I find myself transfixed by the continuing decline of Naomi Wolf. The journalist stands, still riding on the success of a well-researched, successful and thought-provoking book The Beauty Myth, just after her anticlimactic assault on Harold Bloom. Faced with the prospect of triumphantly rebounding from this abyss with another thought-provoking article on gender relations, she tackles the recent Iraq torture photos. All of which would be shocking enough, of course, were the journalist in question not trying to apply gender roles to an inexcusable moral disintegration that defies such easy dichotomies.
If Lynndie R. England, the woman photographed next to the prisoners, were a reasonable human being, if she did not insist that she was doing a good job, if the trailer park minx did not justify her barbarism, photographed or unphotographed, with the understatement of the decade, ” Mom, I was in the wrong place in the wrong time,”, then perhaps a reflective essay along Wolf’s lines would be necessary. If Wolf had, for example, compared England with Private Jessica Lynch, a figure used as casus belli and conveniently forgotten by the current crowd, in her essay, she may have had more credence. But like most pundits, Wolf clings to the innocence that Kurt Vonnegut recently wrote about and, as a result, remains tragically ridiculous.
That Wolf is just as capable as Maureen Dowd of hyperbole shouldn’t come as a shock. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this generation of journalists is more likely to engage in jejune deconstructions of barbarism than actual reporting and analysis. Why bother to explain when the American public and their media mouthpieces are so willing to keep their heads in the sand? Why bother to demand accountability when there’s the latest reality television show to cling to? And why bother to get inside atrocity when you can drag up the porn argument?
Naomi Wolf has transmuted into that impassive grad student who would respond with ideology instead of revulsion. Being detached is one thing. One expects a journalist to do her best objective work under ugly circumstances. But when theory is promulgated and porn is summoned up as the magical reason why (much like video games and movies were used to justify Columbine), one wonders whether America is capable of taking responsibility for its own representative behavior. Does the feeling of helplessness beget a feeling of removal? I leave greater minds to speculate on this troubling question.