What an awful day.
Jim Capozzola, of Rittenhouse Review, one of the earliest and most influential progressive blogs of the early days, died today. You can read Susie Madrak's lovely tribute to him here.
Like Susie, I will also run an excerpt of Cappazola's seminal post "Al Gore and the Alpha Girls", but you really have to read the whole thing, if you are unfamiliar with it. He influenced all of us and helped our understanding of a phenomenon we were only beginning to grok at the time:
Watching the media’s unrelenting pig pile on Al Gore in recent weeks revived these teenage memories, many of them unpleasant, even painful. And as I thought about the matter and observed purportedly mature men -- mostly men anyway -- attack Gore with a ferocity I had not witnessed since I said good-bye to the Class of 1980, I thought also of “Girls Just Want to be Mean,” an article by Margaret Talbot in the February 24 issue of the New York Times Magazine.
I found Talbot’s essay spellbinding, fascinating, and extraordinarily accurate, at least with respect to my own high school years and much of what I had heard about kids today from friends and colleagues. I was surprised to see Talbot’s piece greeted in many quarters, the predictable and otherwise, with venomous hostility and transparent denial. In the article, which was based upon visits to several schools and extensive interviews with students and teachers, Talbot identifies the characteristic traits and behavioral patterns of the most selective girls’ cliques, the members of which she refers to as “Alpha Girls” and “Queen Bees.”
Alpha Girls, Talbot wrote, armed with intelligence and cunning, devote considerable time and energy to waging complicated, intricate, and highly personalized battles with other girls of similar age, the intent of which is to damage the other girls’ friendships, relationships, and reputations, all in an effort to enhance and sustain their popularity and status.
The Alphas accomplish their goals through a wide variety of means, including spreading rumors -- some true or at least based on truth, others wildly false -- using the power of information and the means of its distribution to assault their prey. With an uncanny ability to identify and exploit their victims’ weaknesses, their opponents’ most vulnerable Achilles’ heels, the Alphas mercilessly exclude from membership -- or “merely” reduce the social standing of -- those who don’t make the cut.
Membership in the group is uncompromisingly exclusive -- like the all-male Augusta National Club, obvious eagerness to join is certain to result in rejection -- and unquestioning loyalty to the group’s mores and agenda is required for a girl to maintain membership in good standing. Even the most petty offense -- wearing the wrong clothes on the wrong day, eating the wrong food in the cafeteria or even eating in the cafeteria at all, or joining the wrong extracurricular activity, to say nothing of speaking with, or worse, dating, the wrong boy -- is grounds for immediate expulsion.
Alliances, many of them temporary and fleeting, are a critical element of the Alphas’ strategy. When it suits them, Alphas will befriend a girl with whom they would not ordinarily be associated with the sole intent -- not always apparent to the newly befriended girl -- of inflicting revenge and retribution on their latest victim. Although Alphas can be mean and cruel, they aren’t physical; catfights aren’t their thing. Rather than engaging in physical altercations, they rely on words, insults, rumor, gossip, innuendo, and manipulation. And the Alphas use others who are not members of the clique, including girls aspiring to this lofty status, and boys, naturally the most popular boys whenever possible, in their campaigns to ruin the reputations of others they find threatening or morally, intellectually, socially, or physically superior.
That essay spoke to me as clearly as if I'd written it myself.
I never knew him personally, but he had a fascinating mind, was a wonderful writer and he led me down a few intellectual paths I'd never been before. He is missed.
I think perhaps this is also a good time to mention some other bloggers who have done great work, but are suffering with illness, with no health insurance, and living hand to mouth because of it. There are far too many people caught in this horrible bind and many others are only one terrible illness away from it. It's a national disgrace. If you have some spare nickels, today might be a good day to spread them around to our friends, Weldon Berger of BTC News, Arthur Silber of Once Upon A Time and Gary Farber at Amygdala.