The Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World

Photograph Source: Brett Jordan – CC BY 2.0

Girls will be boys, and boys will be girls
It’s a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world
Except for Lola, lo lo lo lo Lola

– The Kinks, “Lola” (1970)

I don’t know if it’s End Times, but it sure is strange times. Ever since consigliore Karl “Turd Blossom” Rove rose to the occasion to play dirty tricks for W’s administration, including his most famous feat of declaring (but later denying) to a NYT reporter that ‘reality-based thinking” was, from then on, under siege by alternate realities painted by shit picassoes with fascist agendas, keen on keeping the so-called liberal press guessing about the master narrative, shaky Reality has taken hit after hit, until we have reached total saturation in the Absurd. Does anyone know what the fuck is going on — out there — or even in here (taps temple)? When we double-tapped (together, after all it was you and me, pleased to meet you) the Canon, did we anticipate such madness all around us, chaos, Chinamen all bucky bucky beaver laughter as if a yak just shat on our exceptionally shiny shoes?

Strange times. George W. Bush, who many have noted looks an awful lot like Alfred E, Neuman decline, has been on the comeback circuit of late, weighing in on the George Floyd knee-necking murder with a CIA-daddy like, ‘We need to be a kinder, gentler nation.’ Unfortunately, for e pluribus unum’s self-esteem, we’ve been knee-necking other nations for about 75 years on our way to controlling the world with our peppy idealism. More recently W’s squad released a film to celebrate, I guess, the 20th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor event in NYC with 9/11: Inside the President’s War Room. The film is garbage and I trashed it with my review.  In some ways, it’s almost unbelievable; a real Turd Blossom sandwich for the viewer.  The documentary that stars all the criminals (Bush, Powell, Connie, and press secretary Aryan Flusher) who gave us the war-as-crime, i.e., the Iraq invasion of 2003, shows up in hindsight to say, pretty much, that they stand behind their debunked claims. Crazy stuff is depicted. An unresolved question on the day is where was W.? He said he was flying all day and couldn’t pick  up  TV coverage and that communications with VP Cheney (in charge) were intermittent and funky.

The Whitehouse bunker full of 9/11 strategists had an oxygen problem, and folks were seen (in the film itself) literally yawning and starting to nod off.  Meanwhile, on board Air Force 1, i.e., inside the president’s war room, dark intrigue manifested itself in the form of a terrifying hijacking plot (but note the languid body language) that sounded a lot like the novel The President’s Plane Is Missing (1973), to hear Aryan Flusher tell it:

Of course, In the film adaptation of The President’s Plane Is Missing, the VP is played as a doofus, not like Dick Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton before joining the Bush white House. And what serendipity to have Halliburton at hand to help the poor, starving Iraqis dig themselves out of the rubble by giving them jobs rebuilding the oil infrastructure so badly inadvertently damaged by American weapons of mass destruction.  Yep, Turd Blossom was hard at work again taunting reality-based thinking.

Then, more recently Trump’s MAGA doggies (think: Animal Farm and Napoleon’s fascists hounds yipping at the heels of groaners and dissidents, except that the MAGA dogs are surreal shape-shifting clown dogs with floppy paws who wear lipstick and Viking horns and sing Disney tunes about sadistic moms, because that’s what the counter counter culture has arrived at in America) put out a movie 2000 Mules that is so fucking stupid that indictments shoud have been handed down, and the Indian producer should have been deported — for being so un-American. He was hating on democracy, and defaming gays in the student newspaper, while attending Dartmouth on a visa. (See my review.) A young Repugnican, indeed. Now making a movie about how Trump was defrauded of his rightful  crown. Is that how they do it in India?  you (meaning me) wondered.

And now we’ve got more conservative silliness with the conservative documentary in search of Truth, What Is A Woman? The 35 year old Matt Walsh wants to know. He’s married; has kids; he’s a regular Catholic guy. He lives in Tennessee, where the still waters run deep. He’s comfortable in his own skin. Nobody who looks at him would ask him: What is a man? But suddenly it eats at him inside profoundly: What is a woman?

Where did all this animus and animation come from?  Was he inspired by Amy Coney Barrett’s eyes?  Did she wokesome sleeper cells, will lapses in apses return and do a victory lap? Is having a Catholic in the White House and a Catholic on the Supreme Court gonna be a problem?  Are we gonna have to kill God all over again?

Who is Matt Walsh that all the swans offend him? He’s a conservative political commentator. He hosts The Matt Walsh Show podcast on The Daily Wire. Walsh has written three books, each one nuttier than the one that came before, including The Unholy Trinity: Blocking the Left’s Assault on Life, Marriage, and Gender (2017), Church of Cowards: A Wake-Up Call to Complacent Christians (2020), and Johnny the Walrus, which came out in December 2021, and which we’ll address in a moment.  According to his Wikipedia entry, Walsh opposes same-sex marriage and transgender rights. He has compared gender-affirming care for children to molestation and rape. He has argued against paid paternity leave for men and that Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial was malicious prosecution. He has espoused the Great Replacement conspiracy theory. He has argued in favor of restricting pornography. After the children’s show Sesame Street released a video encouraging childhood vaccinations, Walsh called Big Bird a “drug dealer” and described the voice “like a child molester.”

The just released What Is A Woman? comes after the release of Johnny the Walrus. They are totally related in content. When I guessed what J the W might be about, I thought of the John Lennon song, “God,” where he sings, I was the walrus, but now I am John and, as if in the voice of a dying God, adds, and so, dear friends, you’ll just have to carry on — the dream is over. I was walking the hills of old Troy, Walkman, went into a working class bar (natch) and got shitfaced to the tune of George Thorogood’s “I Drink Alone” playing over and over on the jukebox. I went through some quarters, and so did some of the other lonely patrons of the not-so-clean, not-so-well-lighted place. Nada. Pardon my Dostoyevskian moment here.

Matt’s film is about hating on the ‘trannies’. He wants the Truth. Yes, uppercase. And we can’t handle that there is a difference between men and women. Goddamn it, it’s not all “relative.” It’s not. It’s not. It’s not. Matt says it’s biological reality. And everywhere he goes he seeks out people to affirm his argument (whatever that is) and to be sure to passive aggressively signal to several interviewees his disdain for their acceptance of people’s freedom to express themselves to the point where they prematurely eject themselves from the interview, insulted. He includes these moments in the film because for hu type their response is proof positive that he is validated and rectal. People walk away from him going, “What an asshole.” We know what that is then. But, there’s something to what he’s saying that we’ll get to.

What’s the M.O. of What Is A Woman? As the Wikipedia entry for the film tells us, the documentary features Walsh asking the question “What is a woman?” to people around the world, including a pediatrician, a gender-affirming family and marriage therapist, a sex reassignment surgeon, a transgender opponent of medical transitions for minors, and psychologist Jordan Peterson.  Walsh also pops the Question to women during a Pride parade (where he dons a sign that asks, What Is A Woman? and further badgers anybody who wants to be badgered with the Question roared through a bullhorn). Few people he speaks with want to take the time to play with him in his tautological sandbox; he misreads their say what? expressions for ignorance of his presumed Truth.

In his national criss-crossings, channeling Michael Moore, if MM were out to harangue transgender people rather than corporate yahoos and Moses, president of the NRA, Walsh’s plane lands in Providence, Rhode Island, where he meets up with pediatrican, Michelle Forcier, to discuss the earliest age for gender-identity issues to show up and to describe “gender affirmation care.”  The discussion is a micro of the macro, Forcier affirming a child’s imaginative life (Santa Clause) and Walsh reminding her that Santa is not real, and that while childhood imagination is great (he has kids, he knows) if a male 4 year old tells you he feels like a girl (presumably, a rare occurrence). The convo goes like this, partially:

Walsh: When I see a child who believes in Santa Claus and then let’s say this is a boy, and he says, I’m a girl.

Forcier: Mm hmm.

Walsh: This is someone who can’t distinguish between fantasy and reality. So how could you take that? As a reality.

Forcier: I would say that as a pediatrician and as a parent, I would say how wonderful my four year old in their imagination is.

Here’s an excerpt of their interview:

And this is the nub. In our age of relativism, that many Westerners have come to some kind of terms with a well-educated pediatrician seeing even a four ear old as having the right to pursue their bliss, and, if necessary, the sooner the better.

But Walsh disdains this approach. And to make a mockery of it, he flies to Africa to have a chat about sex, gender and identity reassignment, with members of a Masai tribe, and naturally, they have the commonsense understanding that the difference between men and women largely has to do with their roles and with the obvious fact that he has a dick and she has a vagina. In fact, everywhere he goes, and everyone he talks to, the same answer comes up. It’s all about who has the dick and who doesn’t. Women don’t have ‘em.

He talks with young women athletes who feel they were cheated in their competitions when transgender athletes were allowed to compete with them and had the male advantage in them, and won, and it was unfair to have trained so many hours to lose someone who ain’t a woman (no vagina), ain’t a man (doesn’t want to be). How can they compete with his hormones? If they do, they get called Russians dolls with hairy legs. Then they’re the cheats. How about that?

In his children’s book, Johnny the Walrus, Walsh depicts a child who thinks he’s a walrus to the extent that he needs to be brought to a doctor to cure him of his over-imagination. But mom discovers that the doctor is a practitioner of “gender affirmation care” and little Johnny’s gonna have to look the part if he wants to be a walrus. But Johnny can never be a real walrus. There is some sympathy for this position, and even among the LGBTQ set, the first three letters — LGB — refer to sexual orientation, rather than gender identity.

Throughout the film, the pathcrossers he talks with just look at him like, Say what? Why is he going on about Reality and Truth? (“Human kind cannot bear very much reality,” quoth TS Eliot). But Walsh’s Reality and Truth are like Trump’s MAGA sentimentalizing about a past that probably never was — you just imagined it (quoth the hobo philosopher Will Rogers, Nothing is the way it used to be, and never was) and it begins to feel anachronistic to new generations. Me, listening to Walsh, reminded me of my time as a student at Eastern Nazarene College, where I took Biology 101 and in the class they taught the science along with scripture. Say what? But everybody else looked fine with it. It fucked me up so much it’s all seemed like a parallel universe since, totem and taboo. But what’s really crazy is I was an agnostic and only enrolled there because Bob Dylan was in his reborn period and I wanted to dig where he was coming from. True story.

Matt is calm and cool as a queer cucumber, almost throughout the film. He thinks he’s using logic but it’s really just passive aggression dressed up for the Mardi Gras that masquerades as thinking. He’s been called an ‘essentialist’, which is an apple-polished shiny way of saying that he believes essence precedes existence. Sartre would have beat the snot out of him. Toward the end of the flick,Walsh shows his truer colors when he is allowed to speak before a Loudon County (Virginia) school district panel for exactly one minute and essentially rants against the relativistic age we find themselves in, mostly lost, from what I can see:

Vicious cucumber under the cool.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of a film like this is that it has the value of opening up the question of not What Is A Woman?, according to the antiquated rules of Truth, but what sociological and cultural phenomena are taking place in our society today. At one point Walsh attempts to lay the blame for the rise of transgenderism on the influence of two men — Alfred Kinsey and John Money, who both saw sexuality as more  fluid than had previously been conservatively thought.  But there are larger questions at stake that get buried under Walsh’s retro-vision. Historian Gary Gestler has identified this trend as a backlash to the promises of neoliberalism gone bad. He describes it as neo-Victorianism. But Walsh is a Catholic, so the needs he has and the excess freedom he laments go deeper than mere economics. We fast approach the man-machine merge referred to as the Singularity which, among other things, will lead to new ideas and notions of what is the human body, what is a man and a woman, what is consciousness.  At one point, the film flashes a statistic: There are currently 1,400, 000 people in America and that trend is growing. What does this trend mean? These are the kinds of questions that Walsh leaves behind but need answering.

What Is A Woman?  just adds to the relentless white noise we can’t seem to escape and adds nothing to our humanity. The film is not worth watching, but its posture is worth noting.

John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia.  He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times.