March 26th, 2010
Is there really anything left to say about right-wing ‘entertainer’ Anne Coulter and the fiasco generated by her scheduled appearance at the University of Ottawa? When the media got wind of the letter the UoO provost had written Coulter, warning her to mind her manners and keep her remarks free of inflammatory language, she and the media were all over it like Sarah Palin at a tea party. Open lines and newspaper columns, chat rooms, and blogs immediately filled up with the sound of indignation and rage: the consensus is that right or wrong, or, more to the point, no matter how right-wing she is, Coulter should have been allowed to do her bit without threats or warnings from university officials.
All that the ill-advised official letter did was fan her flames, and give the media creation that she is all the grist she needed to make everyone feel pretty stupidly uptight and Canadian. Shrewd enough to know how to hit us when we’re down, Coulter has relentlessly mocked the University of Ottawa for being bush league and the country as a whole for being foolishly censorious.
Ouch. How embarrassing to be openly kicked in the face by a leggy blond who wears the kind of boots that go up all the way to her attitude. I can’t even begin to imagine what that university provost is thinking right now.
I am wondering: Why has this event taken up so much space in the media, at our pubs and dinner tables? Partly it is that Coulter has cleverly constructed her persona as a hard-assed take-no-prisoner hate-the-whiners woman. She is pretty much in a class by herself: good looking, mouthy, and fearlessly aggressive, never at a loss for words, no matter how silly, baseless, or offensive. Her long angular white face is shaped by a forceful expanse of blond, making her the perfect camera-loving subject for the hi-def pundit panels. In short, if she didn’t look quite so hot for television she wouldn’t be getting all this attention. She gets an astonishing amount of coverage, and not just by the predictably nutbar-loving FOX network. Even the main networks find her outrageousness attractive, and cannot resist the allure of her sexed-up public mask—the sadist who always wears a cross.
Of course, the combination of her dramatic appearance and her toxic rhetoric makes her unmistakably 21st century, more a cartoon of female power than a real, thinking human being. The same appeal obviously attends to Sarah Palin who is equally unreal, both a caricature and a creation of modern-day politics, paradoxically not to be taken too seriously and irresistibly compelling.
Go figure. This is what it’s all come to. When Coulter is derided for telling a young Middle Eastern woman at the University of Western Ontario to go take a camel she responds by saying they just don’t understand her ‘satire.‘ Well, I have seen satire, honey, and this just ain’t it.
I also believe the reason the media have torn into this story with such gusto is that it feeds a pernicious anti-intellectualism. There are many apparently ordinary citizens who seem to harbor a profound mistrust of the work that universities do, who think our campuses breed politically correct automatons, and encourage dangerous ideas. This Coulter-in-Canada story tapped that vein of suspicion, and reinforced some nasty thoughts about what is really going on in our lecture halls. It has permitted a sudden burst of anti-intellectual rhetoric, aimed squarely at the academy, not just at the University of Ottawa. That reaction scares me more than anything else about this story.
Flash-in-the-pan narratives such as this one often open up fresh opportunities for venting thinly guarded suspicions. In the rush of reaction, a lot of unpleasant opinion is allowed to pass as reasonable commentary.