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Home » Culture and Criticism

Department Of Famous Boyfriends: Walter Kirn

Submitted by on July 6, 2008 – 12:36 PM31 Comments

Walter Kirn's zero-Fahrenheit appraisal of James Frey's new novel, Bright Shiny Morning, is a reviewing masterpiece, opening with a sharp observation about the L.A.-novel genre and building through concisely dismissive observations about Frey's prose to culminate in a series of kill shots. It isn't very bitchy, and it needn't be; Kirn's dissection of Frey's work is skilled, and Kirn's execution — precise, fresh, intolerant of cliché — stands in contrast to everything vague, stale, and trite about Frey's:

This is Frey's stab at adopting the house style of the contemporary American desert. Uninflected, flat and shadowless, it's meant to communicate, one understands from an acquaintance with California novels by the likes of Joan Didion, James Ellroy and Bret Easton Ellis, among others, the dehydrated, present-tense barrenness of life in a city of brutal superficiality. This point is not new, nor is this manner of making it, but the least one can ask of a writer who can't resist is that he maintain some sense of timing and showmanship — that he keep his act snappy since it can't be fresh.

[whistles]Nice shootin', Tex.

Kirn nails exactly what he observes that Frey can't; brings up the masters of the genre, then bars Frey from their ranks; and follows the stroke through by asking Frey to suck at less tiresome length. Brilliant, not least because Frey as a subject his own self is so loaded that it's tough for a reviewer to acknowledge Frey's notoriety while still addressing himself primarily to the current product. Kirn's impatience with Frey is evident, but it ably reflects what so many of us found galling about Frey's dishonesty — that, by passing off indulgent prose as a true story because it couldn't cut the mustard as fiction, he took a spot that belonged to a writer with chops — while keeping the review centered firmly on Frey's present offenses against literature.

The next paragraph is even icier, and when I'd finished reading it aloud to Skyrockets, I informed him that Kirn had replaced him as my boyfriend based on Kirn's acidic assertion that "it's possible — if one is used to being demeaned and has grown practiced in denial — to think that Frey is being bad on purpose."

Call me, Kirnsie. Let's hang out.

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31 Comments »

  • kelly says:

    I'm only one sentence in, and I'm already snickering. I'm stealing "insufficiently factual" for my own use.

  • Andrea says:

    I find it mildly amusing that the tags as they are kinda make it look like James Frey is on the boyfriend list. :) Sars and Freeeeey, sittin' in a treeee!

  • Clairezilla says:

    "Amberton Parker is the matinee idol whose manly posturing hides a terrible secret that any non-Amish American past age 12 will guess at the moment he strides onstage."

    Ha-ha-ha-ha-haaaaa! I love Walter Kirn now.

  • Jessica says:

    If you like that, go find Kirn's review of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

    I see your point, and I still need to get my hands on a copy of Up in the Air (more so now that I've developed this wacky fear of flying), but at one point I read an interview of Kirn discussing a different novel of his where he was taking the Luddite and Proud of It approach (in the interview, not necessarily the novel) that I find very grating. More so from Paul Auster than from Kirn, but still.

    But as far as semi-famous writing boyfriends go, long as we don't have to fight over Patrick Smith, all will be well.

  • May says:

    "[Frey] provides captions but withholds the photos." This ties up the section about him being "lazy about his lazy prose." Brilliant.

    I couldn't ever really stomach Frey, and it's reassuring to read the critique and understand why.

  • Sandman says:

    "it's possible — if one is used to being demeaned and has grown practiced in denial — to think that Frey is being bad on purpose."

    Ouchie. Acidic is right. Can I just say that I love that you have tag reading "zing!"?

  • Debineezer says:

    @kelly — If you steal it for YOUR use, what will I do:)? Nah, it's funny enough to go around.

  • Jennifer says:

    "…it must possess lots of rhythm, rhythm, rhythm. Minus the commas commas commas."

    Sorry, Sars, this man is mine, mine, mine. With commas.

  • Krissa says:

    My first thought upon seeing the picture on this post?
    "Oh. So that's what Kevin Bacon is supposed to look like."

  • heidi says:

    If you follow Sars's link to Amazon, you can read a passage from the book (http://tinyurl.com/5dsedp) that tells a story of a young gay boy who goes to New York to become an actor, starts blogging in his free time, and eventually becomes a gossip blog mega-star. In addition to being laughably bad, it's also the life of Perez Hilton…
    I don't know much about Mr. Hilton's life so I looked him up in Wikipedia, and it's exactly the same story, down to the original website (Frey writes: "He named his site after a popular gossip column, used a variation of the numbers that also indicated a humorous, satanic intent". Perez's first site's url was pagesixsixsix.com) and his current site (Frey writes: "There was a socialite he loved she had a catchy recognizable name she had been involved in a sex tape scandal, an arrest scandal, she had multiple rich famous boyfriends, her every move was documented by journalists and paparazzi. He came up with a Hispanic version of her name that was also catchy, funny, smart". So, Perez Hilton).

    How…? What?? I don't even know what to say about it.

  • Jo says:

    "But in the case of “Bright Shiny Morning,” which brims with facts but is lacking in credible fantasies, the failure is artistic — and thus, from a certain perspective, far more grievous. Frey’s “memoirs,” despite or because of their being made up, were at least somewhat stimulating in places. His “novel,” which isn’t made up enough, is stupefying."

    I love Walter Kirn now. I want to have his babies.

    I just went to find the review for "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," and while I really enjoyed that book, I loved the last paragraph of the review:

    "And then, perhaps, if we wished upon a star, the miraculous undeconstructions would continue until all the Holden Caulfields who aren't Holden were back inside J. D. Salinger's manual typewriter and "we would have been safe," just as Oskar wouldn't have said."

  • zh says:

    That review was sexy. I loved Kirn's evisceration, so razor-sharp that Frey probably didn't even realize his guts were all over the floor till he looked down. And that weary tone was the greatest thing, like Kirn would rather just have said, "Dude, I wasted a whole hour reading your book, and I can't get that hour back."

  • Maura says:

    Oh man. I just tried to read the excerpt of Frey's book on Amazon. It's so bad I couldn't get past the second paragraph. I'm a big fan of the run-on sentence, but I think Frey just has a grudge against commas.

    I've been wanting to smack James Frey for a while now. Walter Kirn just did it for me.

  • Elise says:

    Sorry, Sars, but in my opinion Kirn can never make up for the mind-bogglingly presumptuous and self-absorbed article he wrote recently in Elle arguing that conventionally attractive women are all dull, stuck-up bitches while he heaps plaudits upon himself for having the depth and sensitivity to find "real" women beautiful. Did you know that he once dated a HEAVY GIRL in college?! Even though his friends couldn't understand why?!? And he once had the opportunity to sleep with a supermodel, but her body was just TOO flawless for him to find her attractive? And he once met Academy-Award-winning actress Tilda Swinton, and by golly, he found HER attractive too? Even though she was PALE and had SMALL BREASTS?

    All hail Walter fucking Kirn, the next Mother Teresa.

    In short: can't stand the guy, even if he can write a good book review.

  • Diane says:

    @Elise …

    Good lord. "These French ticklers" … ? … Gross.

    WOMEN, Uncle Walty. They are called WOMEN.

  • La BellaDonna says:

    Points to you, Elise, for getting through that article; I managed the first page before the rage headache made it too hard to read. I did comprehend the important part, though: any time there are women in a room with him, they are there for HIM: his pleasure, his interest, his patronizing assumptions; only in their relationship with HIM do they matter. Gah.

  • Elise says:

    Yeah, it's kind of the ultimate example of a guy using some misguided form of pseudo-feminism as a pickup line. "I love feminists!" (Translation: "I love it when a woman is 'fiesty'!") "I love intelligent women!" (Translation: "I love women who are able to appreciate MY intelligence!")

    La BellaDonna, if you only read the first page then you missed this gem:

    "…I’m a grown-up boy who longs for Cinderellas who’ve never touched a pair of glass slippers—who are plenty alluring barefoot. I prefer them to some princesses I’ve danced with. I prefer them—these unconventional-looking women who too frequently call themselves ugly or imperfect when they ought to call themselves perfecting—because their transformations are still ongoing."

    Yes, that's right, he just said that any woman who isn't conventionally attractive is incomplete! And now we start to see what Kirn means when he says he likes imperfect women: "I prefer women who are insecure because they don't threaten my fragile ego."

    I mean, in theory I appreciate the message that men are attracted to "imperfect" bodies (lord knows it's a message that could stand to be spread around a bit more), but that's not what this article is about — this article is about Walter Kirn BESTOWING his approval (which seems to always come in the form of erotic fantasies) upon some small range of "imperfect" female bodies as though it's a gift that millions of desperate women have been waiting for. Gosh, how did I live before Walter Kirn's erection told me I was an acceptable human being? I'm so PALE!

    The most annoying thing is that women are forwarding this around the Internet like it's some kind of heartwarming, affirming story. Don't get me started on the dynamics there… blugh.

  • John E. says:

    Yeesh, that Elle thing was unfortunate at best. But man alive was that a good damn review. Every excerpt from the Frey book in the piece makes it seem unspeakably atrocious. Kudos to Kirn for finishing and analyzing the book–must have been as tough as dating a conventionally pretty woman.

  • Roisred says:

    Oh, he's THAT guy!?!? My roommate and I dissected that article for all it's anger inducing moments, then threw it away.

    Loved the review though. Wonder if he could take it as well as he dishes it out.

  • Linda says:

    "arguing that conventionally attractive women are all dull, stuck-up bitches while he heaps plaudits upon himself for having the depth and sensitivity to find "real" women beautiful. Did you know that he once dated a HEAVY GIRL in college?! Even though his friends couldn't understand why?!? And he once had the opportunity to sleep with a supermodel, but her body was just TOO flawless for him to find her attractive? And he once met Academy-Award-winning actress Tilda Swinton, and by golly, he found HER attractive too? Even though she was PALE and had SMALL BREASTS?"

    Wow, this isn't what I got out of that piece at all. I didn't see any hostility toward conventionally attractive women, unless they're fake-tanning and dermabrading themselves into oblivion in an effort to be more conventionally attractive. Frankly, I didn't see him arguing that he found those women attractive because he has depth and sensitivity; I saw him arguing that he found them attractive because he thought they were hot. He's not talking about seeing inner beauty; he's talking about being turned on, and I don't think he's arguing that that's a function of his intelligence.

    I don't have any problem with a guy breaking the broadly held stereotype that all men are attracted to the same kinds of women. All I saw there was a discussion of the fact that he finds a lot of different kinds of women attractive. I didn't see it as self-congratulatory at all. I didn't get the sense that you were supposed to think HE was awesome for loving ugly women; I think he was trying to make the point that beauty is broader than Cosmo cover models, which I can't really fault a dude for pointing out. There are plenty of men writing on the internet who are insistent that all men secretly crave models whether they admit it or not, so frankly, I'm glad to have this guy out there making a different argument.

  • Ibis Lynn says:

    Yeah, I gotta agree with Linda on this one, I read that article and didn't find it as infuriating as y'all seem to find it. Probably because I've had this discussion with tons of people – regarding both men and women. (I'm bi). You'd be surprised at how the same regard for superficial beauty seems to affect a lot of women.

    I once had a classmate in high school, who by all accounts was a total dweeb. Scrawny, glasses, dorky clothes, hair that looked like his mama cut it. But that kid – boy, he was so stealth-sexy! He was just incredibly magnetic, and the things you miss at first become more and more evident as you pay attention longer. His eyes behind those glasses were incredible, and he had killer lips, and his unstylish hair was thick and glossy and just begged to have my fingers run through it. None of my friends saw any of that until I pointed it out to them, and when they started looking at him a little more closely, they saw what I was talking about.

    I've always been one who is more entranced with unconventional beauty, but I don't think it's because I feel like that makes me better than other people or something. Likewise, I didn't see it as Kirn saying "Look how noble I am for liking less-than-conventionally-attractive women," more like him saying "man, you guys don't know what you're missing by being tied to these homogenized beauty ideals!" It SHOULDN'T have made his friends snicker when he dated a heavier-than-her-classmates girl. But they do, and LOTS of guys that age wouldn't have the courage to go against the groupthink and just be comfortable dating a girl that was different. (Be it weight or any other factor that made her different from her peers).

    TRUST ME – I'm more than a little chunky, and I dated a lot of boys in high school and college who were happy to spend time with me in private (not just sexin', but hanging out time) but didn't want to be seen in public with me. It took some time for me to get my self-confidence to a place where I could tell a guy to fuck off if he was too chicken to be seen with me in public. In our culture, which values conformity way more than it should, it also takes some self-confidence to say "You know what? I like her, and you're a fool for not getting how awesome and sexy she is." I took the piece as just Kirn's way of saying that.

    But yeah, that French ticklers line was … unfortunate.

  • La BellaDonna says:

    Elise … yup, rage headache. Are his Cinderellas plenty alluring pregnant, as well as barefoot? I'll take my pallor (of which I have plenty) elsewhere, thanks.

  • Margaret in CO says:

    "if you were half the Mailer manly-man you aspire to be, you'd leave off dissing Dave Eggers for five minutes and admit that you boned it. You're caught, dude! You're busted! It's over! OWN IT! But no, he just sat there licking his lips. Not one testicular cell on display. What a moron.]"

    Hell with Kirn, I wanna have SARS' baby now!

  • Diane says:

    The problem with Kirn's Elle essay isn't the sentiments themselves, but the context in which he expresses them; his focus is placed entirely on sexual attraction, and this gives the impression he is incapable of perceiving women as human beings. I say this because his examples are limited to picking up a woman in a bar, approaching a woman in his office, an ex girlfriend, a failed sexual encounter with a model, and the discussion of the attractions of French … "ticklers" (ugh). There is no evidence in the essay of any awareness of women beyond their body parts or appeal to his libido.

    He divides an entire gender into two (dubious) stereotypes – "pretty" L.A. plastics, and seductive Europeans. This gives the impression that he's unaware of the existence of (a) any level of attractiveness between these relative extremes, and (b) women who live in any box outside the only two he indicates any experience with.

    Finally, for me, his transition from cheerleader-lover to unconventional-beauty-admirer does not appear to be organic; it seems self-conscious and affected, perhaps even an outright manipulative pose. I've known plenty of men whose attitudes toward and interests in women evolved over time, but his own portrayal of this arc doesn't play – and, again, is expressed exclusively in the amorous context. It comes off as a terrible case of self-unawareness, and reads a bit like this guy: http://www.theonion.com/content/node/33160.

    Kirn's essay really does read like he thinks his attention is some sort of gift to be given, rather than a means to engage and SHARE something beyond thigh sweat with another human being. His encounter with the model seems bitter and sad, and his general attitude toward the "princesses" is hateful and fearful rather than merely disinterested. (For that matter, it came off as fictional, because models … don't look airbrushed and perfect in the flesh. Even they don't think so. A model who looks encased in glass exists only in her printed photo. A model in your bed is just as HUMAN as any other woman, regardless of her apparently quite cruel and deliberate, malignant refusal to have any flaws at you. Um.)

    Someone who didn't seem so angry about his preferences might be convincing with the point that beauty comes in more than one shape, but Kirn comes across as having an ax to grind. Bigotry against the pretty is no less bigotry because it doesn't follow the prevailing form lookist prejudice takes. I have met, in my time, quite a few knockouts who were warm, smart and incredibly appealing individuals well beyond their skin. And anway, even the "prevailing" concept of pretty contains more variety than Kirn appears to be aware of. It's not as if Halle Barry, Heather Locklear and Angelina Jolie are dead ringers for each other, Walter – and it isn't as if no woman of genuine charm and substance has never been lauded for her beauty.

    For me, his outlook quacks an awful lot like misogyny.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    "his focus is placed entirely on sexual attraction, and this gives the impression he is incapable of perceiving women as human beings"

    I don't think this indictment is fair. That's the point of the essay: attraction, initial and otherwise. Whether he's capable of perceiving women as human beings is up for debate, but based on what the essay is trying to do, I think it's beside the point. He's talking about what draws him to certain women, and if it's not that they're reading Hemingway, well, it isn't.

    I agree that his tone is rather self-congratulatory, but I'm not getting "bigotry against the pretty." I'm getting "I see a certain sameness to pretty women that I don't find interesting/a turn-on." He's not saying all men do this, or that it's "correct"; it's just him. And I'm not sure why he has to justify his dimensional view of women when the piece isn't about that.

    Hey, maybe he is a giant sexist. I just don't get that from that specific piece. I don't get anger, either. Smugness, maybe, but that's kind of his go-to tone.

  • Linda says:

    Yeah, I don't really see it as insulting to speak solely about who you're physically attracted to, and I don't think that implies you don't see people in a way other than sexual attraction.

    I could easily write an essay about what kinds of men I tend to be weirdly drawn to in that sort of can't-put-'em-down kind of way, and it really is baffling and different for every person. It doesn't mean I don't also appreciate and love them as human beings, it doesn't mean I don't have an interest in personalities, but I do think lots of people could speak in an interesting way about what they're attracted to, and I sort of think that's all he's doing.

    You relate to people in a whole host of ways, after all — who attracts you, who you want to be friends with, who you love, who you trust, who you rely on day-to-day — and sometimes those ways are all independent of each other or only partially line up. To me, the Kirn essay isn't meant to represent everything he thinks about women; it's just a rumination on physical attraction.

  • Elise says:

    "I don't really see it as insulting to speak solely about who you're physically attracted to, and I don't think that implies you don't see people in a way other than sexual attraction."

    Certainly this is true, and certainly Kirn doesn't claim to be talking about anything other than physical attraction.

    And if this article appeared amidst other articles that talked about how attractive a woman's intellect, or her sense of humor, or her (non-sexual) skill, or her success is, then I'd let it slide. Certainly there's room to talk about sexual attraction, and I'm not going to pretend it isn't important.

    But, y'know, I haven't seen those other articles. All I see is Walter Kirn heaping yet another shovelful of shit onto the steaming pile that tells me "Your physical appearance is your most important quality, and the highest compliment you can receive is a man you don't know fantasizing about you." This is supposed to be a feel-good article, and what exactly is its heartwarming message? "Don't worry, men will still find you attractive even if you have big hands." As much as Kirn may be trying to reverse some set of damaging beauty standards, he's just replacing them with another one, and he's still presupposing external validation by some kind of objective male gaze as the key to self-confidence. He's not saying "Women, stop feeling bad about the way you look just because you don't look like the woman on the cover of this magazine" — he's saying "Women, stop feeling bad about the way you look, because I'd still schtup you." Some people might find that message heartwarming, but it makes me feel ill.

    And I'm saying this, by the way, as someone who isn't particularly happy with the way she looks, and who is by no means unaffected by all of the airbrushed models plastered on magazine covers. I'm not going to pretend that external validation isn't important — I actually think it's very important to feel like someone out there is attracted to you — but if that external validation is contingent on any RANDOM person finding you attractive based ONLY on your physical features, well, that one hell of an insurmountable task.

    Women won't stop feeling like shit about the way they look until they're no longer barraged from the day they're born with the message that the way they look is paramount, that guys are only capable of being attracted to physical features, and that the best you can hope for is a guy whose beauty standards encompass whatever physical peccadillo you might possess. (There's no hope for the objectively ugly, of course, aside from plastic surgery or lesbianism.) When that changes, maybe I'll be able to read Kirn's essay as only a discussion of his own physical preferences, and not as yet another page in the compendium of making women feel ultimately worthless.

    (By the way, can I just say that I'm really enjoying this discussion? Also, sorry for hijacking your comments, Sars.)

  • Linda says:

    Well, I can't hold Kirn responsible for the entire cultural bullshit attached to women's looks; I'm just talking about my reaction to what he wrote.

    And without getting into an endless "does not"/"does too" situation, I guess I just don't necessarily think he's saying physical attractiveness is the only thing that matters about women simply because he's talking about who he's attracted to. All he's doing, to me, is saying, "There is more to being physically attractive than looking like an underwear model." I don't think that really ranks physical attractiveness relative to other qualities in terms of importance. I don't think he's saying you have to care or seek the external validation of his opinion of your attractiveness; he's just talking about what he finds physically attractive.

    "he's still presupposing external validation by some kind of objective male gaze as the key to self-confidence"

    I just don't see this. He's just saying what he thinks is hot.

  • Elise says:

    He's saying what he thinks is hot, yes — but this isn't a conversation with a friend or a blog post or even an article in some kind of men's interest magazine written with the goal of sympathizing with other males about their aesthetic preferences. It's an article in an extremely popular women's magazine, written for a female audience, presumably with the goal of making the reader feel better about herself. It probably succeeds with a vast majority of readers (because have you ever met any woman who would read this article and think "Oh, I'm the prissy, self-absorbed blonde he's talking about!"?). In part, I hate that "men find imperfect women attractive!" is considered a novel statement; in part, I hate that many women are only able to feel good about the way they look if someone is insulting women who DON'T look like them; in part, I hate that Kirn continues to promulgate the myth that physical attraction is, for men, premised entirely on physical appearance. What I hate the most is that this article spews the same old crap that's been spewed for ages, but cloaks it as "progressive" pro-woman rhetoric.

    Let me give you a specific example of what I'm talking about:

    "Then one day, when the office was half-deserted due to an outbreak of the stomach flu, she caught my eye while walking toward me down an empty hallway. Straight hair, straight posture, straight in every way. Flat, too. And wearing glasses. Yet she was provocative as hell, like a stripper who was working under deep cover. She had a disciplined, stealthy sensuality that seemed to whisper to me as she slipped by: 'What you see isn’t half of what you’ll get.'"

    How would you feel if you discovered someone had written this about you? I would feel pretty damn creeped out, personally, and also probably rather insulted. This woman is just walking around at work trying to get her job done, and Kirn is not only fantasizing about her but PUBLISHING his fantasies in an internationally-distributed magazine.

    By publishing his adjudications he's implying that he's in some kind of position to judge these women (which is especially laughable when he gets to Tilda Swinton), simply by virtue of their being female and his having a penis. Like life is just a slideshow of women and he sits back in his La-Z-Boy and writes down grades. THAT's the dynamic that I object to here. I'm not sick of being judged negatively based on my appearance; I'm sick of being judged AT ALL.

    I think part of the reason there are two such drastically different perspectives going on here is that we're reacting to very different parts of the article. I know that, for me, my reading of it is based on personal experience. Though I've certainly had my fair share of body insecurities brought on by comparing myself to unattainable ideals, by and large my biggest problem with my body is that I constantly get hooted and hollered at on the street. I'm very slim with an enormous chest, and no matter what I'm wearing, strange men in public seem to think it's their right to loudly voice their judgments about my tits and what they'd like to do to me. Sexual appeal is *foisted* upon me. I just want to walk to class. And of course I feel ridiculous complaining about this, because: men are attracted to me! What *more* could I want???

    That, to me, is what this article represents — a popular sanctioning of the very belief system that makes me want to stay in my apartment, wear a sweater in 90-degree heat, pay a plastic surgeon to slice off my breasts. So that's where I'm coming from. It probably explains a lot of why I'm reacting so violently to the article (but I don't think it means I'm overreacting). I know many women may benefit from hearing the message "There's more to being physically attractive than looking like an underwear model," but I think the way in which Kirn conveys this message is ultimately just as damaging as the stereotypes he's seeking to correct.

    Is Kirn to blame for all of the associated "cultural bullshit" (nice phrase, btw) that gives his article social meaning? No, but he should be aware of it, and he shouldn't be so goddamn smug about his prodigious ability to fantasize about women. Like I said, what I object to is not that he's talking about what he finds attractive — it's that he's framing it as progressive and morally superior, not to mention self-affirming for the women in his audience.

  • Elise says:

    Good lord, that was long. And with that, I humbly bow out of the debate, because my thesis ain't gonna write itself. Thanks for the enjoyable and fascinating discussion, all. (I'll continue reading to see if anyone has a response, but I'll refrain from replying.)

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    "He's saying what he thinks is hot, yes — but this isn't a conversation with a friend or a blog post or even an article in some kind of men's interest magazine written with the goal of sympathizing with other males about their aesthetic preferences. It's an article in an extremely popular women's magazine, written for a female audience, presumably with the goal of making the reader feel better about herself."

    I don't think I understand the problem with that — presumably this is what Kirn was assigned. I doubt the articles editor ordered him to tilt in the direction of "making the reader feel better about herself," and I'm not getting that intent from it, really; I think he was probably given a general mandate re: "talk about 'conventional hotness' and your response to it," which is what he did.

    I know you've tagged out of the debate, so I'm not expecting an answer, but…you seem to be saying he should keep this kind of observation to himself. If this kind of observation is what he was paid to come up with, though, I'm not sure your problem is with him, but rather with the Elle editorial board. And I'm not sure why he should sit on this kind of thing anyway.

    "This woman is just walking around at work trying to get her job done, and Kirn is not only fantasizing about her but PUBLISHING his fantasies in an internationally-distributed magazine."

    And that's him trying to get *his* job done. That argument can be abused, of course, but it's not like he's going into sticky detail about mentally ravishing her on the Xerox machine. He just thinks she's hot.

    "By publishing his adjudications he's implying that he's in some kind of position to judge these women (which is especially laughable when he gets to Tilda Swinton), simply by virtue of their being female and his having a penis."

    But…he *is* in that position. He's *paid* to *take* that position. What exactly is he supposed to write instead — that he doesn't judge *any* woman based on her looks, and only gets a stiffy once he's established that she's knowledgeable about medieval pottery? That's an impossible standard for any adult human, and the fact that Kirn can't hack it doesn't mean he's a sexist or a lookist; it just means it's an unfair standard.

    People do judge and classify one another based on their looks; this is not the fairest system, but it is in part biological, and while that does not excuse the number of conversations men have conducted with my chest over the years, I do think that coming down on the guy for merely stating "X is the societal standard of beauty; I prefer Y" is basically asking him to renounce any attraction to *anyone* if it's based on their outward/physical presentation.

    And it's not a matter of "you wouldn't ask a woman to hew to that standard." It's that *nobody* can. The sight-impaired, perhaps, but then they would use their other senses to make the same judgments — and if a sight-impaired guy isn't into chicks who sound like dudes, well, he and I are not going to get it on. I can't change my baritone; he can't change his turn-ons. It's not an "-ism" situation.

    Again, I know you're tagging out of this, so I don't want to seem like I'm piling on; feel free to come back and explain what I'm missing, but I'm really trying to see why this article makes Kirn an asshole, and I just can't.

    "I'm very slim with an enormous chest, and no matter what I'm wearing, strange men in public seem to think it's their right to loudly voice their judgments about my tits and what they'd like to do to me. Sexual appeal is *foisted* upon me. I just want to walk to class. And of course I feel ridiculous complaining about this, because: men are attracted to me! What *more* could I want???"

    Well, I feel you — not that slim, but had a big chest since age 12, and live in a big city. And since I went blonde, the comments have gotten more blatant, so I've had this on my mind lately. But I think this is where we're diverging in our takes of what Kirn is doing here. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but I think you're reading it as "I [i.e., Kirn] am allowed to look at you, classify you sexually, and comment on the classification without penalty, because this is what the male gaze does."

    I don't get that entitlement from it, myself. I'm seeing him making a distinction between what he, a straight male, is told by the culture that he is Supposed To like, and what he actually likes. I mean, not to repeat this umpteen times, but he *was* assigned this topic and if Elle wants him to talk about what he's attracted to, he kind of can't subtract his gaze, which is male, from that conversation.

    I see what you're saying, I think. In a way. Qualifier qualifier blah. I think you're seeing an endorsement of the stereotypical male gaze that I am not seeing. And I have some experience in tests and controls in this department, because when you have big boobs *and* a Marine buzz cut, watching it jam the fuck out of some dipshit's radar when he's about to cat-call you, but also thinks that this time he just might get his ass re-cracked for him, is verrrrry interesting. The fact that they think, based on the breasts, that they have the right to decide what I am for me, and that what they've decided is that they will ask if those legs go all the way up…I'm someone's sister, shitbox. And I am a business owner.

    But if all they do is look, well, they can look. They can't touch, and they shouldn't remark, but looking is okay. I look at dudes' butts. Everyone *looks*. The difference is whether the guy thinks he gets a vote just from seeing my rack; half of Fourth Avenue thinks that, erroneously. I don't think Kirn thinks that at all.

    Talk about long. ("No please don't!" Heh.)

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