Saturday, July 10, 2021

Julie Willett's "The Male Chauvinist Pig"

Julie Willett is professor of history at Texas Tech University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Male Chauvinist Pig: A History, and reported the following:
If you only had a few moments to understand why this research matters, I would encourage you to take a close look at page ninety-nine. In fact, it serves as the introduction to the last chapter entitled “Modern Conservatism’s Missing Link: Rush Limbaugh, Feminazis and the Rise of Donald Trump.” Here you will see how an unorthodox conservative talk show host used “‘bad-boy jokes’” to reshape the political landscape. Indeed, this single page of history reveals humor as a conduit of power, and one often overlooked in the histories of post-Vietnam conservatism.

This page begins with the observations of documentary filmmaker Stephen Talbot, who in 1995 was trying to understand how Limbaugh had become a political tour de force. In part, Limbaugh presented himself as the common man whose manners and mores were anything but elite. Most importantly, Talbot notes, the talk show host effectively challenged “the notion that ‘funny conservative is an oxymoron.’” To be sure, progressives never found Limbaugh funny. After all, isn’t the golden rule of comedy to punch up not down? But for white conservatives, who felt they were the victims of limousine liberals and political correctness, Limbaugh “‘played the angry white guy with a sense of humor.’”

By the end of the page, it becomes clear that Limbaugh had become a master at transforming his political enemies into the butt of the joke. Most famously, “with a single catchphrase [Feminazi], feminism became an indispensable enemy” and too serious to be taken seriously, too moralizing to be likeable. All of which came to haunt the 2016 Clinton-Trump presidential race.

Earlier chapters, however, offer a richer history that trace the rise of the Male Chauvinist Pig (MCP), including the popularity of 1970s icons like Bobby Riggs and Archie Bunker. As the epithet transformed into a source of pride, the MCP sold everything from neckties to conservative politics. The MCP not only rolled around in white privilege; he was far more accessible than the Playboy. Men didn’t need to rely on a swank bachelor pad or a refined sense of taste. Instead, a misogynist joke got them into the club.

Finally, looking beyond this single page also reveals an important nuance: The MCP was easier to spot than to define. Like feminisms, chauvinisms turned on a more fluid and mixed political consciousness, something that might make us rethink our contemporary political divide.
Learn more about The Male Chauvinist Pig at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue