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Helen Razer’s year of living magnanimously: our five faves for the festive season

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There is perhaps no Daily Review correspondent so upbeat as Helen Razer. Her approach to criticism has again been unstintingly sunny in a year she described the Melbourne Cup as “a networking opportunity for those who will cause our economic ruin” that “reeks of death”, or Gwyneth Paltrow as “both tedious shopkeeper and handy personification of the decadence of self-esteem.” Of the enduring political sunshine of the Blair-Clinton era, she wrote in October, “I cannot think of a worse leftist fad in history than the Third Way, save for Stalinism.”

Asked this morning by Ray Gill, DR’s editor-in-chief, how she managed to remain so very positive, she answered, with typical warmth, “Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.”

Our bubbliest critic sees the year out with her account of 2017’s most overhyped and terrible finest cultural moments.

5 Cat Person, short story

Harvard alumna Kristen Roupenian may be only 36, but she is already showing no signs whatsoever of becoming Flannery O’Connor. Cat Person, the author’s New Yorker short story debut, is cornball narcissism dressed up for a self-involved knowledge class as Literature.

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The image that accompanied The New Yorker story ‘Cat Person’. Photograph by Elinor Carucci for The New Yorker.

To criticise the story, which prompted a great recent deluge of the terms, “sooo relatable” and “THIS!” on social media, has become to criticise all women, all women’s writing and all women’s trauma. Even those critics who concede that the story’s ruling class protagonist, Margot, is not everywoman, or that her experience of being unable to say “no” to unpromising sex is one perhaps limited to those few women raised with stuffy ruling class female manners, still insist it’s good.

Well. It’s not. It’s just not good. You can bang on all you want about how its status as fiction elevates it from the sort of dire first-person lady confessional you might read in a mediocre newspaper and you can claim that its affected stylistic restraint makes it Zadie Smith. It’s still a vat of putrefaction gathered entirely to provoke reactions like, “sooo relatable” and “THIS!”

Look. I am sure if one is well-to-do and taught in the traditions of WASP etiquette, this “moving” story of a woman who once had sex with a bloke she wasn’t, like, totally into is emotionally useful. That doesn’t mean it’s good, and it certainly doesn’t mean that many, many of the world’s women were not raised to say to an unsatisfying sexual partner, “get off me, then finish yourself off, dear.”

4 Me Before You, film and book

Yes. I am aware that the toe-curling weepy was published four years ago and that its faithfully poor screen adaptation was, officially, a blight on 2016. Still, the fucking thing refuses, unlike its non-ambulant hero, to die. It’s always on the Netflix or at the local bookstore and I am aghast that there are persons who will publicly admit to enjoying it. Can’t this be your dirty secret? Mine is Sex and the City. I keep this to myself.

Even leaving aside that both text and film were made in the spirit of inspired production normally reserved for Kraft Mac & Cheese—can you twenty-somethings quit pretending that love for this unctuous horror makes you interesting or quirky?—and that the plot makes Twilight seem like Anna Karenina by contrast, why do people have such a horn for suicide? Oh. Excuse me, “dying with dignity”.

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You know what? Not every person who regularly uses a wheelchair wants to top themselves. Decreased mobility does not always translate to a withering of the will. You know what does? Two things. First, medical and economic systems that actively excludes participation by folks with one or two dodgy limbs and second, the hateful condescension and pity people with a disability experience every damn day.

We would rather campaign for euthanasia than a society that may lay claim to being genuinely and physically inclusive. We would rather champion the right to death for a few than the right to an endurable life for the many.

Fix our systems of care and community so that these embrace people living with a disability or illness, then you can talk about killing them. It’s not a “choice” to die if life is itself made unendurable by a lack of support.

3 The Handmaid’s Tale, TV

Yes, it looks good and, certainly, it enflames the political libido of all those who prefer to believe that Donald Trump is the worst thing ever to occur in an otherwise jolly USA. Still. Lovely cinematography and feminist panic porn—am I the only person to feel uneasy about a scene that details the painful extraction of a vagina in the American Psycho style?—does not an enduring classic make.

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I will say that Elisabeth Moss is unusually gifted when it comes to conveying female pain in close-up. As Mad Men’s Peggy, here as Offred/June and in that pile of Campion poop released this year, she does trauma-face like no other. But, come on, kids. Can we cease insisting that this masochistic fantasy of enslavement is “as relevant as ever” or “essential viewing for our fractured culture” and enjoy it, if we must, as what it is: erotic entertainment for the mediocre student of gender studies.

The future will not look like this. It will be far less obviously oppressive, and therefore, far worse.

2 Milo, putative human

There was, in my view, little left to be said about this devil-chinchilla in a bespoke shirt following Guy Rundle’s observations in Crikey. Then, a TV makeup artist pal of mine happened to say, “you can’t polish a turd, but you can always roll it in some glitter.” She was speaking of a trade secret: conceal the least telegenic face in reflective material to create the impression of brilliance. We then both agreed she could be speaking of Milo’s career.

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There is nothing to Milo’s central thought but waste. He says nothing that is truly appealing, or not otherwise said by many senior libertarians. All he does is reflect, via high-viz high-camp, the false impression of brilliance. He is a turd covered in glitter; he serves to mirror the most ancient and tedious bigoted scorn back to “the kids”—by which we mean Mark Latham—to blind them to the death of their craven ideology.

1 Pussyhat Feminism, cultural movement

For what I estimate to be the sixth year in a row, our new palatable and popular feminism, which receives much of its funding from the finance sector and much of its moral instruction from the Clinton Foundation, takes the prize for taking the piss.

Seriously. Have we feminists learned nothing from a past led by ruling class women and racist lady shits? The movement begun in the late nineteenth century by some Protestant ducks who really just wanted to stop the poor from drinking grog has been reborn in a new pink hat.

When the best apparent part of collective energy is given over to “equal pay” for millionaires, to better working conditions for women of the elite media class or to praising princesses, can feminism truly call itself a movement for the masses? When red carpet couture can become a “protest” and when “feminist” writers call upon the state to incarcerate not just men alleged to have committed assault but men who have not spoken out powerfully enough against those allegations, WTF?

Seriously, ladies. You have your empowerment lunches and continue to confine your interests only to your own class. Do us a favour, though, and call what you are perfoming something other than feminism. If only to avoid your inclusion on this list for another year.

PS Remember. If you would like to keep reading Razer’s miserablism cheer in 2018, or any other part of the nation’s only publication devoted entirely to arts and cultural discussion, consider becoming a partner to Daily Review with a small donation. To retain our critical independence, we choose not to accept those funds which may mandate a change in editorial direction. Instead, this site, read by the many, is generously funded by you. We provide this work free to every reader who cares to engage in an ongoing discussion of arts and culture, both popular and fine, in a truly Australian, ergo diverse, context. We uphold this tradition through the kindness and commitment of a few hundred donors.

So, the very best of the season to all DR readers and supporting partners whose contributions, whether as comments or as donation to our modest account, serve to keep us in the office as engaged with arts and culture as you are. This is a difficult time for informed and egalitarian cultural review. With your every page view and comment and dollar, we are reminded that this difficulty can, and must, be overcome.

Even Helen says, “thank you”.

30 responses to “Helen Razer’s year of living magnanimously: our five faves for the festive season

  1. To dear Ms Razer, from one who’s spent 45yrs using a wheelchair after an onstage accident (JCS), thanks for drawing down some abrasive attention to the struggle in the common mind to achieve an uncluttered attitude towards crippled/wounded people. Children seem largely unburdened, looking without shame or embarrassment at the unusual creature passing before them. As, for the most part, I’m having a pretty good time, this gets picked up by the little ones and so slowly eye gazing smile by smile, the crush of bad luck, bad management or genetic clumsiness is gently absorbed into daily wonder of Being. Until I’ll have had enough of pain, constraint and the ineffective palliation concocted by Pharma, such that I reach for the termination clause. Big thanks too to the Daily Review. Small contrib included…

    1. Geoff, thanks so much for your words. Although I am ambulant, I am legally blond. This means I can get around without a dog (although I do bump into a few odds and ends) but cannot drive. Other adults commend me for my bravery, which I know is truly a mark of their pity. DO people not really know, even from their everyday experiences, that people adapt?
      And do they also not know that society must adapt for the best use by all the people?
      The greatest “disability” is a society that will not accommodate our physical or mental impediments. And one so eager to see an end to disability, they’d rather campaign for legal murder than a better life.
      Don’t get me wrong. Legal means ought to be available for those who can’t take it anymore. But ONLY when we stop that social disability, which has nothing to do with us. xx

      1. “…I am legally blond. This means I can get around without a dog (although I do bump into a few odds and ends) but cannot drive. Other adults commend me for my bravery, which I know is truly a mark of their pity.”

        Helen, you are an inspiration to all the blonds out there. Fake and real. Keep up the good work.

  2. I agree completely with all of this except your depiction of first wave feminism (including the WTCU) which I think is unfair. Thank you for a year of critique which, perhaps surprisingly, has often cheered me up enormously. Misery loves company etc.

  3. Thank you Helen! I’m extremely grateful for you & your outstanding articles. Hoping you, and everyone at Daily Review, have a massively wonderful end to this year, and a successful and happy 2018.

    Julie

  4. Rarely in these hysterical times is an excellent article actually further enhanced by the comments attached to it. A small festive season miracle.

    Thanks for everything Helen.

  5. I balked at first, but then thought, why nit? Thank you Helen, and the rest of theDaily Review team, for keeping spirits up despite all evidence to the contrary.

  6. Hi Helen, yes yes and yes re Cat Person
    What ruined it was the last word “ whore” because it quashed all ambivalence and what tension there was. Margot was the focaliser throughout, and so let herself off the hook and yes took away all doubt re narcissism and moral weakness
    Anyway
    Love love love
    John Elder

    1. Wasn’t it just so discount, John?
      This person so apparently complex who gives himself over to conversation ambivalent enough, our heroine is frustrated. And then this guy who has formed a relationship largely in careful writing says, “Whore”.
      I mean. Why not just conclude with, “And then I woke up and realised it was all a dream.”
      Apols to the author who, of course, did not court such great attention. But “overrated” does not begin to cover a thing that does nothing to distinguish itself from a Women Speak Their Pain From All White Dormitories website but switch to third person.
      What a crock.
      I say this as a feminist. Not a New Yorker reader. I have lately learned to expect shit from that rag.
      From feminism, I still hope for better.

  7. Dear Hilarious Helen

    Love your often hilariously yet, dare I say miserable articles which unfortunately I often agree with .

    Keep doing it!

  8. Possibly the typo of the decade. I read it 10 minutes ago and am trying to purge the impact by commenting. I have been afflicted with episodic snickering with occasional bouts of chortling. This is socially disabling particularly amongst strangers.

    Also thanks for all the words, honing your skills and sharing the strop with us so generously. Oh analysis too.
    Legally bl……snk snkkk nnnnnkk oops may be chronic

  9. I have kept reading and touching base with Helen’s offerings now for…well…far too many years. What continues to fascinate me is how she so often captures my own creeping misgivings. A “Helen R” piece comes along and my nagging worry is raucously pushed to the light. (I was struggling to name what was so awful about Cat person.) Sometimes it hurts but often it makes me laugh.
    Such a loud mouth, but never nasty (well not often, for sure). How does she do it?

  10. “THIS” x 5.
    Me Without You is offensive drivel. Netflix won’t let me forget I once, regrettably, watched it, and wants me to watch it again.
    Handmaids Tale. Couldn’t agree more. It disturbed me, for obvious reasons. Then because I worked out, though not as insightfully as you, that it’s just “erotic entertainment for the mediocre student of gender studies”.
    I haven’t read the cat thing but I think I’ve had enough hate reads/watches for the year.

    Thank you, Helen and Daily Review. Donation to follow, when I’ve fulfilled my obligations to guilt purchased Christmas presents.

    Peace be with you.

  11. Blond AND Blind – and Geoffrey GILMOUR – the best of comments till the last! And yes, Helen – brava for all your commonsense, cutting and seemingly effortless writing explaining this life otherwise so full of ironies we’d be hard pressed to see them without your guidance – as tlandat pointed out above!

    1. The “o” is next to the “i” on this QWERTY keyboard. I am surprised I have not described myself as Legally Blonde on many previous occasions.
      Not that it matters, of course, but I AM legally blonde. No one ever believes me. Born blonde and bad.

  12. you have had a stellar year Helen, and this work finally lets me think clearly about how I feel about that uncomfortable love I have for feminism when it clashes with my desire to make it unlawful for anyone to earn 4 times more than the average wage. While I am absolutely sure no man is worth 140% more than a woman doingthe same job, I really can’t see how an female or male orthodontist is woth 10 times more than a librarian. Thanks too for the best typo of the year ……

  13. Helen writes something wickedly funny in taking the piss out of just about everyone; male, female, LGBTIIIIIFCUK etc with perhaps the exception of Indigenous, which used to be fair game for PIX magazine but now thrashes Anzac for sacred sainthood. (Maybe she has taken the piss out of Noel Pearson with his wordy erudition and scarcely disguised ambition to be an unelected Premier of Indigenous State, but please show me where??)

    Trouble with 360 degree piss taking is that the vessel eventually runs dry, and without a prostate to hold something back; the future of profane ageing females is dry on the inside and incontinence pads to greet the temporal world. Somewhat different from the honoured ageing ladies of the CWA so proud of their reams of children, grandchildren, g-grandchildren etc of not so distant memory.

  14. You’ll have to imagine a gentle ongoing giggle punctuated by “oh dear, oh dear yes,” snort. “Fucking yes”. It’s 4am, 29 degrees, a koel intoning somewhere. I need to pee. I have to haul myself up to stand by the bed, twist around, and plunk into the wheelchair. Ms Cat loves to sleep on the wheelchair by the bed. There’s a lightly humorous conjunction of bum and cat until we sort ourselves out. Helen, you take thoughts up with your finger and thumb to unravel them with a forensic delicacy that sometimes makes me blink. I say “whoo” to myself, and look eagerly for your next offering. I take umbrage today on behalf of my grandmother, a suffragette from Manchester, who isn’t well served by your description. You’d have enjoyed her, I think. Consigned to a Sydney ‘retirement village’ after being widowed, she uttered the dreadful words “but nobody here READS, dear” and gave up the ghost soon afterwards. Thanks for 2017. Learning to appreciate you has been a fun challenge for me and the cat.

  15. Thanks Helen, your curmudgeon keeps me company in the quiet, desperate hours. On many levels, one of the worst years I’ve suffered through.

    A merry xmas to you and all your readers.

    1. And, to you, Dog’s. I do look forward to your comments. We are not always in accord. However, for a mutt’s meal, you have some very nice manners. Thanks for your thoughts and questions.
      I am sorry to learn your 2017 was One Of Those Years. I haven’t really had One Of Those for a decade.
      There. Jinxed myself. Now I’m due. x

  16. I enjoyed reading Razer this year. I have a confession, however. I really enjoyed A Handmaid’s Tale. In my defence, let me point out that I am as deep as a teaspoon, and invested it with no more import than a rattling good yarn. China Girl, on the other hand, was quite peculiar in the ineptitude of its writing. Nicole was seriously great in it, however.

    1. As a bit of dystopian fantasy, it’s not bad. As a Feminist Caution of Great Importance, however, it’s just some tatty porn.

  17. Re Cat Person
    The story was a whole lot of words wandering around aimlessly bleating somewhat piteously in their unsuccessful search for attention and meaningful coherence. Boringly banal, the best thing it had going for it was its title. The author should have quit right there, when she was ahead.

  18. Thank God you hated Cat Person, Helen. for a moment I thought – when I saw that hideous photo that looks like a bloke’s interleggery rather than a pash – that you, too were going to go into a swoon about it. It was about the most-read thing in the New Yorker this year. Yes, it falls way, way short of Flannery O’Connor. Long may you prosper you Razer-tongued Legal Blonde, you. 2018 is the Year of the Dog – when the best of us are born under the sign of the Crab.

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