The Year’s Worst Cultural Criticism


A couple of days back, we reviewed the best cultural criticism of 2014, which really was a rather edifying and pleasurable exercise. But for every yin, there’s a yang, and in this case, the yang involves snobbery, asinine arguments about everything from marriage to Brooklyn DIY, another page for the “Gavin McInnes is the worst” annual, and the ongoing misogynist temper tantrum of #Gamergate. As well as, yes, of course, Lena Dunham. Welcome to the year’s worst cultural criticism! (And don’t worry, we’ve DoNotLinked the most egregious articles, so click with a clear conscience.)

Transphobia Is Perfectly Natural,” Gavin McInnes, Thought Catalog, August 2014

Honestly, if this had been written by some random internet bigot, it wouldn’t be worth including here. But as co-founder of VICE, Gavin McInnes still enjoys some sort of cultural cachet, and as such it’s worth saying: this is awful, hateful bullshit.

Worst bit: “We see there are no old trannies. They die of drug overdoses and suicide way before they’re 40 and nobody notices because nobody knows them. They are mentally ill gays who need help, and that help doesn’t include being maimed by physicians. These aren’t women trapped in a man’s body. They are nuts trapped in a crazy person’s body. I see them on the streets of New York. They are guys with tits and a sweatshirt. They wear jeans and New Balance. ‘What’s the matter with simply being a fag who wears makeup?’ I think when I see them. You’re not a woman. You’re a tomboy at best. Get fucked in the ass.”

In Praise of 42-Year-Old Women,” Tom Junod, Esquire, July 2014

Ladies born in 1972, rejoice: 56-year-old Tom Junod would still like to have sex with you!

Worst bit: “Of course, [42-year-old women] have to work for their advantage; they have armored themselves with yoga and Pilates even as they joke about the spectacle. Still, what has made them figures of fantasy is not that they have redefined the ideals of female strength but rather their own vulnerabilities. Go to a party: There is simply no one as unclothed as a forty-two-year-old woman in a summer dress.”

Against YA,” Ruth Graham, Slate, June 2014

#slatepitch of the year!

Worst bit: “…these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction — of the real world — is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction. These endings are for readers who prefer things to be wrapped up neatly, our heroes married or dead or happily grasping hands, looking to the future.”

Put Your Clothes On!,” Simon Doonan, Slate, April 2014

Runner-up for #slatepitch of the year! (Also, winner of the worst Simon Doonan article of the year, which is always a close-run thing.) Simon doesn’t like nudity on television, because… well, he just doesn’t. Or because he’s English and has a fear of drafts. Or something.

Worst bit: “Here’s the main reason why TV nudity makes me anxious: The characters on any series become, over time, familiar and squishy and cosy. They become my TV friends. Because they are my TV friends I expect them to behave like my real friends.”

One Way to End Violence Against Women? Married Dads,” W. Bradford Wilcox and Robin Fretwell Wilson, Washington Post, June 2014

The nadir of the data journalism trend, not least because it was a pretty salutary example of how you can cherry-pick data to support just about any contention. In this case, the authors — one of whom, let’s not forget, runs a pro-marriage think tank — argued that all this nasty violence against women would end if they’d just get married like they used to. Confirmation bias, questionable methodology, a distinct political bent: this one’s got it all!

Worst bit: “Married fathers provide direct protection by watching out for the physical welfare of their wives and daughters, and indirect protection by increasing the odds they live in safe homes and are not exposed to men likely to pose a threat. So, women: if you’re the product of a good marriage, and feel safer as a consequence, lift a glass to dear old dad this Sunday.”

Another Brooklyn Venue Closes (And It’s All Your Fault),” Derek Evers, Impose, October 2014

The closure of Glasslands isn’t the fault of VICE (who bought the building), or citywide economic trends, or the rezoning of the Williamsburg waterfront. Nope, it’s your fault, Brooklynite, for not being DIY enough. Evers later fell back on the time-honored “it was a persona” defense.

Worst bit: “For every free corporate-sponsored show you’ve attended, and every free frosty (sponsored) beverage you’ve drank, it is your fault. For every sell-out debate you’ve had with someone in the past decade, settling on the conclusions that you ‘might as well get the money while you can’ or ‘if we don’t take the money, someone else will,’ this is your fault. That time your band played a cheesy festival to make some extra cash to fill the gas tank; or when you took your job skills to a larger company, choosing financial security over the excitement of creating your own identity.”

Why the Rise of Cosplay Is a Bad Sign for the US Economy,” James Pethokoukis, The Week, October 2014

This year’s somewhat unexpected spin on the “millennials are entitled spoiled narcissists who are spoiling it for everyone” piece.

Worst bit: “When you’re disillusioned with the reality of your early adult life, dressing up like Doctor Who starts looking better and better. It’s not to say that all or even most cosplay aficionados are struggling to find work. It’s only to say that any rise in people fleeing reality for fantasy suggests problems with our reality.”

Girls, Dunham a Poor Choice for Television,” Christine Flowers, Delaware County Daily Times, February 2014

There’s something about Lena Dunham that brings out the worst in thinkpiecers. It feels kinda mean to pick on a columnist with the local Delaware County Daily Times — but then, if you write something this hateful and publish it on the Internet for a publication that has any kind of audience, you have to expect some sort of backlash. “This,” by the way, is a piece that calls HBO “Horrifically Bad Offal” (SICK BURN) and lays into Dunham for, um, not being Grace Kelly. There are plenty of reasons to question Dunham, but this is like attacking George W. Bush for not being a horse.

Worst bit: ” I… am not obsessed with looks per se but, rather, with the idea that we can be as unkempt and greasy-looking as we want and still demand to be accepted as acceptable… Aa very large part of the reason that I adore Grace Kelly Grimaldi stems from the fact that she was unapologetically perfect. She valued dignity, and understood that authenticity derives from self-respect and not self-exposure. And she wore white gloves without a trace of irony.”

Fuck Suicide,” Henry Rollins, LA Weekly, August 2014

Oh, Henry. Why did you have to write this? Rollins later apologized, but the damage was well and truly done.

Worst bit: “When someone negates their existence, they cancel themselves out in my mind. I have many records, books and films featuring people who have taken their own lives, and I regard them all with a bit of disdain. When someone commits this act, he or she is out of my analog world. I know they existed, yet they have nullified their existence because they willfully removed themselves from life. They were real but now they are not. I no longer take this person seriously.”

Feminist Bullies Tearing the Video Game Industry Apart“, Milo Yiannopoulos, Breitbart, September 2014

And finally, the highlight of Milo’s Breitbart Greatest Hits collection, along with such gems as “Who’s to Blame for Nude Photos of Jennifer Lawrence Leaking? Jennifer Lawrence,” “Why Kim Kardashian’s Bottom Is So Implausibly Huge,” and “I’m Glad My Mum Drank While Pregnant… I Might Not Be Here Otherwise.” This marked the moment where the man who’s never seen a contrarian bandwagon he didn’t want to jump on decided that #Gamergate was the one he was going to ride from being a tech-blogging failure (and unrepentant freelancer-screwer) to being a right-wing cause célèbre. The sad thing is that a community of kids who didn’t know any better adopted him as some sort of figurehead, but whatever — they’ll figure it out sooner or later.

Worst bit: Probably describing death threats as “ungallant.” But the whole thing, really.