The spat over the Nation poem: if these are snowflakes, why aren’t they melting?


Lionel Shriver calls fraud. (Photo: Tony Sarowitz)

Last month, The Nation published a poem that upset a few people. Well, more than a few. The poet adopted an African-American dialect, and he used the word “cripple,” too.

The Nation backed down, and the editors said they were sorry. Even the poet apologized for his poem. Katha Pollitt, a columnist for magazine, called the apology “craven,” “a letter from re-education camp.”

Grace Shulman, a poetry editor at the magazine from 1971 to 2006, wrote in The New York Times: “I was deeply disturbed by this episode, which touches on a value that is precious to me and to a free society: the freedom to write and to publish views that may be offensive to some readers.”

But now the U.K.-based American author Lionel Shriver has taken off the gloves. In The Spectator, she has called the protest a “screaming emotional fraudulence in the public sphere.”

A few excerpts:

“Employing today’s prescribed lexicon, those apologies regretted the ‘pain’, ‘harm’, and ‘offence’ this sad-ass little poem had caused to stricken communities. But let’s get real. None of those poetry readers felt any pain. (Remember pain, actual pain? Drop a brick on your foot in sandals. Yeah. That’s ‘pain’.) No one suffered any harm — either tangible or psychic. Why, I wager that those irate chiders in the peanut gallery were no more genuinely offended than the magazine editors doing damage control were genuinely sorry.”


“I don’t buy into the notion that the ‘snowflake’ generation is all that sensitive, either. Antifa protestors in balaclavas can be quite violent for little specks that melt. ‘Snowflakes’ may have induced institutions to employ the language of fragility, but I think a lot of these kids are tough as old boots.”


“When during that Evergreen foofaraw a rabid convocation of students cowed the college president into lowering his arms at the podium because they found his hand gestures ‘threatening’, those students didn’t feel jeopardised; they were dominating and emasculating a man supposedly in authority. The students cowering in ‘safe spaces’ don’t feel endangered; they’re claiming territory. In protecting the faux-helpless from noxious opinions via no-platforming, they’re exercising power. The experience of exercising power isn’t scary, except on the receiving end; it’s supremely gratifying. These people aren’t frightened. They want you to be frightened of them. And we’re not talking ‘microaggression’. PC police often prefer macroaggression, the kind that can get people sacked.”


“Reliably entwined with self-deceit, the problem isn’t solely among the young. When American liberals my age claim to suffer from white guilt over slavery and the slaughter of Indians, I question whether they really feel guilty. They weren’t personal agents of these crimes, and they know it. Nothing wrong with being historically aware. But white guilt is often a blind for moral vanity.

“We keep hearing about the terrible ‘distress’ caused by, say, a Canadian production that uses whites to sing slave songs, or a straight actor playing a trans role. But bullies on the left ply weakness to conceal aggression, and today’s torrent of touchiness is bogus. No one’s truly in distress. No one’s feelings are hurt really. This stuff is all about pushing other people around.”

You can read the whole thing here. It’s worth it for the use of the word “foofaraw” alone. However, I don’t think Millennials should take the rap. I sense a lot of aging Boomers on a tear. Thoughts?

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3 Responses to “The spat over the Nation poem: if these are snowflakes, why aren’t they melting?”

  1. George Says:

    A bit over the top. (And not improved by a link on the side to a Roger Kimball piece suggesting that Serena Williams is the Hillary Clinton of tennis–why not the John McEnroe or Ilie Nastase of 21st-Century tennis?)

    I can remember various fusses (maybe even foofaraws) from forty years ago. But with three TV channels and not internet, they tended to die without much but local echo.

  2. Jeff S. Says:

    I was heartened to see that when the former Nation editor wrote a piece in the New York Times decrying all this fussiness, nearly every reader-commenter agreed with her. I’m left to wonder, then: Who comprises this group of the aggrieved, found mostly on Twitter, that wields such outsized influence? They’re not unlike the small but loud and highly organized groups of Christian mothers in the 1980s who could get columns and comic strips censored and sponsorships pulled from popular TV shows, sometimes through their activism, other times preemptively, when editors and executives fearfully anticipated their reaction. I’m now old enough to realize that nothing ever ends; others are always waiting to become the next gaggle of finger-waggers.

  3. Tony Says:

    A prescient book years ago was written by Timur Kuran at Duke, on “preference falsification” as a cultural force in the USA. It’s all about saying things “the right way” and avoiding “wrong ways”. Most of us do it defensively and passively, but kids (esp. elites) who learn irony can weaponize it. And colleges like Yale are exceptionally advanced in strategizing these topics. It’s not coincidental that the CIA, National Review, the Federalist Society, and college LGBT activism all began at Yale, and, of course, the recent snowflake uproar.