What’s The Frequency, New York Times?

Another wack-ass NYT article about women. It seems, according to this article by Sam Tanenhaus, that artists’ receivers have been on the blink when it comes to women who kill.

When Ezra Pound declared in 1934 that “artists are the antennae of the race,” and Marshall McLuhan 30 years later called them people “of integral awareness,” both were using modern terms to update the ancient belief that works of the imagination might actually require a talent not only for invention but for attunement — for picking up signals already in the air. This is why the most forceful narratives and dramas seem less made up than distilled. They clarify events and experiences taken directly from the actual world.


But every now and then, it seems, a gap is exposed. Events occur; art offers no guidance. The powers of imagination and attunement falter. Artists suffer a collective loss of awareness. “The culture” emits signals, but they are picked up only fitfully or are missed altogether.

Tanenhaus considers the case of homicidal maniac/plain ol’ mom/entrepreneurial neuroscientist Amy Bishop, and points out that while the Western literary tradition (not a loaded term at all) teems with writing by men about pathologically violent men, but that our modern culture has been silent on the phenomenon of pathologically violent women. That concept has been “strangely unexplored.”

Well, except for a few explorations of it.

Like Fatal Attraction. But that was a woman spurned. Or Thelma and Louise. But that was about women as victims. But, but, but.

The very first artist mentioned in the piece but not hyperlinked is performance artist Marina Abramovic. Abramovic is about to have a major retrospective at the MOMA this year, and lest you don’t recognize how impressive that is, check out the data crunching from the Guerrilla Girls.

Now, the NYT has published other items about Abramovic, so I can’t figure out why she gets no link. F. Scott Fitzgerald got a hypertext link. J. D. Salinger did, too, and Norman Mailer and Truman Capote. And, and, and.

Whose antennae aren’t working now, Tanenhaus?

Or when you say antennae, do you mean penises? Is that why Marina Abramovic didn’t warrant a hypertext link? Is that how artists are picking up on all of this zeitgeist blowing about in the breeze?

Anyway, the but-but-buts just keep coming. After he goes to great pains to explain how contemporary artistic pieces about women and violence aren’t really about the right kind of women, or the right kind of violence, he breaks out this gem of a paragraph:

For this reason, perhaps, the most useful glosses on Dr. Bishop may come from the world of popular, even pulpish, art — for instance, crowd-pleasing movies like Black Widow, Blue Steel, The Silence of the Lambs, Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, or even Lost, the ABC series. In all of them the hypothetical notion of empowerment gives way to the exercise of literal power. So too in crime novels written by women who specialize in the disordered or deranged mind. Genre art has its own limitations. But its strength is that it seeks to reanimate archetypes and is indifferent to ideological fashion.

His point, from what I can get, is that art has ignored violent women, except for the not-quite-art, the art for the masses, that has examined women and violence quite thoroughly.

I could go on, but frankly, hasn’t someone else already written this piece?

Just because artistic representations of violent women haven’t registered on Sam Tanehaus’s highly-tuned cultural satellite dish doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Patricia Cornwall, quoted in the article, says it better than I ever could:

People kill because they can. Women can be just as violent as men.

I sure wish Cornwall had gone on to say what she surely must have been thinking when Tanenhaus emailed her for a comment on Amy Bishop, women, and violence:

Now stop bothering me, pesky little reporter, so I can get back to writing my pulpish books that have made me richer than you could ever hope to be.

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