Who Is Rubbishing Whom?

Well we’ve seen this kind of thing before. For instance we heard it in a story also in the Guardian, and by the same reporter. Perhaps she specializes in silly self-flattering self-justifying whinges by bad novelists. What a dismal career choice.

But never mind that. The point is, what makes people think it’s a good idea to say things like this? Do they not realize how stupid and self-serving it makes them look? Yo! You wrote a novel, you got it published, you put it out there. Now people have a right and even a duty to say whatever they like about it. That’s how the system works. You do not have a right to prevent them. Got that? You do have a right to try to prevent them, to be sure. You do have a right to do what you’re doing – a legal right at least. To moan and bleat and fuss and make asinine accusations in the hope that your critics will stop pointing out how bad your novels are. But you don’t have a right to succeed, and that being the case, you might ask yourself if it’s really worth making a fool of yourself in the attempt.

She said female critics were most guilty of this damaging generalisation, and rose to the defence of Helen Fielding and her bestseller Bridget Jones’s Diary, which she said had suffered “unjust attacks from people who haven’t even read it. It’s a terrific book and it has sold more than two million copies.

Ah. Well I’ve read Bridget Jones, so allow me to make a just attack on it. It is, as many people have pointed out, quite funny. But it’s also stupid and irritating in more ways than I want to take the space to go into here. The most obvious, of course, is the dreary portrayal at this late date of a supposedly adult woman with nothing at all in her head except her appearance and her quest for a man. Yes, granted, it’s just a piece of fluff, and as a piece of fluff it is amusing, but so what? Does it follow that it should be immune from criticism? I don’t see why. But hey, it has sold more than two million copies, therefore it must be of surpassing excellence, and it’s elitist and snobbish and pretentious and undemocratic and downright evil for anyone to say a harsh word about it. Popular taste never errs, everyone knows that.

And then Colgan has the effrontery to use words like insulting, derogatory, rubbishing, and condescending, when she chooses to refer to the female critics she is angry at as ‘hairy-leggers’. That’s a cute phrase, I haven’t heard it before. But what’s really interesting about all this is that it’s yet another example of the kind of pre-emptive attack that is such a feature of intellectual discussion these days. Rather than addressing criticisms on their merits, rather than answering the substance, the tactic is to try to forestall by means of guilt. ‘You can’t say that about me/us. It is racist/Orientalist/elitist/whateverist to say that about me/us, so you can’t. It may or may not be true, it may or may not need saying; never mind that; we are downtrodden victims and you are a privileged oppressor, so if you say our novels are crap, we will say you are jealous and wicked and hairy-legged, so sucks.’ But I guess that’s how it is with chicks who write chick-lit.

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