“Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you,” Flannery O’Connor famously said was her motto, and certainly Kathy Shaidle’s writing lives up to that ideal. As she told me during our new interview, “I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, being born in the ‘60s, and in those days, it was all about free love and women should be able to have sex just like men and casual sex is great. And let’s all read Cosmo’s sex tips and ‑‑ and sort of recreate Sex and the City in our actual lives,” the author of the popular Five Feet of Fury Blog, and a frequent contributor to PJ Media, Taki’s Magazine, and other Websites says.
Kathy’s new book, Confessions of A Failed Slut, an anthology of several of her related articles, “is my story of having tried and failed to live up to these social messages that were just everywhere when I was growing up, and finding that deep down, I wasn’t really temperamentally or morally, shall we say, cut out for a life of nonstop, no-fault, casual sex, and just sleeping around and pretending not to care, and doing the walk of shame and all that stuff.”
During our 29-minute interview, Kathy will explore:
● How the Love Boat, that weekly video voyage of the Hollywood damned, caused Kathy to begin seeing the world is “though a Gen-X filter of self-defensive snark.”
● Why Glen Close’s character in Fatal Attraction is “one of the most misunderstood females on film.”
● Why today’s women in rock and pop make the first generation of women in punk rock seem positively chaste by comparison.
● How TV’s Dr. Phil caused a Twitter storm when his show tweeted, “If a girl is drunk, is it OK to have sex with her?”
● In a pop culture obsessed with sex, why does it seem like the male metrosexual is so…asexual?
● Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean somebody of the opposite sex isn’t out to meet you: Going undercover in the 9/11-“Truther”-themed InfoWars Internet dating site.
● How to break free of the Nanny State’s crushing group hug.
And much more. Click here to listen:[audio:http://pjmedia.com/eddriscoll/files/2014/04/kathy_shaidle_interview_4-9-14-1.mp3]
(29 minutes and 7 seconds long; 26.6 MB file size. Want to download instead of streaming? Right click here to download this interview to your hard drive. Or right click here to download the 8.32 MB lo-fi edition.)
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Transcript of our interview begins on the following page; for our many previous podcasts, start here and keep scrolling.
MR. DRISCOLL: This is Ed Driscoll for PJ Media.com, and we’re talking today with Kathy Shaidle, who blogs at Five Feet of Fury.com, is a frequent contributor to PJ Media and other Websites, and is the author of the new eBook, Confessions of A Failed Slut. It’s published by Thought Catalog.com, and available from Amazon.com. And Kathy, thanks for stopping by today.
MS. SHAIDLE: Well, thanks for inviting me.
MR. DRISCOLL: Kathy, your book has quite a provocative title, so we might as well start there. How did you come up with Confessions of a Failed Slut, and what does it infer?
MS. SHAIDLE: Well, it really reflects the contents of the book in the sense that I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, being born in the ‘60s, and in those days, it was all about free love and women should be able to have sex just like men and casual sex is great. And let’s all read Cosmo’s sex tips and ‑‑ and sort of recreate Sex and the City in our actual lives.
And I found that not only was I not very good at that, but I didn’t really get much of a chance to be good at it, because I wasn’t exactly the most popular girl around anyway. So this is my story of having tried and failed to live up to these social messages that were just everywhere when I was growing up, and finding that deep down, I wasn’t really temperamentally or morally, shall we say, cut out for a life of nonstop, no-fault, casual sex, and just sleeping around and pretending not to care, and doing the walk of shame and all that stuff.
So I’m kind of out of step with the times, I suppose. But I think deep down, there are a lot of women out there who kind of feel the same way. But they kind of don’t know what to do at this point, having devoted so much of their lives to trying to embody this ideal.
MR. DRISCOLL: Kathy, it sounds like you and I both spent a fair amount of time in the 1970s watching bad American network TV; how in particular did that voyage of the Hollywood damned known as The Love Boat cause you to, as you write, see the world “though a Gen-X filter of self-defensive snark?”
MS. SHAIDLE: Well, The Love Boat is one of those weird situations where, as usual, I find myself disagreeing with the general consensus. I think a lot of people would say, even if they thought The Love Boat was a stupid show, and I think even people who watched it knew it was kind of silly, they would say it was harmless fluff.
But I actually found it quite traumatizing to watch; because in an hour, these people would all meet up on this boat and sometimes they would even pretend to be people they weren’t. They would pretend to be millionaires or blind or some crazy thing, so that they could attract a particular person.
But even if they didn’t do that, the whole idea was kind of like, you don’t meet and fall in love on the Love Boat and then live happily ever after. You kind of just wave goodbye at the gangplank at the end. It’s like, oh, well, I’ll just toss you off like a used piece of Kleenex.
But it’s all being done with all this sort of forced hilarity and the laugh track, and the tinkly upbeat music. And I was kind of horrified. I mean, maybe because my mother was married three times, and my father was married twice, and no one in my family has the same last name, I don’t find bed hopping and infidelity and like I said, the sort of casual attitude about intimacy, that entertaining.
It’s sort of like the fact that one of the reasons I didn’t go to university was because The Paper Chase frightened me. And The Love Boat frightened me ‑‑ I was frightened about a lot of things — but on the TV.
But I never kind of got over that there was something kind of decadent about it. But it’s as far removed as, you know, 1935 Berlin as you can get. Yet I found it kind of disturbing. And so of course, I decided to open the book with a little story about that. And how the real-life woman who inspired the series is this aging ‑‑ well, I don’t even know if cougar is the right word for someone her age. But she was bragging about having a boyfriend half her age, and she dies her hair red even though she’s about eighty years old. And the whole thing, from beginning to end, just disturbed me.
But, you know, that’s just one TV show. I’m sure you and I could go through the list of just programs that either warped our brains or convinced us that maybe we were the ‑‑ we were the upright ones, you know.
I mean, I say in the book that M*A*S*H makes the Korean War look like this giant tea party with khaki. I mean, there’s a war going on, but what’s really important is that everybody’s getting drunk and just sort of sleeping with each other and whatever. Sometimes they have to go and do an operation or something. It’s set in the ‘50s, but we can all see the ‘70s sensibility built right into that, or else, I don’t think anybody would’ve watched it.
MR. DRISCOLL: Well, on the flip side, referring to a very different Hollywood look at romance, you refer to Glenn Close’s character in “Fatal Attraction” as like Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, “One of the most misunderstood females on film.”
MS. SHAIDLE: Yes, that’s right. Yes she’s insane. And this isn’t a hundred percent watertight argument, but what is Alex, Glenn Close’s character, angry about? She’s angry about, basically being “loved” and then dumped by Michael Douglas. And she’s furious about it.
Now, he was married and she knew that. So she can’t really get too old-fashioned about this and start talking about breach of promise and other kind of old-fashioned ideas. But there’s something in her visceral response to being used like that, that I think is actually more sane than the response that most female movie characters have, which is oh, well, it’s been fun, see you later — or not.
And this was cruel. And I almost think that’s what the movie was getting at. It is kind of a morality tale. And they have to make her crazy and people are booing at the end. But is she really crazy? Or is she just [having] a highly exaggerated normal response that I think women would have eventually — it was one one-night-stand too many. And after trying to live like that for who knows how long, she just snapped and she couldn’t do it anymore.
So it’s not a perfect theory, but I’m going to stick with it anyway. I think she’s a lot saner than a lot of people in movies and in real life who pretend that they can behave this way, and there’re just no moral or psychological or emotional consequences.
MR. DRISCOLL: Punk rock was designed to shock the bourgeois back in the 1970s, but you write that none of your female teenage idols “felt compelled to prance about semi-naked.” In contrast, as you note, “These days, even the plain punky girls with powerful voices , like P!nk, jump around in their underwear. Cosmopolitan is sleazier than ever. Ditto Sex and the City.” So what happened in the interim to pop culture?
MS. SHAIDLE: You know, I wish I had a great theory for that. I think because someone like P!nk, no matter how unusual she is, she ‑‑ and how much she used to sing about not being commercialized, the music business has changed a lot, and it is even more corporate than we complained about back in the ‘70s.
And I just feel that there’s a lot more pressure these days for young female performers to be overly sexual. I see very few people out there who are willing to go out and not wear a miniskirt and not wear heels.
I’m so old, I remember when Mariah Carey was this modestly dressed woman with fairly natural curly hair; didn’t wear a ton of makeup. And she didn’t have to do any of those things, because like her work or not, she does have, I think, a five-octave range — she’s not an untalented woman.
But she felt obliged, or somebody told her that she has to look like Jessica Rabbit, and she has gone along with it.
And maybe one thing that prevented a lot of the women in punk and new wave from going down that route was quite simply that they were on microscopic record labels like Stiff, and they ‑‑ they had built their career on looking unusual and not really sexually attractive. And changing would have alienated the fans.
I think in England, for a long time, there was less pressure to look a certain way, to look Hollywood. I’m thinking of Martin Amis, the British writer. He married an American woman a few years ago, and to this day, his fellow British writers tease him that he went American and got his crooked teeth fixed.
So there’s less pressure to look a certain way. (Maybe not now.) But because those women never became as huge as Miley Cyrus or someone like that, I think they were able to sort of keep their identity and not feel they had to sexualize themselves. And that was really important for me growing up, because it gave me role models, and all that corny stuff, to see that someone could be in a band, not be with the band as a groupie, but be in the band, and have their own ideas and be creative on their own terms and not just as somebody’s girlfriend.
It’s too bad that we don’t really have that now, although for all I know, there are lots of women out there on little, independent labels, who are still fitting that pattern and being unusual looking. But at this point, everybody is sort of a J-Lo clone. And it’s ‑‑ it’s kind of boring. I can’t really tell anybody apart, to be honest with you.
MR. DRISCOLL: You mention that TV’s Dr. Phil got into an enormous amount of hot water by tweeting, “If a girl is drunk, is it OK to have sex with her? Reply yes or no to @drphil #teensaccused” Could you talk about that?
MS. SHAIDLE: Oh, sure. I mean, this is a perfect example of what we’ve just seen with Colbert. You know, as he joked, who would have ever thought that a platform that lets you only use 140 characters could possibly, you know, make it difficult to convey nuance.
And this was clearly an email sent by his chase producer to crowd source ideas about what was and probably is a kind of pressing social issue. It’s not really a consensus, but there is an idea out there among some young people, and maybe some not so young people, that if a girl is drunk, it’s okay to have sex with her, if she’s passed out and so on and so forth.
We don’t like to think that people feel this way, but part of the inevitable logical extreme of “do your own thing,” has got to include kids acting this way. This is the third generation of sexual liberation — we shouldn’t really be surprised when kids come up with these ideas.
So they sent that out. And instead of saying, as you would think feminists would, oh good, Dr. Phil wants to talk about this issue on his highly rated program and maybe we can start a dialogue and all that, he was condemned for the very notion of just the act of sending the Tweet out and asking the question and trying to get some honest answers from kids and being able to say, see, this is what kids think. What can we do about it?
And it’s ‑‑ it’s just so representative of the kind of bizarre not-getting-it, that just seems to be endemic out there on social media. But not just on social media.
Someone has the temerity to even ask a question, and they’re immediately denounced. And it’s kind of scary. And I don’t know if there’s anything we can really do about it at this point, because so many people have been encouraged all through high school and college and at home, that their every grievance must be aired and listened to no matter how stupid. Even if they are the ones who don’t seem to understand what’s going on, they have a right to their opinion, even if it’s dumb.
And as a result, when things like this happen, shows get canceled [but] it didn’t happen with [Dr. Phil]. But important conversations aren’t had because people are just terrified to even ask what would have been considered normal, even sane questions, five or ten years ago.
Now, certain topics are just forbidden. And I don’t get it. I don’t know how this advances feminism. I don’t know how it protects women. There just seem to be a lot of really stupid people out there who unfortunately have access to the Internet. And it’s making the rest of our lives really, really miserable.
MR. DRISCOLL: In the golden age of the 1960s-era of New Journalism, Tom Wolfe rode the bus with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, Truman Capote visited death row, and Hunter S. Thompson hung out with the Hell’s Angels to bring back astonishing stories of America at its weirdest. You mentioned social media a few moments ago; recently, you went undercover to bring back one of the strangest stories of all: the dating scene at the 9/11 Truther-oriented message board InfoWars. I’m glad you survived; could you talk about your experiences?
MS. SHAIDLE: Well, you know the funny thing about that was, as you say, I thought this’ll be kind of fun. First of all, Alex Jones has a dating site at Infowars which I had no idea about. But my blog readers send me this stuff all the time.
And I thought, oh, that’ll be fun. I will sign up for this somehow, and I will, you know, catfish over there. I will go undercover and I will see the crazy people who are at the Alex Jones dating site. What are they like? What do their profile pictures look like? What are their descriptions like? Won’t it be hilarious?
And I was disappointed and kind of humbled when I got there and realized that there were really very few people on this site. And the ones that were there were almost impossible to make fun of. I felt kind of bad.
I feel bad for any lonely people who are looking for somebody. I remember being single; I didn’t like it. And I kind of had to come away; [this] was sort of a failed mission, but a successful one. Because I went in there hoping to make fun of all these guys, and I ended up seeing that they were people too, even though I probably would loathe their political beliefs and their bizarre conspiracy theories and their ideas about FEMA camps and stuff like that.
But there was something oddly touching about these kind of misfit people all looking for each other, especially since there really were only about six or ten of them, and they could very easily have just kind of called each other up or written each other.
I mean, it’s not like it’s not like eHarmony. There aren’t thousands of people to choose from. So that in and of itself, sort of seemed a bit poignant to me in a funny kind of away.
And so I was disappointed that I didn’t get a kind of a hilarious mean-spirited story out of it. But you know, maybe shame on me for trying to do that in the first place.
MR. DRISCOLL: With pop culture so obsessed with sex, there’s also the metrosexual, as personified most recently by the image of the Obamacare-shilling Footie Pajama Boy. Why does it seem like the male metrosexual is so…asexual?
MS. SHAIDLE: I know. That’s one of those strange questions that has been plaguing people for some time now. I think, like a lot of people, metrosexual is one of those things like political correctness, that we thought if we made fun of it long enough, it would just go away.
And it really seems to be sticking and maybe even growing, depending on your definition of metrosexual. And I have had people tell me that the reason that many men these days seem so ‑‑ even straight men seem effeminate, which is really disturbing, and I don’t know if it’s just because I live in Toronto, and this is a big city or college town problem. But I’ve had other people say to me from around America and around Canada, yes, I’ve noticed it too.
But men who are clearly straight, who are walking down the street or on the subway with their wives, with their kids in the baby buggy, seem gay. They’ve adopted the sort of gay up-talky accent. They are really, really overly accessorized. They have an awful lot of product in their hair. They’re extremely skinny, even scrawny.
And it seems to be this new male ideal. And a few people have said to me that they think it’s because millions of women are on the pill and that the hormones are going into the water supply, literally being flushed down the toilet, and this has happened for twenty years, and this is the inevitable result.
A theory that would make sense, I guess, if these guys drank tap water, but they tend to drink bottled water. So I’m not sure it fits. But it’s almost like a biological weird devolution phenomenon.
Your listeners can comment in the comments about this — I don’t know what’s causing it. but it’s kind of disturbing. And it’s at the point where for many years now, I just assume men I meet are gay until I get some kind of evidence that they aren’t. Because there’s just a weird effeminacy that seems to be everywhere.
And it’s actually getting worse instead of better. For every sign that this is finally going away, like the Daryl fandom of Walking Dead, where oh, finally a macho guy shows up, there are so many different manifestations of the opposite: as you say Pajama Boy and Obama with his bicycle helmet and the mom jeans and stuff. That’s what I’m talking about.
And if the President is comfortable sort of looking and acting that way, I think that might be problematic. I don’t know how we’re going to survive the zombie apocalypse if all we have are these sort of frail, little, scrawny, spindly, fellows who ‑‑ who don’t know seem to know how to do anything except get their hair to go up in that little Tin-Tin curl on the top, which drives me nuts. I want to go up to people on the subway and just chop those off with a pair of scissors or something. They’re really bugging me.
MR. DRISCOLL: Could you talk about your publisher? Compared with many of the other books listed on the Thought Catalog.com Website, your book and its title seem rather iconoclastic. What were they like to work with?
MS. SHAIDLE: Oh, they were great. They approached me, having seen my stuff at Taki’s and just said, do you have an idea for a book? We tend to put out these short, three-dollar, four-dollar, Kindle books. They’re forty, fifty, sixty pages. What do you think? Would you like to do one? And of course I said yes.
And it just seemed to me, a natural fit to take all the “sex columns” that I’ve written for Taki’s, like stuff about the Hitachi vibrator, they want to remove the name Hitachi from it and this caused a bit stink among fans. And then there was the dinosaur porn column that I did. And stories about really true stuff, about people who not only are there transsexuals, but there are transableists, now, who believe that they’re disabled people trapped in able-bodied bodies, and things like that.
So I put them together and I gave it a catchy title, and they liked it. They came up with a really nice cover that I had some approval on, which is a really nice change. This is modern publishing for you. And they were great to work with. It was just a breeze. And everything so far is going great. They’re happy and I’m happy, because people are picking up on it.
Even if it’s just sheer curiosity generated by the title alone, if something costs basically 3.99, and it gets downloaded immediately to your computer, it’s hard to resist that.
So it’s been doing great. And it was a really good experience. Compared to traditional publishing where things take years to happen, this is terrific. I enjoyed working with them a lot.
MR. DRISCOLL: Kathy, last question: In Liberal Fascism, Jonah Goldberg wrote that the image of the West in the 21st century wasn’t Orwell’s militaristic 1984, but the nanny state of Huxley’s Brave New World. At the end of your new book, you square the circle brilliantly in a single sentence, asking us to “Imagine a group hug crushing your ribcage — forever,” which also calls to mind the theme of one of your previous books, the Tyranny of Nice. For those us who wish to avoid the nanny state’s group hug, how do we opt out?
MS. SHAIDLE: Well, that’s just it. It sounds easy, but not simple. And I say it whenever I talk to any group when they say well, what can we do about X. I think one of the problems, and I can’t speak for the left, but I see it a lot on the right, is the idea that someday, somebody is going to come along and fix everything on your behalf. And we have a bad habit of placing so much weight on the shoulders of somebody like Sarah Palin or some other political figure. And we think that if we elect this person, that magically all these wrongs will be righted and we’ll finally take our place as the people who are right along. And all this will happen without us having to risk very much or get into any kind of trouble.
And that’s actually the opposite of the truth. And what people don’t want to hear is that for any of this stuff to change, you have to be prepared to have a fight with your brother-in-law at the Thanksgiving Day table. You do have to risk getting fired at work for saying Merry Christmas or opting out of supporting a cause that you don’t approve of.
When you hear things like just today, one of the guys on the board at Mozilla was forced to resign, because he dares to oppose gay marriage, I mean, this has got to be one of the wealthiest and most powerful people in America, and he was bullied into quitting his job and publicly shamed for supporting a position that 99.9 percent of the entire world supported up until about a month and a half ago.
And so in the face of that kind of soft tyranny, the only way it’s ever going to change is that if people are willing to go public and say, you know, I oppose X. I actually believe Y. Will people get fired and get in trouble and sometimes even get arrested or sued? Of course. This goes on all the time. We know that. It gets reported at PJ Media all the time.
But the alternative is to say nothing. And one of the reasons we’ve gotten to the point where people are getting arrested and people are getting sued is because nobody wanted to get arrested or get sued before.
If a lot of these people had been around doing our dirty work for us earlier and giving us the courage to emulate them, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Whereas, if people are just going to decide they want to live a quiet life and keep their head down and not complain to the Board of Education because they think the teacher might treat their child badly if they do, well, I’m sorry to inform you that you’re going to get more of what you don’t like.
And that’s really the unpopular and unpleasant message of a lot of this stuff, is that unless you say something, you can expect more of the same. If you’re content bitching in comment sections at Weblogs about how awful it all is, great. But we’re all going to still be doing it ten years from now, unless people do more than that and they’re willing to take risks.
And sometimes, you take the risk, and the bad thing you thought was going to happen doesn’t happen. And in fact, ten good things can come from it. I’m an example of that.
So all I can say is, you have to be the one. You have to be the one you were waiting for. We make fun of that line, but you know what? There’s something to it: it is kind of up to you.
Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant and six other people just can’t keep doing all the heavy lifting. So let’s all do it in our own quiet way at home and at work. And that’s the only way that all this stuff is going to get turned around or at least arrested, so that we can have a little bit of sanity once in a while.
MR. DRISCOLL: This is Ed Driscoll, and we’ve been talking with Kathy Shaidle, who blogs at Five Feet of Fury.com, and is the author of the new eBook, Confessions of A Failed Slut. It’s published by Thought Catalog.com, and available from Amazon.com. And Kathy, thanks again for stopping by PJ Media.com today.
MS. SHAIDLE: Oh, thank very much, Ed. Great talking to you.
(End of recording; for our many previous podcasts, start here and keep scrolling.)