Last year the Federalist ran one of my pieces entitled “Bring Back the Welfare Stigma;” regular readers of Trial of the Century will know that this piece, seven months later, still continues to make liberals angry. I suppose that’s a sign that I’m doing my job right, though seriously, liberals—I’ve written some really reactionary stuff since then. I have a whole catalog you can freak out about!
Anyway, at the time, the anti-stigma backlash was kind of spearheaded by a gal named Elizabeth Bruenig, a lefty Christian writer who appeared to have a genuine meltdown over the article. She’s since moved on to become a writer at the New Republic, which is great for her and for TNR—they need all the help they can get these days—and I see she’s still styling herself as a juggernaut progressive crusader, judging from Kevin Williamson’s excellent post at the NRO Corner, in which he asks:
Who in hell elected Elizabeth Bruenig of Arlington, Brandeis, Brown, Cambridge, etc., a privately educated suburban girl raised by highly educated, married, churchgoing parents, whose life’s lamentations include that she wasn’t asked to the prom, Speaker for the Poor?
She elected herself, and with 100% of the vote! Actually, I’m not interested in talking today about Bruenig’s self-awarded Poverty Speakership; I’m interested in talking about another one of her obsessions—me, as in Daniel Payne, your ob’t svt and blogger.
About half a year before I wrote the welfare stigma piece, the Federalist ran another one of my pieces, a longer one entitled “Strip Club Ennui.” You might have guessed that it’s about strip clubs, and you’d be right: it details the miserable experience I had going to a strip joint in Las Vegas as part of a bachelor party. Strip clubs are not fun—they are dreary, depressing, boring places—and after going to one I thought it would be worthwhile to write about it. I like that piece a great deal; it’s aggressively prudish, which is to say it’s very much representative of me, and it inspired an indignant pro-strip-joint response from some dim and forgotten corners of the Internet, which was a pretty interesting and oddly touching thing to witness. Most of it was written while I was moping around a twelfth-floor hotel room at the MGM Grand, unhappy and fed up with the gaudy and expensive insanity of Las Vegas, a city that’s worth avoiding whenever you get the chance (the people I went to Vegas with were fun, so it wasn’t a total loss). Yes, I like that piece a lot—but not, it seems, as much as Elizabeth Bruenig, who has retweeted the piece a total of five times since its publication:
This is, to put it mildly, really weird.
For my readers not familiar with Twitter, it is generally not common practice for the same person to re-post the same exact article at roughly regular intervals over several months. To my knowledge it’s just not really done. Were Bruenig to be mocking different articles of mine, that would be something. But she’s not—it’s the same one, every time. The only reason I can think that she would do such a thing is that she’s kind of obsessively fixated on my strip joint essay, consumed by it like Ed Wynn with the grandfather clock in that excellent episode of the Twilight Zone. It appears that she thinks about it a good deal, and jumps on the chance to share it whenever the chance arises. It’s frankly bizarre, and I’m not sure what to make of it.
Her criticisms of the article are likewise very strange: apparently I “talked trash” about strippers (I did not, and I’m not even sure what that means) so that I could “enjoy them” (I plainly did not enjoy them) while at the same time “hating them” (I did not hate them; there is no evidence, either explicit or implicit, that I hated the strippers). Nor did I “sneer” at the strippers. Many if not most of the women I met and spoke to that night were friendly, sometimes funny, and apparently intelligent; even if I were the type to “sneer” at people, there was nothing to sneer at. I wrote the article simply to show how unhappy and unpleasant the strip club experience is; it appears that, in the months and months that Bruenig has apparently been fixated on this article, she has invented an entire narrative around it, and around me.
What do you say to someone like this? I don’t know. As I said, I like that piece; it was almost worth it to attend the strip joint given that I got the essay out of it. That being said, I didn’t like it enough to personally tweet it five times; that would be kind of weird. But I don’t have to tweet it that much; Bruenig has taken care of that. I can’t really complain—it gives me free publicity, and perhaps it will trick my editors at the Federalist into thinking I’m a better writer than I actually am. But it’s also kind of like having an obsessive and fanatical fan who imbues your work with more significance than even you yourself do: it’s not flattering, just kind of awkward and pitiable. Whatever else it got out of the deal, the New Republic certainly hired someone with a startling amount of tenacity, and a strong immunity to shame.