Here’s something you probably already know but may not have noticed: in any institution which has been taken over by the more egalitarian/iconoclastic/redistributionist elements of our society, which at this point generally includes nearly every one of the industries which control American culture, a very wide space is made for the inclusion of people who are manifestly, unquestionably and ridiculously unfit to contribute at the level they are appointed for.
This is a phenomenon not exclusive to the Left, mind you. Before cultural institutions like Hollywood, academia, literature, fashion, the arts, the news media and the recording industry became platforms for dissemination of radical culture, there were lots of incompetents who found jobs within those industries. Nepotism and the Old Boys’ Club made for a friendly enough environment for those a true meritocracy would condemn.
But those institutions used to be driven by the pursuit of excellence. The culture they built, which was the most successful and attractive in the history of the world, a culture which in large measure won the Cold War, accomplished what it accomplished because it offered the world truth, beauty, kindness, and freedom. It wasn’t necessary for everyone associated with the country’s cultural elite to be excellent to successfully present those values, but there were only so many walking embarrassments who could be tolerated for only so long before something had to be done about them.
Those were the days. They’re long gone now, it seems.
We could agree that Vogue passes for a cultural institution, no? Take that magazine’s contributing fashion editor Lynn Yaeger, who came to a larger public recognition when she started a media firestorm by criticizing Melania Trump’s choice of shoes on the latter’s trip to Corpus Christi to view hurricane damage. In no time photos of Yaeger, and her highly deficient personal style — she looks like someone you’d see fishing through dumpsters for cans and plastic bottles — became an internet sensation. Yaeger goes beyond quirky in her sartorial choices; there is no objective judgment under which she could present herself as having expertise in fashion given her manifest refusal to participate in it.
Yaeger makes Vogue a joke. It’s like having someone with an untreated cleft palate working at a plastic surgery clinic. But until people who aren’t immersed in the fashion media got a load of her thanks to the Melania Shoe Scandal, nobody noticed how discrediting she is to that magazine. The people “in the know” have treated her as a lovable eccentric for decades, including when she was at the Village Voice prior to her current position, because she believes the things the powers that be in the fashion industry believe.
But there are Lynn Yaegers everywhere in our cultural institutions. Take academia, for example.
Why do American parents send their kids to horrendously expensive colleges which burden families with six-figure debts it takes a decade or more to pay off? Because of a perception that the experience of a college education will supply those kids with skills and preparation they’ll need in the real world.
And if those kids are studying medicine, engineering, business or the hard sciences, that’s still true. For everything else? Perhaps not so much. Why is that? Just take a look at some headlines and you’ll see all the examples you need.
There is Ken Storey, the former sociology professor at the University of Tampa who used his Twitter account as an instrument for career suicide by announcing his glee over the residents of Houston being stricken by Hurricane Harvey. Storey was soon put out of a job by the backlash to his stupid remarks, and when the public got a look at his social media what they noticed was how much of a drunken lout he was. Someone like this teaching your kids how to succeed in the real world? Not really.
There is Rebecca Goyette, a performance artist and adjunct professor at a number of higher education institutions in New York City who came to the public’s attention when she was caught on video protesting outside a New York University speaking engagement by libertarian provocateur Gavin McInnes. Goyette’s famous moment included an unhinged, profanity-laced verbal fusillade at the police, demanding they “beat up” McInnes, since he’s a “Nazi.” It turns out that Goyette’s non-professorial pursuits include things like “lobster porn” and made a rather low-budget movie called “Ghost Bitch USA” in which she’s depicted castrating Donald Trump with a pair of garden shears.
And everybody knows Melissa Click, the now-infamous University of Missouri professor who achieved her 15 minutes when at a student protest she was filmed demanding “muscle” be brought to bear to remove a student journalist documenting it. Click was fired from her job as a communications professor at Mizzou amid the national furor she caused, but she’s still teaching — Gonzaga hired her after an “extensive national search.”
We could go on. But we need to mention some Hollywood and pop culture examples.
Take Martha Plimpton, the actress who made news last week when she appeared on stage at a pro-abortion event boasting that her “first abortion was the best.” Or, if you’d rather, Lena Dunham. Or Lindsey Lohan, or Michael Moore, or any of the multitude of other untalented actors who keep surfacing in the news for making stupid political statements or spectacularly screwing up their personal lives in such a way to make themselves unmarketable to large swaths of the public.
The entertainment business is about presenting an image the largest possible segment of the population finds appealing. Think about how many manifestly awful, unappealing people are continuously working in Hollywood despite the fact so much of the potential audience won’t go to see them.
Is it a coincidence this was the worst summer at the box office in modern memory for the movie industry?
The news media is little different, by the way. There are fantasists like Brian Williams and Thomas Frank who seem to have little trouble finding work for mainstream news operations, when they’re not busy hiring well-coiffed buffoons like Jim Acosta and Chuck Todd to spew patently inaccurate conventional wisdom passing for political analysis.
Why the profusion of manifestly incompetent people? Here’s a theory — the philosophy underlying the cultural Marxism that controls these institutions is hostile to excellence. The Left doesn’t believe in universal truth, after all; those kinds of standards are oppressive. And when you lose respect for objective quality, it isn’t hard to progress from Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo to Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, and on to Marina Abramovic, the performance artist whose absurdist “Spirit Cooking” exhibits touched off a rather wild conspiracy scandal after John Podesta’s emails became public.
If you don’t believe in objective excellence, you won’t seek it and you certainly won’t find it. Little wonder, then, that we don’t see much of it in our cultural institutions.