They Don’t Build Statues of Critics…Just Mansplainers: On White Men Feeling the Need to Chime in About Statues of Literary Critics When a Girl Just Wants to Have Fun

Charli XCX is finally having a moment. Or, at least, a moment that’s more in the mainstream than ever before. This being a result of her push to become a Right Proper Pop Star by fully utilizing all the major resources of her juggernaut label, Atlantic, to promote her last album of the contract, Crash (an erudite J. G. Ballard reference, in case you didn’t know, and since Charli ostensibly needs to “prove herself” as a literary and Cronenberg scholar). That said, Charli is prepared for more inevitable criticism to be lobbied against her, both from fans that would call her a “sellout” and new listeners who might not have been exposed to her work until now, what with the more pronounced media campaign at her disposal. 

Thanks to the risks that come with being more visible, Charli can count on this collective tendency—particularly of people who take themselves Very Seriously—to interpret everything as so fucking literal. Which is part of the reason why irony, or humor of any kind, really, has died out. White men, of course, fancy themselves the inventors of irony despite constantly stamping it out with their pedantic, literal responses to things that give them an opportunity to mansplain. And with space for them in the media becoming increasingly “limited” (a.k.a. vaguely equalized), they seem to jump at the chance to shoot their fault-finding shot whenever possible. The go-to “entity” to find fault with being: women. Especially when a girl is just trying to have some cheeky fun. You know, like with word tees. A fashion statement Britney Spears perfected in the 00s via memorable declarations such as “Dump Him,” “Fuck Off,” “The Bigger The Better” and “I Am The American Dream.” And, being that Charli looks to Britney as a major influence like just about every other female musician (pop-oriented or otherwise) that came after her, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to cite this style predilection as an homage, even if a faint one. Plus, the connection appears even stronger since Charli also freshly confirmed she was in the running for doing a remix of the 2016 single that brought Sam Asghari into Spears’ life, “Slumber Party.” In addition to having written some songs for Britney Jean that were never put on the album. 

In any case, just as Britney was (and is), Charli is presently being treated like some sort of nitwit for being playful and ironic. As though, by “explaining the facts” to her, men can cut her down to size and prove her “lack of intelligence.” And no, it isn’t only men that see fit to “correct” Charli about her shirt that reads, “They don’t build statues of critics.” Another female Twitter user was quick to point out that there’s a Dorothy Parker statue in Warwickshire (as if anyone views Parker as a critic before being a satirist). But, by and large, (white) men were the ones who delighted in responding to the photo with such “vital information” as, “Edgar Allan Poe was a prolific literary critic and paid his bills when poetry didn’t,” “Pretty much all great authors were also critics. TS Eliot revolutionized the field, and once *allegedly* negatively reviewed his own work under a pseudonym” or “History just doesn’t exist, huh?” Many were also eager to bring up how, beyond just the classic literary critics (including Samuel Johnson) who have a statue, there’s one honoring Roger Ebert in Illinois as well. 

All of it was propelled by a Los Angeles Review of Books editor named Tom Zoellner, who felt obliged to note of Charli’s shirt, “Here’s a statue of literary critic Northrup Frye.” Yes, misspelled from Northrop, an error that makes for diminished effectiveness in mansplaining… as called out by @quendergeer, who served, “If I was [an] editor of the LA Review of Books, I would learn how to spell Northrop.” But leave it to Charli, evidently, to be so transcendently iconic that her clout could bleed into the literary realm (with lyrics themselves that read like poetry—e.g. “Century of tears/Sadness was my only smile/Thought I’d fall apart/But you’re gone and I’m doing fine/I’m screaming out”). And so easily trampled on for daring to be coy and “contradictory” (after all, as many pointed out, she’s been retweeting reviews of the album all weekend). Thus, men reminding her that she’ll never have a statue, complete with “cutting retorts” like, “They don’t build statues of pop singers who badly lip sync their way through a @nbcsnl performance” and “Funny, they don’t build statues of third-tier pop stars either. But as we’ve seen from the responses here, they actually have built statues of critics.” Yes, thank you for that very literal clarification. 

Others had more salient things to say, including, “What’s the point of being such a renowned critic when you interpret her shirt literally?” and “Critic failing to grasp the rhetorical device.” And anyway, Charli’s critique of the “critics” is more aimed at the unaffiliated-with-any-publication online trolls that prompt her to bite back at their harshness with comments like, “Bitch BYE. I will NEVER understand what possesses people to be such C*NTS online.” Well, at least fifty percent of what “possesses” people can be chalked up to having a dick. 

As though to mollify the situation (but also prove it’s way less stodgier than the New York Review of Books), LARB tweeted, “stream CRASH” after the Zoellner “debacle,” with Gawker editor George Civeris replying, “Monitoring the feud between Charli XCX Updates and the politics editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books.” Zoellner attempted wit by then sidestepping his willful and leaden demeanment of XCX with the response, “I accept whatever obloquy comes my way for misspelling the name of the Canadian critic Northrop Frye.” Said “obloquy” including this very condemnation. 

In any case, since it apparently needs to be dissected to this level in order to distill it down to the original “intent”: the shirt (which can be purchased at, in case you want to ruffle some masculine feathers by wearing it) that launched a thousand mansplaining comments is meant to be taken in stride. And clearly, this is something that needs to be womansplained back to men as they seek to denigrate the female gender at any and every opportunity. Not understanding that women are still recovering from centuries’ worth of that now-internalized denigration that continues to flare up within themselves in the form of self-doubt every day. The kind of self-doubt that would never prompt them to tweet a so-called microaggression at a man for wearing a shirt that said something like “FBI (Female Body Inspector).”  

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