The OTHER SLANT: The Fearless Flyer Erica Jong on media titans Arianna, Tina, Rupert and more
The Slant originally reached out to Erica Jong, best known for her iconic first novel, Fear of Flying, to get her take on a Wall Street Journal story that tied women’s social, political, and financial freedom to the sexual revolution. The author of the piece longed for “the 1970s, when Ms. Jong was in every bookstore window and sex was the new groovy thing.”
But Jong had just posted an op-ed on The Daily Beast slamming the article’s argument, essentially saying that the writer just didn’t get it. “If only you’d lived through some of the things I have,” Jong lamented, “being trashed as the happy hooker of literature, being overlooked for professorships, prizes, and front-page reviews because it was assumed I was—’tis pity—a whore, you might see things differently. And then, if having lived through that, the pundits now said you were rather tame, you might wonder whether women could ever be seen for what we are: sexual and intellectual, sweet and bitter, smart and sexy.”
So instead, Jong offered us uncensored and controversial spins on the media titans (Arianna, Rupert, Tina) who’d been on her mind. She also made a provocative case for why Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex, her rave-reviewed anthology that drops this month, out-sexies E.L. James’s erotic Fifty Shades of Grey.
On Arianna Huffington not paying writers:
I won’t write for free anymore. The idea that everybody’s writing for free is hurting writing as a profession. I wrote many articles for Arianna when she was establishing her aggregator blog and attracting all those eyeballs. When she got $300 million from the AOL acquisition, I said: ‘OK, Arianna, we all helped you get there so now you’re going to pay writers.’ She said, ‘No, I pay my editors.’ I’ve known Arianna for years. Before she married a gay billionaire, she was a writer—A poor. Greek. Writer.
I knew her when she was anti-feminist. I knew her when she was right wing. I knew her when she turned left wing. We promoted our first books together in the U.K. a million years ago. We did Politically Incorrect together ages ago. She’s full of beans! But I admire her energy. She can be very interesting and she’s very clever. But “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women,” as Madeleine Albright once said. Artists who turncoat and exploit other artists—I have no words.
Arianna ditched the writers soon enough. That hurts. Writing is a craft and an art, not a freebie like a prize in a Cracker Jack box. It is not like chatting on TV. As the former President of the Authors Guild, I discovered how dire the earning power of authors can be. Now authors are blogging everywhere for free, and it’s not a good development. They are starving. I care about artists—the oxygen of society. Suppress them and you asphyxiate discussion and change. Arianna was a writer once. Then she married an ambivalent gay billionaire and became part of the one percent. She forgot her origins. Writers are part of the 99 percent. We need to be paid! We cannot barter poems for food.
On Tina Brown:
When Tina [Brown] was editor [at The New Yorker] she made all the stories shorter. As an editor, it seems she gets nervous and makes an article shorter and shorter and shorter because I suspect she’s afraid that people don’t have the attention span they used to have. But I understand that different things should be of different lengths. And Tina is a good editor in this regard: she knows immediately which writer to put with which story. She once sent me to interview Jane Campion, the film director. Very smart. Tina’s brilliant—at a lot of things. And a good writer. The Daily Beast’s “Women In the World” is a terrific idea. A lot of things she does are necessary. I wrote for her at Talk. I still write for her though the contracts they send you make you weep for writers.
On Bill Maher:
Smart, satirical, clever, and politically, his heart is in the right place. But once you hit a certain age, they don’t invite you anymore! And it’s not because you’re not funny and clever, or that you don’t talk as fast as you used to–I talk faster than I used to—and I’m good at sound bites. And I’m funny! But they don’t want women of my age on television. We’re supposed to disappear.
On men being allowed to age on TV:
Men have to be doddering and losing their memory before anyone fires them! Think of some of the guys on 60 Minutes. Most don’t have plastic surgery and they have droopy jaws. Andy Rooney was 92 when he retired! Now there are a few exceptions: Barbara Walters, amazing! And Diane Sawyer, ditto. But mostly they get kicked out to educational T.V. It’s a joke.
On The (Old) New Yorker:
I’ve ordered a subscription to The New York Review of Books because I am frustrated by The New Yorker. And not because it doesn’t have wonderful articles. It does! They publish good writers. I adore Judith Thurman’s work and David Remnick is a brilliant writer himself. I love John Lahr and Anthony Lane and Nancy Franklin. But the brief reviews are rather slipshod. Also, it has one short story, two poems and it doesn’t have those lengthy pieces that it used to print in Mr. Shawn’s day. [William Shawn was the editor of The New Yorker from 1951-1987.] Silent Spring by Rachel Carson: I read that when it was first published in The New Yorker in ‘62. It came out over three issues. In the 40s, The New Yorker dedicated the whole magazine to an article by John Hersey on Hiroshima. I think there’s a need for the 50-page article and there’s no place for them in print magazines anymore. Amazon Kindle singles are closer to The New Yorker I grew up with.
On the homogenization of magazines:
Magazines have become too alike. They are all gossip sheets now. There’s not that much difference between Vanity Fair and Us Weekly. If you go to the supermarket, can you tell the difference between People, Us Weekly, OK!, and Hello? I can’t.
On the limits of assessing value by page hits alone:
Publishers judge everything on numbers of eyeballs. But that’s never a measure of quality. Most people don’t read at all. If we pander to non-readers, where will that get us? I went into this gig admiring Colette, Edith Wharton, John Updike, Gore Vidal, Simone de Beauvoir, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Ralph Ellison, Saul Bellow. What’s the point of turning all writing into ephemeral gossip? Nobody will know these names in a year. Why focus on them? Who cares? I’d rather read Homer, Herodotus, Sappho, Ovid, and Woolf. God help us get past this emphasis on gossip. It truly bores me! I don’t care that the Kardashians’ have big butts. Do you?
On The New York Post, Rupert Murdoch and Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teen who was killed by a neighborhood watchdog:
I’m always on the verge of canceling my subscription to the Post because it’s so disgusting. But I like to read “Page Six” like everybody else. (Although I know fewer and fewer of the people on it.) In March, a cover-line on the Post read “Trayvon Hoodwink: Tragedy Highjacked by ‘Race Hustlers.’” Murdoch tries to smear Trayvon, this sweet-faced kid who was eating Skittles? It’s unconscionable—and not responsible. You know, the six white men who still can read are going to keep buying the Post, but it’s disgusting how unmeasured it is.
On the danger of valuing images over words:
We have a very visual culture. Photographs are much more accessible than words. But we shouldn’t judge everything on what we see. There has to be poetry. There has to be imaginative fiction. Eyeballs cannot be the only judges. If we are judging everything on a visual basis alone, all we are ever going to have is the Kardashians! Or their clones. We’re better than that!
On her latest book, Sugar in My Bowl:
It’s garnered rave reviews everywhere. It’s a book about sex from our point of view, not Mr. Grey’s [of the E.L. James’ erotic trilogy Fifty Shades], and how sex can be great, good, ecstatic, terrible, risible, wonderful, sexy, not sexy, depending on the emotional resonance. There is no such thing as body without mind–at least for intelligent mammals (of the female persuasion). We can have pleasure and lots of it (multiple, multiple, multiple orgasms). But we are thinking cunts of Team Pussy and we discriminate–even though our male partners don’t always. We have thoughts, fantasies, dreams and desires, not always masochistic like Ms. Anastasia Steele, nor sadistic like Mr. Christian Grey of the gray tie and gray suit and red room and execrable Fifty Shades of $$$$!
Erica Jong lives between New York City and Weston, CT with her husband, attorney Ken Burrows. The paperback edition of Sugar in My Bowl, which More magazine calls “fierce and fearless,” comes out on June 26th. Visit her at EricaJong.com.