However, this time I started thinking about why the hell am I clicking on that link and watching a video of this harridan, when I know exactly what to expect, and that I will not be any wiser or otherwise improved afterwards? Indeed, I'll feel rather nauseated. So what's the attraction? Do I enjoy being offended and outraged for some reason? I tell myself I read right-wing blogs for of the intellectual challenge of trying to wrestle with a differing world-view, but that rationale seems less and less credible, and with Coulter it doesn't work at all. Or I tell myself its a form of amateur oppo research, but that doesn't really fly either.
No, something else is going on. Despite her superficial hideousness, there must be something attractive there. It may be the same sort of attraction found in horror movies, or the way we learn to like certain kinds of rottenness found in strong cheese. The very qualities that make her repulsive also make her attractive, on some different and largely unconscious level.
I think what attraction Coulter's shtick has for both me and her right-wing fans is based on its transgressive qualities. She's violating the rules of decency, while appearing (sort of) charming and amusing about it. That puts her opponents in the position of moralistic prigs, who believe that they are in a position to dictate what's right to the rest of us. She's a rebel! A truth-speaker!
So much of modern conservatism seems to be based on this need to transgress against what is supposed to be the dominant moral order, let's call it boomer liberalism. According to this ethos, you are supposed to be compassionate, tolerant, responsible, sensitive, cosmopolitan, educated. You are not supposed to be explicitly competitive or aggressive, except in certain approved and highly constrained ways.
Now, I don't really have too much against this moral order, which on the whole is an improvement on what it superseded. It suits my cultural biases. But like any other moral order it can be stultifying, and like any order it creates its own status hierarchies and winners and losers. Not everyone can easily conform to these norms. The result is a strong resentment at liberal elites, coupled with assertions of masculine brutality against what is seen as a feminized ethos of niceness. Coulter is a master of playing with these resentments, of giving voice to the part of the world who doesn't particularly want to be nice, of packaging them up into something outrageous enough to get her in the news while not being so outrageous as to get her banned (eg, she's careful not to veer into explicit racism, unless it's against Arabs).
Thus the entire basis of the conservative movement appears to be almost the opposite of what conservatism is supposed to be about. It's not about the preservation of an aristocratic elite, but the attempt to unseat one, one that is felt as illegitimate. (Whether they are pawns of the older more traditional elites who are trying to regain the power they lost is an interesting question, but not relevant to this particular train of thought).
At some level, I too feel the dominant moral order to be an imposition, and at some level I resist it like I would any externally-imposed authority. I can feel and share in the resentment even though the alternatives being touted appall me. Any political group seeks to impose a moral order, and I say screw 'em all, which is why I often feel more truly anarchic than the anarchists. And yes, this attitude is immature and being mature means joining up with and helping maintain a moral order, one way or the other, which I've done as best I can. But the old feelings remain; advanced middle age has not cured me of them as one might have hoped.
So I read these right-wingers for the little tingle of transgressivity they supply. It's a form of intellectual pornography I suppose.
[a previous post on a similar topic.]
[a previous post on a similar topic.]