Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Confession of a MoDo Addict

(For a concise summary of this post, scroll down to the last line.)

So MoDo (alias "Maureen Dowd" -- NY Times columnist) rolled into town, and I didn't even know about it! Who dropped the ball? Who? Where's Flavorpill? What's the point of subscribing to two hundred event-listing listservs if they won't even tell you about a MoDo appearance?

So I missed MoDo. Your reaction, I'm guessing, is "so fucking what?" No need to repeat her faults; I've heard it all. MoDo's the annoying Heather of political journalism. An irredeemable name-dropper, her pieces little more than obvious one-liners and bon mots strung together by inartful transitional clauses...that is, when she even bothers with transitional clauses. She's the Ally McBeal of columnists, when she's not the Bridget Jones of newsprint. She doesn't care about anything substantive, and her writing's formulaic. The MoDo column consists of one or more of the following: (a) a Shakespear allusion, preferably with Freudian implications; (b) Bush and/or his cronies are idiots; (c) an analogy to a situation found in a suitably respected recent middlebrow movie or a well-known; (d) someone associated with topic du jour is a hypocrite and liar. A guest columnist like Barbara Ehrenreich delves into the very root of working class lives. Ehrenreich investigates and reports. MoDo just pontificates. Often badly. Her words lack the erudition and conviction of Paul Krugman, the earnest concern for "Third World" suffering a la Nick Kristof, the occasional sociological insight of David Brooks, the wizened certainty of the globe-trotting Tom Friedman, and the all-around persuasiveness of Frank Rich. And she's not the black guy, so no Tavis Smiley guest appearances or presumed authority when discussing Katrina victims. Indeed, the irreverent snark of Wonkette, blogging without Gray Lady oversight or the need for a unifying "theme", has made Dowd's brand of attitudinizing tame by comparison, at least when MoDo's not slapping down Judy ("reporters are not stenographers") Miller.

So she's not exactly James Agee. And yet...she's so, what's the word here, beguiling. Maybe it's that picture of her on the TimesSelect site, smiling bewitchingly, that's so seductive. Or that goth-queen act she puts on during interviews, like a grown up Winona from Beetlejuice. I'm sure she taps into my longstanding fascination with redheads, but I never could explain my big crush on MoDo, given my irritation with her snide dismissals of the serious and the profound.

Until now. It's springtime for MoDo obsessives as she's out promoting her new book, titled provocatively Are Men Necessary? (I would say no, if weren't for the likelihood that my poker profits would disappear if men were to vanish from the earth.) The book sounds like a chore, a navel-gazing exercise in self-pity. Apparently MoDo's had poor luck with men lately, and she blames it all on fear. Fear of the smart, opinionated, sassy modern woman, she says -- a species celebrated by feminists but which have fallen way behind in the mating game. Or something. I don't plan on reading the book. But I did read a recent New York magazine feature on Dowd which, along with this lengthy Kurtz profile of her in the Washington Post, more than anything, helped explain the crush. As portrayed by the NY piece, Dowd is a screwball comedy heroine -- a little bit daffy, a little bit zany, and every bit the society girl. Like Myrna Loy or Irene Dunne, MoDo's sophisticated yet "feminine," a coinnoisseur of nice shoes and fine wine. And she's spunky, too, having developed a distinctive taste for the traditionally masculine art of political combat.

It strikes me that MoDo's the closest public figure we have to a feminine ideal of classic Hollywood (or at least, my feminine ideal anyway), Hildy Johnson from His Girl Friday. A woman who can wisecrack with the boys at the same time she's pounding out 2000 word columns. She's confident of her opinions yet decidedly feminine in holding fast to certain romantic notions that would make Gloria Steinem wince.

So let me take back part of what I said. What's attractive about MoDo -- or more precisely, what's attractive about the MoDo persona, is that she's defiantly not Ally McBeal or Bridget Jones. Unlike those two putzes, she doesn't get played by rakes and she doesn't let men set her self-esteem levels. She's not running through boxes of kleenex, unable to work, just because she had a bad date. If anything, her thesis appears to be that modern men are pussies, lacking the fortitude and confidence to grapple with a lioness like her. Yet she's no Catherine Keener or Isabelle Huppert either. The recent pop incarnations of the modern professional women come into two varieties: ball-chomping vamps or adorable neurotics. The MoDo type harkens to an earlier era of pop culture, when a woman might fire off some zingers while throwing down a scotch, all the while flirting with her eyes.

In other words, MoDo is pretty freaking hot, with the kind of appeal we don't see much of these days, at least not in the movies.