Maureen Dowd’s recent column “The Sultan and the Salad” made me want to puke, but that’s not news. Her common cynicism, her busted moral compass… I usually skip her column rather than read it and wind up feeling vaguely embarrassed. Casting herself in the role of the seen-it-all skeptic, Mo asks us to read her as an independent voice unafraid to speak truth to power. In practice, though, she schmoozes to power. She’s a consummate Washington insider and a mainstay at the Times. How much more institutional can a journalist be?
What does she stand for? What is her point? Nothing, herself excepted. Readers can intuit Paul Krugman’s overarching worldview, his sense of what is moral and what is not. The same is true for most other heavy-hitting Times columnists –– Nicholas Kristof, Charles Blow, Frank Bruni, David Brooks (choking as I type this), and even the Times’s token reactionary, Ross Douthat (who pronounces his name Dow-thut, which rhymes vaguely with Mouth-shut, and not –– much to my disappointment –– Doubt-that). All of these writers have a personal stake in what they write about. Dowd, on the other hand, offers no consistent point of view, only her own observations on random topics, few of which are ever especially notable.
Dowd thinks she’s a great wit, but she isn’t funny, especially when compared to her Times colleague Gail Collins, an op-ed comedy genius. Dowd frames herself as a sassy 21st-century Hildy Johnson –– Rosalind Russell in “His Girl Friday” –– who has graduated from ace reporter to stately but sharp-edged opinion columnist. Only her edges aren’t sharp. She’s just snide.
In “The Sultan and the Salad,” Mo colors herself as the ironic observer of a crowd of Hollywood mucky-mucks hanging out at the Beverly Hills Hotel. She explains: “In 2014, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jay Leno, Elton John, Ellen DeGeneres, and others called for a boycott of the hotel after its owner, the sultan of Brunei, implemented Shariah law in his small oily kingdom in the South China Sea, making homosexuality and adultery punishable by stoning.”
She goes on: “‘Kind of funny for an ideology that rewards death with the promise of sex with 72 partners,’ dryly notes my friend Max Mutchnick of ‘Will & Grace’ fame. There were demonstrations with signs like ‘It’s Not Sheik to Hate.’ Oscar parties, ‘Star Wars’-themed bar mitzvahs, and lavish ‘Colin Cowie presents’ weddings were all canceled.”
“Star Wars”-themed bar mitzvahs! Hollywood Jews are always ripe for ridicule. Few things are more timeless than a bar mitzvah joke. And “Colin Cowie presents” weddings! The goyim of greater Tinseltown are as ostentatious as those tasteless Jews. This is all easy cynicism. But what’s with “my friend Max Mutchnick of ‘Will & Grace’ fame?” Excuse me, but who is Max Mutchnick? He wasn’t Will; that was Eric McCormack. He wasn’t Jack; that was Sean Hayes. Could he have been Karen? Oh, right –– he was the series’ co-creator and co-writer. The word fame means something different to the A-Listers than it does to those of us stuck in Lower Slobovia.
More to the point, Dowd actually has the crust to ridicule people who boycotted a business owned by a notorious despot whose idea of justice involves mobs armed with rocks surrounding gay Bruneians and bashing their brains out. Deciding not to contribute to the obscene wealth of a tyrant who enforces a barbaric travesty of justice that ends with rocks raining down on the heads and bodies of gay people, killing them in the ugliest way possible… This doesn’t strike me as something to be mocked. What’s next? A wry column about coat-hanger abortions?
Ah, but you see there’s hypocrisy to be exposed here, and Mo thinks she’s the gal to do it: “As Vanity Fair reported, some luminaries never stopped coming and some held ‘Gay Ins.’ Others ordered takeout and had their secretaries pick it up. Hotel devotees sneaking back for the beloved $35 McCarthy salad were chastised. The boycott, they were told, was bigger than a salad.”
Ho ho, how droll. A boycott bigger than a salad. ROTFLMAO.
Dowd sure makes those silly, politically aware, gay and actively gay-friendly Tinseltown types look like do-gooding putzes. For reasons that anyone with a moral sense isn’t able to comprehend, she revels in the boycott’s apparent failure. Notice that she employs the passive voice for the last two sentences. “Were chastised.” “Were told.” Like a sophomore writing a C-level college paper, Dowd eliminates the pesky problem of identifying these killjoys by name. Absolving herself from what-a-drag specificity, she’s free to deride people without having to answer for it. What a chickenshit.
The next paragraph begins, “In Los Angeles for the Oscars, I….” Wheeeee! Back to the obnoxious “my friend Max Mutchnick” mode, except this time everybody gets the reference. “In Los Angeles for the Oscars, I…!” “In Los Angeles for the Oscars, I…!” Who among us has been able to utter that gilded statement? “In Los Angeles for the Oscars, I…” proves Mo’s street cred, the street in this case being the interminable red carpet.
Once she gets going, the passive voice disappears, and name dropping rushes wildly forth without hindrance: “Katzenberg told me that the boycott was still on. And Max admitted that he was a little apprehensive. As we settled into our green leather booth, he warned, ‘No one should expect a Dolly Levi-Returning-to-Harmonia-Gardens moment.’ Yet he was surprised and pleased to see that, after an 18-month hiatus, the place seemed exactly as he had left it. Leonardo DiCaprio had been spotted at the pool and gays were returning. Zac Posen, whose gowns are Oscar red carpet staples, was at a nearby booth. ‘Suzanne Pleshette taught me what to order: a McCarthy salad, dressing on the side, and well-done fries,’ Max recalled, as the waiter warmly welcomed him. The menu cover had a picture of Warren Beatty –– who held court as a young bachelor in the hotel’s bungalows and shot part of his forthcoming Howard Hughes movie there, and who longs for the boycott to be over.”
Cue the fabulous “Drop that Name” number from Comden and Green’s “Bells Are Ringing”: “Brigitte Bardot and Jean Cocteau, Marilyn Monroe and Vincent Minnelli/ Fred Astaire, René Clair, Jose Ferrer, the former Grace Kelly/ Lynne Fontanne and Danny Mann and Deb-o-rah Kerr/ Irving Berlin… and Rin Tin Tin?” The difference is, the song is satire.
The underpunctuated “Leonardo DiCaprio had been spotted at the pool and gays were returning” borders on camp. Memo to Times copy editors: this being a compound sentence, there should be a comma between “pool” and “and gays.” This missing comma renders whatever point the writer is struggling to make even more inane, suggesting as it does that “gays were returning” specifically in order to gawk at Leo in a swimsuit.
And let’s all take our moral cues from Warren Beatty.
Mo then offers a lengthy quote from Max about why the boycott is a dumb idea: “In sitcom terms, the Beverly Hills Hotel was kind of my ‘Central Perk’ [the coffee joint in ‘Friends’]. Much of my career unfolded at the Polo Lounge. I was signed by my agent and lawyer in that room. David Geffen told me what I had to do to save my career… I loved the ‘supporting characters’ who parked my car, worked the lunch counter, got me a good table at dinner, and greeted me like an old friend.”
If you’ve managed to read such self-centered tripe without barfing, go ahead and take a Pepto-Bismol break.
Then brace yourself.
Mutchnick is about to make a moral pronouncement: “I was proud to stand with my community and boycott an institution that represented repression and exclusion.” (Gee, I thought the issue went considerably beyond “repression and exclusion” to include crowds hurling rocks at gay people until they die. I must have misunderstood.) “But now the foundation of my political correctness is starting to show cracks. I grappled with my inner voice: ‘Maybe fluffy pancakes and warm maple syrup are more important than gay rights.’ But in truth, something deeper was gnawing at me: If I’m going to shun this hotel, does that mean that anything I don’t actively boycott, I tacitly endorse? I loved the television show ‘Glee.’ Should I not have watched because it aired on Fox, a company that gives Roger Ailes the parking space closest to the front door?”
No, you stupid sonuvabitch –– that’s not what it means. To compare watching “Glee” to supporting the barbaric murder of gay people is revolting beyond description. Wondering whether “fluffy pancakes and warm maple syrup are more important than gay rights” demonstrates a stomach-turning level of smug self-satisfaction. I know, I know –– it’s supposed to be humorous. The trouble is, it isn’t. And that touching bit about how much-of-a-Mutchnick loves his servants? It isn’t touching. It’s repulsive. Mutchnick has a plantation mentality so nakedly expressed as to be nearly unbelievable. In fact, I only believe it because of its sheer excess –– the sickeningly over-the-top selfishness is paradoxically what makes it real. Only someone lacking even a rudimentary soul could be so unselfconsciously venal.
Mo lets Max write the rest of her column for her, and it’s every bit as vile as what has come before: “What about Nike soccer balls which were sewn by the little hands of 12-year-old children in Pakistan? Can I no longer wear my Nike dry-fit Lycra-lined running shorts that lift and separate in a way that can only be described as gay magic?”
“Last night I got cash from the Bank of America ATM. Qatar put a billion dollar stake in BofA. Just Google ‘Bad Things in Qatar.’ It never stops. Should I remove Mariah Carey’s hit ‘Emotions’ from my iTunes playlist because she once performed for a vicious Angolan dictator to collect a million dollars? Of course not. I shouldn’t listen to ‘Emotions’ because it’s a ridiculous song with moronic lyrics.”
Oh boy I can’t stop laughing, my stomach hurts, it’s just too funny. But wait! Something serious this way comes:
“Does this boycott make sense? I did not want to go against my core values.”
What “core values?” The motherfucker doesn’t evince any.
“Or worse, offend a Higher Power. (Elton John.)”
And then this: “But it hit me like a rock being thrown at my face by the village baker in Brunei that, after two years, the only thing that changed at the Beverly Hills Hotel was that the hard-working staff, those least responsible for the offending action, were getting hurt the most. While a hotel representative says the employees are being compensated for lost wages, I’m dubious. We don’t know for how much or for how long.”
Lovely of you to care so much about the little people, Max. Hey, here’s an idea: Why not start a fund to make up your good friends’ lost income? Let’s see –– if everyone who boycotted the vicious little sultan’s overpriced hotel donated the tips they would have given the valet guys and the servers… Oh but that would require some effort. That and a heart. Worst of all, you wouldn’t get your fucking fluffy pancakes.
Many thanks, Mo, for making the whole gay community look as heartless and self-absorbed as your rich, Emmy-winning faggot friend. And it’s absurd to have to point this out, Max, but to say that an idea hit you like a rock thrown at your face only proves that you have never had a rock thrown at your face. I know it must come as a shock to you, darling, but gay people in Brunei don’t have the luxury of using stoning as a metaphor.