WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2021
Robin Givhan's column: This morning, the increasingly tabloidized web site of the Washington Post caught up with a personage it had largely been disappearing.
We refer to the Robin Givhan, the Post's "senior critic at large."
Givhan's columns are called "The Critique." In print editions, the columns run in a fairly prominent place—across the top of page A2, once or twice a week.
Until today, the web edition of the Post had seemed unaware of Givhan's existence. It was virtually impossible to find her columns at the paper's web site. Quite literally, if you entered her name in the Post's search engine, it wouldn't produce a link to her columns until several days had passed!
This was just one part of the puzzling disconnect between the two versions of the Post—the more traditional newspaper which arrives at people's homes in the morning, versus the largely dumbnified version which now appears in-line.
(Until some time in August, the Post's web site produced a listing of the "stories" in that day's print edition. That service no longer exists.)
Full disclosure! We've been biased against Givhan dating all the way back to November 2000.
At that time, and for many years, Givhan was a fashion writer for the Post, and she may well have been a very good one. The leading authority on her career summarizes it as shown, through the year 2014:
Robin Givhan (born September 11, 1964) is an American fashion editor and Pulitzer Prize winning writer.
Givhan was a fashion editor for The Washington Post. She joined the Post in 1995, and left in 2010 to become the fashion critic and fashion correspondent for The Daily Beast and Newsweek. She returned to the "Post" in 2014.
Givhan won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2006, the first time the award was given to a fashion writer. The Pulitzer Committee cited Givhan's "witty, closely observed essays that transform fashion criticism into cultural criticism."
Givhan returned to the Post in 2014. She's still at the Post today, writing the columns of which the web site seemed to be unaware until this very morning.
Despite her acclaim as a fashion writer, we've been biased against Givhan ever since November 2000. We've been biased against her because of the astounding column she wrote about Katherine Harris.
Harris had the misfortune of being Florida's secretary of state during the 2000 Florida recount. This thrust her onto the public stage in a very dramatic way.
Givhan's astonishing column about Harris was a bit of a mainstream / liberal "own goal." At a time when the liberal world was praying that the Gore campaign could emerge victorious from a very confusing recount, Givhan managed to create a great deal of sympathy for the Republican state official with all those ties to Governor Jeb Bush.
How did Givhan manage to do this? She did it through a mocking column which carried this mocking headline:
The Eyelashes Have It
For those who want to understand what mainstream sexual politics were like as of the year 2000, that column serves as a bit of a primer.
It helps explain the ugly way Candidate Gore was attacked, starting in November 1999, for hiring Naomi Wolf as a campaign adviser. (At the time, Wolf was a thoroughly mainstream figure and an acclaimed author.)
It helps explain the way certain figures in the mainstream press ridiculed Monica Lewinsky. It helps explain the ludicrous conduct of many major journalists during the Clinton impeachment chase and during the subsequent Gore campaign.
In fairness to Givhan, everyone makes mistakes. In this case, hers was an absolute dilly. Her condescension and her contempt could not have been more obvious or less appropriate.
No, her column didn't change the way the Florida recount turned out. But it was one of various ridiculous plays which made the road that much harder.
Givhan ridiculed Harris' appearance during her crazy column. Headline included, the column started as shown below, with Givhan restricting herself to a strange act of clairvoyance:
GIVHAN (11/18/00): The Eyelashes Have It
The first time the country got a good look at Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, it was in the wee hours of the morning on Nov. 8. Television viewers were bleary-eyed, and the realization that the election was spiraling into a Kabuki drama of chads, butterflies and boils hadn't sunk in. Harris sat hunched in a Shakespeare T-shirt. She looked tired and tousled and like a forty-something woman who hadn't gotten enough sleep. And viewers accepted that without comment because they recognized and could understand the image: honest human imperfection.
How could Givhan possibly know what "viewers" had "accepted without comment" in the wee hours of that fateful night and morning?
Obviously, Givhan couldn't know any such thing. But at that point, the absurdity turned to ugly condescension. The mockery was overt, obvious. As the fashion writer continued, she offered Post readers this:
GIVHAN (continuing directly): By the time perplexed Americans got another gander of her, she was suited up for business. Her cascade of auburn hair did a lazy Veronica Lake dip over one eye. Her lips were overdrawn with berry-red lipstick—the creamy sort that smears all over a coffee cup and leaves smudges on shirt collars. Her skin had been plastered and powdered to the texture of pre-war walls in need of a skim coat. And her eyes, rimmed in liner and frosted with blue shadow, bore the telltale homogenous spikes of false eyelashes. Caterpillars seemed to rise and fall with every bat of her eyelid, with every downward glance to double-check--before reading--her most recent "determination."
Hers were not the delicate individual lashes that can be used to fill out sparse hairs and give the eyes a lush canopy. Instead, they were the lashes of Tammy Faye Bakker Messner or Peggy Moffitt, the '60s model famed for her mod style and huge lashes. They were cartoon lashes. Lashes destined for a "Saturday Night Live" skit.
According to the Pulitzer winner, Harris' skin had been plastered and powdered to the texture of pre-war walls in need of a skim coat.
Caterpillars seemed to rise and fall with every bat of her eyelid. Her eyelashes were cartoon lashes, destined for SNL.
The fashion writer with the Princeton degree was just getting started. "By the time folks finished deriding her makeup," she said as she continued, "they couldn't stop the momentum. They went on to the clothes. Hate the suit. Hate the buttons. Hate you."
Just like that, this was a primer in hate. That said, which "folks" was Givhan talking about? At no point did she say. But as she continued, it became perfectly clear that she was, at the very least, talking about herself.
GIVHAN: For her close-up, Harris did what any reasonable person would. Wisely recognizing that television lights wash out features, she looked in the mirror and began to apply makeup. And apply makeup. And apply makeup. Until she looked as if she were wearing a mask. Harris virtually created a character that she could present to the world. Would anyone even recognize her on the street? Has that been her plan all along?
One of the reasons Harris is so easy to mock is because she, to be honest, seems to have applied her makeup with a trowel. At this moment that so desperately needs diplomacy, understatement and calm, one wonders how this Republican woman, who can't even use restraint when she's wielding a mascara wand, will manage to use it and make sound decisions in this game of partisan one-upmanship.
Besides, she looks bad—not by the hand of God but by her own. She took fashion--which speaks in riddles, hyperbole and half-truths—at its word, imbibing all of those references to the '70s and '80s, taking styling cues from Versace ads in which models are made up as if by a mortician's assistant, believing the magazines when they said that blue eye shadow was back. She failed to think for herself. Why should anyone trust her?
You can read the whole column here; it was very unhelpful. Some other ridiculous columns about political figures followed, but we've been biased against Givhan from that day to this. We've also been biased against the type of journalistic elite which was willing to put such ridiculous work into print.
The misogynistic sliming of Wolf (and Gore) in 1999 had come from this same general playbook. Candidate Gore, "today's man-woman" (Chris Matthews), had "hired a woman to teach him how to be a man" (everyone, in unison). So the children told us as they conducted their war.
In that case, the mainstream press corps, taking its lead from Maureen Dowd, was trying to take down Candidate Gore. In the end, they succeeded, though only barely. (In their view, he hadn't denounced President Clinton strongly enough.)
In the strange column by Givhan, she was expressing her undisguised contempt for "this Republican woman" who seemed to have applied her makeup with a trowel. This was the ugly frame of reference which generally ruled this sick elite at that particular point in time. People are dead all over the world because the New York Times and the Washington Post, and NBC News and its cable arms, crawled with people with values like these.
We've been biased ever since! Today, we went back and reread Givhan's column for the first time in many years. As before, we found it shocking, astounding, instructive.
Today, many of these same elite players pretend they deeply care. On the brighter side, the Washington Post's increasingly tabloidy web site has finally started linking to The Critique.