Thursday, May 19, 2011

Christopher Hitchens - the "women aren't funny" guy

Christopher Hitchens was once a respected left-wing author, and a regular columnist for The Nation magazine.

But I never heard of Christopher Hitchens until he decided to become a supporter of George W. Bush and the Iraq war. It was from one of the original political blogs, Media Whores Online that I first became aware of Hitchens (as reported in Slate):
Christopher feels tainted by answering questions about his funding sources, but not by his willingness to accuse people of rape without proof, by his friendships with Nazi revisionists, or by his stunning betrayals of trusting friends. Go figure.

And why would Christopher believe we would hesitate to pass along his vague comments, unedited? We publish the rantings of Clinton-obsessed Freeper types like himself all the time. (And what does he mean by "real sites"? What does he think MWO is -- some whatever-induced figment?)

Well, that whole fact-finding mission seems to have been a wasted effort. As with Horowitz's lackluster denial, this one seems just as purposefully ambiguous. But what Hitchens has made perfectly clear is that, if he is not already accepting money for doing Scaife's dirty work - he likely would.

Seems like a distinction without a difference. That is, basically he's a whore who claims to be unable to attract customers, but nonetheless stands on the corner night after night, hoping his luck will change -- and even used his response to our open letter to seek offers for his services.

Good luck on that book tour, Christopher! And, sure -- we'll keep in touch.

Write to The Nation and ask them why a progressive publication promotes someone of the caliber of Hitchens, who defends Holocaust deniers and solicits offers from the likes of Richard Mellon Scaife.

And then Hitchens quit the Nation, prompting this exchange between himself and Katha Pollitt. The last paragraph of Pollitt's response is my favorite:
As Nation readers know only too well, I am always complaining about the magazine. It isn't perfect. Still, why single out as representative of our politics Alexander Cockburn, Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer (who, a search of our archives reveals, has never appeared in our pages) and not, oh, I don't know, Tony Kushner, Patricia Williams, Marc Cooper or Ellen Willis? Given your recent stint on Andrew Sullivan's blog, not to mention appearances over the years in a flock of right-wing publications, I'd think you'd want to be careful about promoting the idea of guilt by association. In any case, the real issue isn't about writers or magazines--it's about guns and power. You've placed yourself quite forthrightly on the side of Bush, Cheney, Perle and Wolfowitz, whose plans to remake the entire Arab world long predate 9/11, and who seem completely unembarrassed by their own shifting rationales for invading Iraq. (Not even they, however, claim it has anything to do with opposing religious fanaticism. That is your own delusion.) These are your new friends, an Administration that supports with mad vigor everything you excoriated in Clinton--capital punishment, the drug war, punitive welfare reform, privatizing the public realm, letting corporations run wild--while pandering to the Christian right, blasting the environment, withdrawing from international agreements from Kyoto to Cairo and remodeling the federal judiciary to resemble a meeting of the John Birch Society. I think I'll stay right here.

Lately Hitchens's big issue is atheism - or rather New Atheism. And in spite of the fact that I've been an atheist since I was at least sixteen, I dislike all the New Atheists (except Victor Stenger, about whom I know almost nothing):
  • Richard Dawkins - promoter of evolutionary psychology, and despises Stephen Jay Gould (the most prominent critic of evolutionary psychology until his death in 2002) so much that he shared this one-sided tale about the alleged rudeness of Gould in the Pharyngula blog comments section. Well after Gould was too dead to give his side of the story.

  • Daniel Dennett - another promoter of evolutionary psychology, and also despises Stephen Jay Gould, mainly for the scathing review Gould gave of Dennett's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" in the New York Review of Books. Their post-review exchange can be read here. Dennett comes off as a sorehead and more interested in attacking Gould personally than in defending his own scientific theories. Or as Gould succinctly observes:
    Finally, however, I am simply amazed that Dennett had no more to say in his defense than, "Let me say a word about 'Darwinian fundamentalism.' Nonsense."

  • Sam Harris - supports the use of torture and argues that unlike the Christian Bible (with its crazed pathological Old Testament deity), the Koran is uniquely responsible for causing believers to perform violent acts.

  • Christopher Hitchens - for obvious reasons.

Considering that Hitchens hobnobs with big-time promoters of evolutionary psychology, I was surprised how little use he made of its tenets in his Vanity Fair article Why Women Aren't Funny. The best he can do does not even come up to the level of an evolutionary psychology just-so story
Childbearing and rearing are the double root of all this, as Kipling guessed. As every father knows, the placenta is made up of brain cells, which migrate southward during pregnancy and take the sense of humor along with them. And when the bundle is finally delivered, the funny side is not always immediately back in view. Is there anything so utterly lacking in humor as a mother discussing her new child? She is unboreable on the subject. Even the mothers of other fledglings have to drive their fingernails into their palms and wiggle their toes, just to prevent themselves from fainting dead away at the sheer tedium of it. And as the little ones burgeon and thrive, do you find that their mothers enjoy jests at their expense? I thought not.
The Kipling he references isn't a scientist - it's Rudyard Kipling, who wrote a poem called The Female of the Species. This passage is typical of the article - heavy on style and virtually content-free and full of Hitchens-centric "proof" - "do you find that... mothers enjoy jests at their (children's) expense? I thought not."

He doesn't make an actual case in support of the title of the article. But I'll bet most people haven't read the article, except for the title.

I thought that few people besides me remembered the article at all, it's over four years old. But I was wrong: many of the discussions of the new movie Bridesmaids mention it. And claim that Bridesmaids refutes Christopher Hitchen. For example, CliqueClack:
In January 2007, Christopher Hitchens wrote a controversial article in Vanity Fair entitled, “Why Women Aren’t Funny” and proceeded to peddle various inanities about why he doesn’t find one half of the human species as amusing as the other.

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Carrie Rickey:

Not so very long ago, in 2007 it was, Christopher Hitchens wrote "Why Women Aren't Funny," a sourpuss essay that argued gals lack a funnybone, an assertion almost as preposterous Freud's hypothesis that women suffer from penis envy (which, as everyone knows, is a male malady). And then, last weekend "Bridesmaids" starring Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph, made $24 million. Women are officially funny now.

New York Magazine lists a whole bunch more.

Christopher Hitchens is currently very ill from cancer. If he dies soon, it's very likely he will be remembered by most people as "that guy who said women aren't funny."

And frankly, it serves him right.