Fran Lebowitz

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The thing that always strikes me first when I go to Los Angeles is that the homeless guys there dress like apostles. In New York, they’re secular. Fran Lebowitz, in 1983, shared other observations about California cities with David Letterman.

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In this 1977 Canadian talk show, Fran Lebowitz, selling her book Metropolitan Life, plays on a familiar theme: Her complicated relationship with children. She was concerned that digital watches and calculators and other new technologies entitled kids (and adults also) to a sense of power they should not have. She must be pleased with smartphones today.

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Since I put up posts this week about Fran Lebowitz and George Plimpton, it makes sense to offer this excerpt from Lebowitz’s 1993 Paris Review Q&A, in which her maternal nature rears its ugly head:

INTERVIEWER

Young people are often a target for you.

FRAN LEBOWITZ

I wouldn’t say that I dislike the young. I’m simply not a fan of naïveté. I mean, unless you have an erotic interest in them, what other interest could you have? What are they going to possibly say that’s of interest? People ask me, Aren’t you interested in what they’re thinking? What could they be thinking? This is not a middle-aged curmudgeonly attitude; I didn’t like people that age even when I was that age.

INTERVIEWER

Well, what age do you prefer?

LEBOWITZ

I always liked people who are older. Of course, every year it gets harder to find them. I like people older than me and children, really little children.

INTERVIEWER

Out of the mouths of babes comes wisdom?

LEBOWITZ

No, I’m just intrigued by them, because, to me, they’re like talking animals. Their consciousness is so different from ours that they constitute a different species. They don’t have to be particularly interesting children; just the fact that they are children is sufficient. They don’t know what anything is, so they have to make it up. No matter how dull they are, they still have to figure things out for themselves. They have a fresh approach.”

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The opening of “Fran Lebowitz on Race,” a 1997 Vanity Fair piece that was a revelation for a country that couldn’t yet visualize its first African-American President nor the Birther backlash that landmark would evoke:

Do you think the proper way to talk about race now is to talk about multiculturalism?

I came from a town where there were two races, black and white. There were a few Chinese people, and this may sound shocking, but I had no idea they were a different race. I thought they were a different nationality, like Italian or French. Now you have people coming here from Cambodia, from Egypt, from Colombia, from places you never thought would be sending us their huddled masses. I mean, surely 20 years ago no one could have imagined a more unlikely pair of words than ‘Korean deli.’ And all these people think of themselves as being members of different races. Ethnic groups have taken on the same weight as racial groups, with the same demands, the same notion of themselves.

To me, this plays into the hands of the people in power — the white people. If you want to ensure generation after generation of Mexican gardeners in California, you insist on bilingual education in the grammar schools. You can pretend that you would just as soon have your cardiologist speak to you in Spanish, but if you don’t speak Spanish, you would just as soon not.

If you’re black, don’t you say to yourself, ‘We’ve been here for a zillion years, and here are all these people coming along, acquiring power by saying they’re powerless acquiring power by equating their lot with ours’? Blacks are the standard of oppression. People are always taking appalling historical events that one would hope are unparalleled and making absurd and immoral equations: the police raid the Stonewall Inn and instantly and forever it’s ‘Bull’ Connor turning the fire hoses on the marchers in Birmingham; antiabortion maniacs throw fetuses at abortion-performing doctors and an absolutely unembarrassed analogy is made to a lynch mob. These things are categorically unrelated, as are most things. Things are very rarely exactly like other things. If they were, people would be less baffled in general, and perhaps less given to such statements as ‘This is like the Holocaust.’ Nothing is like the Holocaust. Not that there haven’t been other tragedies, other genocides. But simply that they were peculiarly, specifically, intrinsically like themselves. Genocides are like snowflakes, each one unique, no two alike. You can’t go around making these horrendously invalid comparisons. It is disgraceful and annoying. If you were in Auschwitz, you undoubtedly feel that on top of having been in Auschwitz you shouldn’t also have to have your experience used to justify, say, gay marriage.

What is actually served by multiculturalism and all things attendant to it is the power of white people, and this, despite any and all such academic quibbling, is primarily accomplished by the continuing oppression of blacks. Because even though the conversation now includes all these other elements, the truth is that the farther you are from being black, the more likely you are to assimilate, to be more like white. The more you are like white, the less trouble you have because the more you are like white, the less trouble you are.”

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Lebowitz comments on NYC and how Andy Warhol’s joke got out of hand:

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