Wall Street Journal
December 1, 2012
Caitlin Moran has been called “the U.K.’s answer to Tina Fey.” But where the American comedian only turned to authorship with “Bossypants” (2011), Ms. Moran has been writing wittily about all things female for more than 20 years, in columns for the Times of London and other publications. Earlier this year she published “How to Be a Woman,” a hilarious assessment of modern feminism told through anecdotal memoirs. Now comes “Moranthology,” her essays on pop culture and other topics.
Ms. Moran wrote about pop culture before she wrote about anything else. At 16, she became a rock critic for the magazine Melody Maker, where her criticisms of local Wolverhampton indie bands were so biting that the magazine sub-headlined one review, “Jesus, Caitlin—there are gonna be repercussions about this one.” Ms. Moran still likes to look at feminism and pop culture and give them a snicker. She wonders, for example, where all the clothes went on MTV. “Don’t get me wrong,” she writes, “I was raised on Madonna. Beyoncé and Gaga are my girls. . . . It’s just the . . . ubiquityof female pop stars dressing up as hoes that’s disturbing. It’s weird and unnerving as if all male pop stars had decided, ten years ago, to dress up as farmers. All the time.”
Today, Ms. Moran calls her style “either silly, or polite, or pointing at something cool.” What she thinks is cool does not always conform with the hip strictures of most cultural criticism. She writes approvingly, for instance, of the royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton. People cared a great deal about this event, she notes, although it had no real political import. “They cared about the idea of an event as big as the Olympics, or the inauguration of a President—and also about love, rather than sport or power.” But Ms. Moran has a hard time finding anything about Michael Jackson’s 2009 memorial service that wasn’t “dazzlingly inappropriate.” She relays anecdotes like Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s mention of the seven counts of child sexual abuse brought against the singer—”trying to sort out that whole ‘persistent pedophile rumors’ thing in a couple of breezy sentences, in front of Jackson’s children.”
In her obituary for Elizabeth Taylor, Ms. Moran praises the star for being “too bloody much,” writing: “In a world where women still worry that they are ‘too much’—too big, too loud, too demanding, too exuberant—Taylor was a reminder of what a delight it can be when a woman really does take full possession of her powers.” One can see throughout these essays why she feels an affinity for Taylor, as we learn about her tastes in men—a mix of chivalry and fuming coldness—as well as her taste in clothes. She likes big hair (claiming she has “the vague silhouette of Chewbacca”) and disdains court shoes (what American would call pumps). “Court shoes look Thatcher,” she writes. “Always have done, always will do.”
“Moranthology” also contains politically minded pieces, what she calls “righteous columns.” In a piece responding the closing of several libraries in England due to budget cuts, Ms. Moran argues forcefully for the importance these “sheltered public spaces”: “A mall—the shops—are places where your money makes the wealthy wealthier. A library is where the wealthy’s taxes pay for you.” In the staunchly pro-choice “This Is Not a Gift,” she suggests that “babies being ‘given’ to women as gifts makes the women sound powerless. Just something that a present was put on to, like a bookcase, or a shelf—rather than a reasoning adult, who decided they were ready to be a mother, instead.”
Fans of Ms. Moran will be especially pleased that all the pith and wit about “how to be a woman” remain on display in “Moranthaology.” In her column “In Defense of Binge Drinking,” she cheekily justifies careful wine consumption in front of her children. “Where, pray, are we supposed to drink?” she asks in a mock-dialogue with her disapproving offspring. “Obviously we’d like to go to the pub—we’d like to go to Harry’s Bar in Venice, in 1951—but we can’t, because we’re looking after you.”
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