By Eugène E.
As the plane glided across a vast cerulean expanse somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean, I was presented with a truth less savory than the hot dinner served by the cabin crew, if that was possible: I realized I was “part of the problem”. It had all begun innocently enough – with my decision to take advantage of the in-flight entertainment program and watch a movie. Something digestible, unimposing, jet-lag-friendly – I’ve never been much of a movie aficionado, and mainstream cinema works rather well with interminable transatlantic journeys. There is something about the air in an aircraft cabin that makes one susceptible to the kind of entertainment that makes few demands on one’s aesthetic sensibilities and that would be eschewed in closer proximity to terra firma – or so it had seemed to me as the opening credits of Snatched unfolded on the screen.
If there is one good thing about your typical media pabulum, it’s that it shows you the watermark of our times. There is a reflexive relationship between the media and the society it informs and entertains. On the one hand, the big studios of Hollywood want to cater to the tastes of their audiences (give the people what they want); on the other hand, the products that they deliver shape the perceptions, wants, and needs of those who are supposed to inspire them. The public propels the media; the media conditions the public.
Snatched, a comedy that runs on the twin engines of slapstick humour and slapdash vulgarity, came out in 2017 – and it shows. It was released before Weinstein and the #MeToo movement became household names for all the wrong reasons, but that’s irrelevant. The (white) man had already been consigned to the outposts of purgatory; women were getting primed to become the torchbearers of an Olympian heroism born of nothing greater than their gender. The only thing lacking was a good scapegoat; and Weinstein was perfect. The conditions that made it so easy for society to grind any overly sexed male into dust were already in place, and the media had been co-opted (or had co-opted itself) long ago. For years, movies, among other conduits, had been preparing society for both Weinstein and #MeToo; and Snatched, which shows how even Hollywood’s fluff can carry considerable ideological ammunition, is an example of that ultraliberal indoctrination.
The movie hardly merits any commentary about its quality, but the implicit ideological messages are interesting. The heroines of this cinematographic masterpiece – an in-your-face, slightly awkward damsel and her neurotic mother – take off to South America for some girls’ fun, where they run into serious trouble with a couple of bad hombres. The tone is jaunty and mischievous, even when people get clobbered with shovels or fall into precipices, but the hidden ideas contain far less levity. The women are the film’s over-sung heroes, constantly in danger of falling prey to priapic cads and other such hunters of female flesh, whom they defeat with sheer “girl power”. The men who do have some redeeming value are inconsequential: one (the damsel’s brother) suffers from psychological issues that prevent him from leaving home; the other, a gringo marooned in the South American jungle, is no homebody and is even endowed with some rugged virility, for which he is made to pay with terminal cancer and, eventually, a one-way plunge from a cliff. For a man to make it to the ending credits and retain the viewer’s sympathy, he needs to be sexually disarming and unthreatening – a eunuch, in a word, if only metaphorically. The films ends with the two hapless Amazons in Kuala Lumpur; the ladies are having a blast, and the damsel – still a damsel – blows off a potential seducer. The implicit message is clear throughout: when (white) men are not dangerous, they are utterly superfluous. In either case, women are better off on their own.
Still intent on getting my fill of the movie menu, my next choice was The Family Stone. For those who haven’t seen it, this is the kind of movie that is supposed to make you feel good, with all the guffaw-inducing and lachrymose moments strategically placed at all the right junctures. An uptight, pretentious urbanite (Sarah Jessica Parker) is forced to spend Christmas with her fiancee’s unconventional, idiosyncratic family (the Stones), whose matriarch is played by Diane Keaton. If memory serves, the synopsis of the film as presented by the in-flight entertainment program describes the family as “bohemian”, which is just as well. The family certainly has all the right ingredients to qualify as one. One of the family members, for example, happens to be deaf. This is a physical impairment, and the subject can be treated with the thoughtfulness that it merits. Thoughtfulness, however, falls by the wayside when ultraliberal boxes need to be checked off, so the deaf character also happens to be gay. To introduce the right degree of diversity into the very WASPish Stone clan, the deaf homosexual is given a black man for a partner, at which point this turns into an ultraliberal caricature. Throughout history, art was preoccupied with beauty and the heightening of aesthetic sensibilities; the sculptures of Michelangelo and Bernini convey to us this lofty obsession with capturing perfection. These days, art, which in many cases is a paid agent of certain ideological currents, revels in placing all forms of pathology on a pedestal. Who needs Bernini when you have RuPaul’s Drag Race?
But there’s more to this than a predilection for deformity: however bohemian the Stone family happens to be, in the final analysis, it is made to look quite conventional. They might be quirky, the movie says, but they’re just as normal as you; and the movie is constructed in such a way as to evoke feelings of affinity in the audience. This is by design: ultraliberalism needs to swaddle the abnormal in the warm linen of normality and pad it with the bubble wrap of acceptability. The movie, it should be noted, was made in 2005 – more than a decade ago – and, by that point, it had many precedents dealing in this sort of merchandise. In other words, an entire generation was brought up to believe that what had once been unacceptable was now palatable, acceptable, and even desirable.
After the movie was over, I decided to try the papers. I had on me the most recent weekend editions of the FT – my default choice in the realm of quality journalism – and I spread them out to confirm that even the most respectable newspapers are not immune to ideological viruses. The front page of one of the supplements of the oldest edition I had was monopolized by an article whose author, a woman, took issue with the fact that women are inducted into the hall of equality on the basis of distinct, gender-based qualities that allow them to perform as well as their male counterparts, if not better. This line of thinking is a problem, in the author’s opinion, since it still advances the argument that there are intrinsic differences between the two sexes; and the admission of there being any differences between men and women cannot be countenanced by feminists, who believe that differences, no matter how natural or inevitable, lead to inequalities and must therefore be eradicated. Nothing short of absolute equality – the kind of equality that rules out all possible differences – will be accepted by the ideological school of which the author of this article is clearly an honours student, whatever human anatomy has to say about the matter.
Other parts of the newspaper were equally contaminated. A now familiar sight, there were (white) male columnists saying their mea culpas for being – yes – “part of the problem”. One atoned for having committed the high crime of defaulting to the masculine pronoun in his book on economics; as he wrote with unmistakeable pride, he had been fully rehabilitated by the time he set out to write his next book. Another columnist indulged in auto-flagellation because he’d once happened to hear another man propose a jaunt to a nearby strip club during an all-male business outing. The fact that the columnist had not gone along does not, in his own estimate, reduce his complicity in being “part of the problem”. A John Updike article in the book-reviews section began with the late writer’s putative misogyny and then proceeded to exculpate him; but the fact that it worked off a feminist premise and seen through that prism speaks volumes.
It might not be surprising, then, that by the time the plane had landed and I’d stepped into the airy halls of Toronto’s international airport, it was obvious to me that I was “part of the problem” myself – not because of some infraction committed against the fairer sex, but simply by virtue of having been born without a vagina. There it is, then: I, too, am guilty. I, too, am “part of the problem”. #MeToo.
Modern feminists, like their brothers-in-arms in the LGBT movement, are like unruly, spoiled children who take it for granted that the whole world must constantly acknowledge their existence. They need to announce themselves to all and sundry relentlessly and with much noise. The higher its pitch and the louder its choir, the better. A French minister – a woman and, naturally enough, one in change of the gender equality portfolio – takes part in a play in which she informs the world that her vagina is angry (?): achieving full gender parity one play at a time. An actress goes on stage at the Academy Awards ceremony and proposes an “inclusion rider”, which sounds a lot like just another tool designed to promote fairness for some at the expense of others – a tax on those who are deemed to be overly privileged, whether this privileged state is real or just an ultraliberal fata morgana. And on and on it goes.
In Toronto, a bastion of ultraliberalism, “fem noise” is heard with the consistency of muezzins’ prayer calls in a Muslim city. Men are reminded everywhere that they are “part of the problem”. Offices are agog over safe spaces for women and various diversity initiatives; companies are obsessing over getting to the top of gender equality survey rankings. Feminist shirts and badges are spotted; there are advertisements for novels written “from a woman’s point of view”. Looking at some of the messages on Toronto’s public transit, it’s easy to believe that every woman in Canada’s largest city is in immediate danger of being sexually assaulted as soon as she enters a public transit vehicle, and that the entire city shivers in a culture of unending rape. More like South Africa in the immediate post-apartheid years, when it was estimated that a woman was raped every three seconds, than one of the safest cities in North America. Buses and subway trains have labels posted in prominent areas that inform passengers that “#ThisIsWhere Em and Lisa were attacked for their sexuality” (one might well wonder what Em and Lisa were doing that would have given away their sexuality) or “#ThisIsWhere Ashley saw a stranger leering at her” (as if a leer is an instance of sexual assault – a leer can make one uncomfortable, but it is a facial expression; and these can be easily misinterpreted). Are we sure we’re still within the bounds of reason?
Inappropriate behaviour cannot be excused. Every woman should always feel safe in the streets (and anywhere else, for that matter). But it’s worth asking whether this sort of “awareness program” (which seems to have coincided with the rise of the #MeToo movement) is the best way to tackle the safety of women, and whether things may not have gone too far and in the wrong direction. If things are as bad as the ads and warnings suggest, this is a security issue and may be best dealt with by better policing.
It’s also worth asking whether this kind of culture will not lead to a McCarthyist climate of fear and denunciations, with sexually lobotomized men who are cowed and apprehensive, and trigger-happy women ready to torpedo reputations. Those who take this hypothesis to be hyperbolic should not overlook the recent history of false claims that left towering names in ruins (the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whose stellar career was cut short by accusations of sexual violence at a New York hotel that were later dropped by the prosecution on account of the victim’s credibility, comes to mind – while Strauss-Kahn was eventually exonerated by the US authorities, his presidential aspirations in France were effectively quashed).
The ultraliberal revolution (and it’s certainly a revolution) has been made possible by an unprecedented fusion between political life and entertainment, serious and non-serious, lofty and mainstream; by the invasion of every branch of society by mass thinking and mass behaviour. The role that the media has played in all this cannot be overstated.
As the media conditioned the public, the latter adapted itself to the new ideology. Some of the greatest changes wrought by the ultraliberal revolution are those that have taken place in women – in their bodies, their appearance, their comportment. As these changes have been brewing for many years, they have been all but unnoticeable; they’re all the greater for it. Generalizations can be dangerous, but one thing is undeniable: in many parts of the Western world – certainly in Canada and the US – women no longer cultivate their femininity. They may choose a masculine look, opting for tattoos or letting themselves be overtaken by heft. They might neglect their looks entirely, making no effort to appeal to the eye. Or they might make considerable investments in their bodies: the sight of garish sneakers, yoga mats, and liberally exposed skin has become ubiquitous in urban settings; but these women are now trimming themselves for a different reason. In the past, a woman took care of herself to make herself more attractive, which would then enhance her appeal to men; today she is taking care of herself for the sake of herself. Many will call it emancipation; others might say it’s just rank narcissism. Take your pick. The upshot is that women, on the whole, have become less feminine.
What will that do to our way of life? Coupling implies the laws and rules of attraction; if women renounce the imperative to look attractive, what effect will that have on coupling? The reality is that we’re witnessing nothing less than the death of romanticism as a form of life. Elegance has been replaced with convenience; femininity with independence; feelings and idealism with bureaucratization and compartmentalization. This has impacted language: women now have “partners” – an odd way to describe someone you consider the love of your life, but perhaps not so odd after all, for that is what a man happens to be for the modern independent woman: at best, a partner, a stakeholder, a joint equity owner with a 50% share in the enterprise; at worst, a tool, an instrument. This has also impacted the world of online dating: view the emergence of Bumble, which claims to have removed for men the burden of approaching women and which aspires to level “the playing field” by making it only possible for women to initiate the first approach. This ultraliberally positive corporate message belies the truth that women on Bumble get to choose and men don’t. The app takes it as an article of faith that “relationships should begin with respect and equality”. Given that men are turned into passive cattle on that site, we can see exactly what sort of equality Bumble has in mind.
The big question is whether, given all these jet streams, the affected societies can continue to reproduce at a level that will ensure their survival – whether children can be begotten in an environment powered by formulaic relationships and illuminated with lab-like lighting. The chief prerequisite for any society is continuity: a civilization needs people to keep on going. A civilization without people will end up being relevant to historians only. It’s a big question that predictably receives no treatment from feminists, bien-pensants, #MeToo crusaders, and other ultraliberals who are busy trying to free themselves from the shackles of an odiously oppressive (white) patriarchy. Their propaganda, a cauldron of ultraliberal reflexes and sentiment, is bereft of thought and analysis; their ideology is vicious, aggressive, and is no more tolerant than the hidebound ideologies it purports to challenge – just witness the experience of the Google employee who dared to challenge the sacred notion that there are differences between men and women, and who ended up paying for it with his job.
The recent feminist hysteria has reconfirmed what was already known about ultraliberalism. The ultraliberal movement, of which feminism is one of the main components, aspires to be a new Christianity without its God and its thou-shall-nots, but it only succeeds in turning into an amorphous ideology as bland as a vegan diet. It tries to promote egalitarianism, with mass appeal to every ethnic group that exists and every sub-gender that doesn’t, but only creates a shapeless morass, anarchical and uncultured. It strives to be modern, and ends up disseminating sexlessness and lifestyles that, if left unchecked, will leave any society barren. It makes promises of happiness, yet spawns mood and personality disorders. It preaches tolerance while suppressing all forms of dissent. It accuses political opponents of base populism and has yet mastered the genre. It excoriates ideological adversaries for their propaganda efforts and, starting with the cradle, brainwashes the public on a truly Orwellian scale.
But perhaps the lady doth protest too much. A better use of my time, from an ultraliberal’s standpoint, would be to declare that I am “part of the problem”, apologize for being a (white) male, and do my penance – or, better yet, as was suggested recently by a UK minister, albeit in a very different context, I should just shut up and go away.