Camille Paglia's Target Practice

Anti-feminist feminist Camille Paglia takes aim at the follies and foolishness of the film world.

Camille Paglia is an equal-opportunity pain in the ass. Anyone who's been around her for more than an hour can find something to piss them off.

For instance: she loves Madonna and has praised her "great instinctive intelligence." She thinks that Woody Allen, in his Soon-Yi phase, is far more interesting than Woody Allen, sensitive nerd. She says that there "is no female Mozart because there is no female Jack the Ripper. They are monsters at the extremes of personality." She believes that Elizabeth Taylor is the one true queen of Hollywood.

On the upside. Paglia has had it with the victim mentality. She's tired of women whining about sexual harassment and date rape. She would rather be dead than politically correct. She loves Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth, and thinks that today's actresses are bland copies. And she thinks Marlon Brando, "like Elvis Presley... is a supreme sexual persona, an icon who has entered our dreams and transformed the way we see the world."

Paglia is an academic who is spellbound by pop culture. Her first two books, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson and Sex, Art, and American Culture, and her new one, Vamps and Tramps, have tackled everything from the Marquis de Sade and Emily Dickinson to drag queens and Clarence Thomas.

This self-described "lesbian amazon queen" is at once infuriating and hilarious, and she's smart, really smart. Although Sexual Personae may seem profoundly unreadable to anybody who doesn't have to read it for a college course (and to many who do), Sex, Art, and American Culture and Vamps and Tramps are laugh riots. In these two, Paglia gives us her take on the movies, and makes her case that Hollywood and the entertainment business are the most important and profound things to come out of the 20th century. Instead of bitching and moaning that this is the end of civilization as we know it, she can't wait till dinner's over so she can watch "Entertainment Tonight."

It's 100 degrees outside, but Paglia shows up for our lunch in a downtown Philadelphia hotel (she's a professor of humanities at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia) in long pants, a T-shirt and a jacket, with gold hoop earrings framing her small face. There is something so endearing about these earrings, so innocent and girlish, so unlike the raging virago I'm expecting to encounter. She begins talking before her tush even hits the chair. Nothing has prepared me for how fast she speaks: I know already that when I listen to my tapes later on, it will sound like I'm on Quaaludes and she's on speed. You don't exactly have a conversation with Paglia--all she needs is two or three words to set her off on an awesome talking jag.

"I must have some sustenance," she tells our waiter, who wants very much to tell us the specials. "I've had nothing since breakfast. I would like a small salad to begin, with the dressing on the side. Then I'll have your sesame ginger capellini, whatever the hell that is. And Perrier, as quickly as possible. Bring two."

She dismisses him with a quick flick of the wrist, then she turns to me and smiles.

"Camille," I begin, speaking for all of us, "it's one thing for you to defend Madonna on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times. But we're movie lovers and we've had it with her half-assed attempts to be an actress."

"No, no," she says, jumping around in her chair like a first-grader who needs a hall pass. "I attacked her in the new book. Now listen, I think she's a terrible actress, okay? Madonna has no talent whatsoever. It's a tragedy to me. She has no business at all going into acting. However, in the videos she's made, it was a great art form. As a dancer..."

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