Camille Paglia’s Most Culturally Tone-Deaf Moments


Author, critic, self-avowed dissident feminist, and veteran professor of liberal studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Camille Paglia is in many respects a shrewd woman. And yet somehow Paglia has become just as well known for her frankly insipid and often unsound pronouncements about pop culture. Most recently, she wrote an article for The Sunday Times misleadingly comparing Rihanna to Princess Diana. The pop star, who apparently returned home sloshed to find her face melding beautifully into Lady Di’s on the cover of the paper, was thrilled with herself, posting the picture on Instagram, hashtagged with the made-up word: “extraordinaRIHbehavior.” To hold you over until she sees fit to compare Miley Cyrus and Kate Middleton, we’ve rounded up her most culturally tone-deaf moments.

On Taylor Swift

In her THR piece pulling apart Forbes‘ list of the highest paid women in the entertainment industry, Paglia’s attack on Taylor Swift begins with a – not entirely unbelievable – denunciation of the singer’s talent. “Swift has a monotonous vocal style, pitched in a characterless keening soprano,” she writes. But then Paglia starts slut-shaming. Apparently, Swift’s very voice is “tarted up with snarky spin… taken for hip by vast multitudes of impressionable young women worldwide,” while the romantic complaint of her songs betray an erratic love life of “boyfriends, faceless louts who blur in her mind as well as ours.” Ouch.

On Role Models

In the same THR article, the academic makes the woefully misguided assumption that her female university students are inspired by women like Swift and Katy Perry – who also gets reproached for her irresponsible relationship with Russell Brand. (How dare you have a failed relationship with a bad boy, Ms. Perry?!) Evidently, Paglia hasn’t given the women of her university students’ generation enough credit.

On Lady Gaga

In 2010, again in The Sunday Times, Paglia argued that Lady Gaga might be single-handedly responsible for what she calls “the exhausted end of the sexual revolution.” She also, bizarrely, blamed text messages, reasoning that “Generation Gaga doesn’t identify with powerful vocal styles because their own voices have atrophied: they communicate mutely via a constant stream of atomised, telegraphic text messages.” To which we might reply with a blank text…

On Sex, Rock and Roll:

“If you live in rock and roll, as I do,” Paglia once pointed out, “you see the reality of sex, of male lust and women being aroused by male lust. It attracts women. It doesn’t repel them.” You mean to say, Camille, that women are attracted to male rock stars? So that’s what all those women were doing throwing their knickers at the Beatles. Thanks for the update! Also – you “live in rock and roll.” Really?

On Real Housewives

No, we’re not kidding. Indeed, Paglia not only watches the Bravo reality series, but gushed lyrical about it in an interview with Salon, touting the show as “authentic old-time soap opera reborn!” When asked what most inspired her, she replied, “Whoever is doing the photography and editing for Real Housewives of New Jersey and also for Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Real Housewives of Orange County — this is absolutely cutting edge. I can watch the same episode — while I’m cooking and eating dinner – five, six, or seven times. I savor how visually interesting they are — how long each shot lasts and how much information it contains. This is intelligent and sophisticated documentary filmmaking that really needs to be honored.” Well, all right, then.

On Lady Musicians and Murderers:

“There is no female Mozart because there is no female Jack the Ripper.” Yes, Paglia actually said that. There may be no female Mozart, but there is a Beyoncé – and thankfully, without there having been a female Jack the Ripper – who’s pretty much running the world these days.