Thursday, March 24, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor, the pre-feminist woman

"She wields the sexual power that feminism cannot explain and has tried to destroy. Through stars like Taylor, we sense the world-disordering impact of legendary women like Delilah, Salome, and Helen of Troy. Feminism has tried to dismiss the femme fatale as a misogynist libel, a hoary cliche. But the femme fatale expresses women's ancient and eternal control of the sexual realm."

--Camille Paglia, Penthouse 1992

Camille Paglia has been for me over the past few years, one of those voices that I stop and listen to, whatever she may happen to say and whatever I may happen to think about it. When she speaks out on matters of art, culture, and society, I can always feel the weight of her robust worldview at the very least. Often I agree with her and am delighted by both her perspectives and her means of expressing them, especially in her assessment of what is genuinely erotic and what is merely a manufactured, very nearly "android" contrivance of our mass media industries-- like Lady Gaga.

In the aftermath of Elizabeth Taylor's passing, Paglia has given an excellent interview with Salon (which she helped found) in which she discusses her admiration-- bordering on a Randian hero(ine)-worship of every ideal and virtue which is possible to (wo)man-- for Elizabeth Taylor; the presently sorry state of typical cinematic depictions of the erotic and feminine; and which current Hollywood stars measure up to Taylor (hint: she doesn't think any of them do).

Here's a fantastic summary of her thesis:

"To me, Elizabeth Taylor's importance as an actress was that she represented a kind of womanliness that is now completely impossible to find on the U.S. or U.K. screen. It was rooted in hormonal reality -- the vitality of nature. She was single-handedly a living rebuke to postmodernism and post-structuralism, which maintain that gender is merely a social construct."

Here Paglia, a "liberal" Democrat and lesbian speaks the kind of language that you could expect to hear from Christian evangelical icon Dr. James Dobson... and they're both right. Gender is not an infinitely malleable social construct, but a deeply-rooted, vital, chemical, and metaphysical force of nature. It is not anti-feminist, misogynistic, patriarchal, or repressive to say so. Perhaps it's old fashioned-- as Greek mythology is old fashioned-- but here originality should be considered the transgression.

Another reason for Paglia's adoration:

"Elizabeth Taylor has been a colossal pagan goddess to me since I was 11 or 12. I was so lucky to have seen her at her height. And my sensibility as a culture critic and as a feminist was deeply formed by her. In the U.S. in the 1950s, blondes were the ultimate Aryan ideal. Perky blondes like Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds and Sandra Dee ruled the roost! And then there was Elizabeth Taylor with that gorgeous, brunette, ethnic look. She looked Jewish, Italian, Spanish, even Moorish! She was truly transcultural -- it was a radical resistance to the dominance of the blond sorority queens and cheerleaders."

You can read the entire interview at Salon.


Wes Messamore,
Editor in Chief, THL
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