Sunday, February 04, 2007

Why Christopher Hitchens isn't a competent writer

In writing, it is a good idea, particularly if you are going to suggest something bound to be controversial, to start with a compelling example of what you are talking about. It's something comics are very good at. They will begin with something simple, say, "do you ever eat sausage and bite into something realy hard?" and everyone who's not a vegetarian will nod and the comedian has made a connection and can then go on to suggest anything he likes, having won the audience to his side.

This wouldn't work if the comedian says something that no one can relate to, like, "have you ever put your hand on a glass window and it felt like it was made out of tapioca?" Then the audience would just think the comedian was crazy.

In his article in Vanity Fair, Why Women Aren't Funny, Christopher Hitchens effortlessly separates himself from all normal people in the first paragraph with a "glass feels like tapioca kind of statement." He says that while women, when talking about a guy, will mention how funny he is, but men, when talking about a girlfriend, will never mention how funny she is.

Huh? I always tell people that my girlfriend Debbie has a quick, somewhat caustic wit, and that my ex-wife Jessica told hilarious stories. I've known other guys who talked about how funny their girlfriends were. In fact, I avoid humorless women, and that is easy to do, because the world is filled with witty females.

So what Hitchens has done is to paint a picture of his friends. They are, one imagines, dense guys who think of themselves as macho and consider women to be pretty ornaments. They probably tend to date frivolous women half their age and are scared of any woman who is intelligent and witty and clever. Hitchens indicates very clearly in one paragraph that he has surrounded himself with men just as out of touch with the real world as he is, and basically seems to be going out of his way to say, "don't bother reading the rest of this, anything I have to say is completely irrelevant."

I only read the first of the three pages. Further down he admits there are funny women comedians (obviously none of his friends date them), but then insists that Dorothy Parker isn't all that funny, which suggests that he has never read any of her brilliant, hilarious theater reviews (seriously, don't knock Parker if all you know her for is "men never make passes at girls who wear glasses").

Also, as pointed out by Gene Weingarten in the Washington Post, Hitchens wants his article to be amusing but he fails abysmally.

Of course, the advantage of putting a controversial article in a major magazine like Vanity Fair is it stirs people up. But I think Vanity Fair's editor made a major blunder, because I, for one, can't take a magazine seriously that would publish such drivel. Vanity Fair has gone from being a magazine I am neutral towards and uninformed about to a magazine I consider a joke. It's the sort of crap article that got me years ago to stop reading the New York Press (which would have articles on things like why female circumcision is a fine thing and we should quit criticizing its practice).

Anyway, I wouldn't bother reading the Hitchens piece, but Weingarten's piece is quite amusing (he got a bunch of funny women to write it for him.)

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