Camille Paglia Defends Rush's 'Barack the Magic Negro' Parody

When I first heard "Barack the Magic Negro" shortly after the March 2007 publication of the Ehrenstein article (which was partly inspired by a term used by director Spike Lee), I found it very daring and funny.

So wrote Camille Paglia in her weekly must-read column at Salon Wednesday.

Also on her plate was why talk radio is dominated by conservatives, and how "something very ugly has surfaced in contemporary American liberalism...[T]here are some real fruitcakes out there, and some of them are writing for major magazines."

Wow. Better strap yourself in tightly, for here are the truly delicious highlights (h/t Hot Air via Thomas Stewart):

When I first heard "Barack the Magic Negro" shortly after the March 2007 publication of the Ehrenstein article (which was partly inspired by a term used by director Spike Lee), I found it very daring and funny. It was timely and had the shock of the new -- exactly like Lenny Bruce's violation of conventional proprieties. But Rush kept playing it and playing it well beyond its shelf date, and after a while it felt gratuitous and dismayingly oblivious to racial realities and sensitivities in the U.S. Although I'm a longtime fan of Rush's show, I started turning the radio off when this skit came on.

So, it was funny, but overplayed in Paglia's view. Fair enough. Yet, she clearly favors conservative talk radio over the left-leaning alternative:

The most rewarding aspect of talk radio for me is the callers, whose voices are heard nowhere else in the culture -- the feisty, super-organized home-schooling moms, the gruffly stoical transcontinental truckers, and the fiercely independent and self-reliant small-business owners, outraged by Washington's tilt toward bailing out corrupt, top-heavy corporations.

However, the popularity of conservative radio shows is a round-the-clock phenomenon. There are flamboyant evening hosts as well as night replays of the major daytime shows, extending well past midnight to dawn. Clearly, conservative hosts have an instinctive rapport with AM radio, which I have been arguing for years is a populist medium (an idea that finally seems to have taken wing in its invocation by other commentators).

Salon reader Cecil W. Powell writes: "The failure of talkers on liberal radio is in large part due to an absolute inability to poke fun at themselves." How true! Liberal hosts like to snap and snip and chortle snidely, but they are weighed down by a complacent superiority complex, a paralyzing sanctimony. They mistake irony for wit. The conservative hosts love to rant and stomp and bring down the house. They're doing breakneck vaudeville while liberal hosts are primly stirring their non-caffeine green tea.

As for the state of liberalism?

Yes, something very ugly has surfaced in contemporary American liberalism, as evidenced by the irrational and sometimes infantile abuse directed toward anyone who strays from a strict party line. Liberalism, like second-wave feminism, seems to have become a new religion for those who profess contempt for religion. It has been reduced to an elitist set of rhetorical formulas, which posit the working class as passive, mindless victims in desperate need of salvation by the state. Individual rights and free expression, which used to be liberal values, are being gradually subsumed to worship of government power.

The problems on the American left were already manifest by the late 1960s, as college-educated liberals began to lose contact with the working class for whom they claimed to speak. (A superb 1990 documentary, "Berkeley in the Sixties," chronicles the arguments and misjudgments about tactics that alienated the national electorate and led to the election of Richard Nixon.) For the past 25 years, liberalism has gradually sunk into a soft, soggy, white upper-middle-class style that I often find preposterous and repellent. The nut cases on the right are on the uneducated fringe, but on the left they sport Ivy League degrees. I'm not kidding -- there are some real fruitcakes out there, and some of them are writing for major magazines. It's a comfortable, urban, messianic liberalism befogged by psychiatric pharmaceuticals. Conservatives these days are more geared to facts than emotions, and as individuals they seem to have a more ethical, perhaps sports-based sense of fair play. 

Finally, Paglia noticed something that has been a major sticking point with conservatives since last week's G-20 summit:

Obama's staffing problems are blatant -- from that bleating boy of a treasury secretary to what appears to be a total vacuum where a chief of protocol should be. There has been one needless gaffe after another -- from the president's tacky appearance on a late-night comedy show to the kitsch gifts given to the British prime minister, followed by the sweater-clad first lady's over-familiarity with the queen and culminating in the jaw-dropping spectacle of a president of the United States bowing to the king of Saudi Arabia. Why was protest about the latter indignity confined to conservatives? The silence of the major media was a disgrace.

Good question, Camille, especially given the attention former President George W. Bush got for holding the same King's hand almost exactly two years prior.

Go figure.

Salon Camille Paglia
Noel Sheppard's picture

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