Deconstructing Maureen Dowd

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Deconstructing Maureen Dowd

There doesn't seem to be much middle ground when it comes to NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd. The people I know either seem to adore her or detest her. You can count's Katie Roiphe among the latter. In this column, Roiphe writes:
Dowd pushes every statement to its most exaggerated form .... She is, at her best, a brilliant caricaturist of the political scene, turning each presidency into vivid farce. As a caricaturist, she has a fondness for punchy one-liners strung together ...

Her style evokes a brainier Candace Bushnell, whose oeuvre she frequently refers to, but it is given extra weightiness by her position at the Times.

Like the crude, sexist men she lampoons, Dowd is extremely fond of clever stereotyping. But this strategy is better-suited to satirizing a real person (say, President Bush) than it is to offering insights into the already cartoonish "war" between the sexes. In Are Men Necessary? she gravitates toward quotes like this: "Deep down all men want the same thing: a virgin in a gingham dress," or "if there's one thing men fear it's a woman who uses her critical faculties."

To support these generalizations, Dowd relies on the faux journalism of women's magazines. She cobbles together anecdotal evidence from people she encounters. The formula is basically this: "Carrie, a 29-year-old publicist, says … " And from Carrie's experience she extrapolates to the universal.

The problem with this approach is that one could go out and find a 29-year-old publicist who would say the opposite.

It would be one thing if Dowd were writing pure, straightforward polemic, ranting against the people she feels the need to rant against. But Dowd is pretending to cover cultural trends with journalistic accuracy, and it is this pretense that gives her arguments a shoddy feel.

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