A Free Woman: A Tribute to Ellen Willis

When the radical feminist and new journalist Ellen Willis died last fall, a black rock critic mourned her as “the Mother of us all.” Another well-known black writer – and notorious macho man – referred to Ellen as “God” when she was editing his pieces at the Village Voice. Ellen may have come to be identified with a distinctive bohemian nexus in the Village, but her work worked on people outside the Downtown milieu. Someone once compared Ellen’s 60’s talks pushing second wave feminism to the Howling Wolf tour of the UK that inspired a generation of British rockers.

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Boom

George Trow sent us the following squib lampooning Tina Brown and her circle as he was composing “Is Dan Mad?” for First back in 1999. It shouldn’t be confused with his more serious “media studies,” but it’s not quite a throwaway either. Trow’s New York Times obituary gave Tina Brown the last word when it invoked his feud with her over the celeb-mongering turn at The New Yorker during her editorial tenure. This gives Trow a chance to talk back…

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Indispensable Men

A 70’s piece on The Uses of James Baldwin by Benjamin DeMott takes on a new resonance after a viewing of No Direction Home. Baldwin figures in the Dylan documentary because he was a presence in Greenwich Village during the 50s and 60s, but these two bohemian culture heroes shared more than a social context as the opening lines of DeMott’s article suggest:

Pity spokesman: their lot is hard. The movement of their ideas is looked at differently, studied for clues and confirmations, seems unindividual – less a result of personal growth than of cultural upsurge.

DeMott defined a range of difficulties faced by any artist who went public in the 60s including one problem having “to do with expense of spirit”:

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Bad Faith

Start with Katha Pollitt. In the April 18 issue of The Nation, she unsurprisingly holds forth (unsurprisingly) on the controversy surrounding Theresa Schindler Schiavo. She comes down, of course, on the side of pulling the tube (or as she nicely says, “Schiavo’s feeding tube was withdrawn”). There’s no real argument offered, but she makes it clear that she’s not happy with what she sees on the other side:

The Terri Schiavo freak show is so deeply crazy, so unhinged, such a brew of religiosity and hypocrisy and tabloid sensationalism.[1]

It’s all there. Contrary arguments are “crazy” and needn’t be engaged. Religion is “religiosity.” Hypocrisy is this: juxtapose two facts, assume dishonesty, and you’re set. Tabloid sensationalism is the other guy discussing a hot story; what Pollitt does is “debate.”

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The Politics of Patience

Wesley Hogan’s “Many Minds, One Heart” (Duke University Dissertation, 2000) stands as the freshest work on the Civil Rights Movement since Charles Payne’s I’ve Got the Light of Freedom. Hogan’s dissertation is both a painstaking piece of scholarship and an urgent message to the grassroots.

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