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Paglia for Peanuts: Camille, Where is Thy Sting?

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From the London Independent, the gaily contrary, always entertaining, and often off-base Camille Paglia:

English has evolved over the past century because of mass media and advertising, but the shadowy literary establishment in America, in and outside academe, has failed to adjust.

From the start, like Andy Warhol (another product of an immigrant family in an isolated north-eastern industrial town), I recognised commercial popular culture as the authentic native voice of America. Burned into my memory, for example, is a late-1950s TV commercial for M&M's chocolate candies. A sultry cartoon peanut, sunbathing on a chaise longue, said in a twanging Southern drawl: "I'm an M&M peanut / Toasted to a golden brown / Dipped in creamy milk chocolate / And covered in a thin candy shell!" Illustrating each line, she prettily dove into a swimming pool of melted chocolate and popped out on the other side to strike a pose and be instantly towelled in her monogrammed candy wrap. I felt then, and still do, that the M&M peanut's jingle was a vivacious poem and that the creative team who produced that ad were folk artists, anonymous as the artisans of medieval cathedrals.

Would those be the same neglected souls even now lolling in their own kidney-shaped pools, flush with advertising awards whose value Paglia wouldn't think of considering? If she wants sexy peanuts, she should try some poetry outside the limited arena she's clearly sampling (and sampling is a generous term). Paglia also says, as usual putting herself in the position ("like Andy Warhol…") as singular visionary of a fairly obvious point:

Another of my unfashionable precepts is that I revere the artist and the poet, who are so ruthlessly "exposed" by the sneering poststructuralists with their political agenda. There is no "death of the author" (that Parisian cliché) in my world view.

I think she's giving theory too much power; in my experience, the new generation of poets isn't corseted by it. If Paglia looked just a little harder (especially at the internet, which she claims to love even as she bemoans its promotion of sloppy language), she'd find that the author is thriving, breathing beautifully even without Camille Poetry Resuscitation.

Rhyme and Reason [Independent, via Arts & Letters Daily]The Camille Paglia IMterview [Andrew Sullivan]Bite Me, Camille Paglia! [American Politics; this is nauseating on many levels, but I include it because it reinforces my real affection for Paglia—I don't like it when fools like this attack her—and demonstrates how reactionaries are constantly falling right into subversives' traps, e.g. "Women like her are enough to turn straight men gay!" Paglia would beam.]

What do you think of women, colorful candy, poetry, The New Yorker, the Constitution, Andy Warhol, and British newspapers? Yes, www.emdashes.com likes them too.

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  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    Very, very nice, emdashes; great comments, terrific site, and your points about La Paglia are spot on. Having seen all she can soak out of a 50 word Blake poem, the title of the book is certainly intriguing, but its publication begs the question of whether she’s treading water. When is the sequel to Sexual Personae coming out, pray tell?

  • Ernest P. Duckweather

    This morning I was trying to find that same M&Ms TV ad on Youtube.com and struck out.

    But I remember it differently.

    As I remember it, there were two M&Ms, one plain one one Peanut. The plain M&M may have been the female sun bathing in her chaise lounge, but I recall the peanut being a male, with a southern drawl. After he dove into the pool and emerged coated in chocolate, the plain M&M said something like “My colorful sugary shell protects my sweet chocolate.”

    To which the Peanut chimed in, as he reached across his waist, and pulled open his sugary shell, like a flasher pulling open his trenchcoat, exposing his erect peanut, “And mah crisp peanut.”

    A junior high buddy of mine named Lee Peasley kept repeating that line “And my crisp peanut” over and over, it just cracked him up. Only now, some 40 odd years later has it hit me how funny that line, and that commercial, were. In retrospect it really does seem like it was a take-off on a flasher.