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Kathy Shaidle

Take a camel. Please. Or: The trouble with Ann Coulter

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Posted on March 29 2010 12:00 pm
Kathy Shaidle blogs at FiveFeetOfFury, now entering its 11th year online. Her latest book is Acoustic Ladylandkathy shaidle, which Mark Steyn calls "a must-read."

Since NewsReal Blog is a media analysis blog, bear with me as I point out (again) what the media got wrong about Ann Coulter’s history-making trip to Canada. (And yes, I mean that. As I’ve said from the start, her visit has cast into high relief a debate that until now has mostly existed on the margins in my country: about the definitions of “free speech” and “hate speech.”)

So I’m obliged to remind the MSM that Ann Coulter never said that “Muslims should be banned from airlines.” Here’s what she did say. Her 17 year old questioner in London, Ontario actually got it right, but subsequent media reports didn’t. That’s what happens when you crib from your colleagues instead of doing your own homework.

Part of the “trouble” with Ann Coulter is that she is female. There, I said it. P.J. O’Rourke has written equally “mean spirited” and even “racist” things; oddly enough, he doesn’t attract the rabid craziness that defines Coulter haters. No one writes entire books condemning him, and his speeches don’t spark riots.

The other “trouble” is something I call “genre dysphasia,” because I can’t think of a better expression. The great Rex Murphy came close to articulating this the other day, describing Coulter’s “Don Rickles’ conservatism”:

Coulter is so relentlessly and deliberately abrasive that she almost chases support away. In her London, Ont., appearance this week, her harsh “take a camel” answer to a Muslim student was fingernails on a blackboard to our sensibilities. But then, I recall the Michael Moore images of kids kite-flying in Saddam’s Iraq, which was a real shudder-inducing moment. Disneyfying the torture state that was Saddam’s Iraq was the grander affront by far. Moore, playing to the easy line of George W. Bush as an idiot-Hitler, got feted at Cannes and won an Academy Award.

They both operate in a new and mixed terrain, a compound of journalism, comedy, politics and entertainment…

The more outlandish the performance — think of Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, in comparison with whom Bill O’Reilly is a self-effacing introvert — the higher the partisan fame. These figures are less commentators than impresarios. They use politics as a rough script for a daily performance — and are paralleled by the emergence of the comic pundits, of whom Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are of course the premier examples.

As the likes of Dennis Miller have observed about Coulter, she is a born stand up comic, with enviable timing, a way with hecklers and a fearlessness that borders on reckless. Had she called herself “a stand up comic” instead of “a political pundit,” she would have attracted far less vitriol — and come away with less money and fame to show for it. And less controversy: imagine videos of her saying exactly the same things in front of a sign that reads “Yuk Yuk’s” instead of “CPAC.” Then try to imagine anyone caring. “Take a camel”? Please. Her “routines” are tame compared to the stuff millions of us grew up listening to on comedy albums back in the 70s and 80s.

But stand up wasn’t the path Coulter’s background had perfectly prepared her for. She would have been insane not to leverage her law degree and other traditional conservative pundit creds as booster rockets to launch her career; that Coulter then transformed mid-flight into what I’ll call a “sit down comic” makes her problematic, if only for unimaginative types who insist upon slotting people into pre-conceived slots. Alas, unimaginative types make up 90% of the Establishment elite and its commentariate.

Speaking of which: the same government body which spent countless tax dollars analyzing Mark Steyn’s jokes a while back is, this very day, “investigating”a Canadian “stand up” comic for “hate speech” and “homophobia.”

No, seriously.

So there goes my fancy theory, I guess.

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