you haven't even opened the book. You don't even know if the reviewer has either.

1. 87-year-old women are not supposed to sprawl. Why? I do not know.

2. 87-year-old women should not wear tight-fitting leopard skin blouses. Why? I do not know.

3. It is possible to determine from a still, i.e., immobile photograph, that the subject of the photograph has an "immobile" face. How? I don't know.

4. If Helen Gurley Brown only looks determined to look ageless does that mean that there are 87-year-olds out in the world somewhere who succeed in looking ageless where Brown has tried and failed? How does one tell the difference? I don't know.

5. Who should tell Helen Gurley Brown that she looks like Geriatric Barbie? Is there some sort of Volunteer Ill-Natured Ill-Bred Shit-Talking Lout Service available somewhere that I'm not aware of?

6. Why should someone tell Helen Gurley Brown that she looks like Geriatric Barbie? Is it her fault that the writer of this piece is so stupid that she thinks she can score some kind of moral points by slagging off an 87-year-old woman?

If there is a Volunteer Ill-Natured Ill-Bred Shit-Talking Lout Service, I need to call them and ask them to tell Laura Shapiro that it is extremely likely (and I don't even know what Laura Shapiro looks like) that long before she gets to Helen Gurley Brown's age, she will look like the Dog's Dinner, and if this specimen of her wit and charm is anything to go by, well, she'll be ugly in more ways than one or even two. She's got a running start on the ugly, I'd say.

I won't bore you with the rest of the piece. The ratio of stupid to word count sustains itself right to the end.

I will only observe that there are people, many people in the world, who are able to recognize injustice and the need for change when it involves some contingency remote from their personal situation. Thus, lots of people who think and talk and act like racists or sexists flatter themselves that they are as liberal-minded as anyone can possibly be. The real racists live two hills over, down in Gopher Hollow or over in the trailer park; the real sexist is the imaginary brutal evil guy in those dreadful female victim novels (it is a former teacher of fiction writing who speaks from all too frequent experience). They have paid their debt to moral feeling by excoriating these imaginary persons--it's so easy, it must be right. These same reasonable people will become incredibly nasty when they discover that the demand to reconsider morals, manners, and yes, language, extends even to their own practices. Then all of a sudden there are limits. They can always tell you the exact outer boundary of common sense, and that boundary, remarkably, is co-extensive with the bounds of their self-complacency. Beyond that, they will assure you, all inquiry is futile and probably improper. There's nothing out there but monsters!

But people who perform this maneuver are not usually numbered among the smart, perceptive, judicious, kind, generous and brave of the earth. Someone needs to tell Laura Shapiro that.


At 3:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If there is a Volunteer Ill-Natured Ill-Bred Shit-Talking Lout Service...Too funny.

At 8:04 PM, Blogger Phil Cubeta said...

Shit Talking Lout here; the Service said you had a job for me, Kia? - Phil C.

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