Maureenworld: Anything can happen, except an idea.
In this Month’s MoDo Watch:
In the New York Observer’s recent profile of the Wall Street Journal’s Dorothy Rabinowitz, George Gurley reported that some of Rabinowitz’s Greenwich Village neighbors refer to her disapprovingly as “the person who doesn’t like Maureen Dowd.” What a world of cloying smugness is conjured up by just those few words — like the scent of an entire rose garden in one small bottle of attar. Still, for the benefit of people like those neighbors, perhaps an explanation is in order.
If you know someone who at this point actually still might be wondering how anyone could possibly not admire Maureen Dowd — She’s such a funny writer! And isn’t it wonderful to see a woman in a plum spot twice a week on the New York Times op-ed pages! — here are a few reasons:
Her constant wordplay. I’ve been publicly irritated by this for months now (and look where it’s gotten me), for all the usual reasons. The most obvious is that there are few things worse than a writer who imagines she’s funny when she’s not.
Recently, though, I came across a blogger called Ace-o-Spades who pointed out the connection between Dowd-style wordplay and pornography, which I realized had probably also been affecting me all along, but on a subliminal level, the way pornographic motifs tend to do.
“If you watch Real Sex or Shock Television,” Ace-O-Spades wrote, “you know that whenever they’re setting up their next soft-core feature, the narrator (always a breathy-voiced woman) cannot resist calling a big-boob featurette a ‘trip down Mammary Lane.'”
It’s true! Just consider some recent Dowdisms: “Crummy excuses, Rummy,” she scolded March 25 about Donald Rumsfield’s testimony to the 9/11 Commission. “What should have made Condi hysterical, she deemed ‘historical,'” Maureen wrote April 12 about Condoleezza Rice’s. All this is par for the course in a Dowd column, and about as amusing and enlightening as the notion of a porn film called Long Dong Silver.
But the porn/wordplay connection really hit me when I read the first line of that March 25 column: “As the White House was sliming Richard Clarke, the 9/11 families were stroking him.”
Boy, were they ever; this is the sort of thing, in fact, that is known in the trade as a stroke job. If Dowd had thought about the analogy at all– if she had considered anything beyond the thrill of alliterating two “s” words in one sentence– it might have occurred to her that, also like porn, the 9/11 Commission’s star performers have indeed created quite a spectacle, but one that seems ultimately pointless and depressing.
Obvious questions — Who are these 9/11 families? How do they have any useful knowledge about preventing another Sept. 11? Why is it a good thing that they’re stroking Richard Clarke? — are never even raised in a Dowd column. Instead she describes one of the four widows on parade as “the lovely Kristin Breitweiser of New Jersey, whose husband died in the south tower,” and that, ipso facto, is enough: She’s lovely, her husband’s dead, now shut up.
Then there’s her shallowness. Sometimes when she’s skittering around, Dowd happens upon a notion she likes a lot. Rather than develop it into an actual idea, though, she just repeats it endlessly, like an 8-year-old with a knock-knock joke. Take her latest column, April 25’s “The Orwellian Olsens,” which, after its opening line of “It’s their reality; We just live and die in it,” consists entirely of 25, mostly one-sentence “In Bushworld…” aphorisms.
Examples: “In Bushworld, you brag about how well Afghanistan is going, even though soldiers like Pat Tillman are still dying…” “In Bushworld, we’re making progress on the war on terror by fighting a war that creates terrorists.” “In Bushworld, they struggle to keep church and state separate in Iraq, even as they increasingly merge the two in America.” And so on.
Set aside for a moment that the title of this column is obscure (not until “In Bushworld,” No. 21 is it clear that Dowd is comparing Bush and Cheney to Mary-Kate and Ashley) and that these “Bushworld” statements are awfully easy to parody: “In Maureenworld, soldiers would never die in battle.” “In Maureenworld, we can assume that before the war on terror, terrorists weren’t a problem.” “In Maureenworld, comparisons between a President who believes in God and people who think women should be stoned to death for religious reasons can be made with a straight face.” And so on.
The big reason some people don’t like Maureen Dowd (believe it or not) is that the thinking, such as it is, beneath all her shallow wordplay is ignorant, hysterical and unoriginal. There’s never anything in a Dowd column that you haven’t heard a hundred times before at any P.C. cocktail party.
Take her April 15 effort, which began by continuing Dowd’s recent cheerleading for the 9/11 Commission but concluded with what really seems to be bothering her (and a lot of other people): President Bush’s religious ideas.
His statement that “freedom is the almighty’s gift to every man and woman in this world” leads her to worry that, “given the Saudi religious authority’s fatwa against our troops…we really don’t want to make Muslims think we’re fighting a holy war.”
Maybe not. But it makes you wonder how Dowd would have responded to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address hope “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.” Probably she would have pointed out that this might further offend the Confederate Army, who after all thought God was on their side too.
In Maureenworld, anything can happen. Except an actual idea.
Catherine Seipp is a writer, and she blogs at her website “Cathy’s World.”