4 years ago: Rayford Douthat

4 years ago: Rayford Douthat March 18, 2013

March 18, 2009, on this blog: Rayford Douthat

Here, from the bottom of page 184 of Ross Douthat’s book, is an example of the prose that the Times’ editors found so compelling:

One successful foray ended on the guest bed of a high school friend’s parents, with a girl who resembled a chunkier Reese Witherspoon drunkenly masticating my neck and cheeks. It had taken some time to reach this point — “Do most Harvard guys take so long to get what they want?” she had asked, pushing her tongue into my mouth. I wasn’t sure what to say, but then I wasn’t sure this was what I wanted. My throat was dry from too much vodka, and her breasts, spilling out of pink pajamas, threatened my ability to. I was supposed to be excited, but I was bored and somewhat disgusted with myself, with her, with the whole business … and then whatever residual enthusiasm I felt for the venture dissipated, with shocking speed, as she nibbled at my ear and whispered — “You know, I’m on the pill. …”
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  • I said it four years ago; I’ll say it again: out of context, the passage means nothing. Did Douthat include this because he is a misogynist? Or did he include this because his later, more mature self is disgusted with how misogynistic he was when he was in school? Without reading the whole book it is impossible to judge, and yet here comes a thread full of psychoanalysis of Mr. Douthat in 5, 4, 3, …

  • rrhersh

    Does reading his other work count? I stopped reading him some years ago. (Indeed, he was one of the reasons I let my Atlantic subscription drop.) Based on his other writings, the “disgusted with how misogynistic he was” theory seems unlikely.

  • John Kennel

    In his writing, he always affects this dismissive, condescending way of describing other people that is probably supposed to sound intellectual and jaded. The ‘Reese Witherspoon’ character is the one that most people remember, but that’s basically how he describes everyone in his books. An attractive woman who doesn’t pay attention to him is described as being ghostly and pallid. Other characters are bloated, saggy, greasy… after a while, it’s like reading Bukowski, so you kind of have to tune them out in order to get through the book.

    The real meat of the text has not to do with Douthat’s misogyny (honestly, for that you just have to read his NYT columns, where he typically contrives to blame all kinds of economic and social problems on gender equality — or, at least, the problems that he can’t blame on liberal Christians). He spends a lot of time (a lot on his unsuccessful efforts to nail one coed or another as part of a one-man campaign to lose his virginity (despite the whole Catholic thing), but that isn’t the main takeaway that he wants you get.

    Instead, it has more to do with the upper-middle class white conservative’s favorite pastime: portraying themselves as the most maligned, persecuted creatures in the universe.

    Douthat isn’t totally lacking in insight. He does note American culture’s refusal to acknowledge the existence of social stratification (in the context of the Ivy Leagues, which often insist are purely meritocratic and that it’s a coincidence that there roughly 25x as many wealthy students are poor or middle class ones there). Some of the issues that he brings up really are real — he makes some points about privilege that could probably win agreement if they were posted here.

    But while he briefly addresses the issue of having so many of our political elite coming from the same handful of schools (and, at those schools, having so many of the students coming from the same handful of schools in the same handful of communities), it’s clear that his *main* problem is how all of this affects him, personally. He doesn’t get into his favorite clubs and parties because he’s a conservative. Or because he’s only fairly affluent instead of obscenely wealthy.

  • sonottoosoon

    Whatever reasons he might just have possibly maybe had for writing the passage in the way he did, his problem here is that he’s gone out of his way to describe the other party in a needlessly specific and cruel way. This isn’t an example of Ross Douthat trying to tell you something about Ross Douthat so that you can understand him better. This is Ross Douthat trying to tell you something about this specific woman so that you can share in his scoffing at her.

  • Victor Savard

    (((Pope Bareback XVI didn’t really kick off his tour of Ground Zero of the global AIDS epidemic by denouncing the use condoms, did he?)))
    (((Good Lord — Ross Douthat is Rayford Steele.)))

    STOP “IT” sinner vic! You have No right to keep card stacking Fred’s material in this way cause no human body cells can follow YA and as a matter of fact not even FearlessSon spiritual reality cells can follow so why don’t YA just go back to sleep and leave U>S all alone NOW!


    Sorry Victor! I know that your sister died and even got cremated butt what bugs YA is that they didn’t even say a MASS for her on Saint Patricks day and your baby sister was very UP SET that they didn’t even ask YA to sing a song or to say a little prayer butt remember that your God was listening and NOW you’ve still got 2% of your human flesh in charge butt remember we own 98% NOW! “I” must remember to put in a good “Word” in for that little retardo “ONE” per sense cell of yours and also that “ONE” % cell of your so called “Jesus”. Hey Victor, we’re not as mean as you would want U>S (usual sinners) to think we are NOW. Too bad that your “Jesus” really does not exist cause if HE did then the Senior doctor might be right when he says that “U” might get to live for Eve her, “I” mean “Forever” NOW and…..

    End!? I agree sinner vic so me, myself and i will simply close by saying, God Bless my sister’s soul and tell her that she’ll always have a Godly Cell place in my heart of heart.


    Go Figure!



  • What the Norman Vincent Hell was that?

  • P J Evans

    Harmless resident.

  • bificommander

    I’m not sure it is Rayford. Isn’t it more like Buck? Isn’t there a scene exactly like the above one (minus the vivid description, there are church ladies reading it) in Left Behind where Buck explains why he’s a thirty year old globe trotting journalist virgin, right down to the ‘Eww, the girl LIKES the idea of having sex with me.’ mechanic.

    From http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2010/04/13/tf-what-are-the-odds/

    “One girl, a year ahead of me in grad school, dumped me because I was too slow to make a move on her.”


    “Guess I’m a little old-fashioned that way.”

    “That’s encouraging.”

    “I lost whatever feeling I had for her real quick.”

  • AnonaMiss

    I’m sorry for your loss Victor. Was this yesterday, or a previous St Patrick’s Day?

    Either way, you have my condolences.

  • Magic_Cracker

    What exactly is Douhat’s dysfunction here? Is he disgusted by the idea of sex itself or by the idea of having a ready and willing partner?

  • Lori

    Based on other things he’s written I’d say it’s closer to the former.

  • Magic_Cracker

    I’d be inclined to feel sorry for him except that (a) there’s nothing wrong with not wanting/liking sex, and (b) he’s assuming his personal preferences are everybody’s unless there’s something wrong with them.

  • John Kennel

    For what it’s worth, in the memoir that this passage is taken from, Douthat makes a big deal about the value of remaining chaste until marriage, while at the same time trying desperately to lose his virginity in college by trying and (usually) failing to nail his classmates. To his credit, he seems to recognize the contradiction here. To his debit, it doesn’t seem to have affected his adult sexual politics one bit, judging by his writing for the NYT.

  • (b) “he’s assuming his personal preferences are everybody’s unless there’s something wrong with them”
    Well yeah. The man is after all a professional conservative.

  • Lori

    Yeah, Douthat gives every appearance of being a walking testimony to the destructive power of the Madonna/Whore complex. His writing seems to indicate that he wants sex, but he’s not comfortable wanting it. Neither is he comfortable with other people wanting it, let alone getting it.

    This is not unusual, especially among his crowd, but it is icky and disturbing and really should be between him and his therapist and not him and NYTimes readers. His writing about married sex gave me the creepy crawlies and since then I’ve sworn off reading him at all absent a very compelling reason. “You should see the stupid thing Douthat said today” not being a compelling reason.

  • Rhubarbarian82

    It’s impossible for me to see Ross’ name and not read it as “Ross Douchehat.” The guy is truly contemptible.

  • aiwhelan

    I’m so sorry to hear about your sister, Vic.

  • Victor Savard

    (((Harmless resident.)))

    Told Ya sinner vic! Most humans are basically good so why would Ya want to destroy this world that my soul does not even own yet!

    Go Figure NOW!? :)



  • That scene above reminds me of Rayford’s “private necking session” alluded to in _Left Behind_.

  • Shallot

    Oh, Victor, I’m so sorry. Virtual hugs, if you want them from someone you’ve never met.

  • he’s gone out of his way to describe the other party in a needlessly specific and cruel way

    This passage is not specific at all. Whether it’s cruel or not depends on how you feel about “chunkier.”

    so that you can share in his scoffing at her

    We don’t know that this was the purpose of the passage unless we read the rest of the book. If I gave you a random passage from Lolita, you might think it was about how Lolita had it coming and pedophilia is great. It’s not, but you have to read the whole book to see that.

  • SisterCoyote

    I’m sorry for your loss, Victor; seconding the internet hugs.

  • I tell ya, the Chunky Reese Withersppon story never gets old. Never.

    I especially love one of the comments over at Brad Delong’s blog, by one Hopi Sen:

    Being British, I don’t know who this Douthat of whom you speak is.

    But whatever his other sins of omission and commission are, it’s clear he is no gentleman. No gentleman at all.

    What manner of man “successfully” takes a girl to bed, but then lies there all wan and full of ennui, following which episode he writes this story as if it’s _her_ behaviour which is freakish and odd?

    I can only hope that this descriptive passage began

    “Being a prig, I was torn between my desire to seduce girls and my revulsion at their willingness to be so easily seduced. The victims of my youthful hypocrisy included a particuarly charming and intelligent woman who, indulging my fumbled pass tenderly held me while I wrestled both with her body and my over-developed sense of guilt.”


  • LoneWolf343

    Putting someone’s work in context of his other work is a perfectly valid method of literary analysis.

  • LoneWolf343

    ” he’s assuming his personal preferences are everybody’s unless there’s something wrong with them.” There is actually a word for that: egocentric.

  • Oh, Disqus. Why must you nest comments when I specifically ask you to show me oldest first? :(

  • Lori

    The nested comments are ordered purely by the timestamp or number of likes on the first comment in the subthread, not the comments that follow. By its standards Disqus is showing you oldest first

    IOW, it’s now almost impossible to catch up or to follow long subthreads on a post that has a lot of comments.

    Disqus sucks.

  • They might be listening to the complaints to their survey: I can now use the new system on IE8 at work after not being able to since Friday. I’d urge everyone who hasn’t yet filled it in to do so now. The link, with some excellent ideas for complaints are in the “2 Years Ago: The paradox of pitchforks” thread.

    ETA: But yeah, Disqus still sucks.