December 02, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

Vamps & Tramps: New Essays

Current Status
In Season
Camille Paglia
Essays, Pop Culture, Women's Studies
We gave it a D

The shock jock of book publishing, Camille Paglia, offers something to offend the whole family in her latest collection. On gays: ”The shocking toll of AIDS on gay men in the West was partly due to their Seventies delusionalism….” On rape: ”…simply what used to be called ‘unbridled lust.”’ On sexuality: ”Lesbianism is increasing, since anxious, unmasculine men have little to offer.”

Paglia’s social Darwinist theories about sex and gender are so fact-free and erratic that the only reason to take Vamps & Tramps: New Essays seriously is to find out what accounts for her best-selling appeal. The answer: Like Rush Limbaugh, to whom she compares herself, she relieves her fans of the burden of social and political responsibility. Feminism? Quit sniveling! Women may not enjoy equality in the workplace, but ”it is woman, as mistress of birth, who has the real power.” So next time you hit that glass ceiling, don’t get mad — get pregnant.

Mistaking art history and Greek mythology for social history, Paglia raids each for examples of gender inequality, frames her discoveries in warped Freudianism, and holds them up as mirrors — and validations — of the embattled present. Statistics rarely support her pronouncements. In one amusingly uninformed passage, she generalizes that prostitutes are happy campers who love their jobs, noting that, like Harvey the giant rabbit, ”the most successful prostitutes in history have been invisible.” But even when she gets logic on her side, Paglia fights dirty. Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin’s antipornography crusade, for example, is objectionable for many reasons, but MacKinnon’s ”(resemblance to) the batty, gritty pioneer woman played by Agnes Moorehead on The Twilight Zone” isn’t one of them.

A feminist who hates feminists, a ”bisexual lesbian” who loathes lesbians, and a libertarian whose concept of freedom works only for those who have it, Paglia is a walking, shouting oxymoron. Her disdain for all things bourgeois doesn’t stop her from advertising her hopelessly pedestrian taste in rock music, just as her ”disaster” of a sex life doesn’t disqualify her from prescribing bisexuality as ”the universal norm.” And though she rightly militates against defining women as victims, she wrongly assumes that all feminists — except her — do so.

For all their calculated outrageousness, Paglia’s well-publicized ideas sound a little tired in Vamps & Tramps, which piques but doesn’t provoke. It’s also padded with filler, including transcripts of her film and television appearances, along with excerpts from articles about her, annotated as if by a compulsive high school student who should be doing her homework, not logging her accomplishments. In the end, the most shocking thing about Vamps & Tramps is that the stand-up critic of academia seems to be fresh out of new material. D

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